Grinding to a Halt

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No, not progress. Today’s been a decent day so far. I’ve been both productive and lazy at alternate points in the day, and it’s been a good balance of what I should be doing versus what I want to be doing. I’ve completed five straight days of full marks on my checklist and am gunning for day six today. No, what’s ground to a half is my creativity.

See, when I started this blog I had a lot to write about. Things were happening, things were developing, things were in some state of constant flux, so there’s always been something to write about. Longtime readers of my blog will note that for several months there I was posting once or twice a month. That’s because I’d basically run out of things to say.

My thought processes have been largely occupied with politics of late, a condition that continues to this day. I’m set in my ways, my positions on the issues remain firm, and so any political debate is kinda pointless, since no one’s going to change my mind about what I believe and I’m not really out to try and convince someone that their viewpoint is wrong either. Yet any discussion about politics on social media tends to be an open invitation to conversations that can easily devolve into vehement arguments and name calling and I just don’t want that crap on my wall. So I’ve made the conscious decision to avoid politics over the past several months, despite my wanting to share my view of the country and world at large. Since politics has taken up a large portion of my thinking process and I’m purposely avoiding any public discussion of politics, that means that I’ve been really short of writing material for the past several months.

On top of this, my life has more or less become stagnant lately. I barely do anything different from day to day, and what I spend most of my time doing can be summed up with “spent another day staring at things on the internet, waiting for something to catch my attention so I can share it with either my wife or with others, depending on my mood at the time, and if I remember to do so I’ll turn on Pandora so I’m not sitting in silence all day – also I ate and took my medication and my vitals like I’m supposed to.”

But here I am trying to get back on the bandwagon of full marks on my checklist, which begs the question – do I continue making “writing” a daily objective, or do I change my checklist to reflect my diminishing ideas for this blog? Do I write about sitting around the house all day basically staring at the walls because I have a tick mark to consider in the broad scheme of my day or do I let it go and just write when I feel like it?

I’m basically stuck in a rut and I don’t really see any feasible way of pulling myself out of it without greatly inconveniencing those I love, and it’s not worth that to try and pull myself out of this day-to-day grind. It’s a life, even if it is boring, so here I suppose I’m going to sit, writing about nothing because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

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The Theory of Everything

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Yes, this post will touch on the phenomenal biopic about Stephen Hawking referenced in the title, but I promise you, this is a very personal essay.

Let me get the cheap plug out of the way. “The Theory of Everything” stars Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and deals with his personal life as well as his battle with motor neuron disease and his considerable achievements in science. It was an amazing story and Eddie Redmayne was astounding as Dr. Hawking, as evidenced by his sweeping most of the acting awards that season, including the Oscar. I recommend it to you if you haven’t seen it.

Now, the reason that ties in to my personal blog post is because of something that Dr. Hawking said on January 7th, in front of a crowd of 400 people. In the midst of a typical lecture, he provided the following quote.

“The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought.

“Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.

This reminded me of a time several years ago when I seemed to have it all together. I was working, my wife was working – a status that, due to our multiple mental illnesses, has been fleetingly rare in our relationship – and we were comfortable. There was no money stress, there was no panic about what would happen if one of us lost our jobs, we were living well. And the longer that state existed, the easier it became for me to fight my personal demons.

One of the commonalities of most mental illnesses is the concept of cognitive distortions. These are types of thinking that lead to negativity and self-doubt. I’ve listed them before some time ago on this blog, so regular readers who don’t suffer from mental illness have some idea of what these are. The usual technique for dealing with cognitive distortions is to refute and replace the “stinking thinking,” a process commonly called reframing. For instance, if you happen to make a mistake with something you’re doing, and your brain reflexively thinks “I’m a total screwup, I can’t do anything right,” your reaction should be to think to yourself something like “actually, no I’m not; I’m capable of doing many things well and without mistakes – and besides, mistakes are one way to learn to grow.” In the midst of a deep depression, it is extremely difficult to reframe, because in that moment, you can’t believe the positive replacement that you should be using. Oftentimes, you never even get so far as to think to reframe; you just go along with the crap that your brain is telling you, and that drives you even more down.

During that time when we were both working, however, the lack of money stress helped to put me in a better frame of mind, and it was a little easier to start reframing with a good deal of effort. After a few months, I realized that reframing was happening automatically, and the self-thoughts I was experiencing were almost all positive. It was a very good time. Then I lost my job, and she lost her job, and life came crashing down around us. Financially, we’ve never completely recovered, although we make enough to be self-sufficient with the basics.

I used to think that my self-worth came from the things that I was doing with my life outside of the workplace, in an attempt to avoid my father’s trap of almost obsessing about work all of the time. (Case in point: Shortly after his first triple bypass, while he was still in intensive care, he had his briefcase and a phone installed in the suite so that he could continue working.) I resolved not to get my sense of self from the workplace.

Now in my mid-40s, I can see the effects of not prioritizing work life. I’ve struggled to keep a job most of my adult life, in large part due to the difficulty I have with my mental illnesses, and the lack of professional direction throughout my life has pained me. I realize now I do best when I’m working, especially if it’s a permanent job. (My employment history is littered with temp assignments, so many that I couldn’t possibly remember them all.)

Now, I’m not saying that I’m not going to get better until I get a job, because right now it’s beyond my capability to even go to the store on my own, much less hold down a full-time job. But that needs to be the overall goal, because it will do wonders for helping keep my symptoms at bay – so long as I’m doing well on the job and not making a lot of mistakes, something I’ve unfortunately got a history of doing due to stress.

Being on disability helps financially for now, but the boredom of sitting at home is stifling. I’ve gotta start making progress or I’m going to lose my mind.

As Dr. Hawking so eloquently put it, “if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.”

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

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Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I haven’t written in almost two weeks. That’s been by design. Here’s what happened.

I finished my last post and realized that I needed a few days to process everything that had happened in therapy, so I took the rest of the week off. Then on Sunday, I made the conscious decision that I was going to take a week of from any obligations of any kind, save for meds and vitals. I thought it would be therapeutic to have nothing to do. I was wrong.

By Thursday I was going nuts with boredom. I would literally sit and stare off at the walls in an attempt to NOT do anything. I was expending more energy trying to accomplish nothing than I would have been trying to stick to my checklist. I promised myself that I would get back on track on Monday, and then I got the message.

A friend of mine passed away last week, and her husband asked me to be a pallbearer. There are some things that you just don’t say no to, and that’s one of them, so my wife and I started making plans for her to be out of work for the funeral on Monday (the funeral was three hours away).

Her death was unexpected. She spent the last two weeks of her life in the hospital battling a sudden illness that no one could have foreseen.

Normally we’re in bed around 1:00 or 1:30 am, but in order for us to make the service, we had to leave the house by 7:00 am, which meant waking at 6:00 am to get things packed and out the door. I was restless that night, and still awake at 2:30 am; my wife didn’t get much more sleep than I did.

Monday morning rolled around and off we went. As is typical, my wife did all the driving, and I only caught a few minutes of sleep on the road. The service started at 11:00 am and was lovely, and then we drove the hour to the cemetery for the gravesite service. We were back on the road by 2:30 pm.

When we got home, we put away our dress clothes, unpacked what we had packed for the trip, and laid down for a nap. That was at 5:30 pm Monday afternoon.

At 8:00 pm we woke up and ate a bowl of chili, then laid back down.

At 11:00 pm, I woke and took my evening medications and vitals, then laid back down.

At 9:00 am the next morning, I awoke again, long enough for meds, vitals, breakfast, and coffee, then laid back down.

At 11:30 am, my wife came to wake me up to see her off for work (she’s working four ten-hour shifts this week to make up for being out on Monday), then I laid back down again.

I finally rolled out of bed for good around 2:45 pm. I was out for about 19 of the previous 21 hours. This put rather a crimp in my plans to get back on track on Tuesday, and so today, Wednesday, is the first chance that I’ve had to try and get back to the usual and customary. It’s more likely that it’ll be tomorrow or Friday before I can really stick to it, but I’m making the effort today.

I’m going to miss my friend. She had a sharp wit and was a fierce protector of her son, as well as being a talented artisan. I didn’t see her a lot for the last ten years of our friendship, and now I never will again.

Inconsistency of Mind

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Faithful readers of this blog know that I organize my life by two books, one made of checklists and vitals tracking, the other made of a rolling to-do list.

For the last week and a half, I haven’t wanted to crack open either book.

It’s not a matter of not feeling up to doing everything on the list. I’ve reduced my list down to only a handful of things that are not directly related to my diabetes management – hygiene, writing, reading, leisure time, the catch-all to-do check box. (Walking and other forms of exercise can directly affect high blood glucose, so that’s something that I consider part of my diabetes management.)

I’ve felt a growing need to mentally hide from things that I know I should be doing to help improve my health and my life. I want to bury myself into something mindless and escape, and yet I still want to get everything done.

I’m starting to feel like the books are a burden, rather than a blessing, and I don’t like feeling that way. They are the only metric that I have that I’m having a productive day, and I don’t want to lose them, yet I feel compelled to ignore them.

Is it my wonky sleep schedule that’s doing this to me? The few days that I was off my Wellbutrin while we wrestled with the pharmacy and the insurance carrier about whether the latest refill was valid? My feelings of falling off the bandwagon now that I’m needing more carbs in my diet?

I’m not sure, but I know that the inconsistent thoughts that have been plaguing my days recently are unwelcome and need to go away.

I’m not suicidal, I want to stress. I just go between spurts of productivity and lulls of apathy and boredom. When I was in the height of my checklist compliance, I felt like everything had a place in my day. Once I finished one thing, I’d switch to the next on the list, and if I didn’t feel up to it, I knew there was a set period of time that it needed to occur, so I could be leisurely for a little while, but would eventually need to take a break and get something checked off.

As I wrote the paragraph above, something dawned on me. Maybe it’s the way I organize the list now. I have my diabetes management stuff all compiled together, followed by everything else. The “everything else” parts of my day feel undisciplined, while the diabetes management is still mostly getting done.

Maybe a change is in order when I turn the page.

If this feeling lifts shortly after December 28th, when I move to the next page in the book, I’ll know what the culprit was.