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thunderstruck

A few days ago, I was running around a campsite, desperately grabbing electronics and non-waterproof items to throw into the car as a storm bore down on the Poconos. I threw in chargers, sleeping bags and tent bags; towels and shoes and all the detritus of a car campsite.

And all the while I was doing this, I was trying to listen and engage with a recruiter on the phone who was patiently explaining to me what it would mean to stay at Omnicom. The conversation ended abruptly when the world shook from thunder, and I dove into the front seat of Doomie, our Honda Civic, and had to say “just a moment please BEN GET IN THE CAR”

“There’s no room for me Mom!” Ben wailed back as he started to cry from fear of the storm.

That was the point where either the executive recruiter realized I wasn’t paying full attention or the phone cut out as I desperately tried to clear space in an overstuffed hatchback for my teenager to smush himself in, while rain pelted down and tree branches began to fall around us. Grateful to have only one thing to focus on, I pulled the camp pillows and sleeping bags out of the way, effectively burying myself in the front seat so Ben could get in.

My phone began to ring again just as soon as Paul jumped in next to me, shaking the water out of his newly short hair and chiding Ben for panicking instead of moving the camping gear items himself. I resumed the conversation with the recruiters, apologizing for being distracted while rain hammered down on our car and I watched the tent we had just set up shake and shudder in the storm, hoping that I could be clearly heard and that the tent didn’t blow away.

Mountain Vista Campground - Family Camping in the Pocono Mountains
Campground, minus storm. Note that this turned out to be an RV park with terrible tent options.

The next day, I sat in a damp two-piece swimsuit in a hallway outside the HR department of Camelbeach Waterslide Park, the quietest place with wi-fi I could find within the park, while I discussed with my own department lead what it would mean to stay at Omnicom. I was still thunderstruck that OMD was so invested in having me stay.

Camelbeach Mountain Waterpark (Tannersville) - 2021 All You Need to Know  BEFORE You Go (with Photos) - Tripadvisor
No, I cannot do conference calls while on a lazy river…but I am pretty sure some desperate working mother has had to do so at some point

And yet, despite having spent two and a half years at Omnicom this time – more than twice as long as I spent there the first time in 2004/2005 – I still managed to quit.

It was hard. It was really hard to redefine success for myself. There was something so satisfying about the idea that I would become successful as a thought leader at the company that I started my career with back in 2004. I always thought success looked like being good at my job at the biggest media agency, proving once and for all that I could polish myself into the sort of person who could be successful there.

195 Broadway Lobby, Retail Spaces and Galleria - Sciame Construction
I feel like a NYC success story walking through this fancy lobby to get to work. The gilding alone!

Then I realized that I was about to turn down a more potentially lucrative opportunity, with a SVP Media title, at a nerd shop where I would be reporting into a Canadian. I realized that, while I had a tremendous opportunity to drive change at OMD, the best path for me would be the path that paid the most while offering the best work/life balance for the remaining fifteen years I plan to work. And that path leads through the smaller agency that I start with next month.

I’m still kind of thunderstruck that this even happened, that I have left Omnicom a second time. But I’m on a track where I just want to retire early and go chase all the passions I have that don’t make money. I’d like to be able to finish writing a novel or two. I’d like to go back to school for urban planning or social justice. I’d like to be able to travel the world with my husband, in the time we have together. Life is too short to spend it waiting to retire, so I chose the path that would reduce the wait time.

The Old Couple Camping In The Forest To Relax In Retirement Stock Image -  Image of couple, adventure: 165994949
I’d like this to be me and Paul in a few years only we would have a real goddamn tent

Also, I have to face the fact that I was burning out so fast and so hard at OMD that I was becoming a sloppy mess. Numbers in media plans weren’t matching. Work was slipping through the cracks. I had two separate colleagues this week become disappointed with me because work wasn’t done or delivered as promised, and at my level, it’s expected that I can manage to get deliverables out with the time and quality promised. Staying at OMD would have not only burned me out from the volume of work I was trying to manage, but burned me out emotionally from constantly fearing people would resent me for letting them down or causing them more work. It would have been an ugly, vicious circle that would have continued to corrode my self-confidence.

DAVID FARATIAN - Cumbria Hypnosis | Confidence / Self Esteem Clinic
When I fail at work, half of these say LAZY and the other half say SLOPPY and a few more say MESSY BITCH for the hell of it

So I’m a little more hopeful today. Hopeful that I’ll get my brain back from where it’s been in a constant state of overwhelm the last six months at OMD. Hopeful that I’ll remember to write a bit more, or remember that I am still a creative person somewhere underneath all this corporate facade. Hopeful that I’ll be able to connect more with my husband and my son, especially as Ben goes back to school and we lose the days together we’ve had for the past seventeen months. And finally, hopeful that I’ll get a summer vacation this year, even if I had to pay for that guaranteed time off by quitting my job entirely.

Oh, and that thunderstorm on Tuesday? It ended a few minutes after I finished my call, and tapered to rain. And while I am capable of camping in the rain (hello, BC childhood!) I don’t see why I would choose to do that on my break. I especially didn’t see the point of staying at an RV park where the rationale for staying there at all was for Ben to be able to find other teens to hang out with at the pool or tennis court or other on-site activities. Obviously, with the rain, all the teens had retreated to their parents RVs to play video games. So we decided to just pack up and move to the last room available at the local Holiday Inn, where we ordered in shwarma and watched Back To The Future Part II for the second time as a family. Ben declared it the best money I could have spent that day. All’s well that ends well.

maternity leave the second

At some point in the last couple weeks, it occurred to me that I have now been home with Ben for fifteen weeks: almost the same amount of time that I spent with him when I was on maternity leave in California. Paul was here with us for a couple weeks at the height of the pandemic in April, but for the most part, it has been me and the kiddo, every day, since March 16th. It is the longest I have spent with him since that leave. It is the longest stretch of time I will spend with him for the foreseeable future.

This second leave, home with Ben, feels like a bookend to his childhood. It feels like I spent fourteen weeks with him at the beginning of his life, and then fourteen weeks again as he transitions from being a child into being a teenager. Ben is growing up: his language and attitude and emotions mature in leaps and bounds, similar to how he grows in fits and starts. He has finally crossed the invisible lines from being what we called the “biggest little kid” into being almost a teenager. It feels like a stretched out milestone, and it’s a milestone that sits on my chest to crush my heart.

This pandemic has gifted me with extra time with my son. Even though it has been challenging to manage him while working full time, it has still been extraordinary to be home with him every day. We have had the full time together, not just a few hours at the end of the day. We have been able to travel together to Georgia to visit our family at the beach. We have watched the entire run of Anne with an E, which Ben actually loved (#canadiancontent!). We had so very many days where we had lunch together, and even a handful of days where we sneaked out to a park or went for a walk.

So today, I’m reflecting on how this is my last day of this time with my son, the last day of the bookend of time we have. Tomorrow, Paul will pack Ben up and take him to Pittsburgh, where Ben will spend two weeks with his grandparents and their backyard ravine. He will then come home and go to YMCA camp in NJ for two weeks, after which he will go to Camp Jupiter (the tween-to-teen aged version of the Percy Jackson themed Camp Half-Blood) in Prospect Park. We’ll be together again after that for two weeks of quarantine in Toronto, plus a week with my family once we are released, as a sort of coda to our time together. But I still feel like today is an occasion, a time for reflection, a time for me to look at my son and reflect on how he is the piece of my heart that has been walking around outside of me for twelve years…and now he is his own person.

One more thing: I love symmetry. And to give today a full sense of symmetry, for my last day of a second maternity leave, we are spending it with Ben’s beloved aunties. Z and Wendy showed up at the hospital the day Ben was born, part of a crew of a half-dozen friends who came in that day to see the first baby born to any of us. So today, we are going to the beach with Ben’s beloved Aunt Z and her sister, and then will have a picnic (weather permitting) with Aunt Wendy as well. They were also there on the first day of Ben’s childhood, and they will be there on the official “last” day of it as well, next year, when he is bar mitzvah’d. But if we can get through the day without the predicted thunderstorms interrupting our plans, they will also be with my son, the creature they have known since he was an angry meatloaf, on this last day of this time I’ve had with Ben, before he resumes his (mostly) normally scheduled summer.

take me down to the peleton city

So begins one of my favorite tweets about the disastrous (for Peloton) commercial from Xmas 2019:

It’s that commercial people reference when I admit that I got a Peloton for the holiday. Of course, my husband did not buy it for me. Rather, I convinced him that we needed not only to spend the cash on the bike, but also to subsequently create space for it in our small Brooklyn apartment:

Still, I feel like unjustifiably self-indulgent for just having this thing. Part of that is that the bike is the only luxury product I’ve ever bought. My clothes are bought on sale. We drive a Honda Civic. I fly coach and use miles like they’re the new green stamps. I meal plan so we don’t have to spend money on takeout or waste food. Even my road bike is a Craiglist purchase. The Peleton bike is an insanely expensive toy when juxtaposed with our generally non-luxury lifestyle. It’s also a lot of money that isn’t going to better works: money that I am not donating to charities or even saving for my own retirement. It’s money I could have donated to actually help people.

This is, of course, part of my own hangup over making a good salary when millions of Americans do not. Paul reminded me that I earned the money for this bike. I don’t disagree, but I also feel it’s unfair that I was able to earn this money when thousands of people work just as hard as I do, at equally challenging jobs, and do not receive the same compensation. If I am fortunate enough to be making money that I do not need to survive as part of my job at a media agency, should I not be contributing more of that money to help people and sharing my good fortune with the world?

Despite this line of thought, my altruism was short lived. I realized that I loved the bike as soon as I got it. The instructors are cheerful and encouraging. My favorite is the woman who is now a professional cyclist because she was told her thighs were too thick for ballet or modeling, who talks about her professional cycling career, emphasizes results over body size, and shares enough of my GenXer taste in music to make all my workouts joyful. Even with other instructors though, the workouts are always a dance party on a bike, because I can preview the playlists to make sure I will have fun. Some people may be riding the Power Zone Endurance Rides; I am riding the “90s Pop Ride”. When “I Love Rock And Roll” played in the last few minutes of today’s 80’s ride, I breathlessly tried to yell along while pushing up a hill at a high cadence, watching my heart rate spike up to 92% of max, joyful to be pushing myself up that freaking hill.

Remodeled office, with bike that BARELY fits with the Murphy bed down.

There’s also a gaming element to the Peloton software that isn’t unlike the SoulCycle model in the leaderboard competitive model. I generally ride in the top 40% of riders; the top 30% of women my age. I am also constantly trying to beat my own PRs, to output more energy than I did the time before. The rides also have suggested resistance and cadence added in the on-demand versions, so I can clock whether I’m where I need to be for metrics. The whole thing appeals to the data nerd part of me and the competitive instincts in me. It’s hard to resist that design.

Finally, I just like biking. Biking is what I apparently built my body for as a teenager, and now that’s just literally how I roll. I am a better athlete on a bike than I am without wheels: as a runner, I run very slowly, as a cyclist, I’m actually average. It’s joyful, to me, to feel my body, the body I have always been told isn’t fit, isn’t capable, roll up an imaginary hill faster than I did the day before. My body is fit and is perfectly capable of cranking out these rides, and I love being able doing so without leaving the house or worrying about being late to a spin studio. I still feel somewhat guilty for even having this bike, but for the joy it brings me, it’s worth every penny I paid for it.

2019: the year of course correcting

The last few years have been a time for me to reconsider some of the myths and false truths about myself, a time to look at some of the narratives I‚Äôve either been told, or have told myself, or both.  It‚Äôs been a time for me to consider whether or not I actually am the person I told myself I was, and what my actual priorities should be. In some of these cases, this has led to me reclaiming parts of myself that I let go along the way.  In others, it‚Äôs led to me challenging statements that I heard in childhood, and realizing the resulting narratives I created were false all along. It‚Äôs been an uncomfortable process in many ways, but one I‚Äôm grateful I had the catharsis to begin.

The most difficult parts of this process have been when I‚Äôve challenged an assumption about myself, and taken a series of actions accordingly, only to find out what I believed about myself was actually the truth the whole time.  This has been most evident in the case of my career. I challenged the assumption that I was a career driven person back in early 2017, when my career started floundering and going off course as I was assigned to role after role that was just not a fit for me or my skillset.  I questioned whether or not the mis-matches mattered, because the disconnect resulted in a lot of free time for me. I was, after all, working from home, on clients where I wasn‚Äôt the right fit and wasn‚Äôt actually needed.  This lack of work engagement gave me more time to do things like cook dinners for my men, or start entirely new Scout groups in Brooklyn.  It was a shift in work/life balance that I would have thought I would actually welcome, until it made me miserable.

As that balance continued to shift in 2018, and I grew more miserable with my job,  I questioned whether I even wanted a high pressure career. After all, I thought, maybe I only believed I was a career person because I had always believed it was the option with the most security for my adult life as an independent, single woman.  Throughout my teens and twenties, I assumed I would not be capable of attracting a partner who could be relied on to support me financially, making a career a necessity. Therefore, was I career driven because I always thought I would be, or was I career driven because that‚Äôs actually who I am? 

In a turn that will be surprising to absolutely no one, it‚Äôs the latter.  I am career driven because I like being challenged. I am career driven because I need a place to put all my energy.  I need that kind of week in, week out, year after year, life-long challenge. There are days when I question whether I am in the right career, but there is no question that I need a career.  

So when my career started foundering, and I no longer had a direction to go in, it wasn‚Äôt an assumed identity that was hard-hit, it was actually part of my real personality that was suddenly aimless and drifting.  And while I have thrived for years on a sense of being useful and necessary on any given team, realizing my sheer uselessness on client after client made me feel like a failure.  My challenges in 2017 and 2018 weren‚Äôt about doing positive, valuable work, but were instead about proving any value for my paycheck, in a context where that was almost impossible.  If I was less career driven, perhaps I would have been able to ignore those negatives and focus on the positive of my changing work/life balance. Instead, I became despondent and hopeless until finally, I realized I had to change jobs.

Now, a year later, I am back on a productive career track, an asset to the agency I work for, a valued part of the client-facing team.  I am back on the life-long quest for more knowledge, more expertise, to be better at what I do.  There will always be days when I question whether this is the right path for me, but sometimes, just being on a path is more than enough.  And so, the assumption I challenged, and regained, is that I like to work, and I love that my work takes the form of a career in which I can continue to grow and evolve.  

And so, when I look back at 2019, the theme that stands out the most is that I proved, to myself, that I am a career person.  I am ambitious, although, as I said once, I am more ambitious for knowledge than power. Power is nice in that it represents security, as does money, but what I really want is learning, and given that my brain felt somewhat stretched out for most of 2019, I am getting plenty to learn.  I took on this new job and met its challenges. I adapted to a new role, and in some ways, adapted the role to me and my skills.  I leveraged all my expertise in new situations and was successful in many cases as a result.  I can be proud of myself for not only the work I do, but also the context of the self-discovery that came with it.

the non-milestone birthday

So last year I had a milestone birthday. It was therefore somewhat anticlimactic to have a non-milestone birthday on Monday, that I celebrated with zero fanfare or expectations. (Also, we were fantastically jetlagged on Monday, so there was minimal celebration other than ordering Bareburger for pickup and passing out)

It is usually at my birthday that I take stock of my life and where I am in it, and I think this photo sums it all up:

THIS GUY SERIOUSLY

This is me with my goofball son, in BC last weekend. I am tired but joyful because I am with my baby – and my family. I don’t look pulled together , and I don’t particularly care. I do not need to look pulled together, I just need to be pulled together enough to engage with the people I love.

look alive out there

Tonight, I went to a BAM “Eat, Drink and be Literary” event to see author Sloane Crosley speak on humor and insight in her writing.¬† Sometimes, I just want to hear another slightly sarcastic forty year old white woman speak to experiences I can sort of relate to. Crosley is of the school of humor where she ties personal anecdotes and observations back to universal conditions, a synecdoche that I feel is representative of Generation Xennial.¬† We tend to speak in metaphors, in pop culture references and personal essays, in stories that represent the feelings we cannot allow ourselves to be insecure enough to voice.¬† We are the last generation before social media, the last to have come of age in a time before oversharing was common, and our personal essays therefore depend on circumstance as metaphor for emotion.

That said, I enjoyed all of Crosley’s books, and while reading them, I saw her as being a voice of my generation, using humor as a lens to examine what it means to live in New York City in the twenty-first century.¬† Yet I have trouble connecting to Crosley’s essays in the visceral way that I connect to, say, Lindy West.¬† Crosley’s work, and her voice, somehow comes across as too polished, too East Coast, almost academic.¬† Her wit is polished and slightly self-deprecating, but not in the passive-aggressive snarky way that I relate to as a Canadian.¬† Her essays are exceptionally well crafted, and exemplify, to me, what it means to be a New Yorker here and now: a sense of being polished and well spoken, of being quick witted and literary, of the inheritance of the legacy of hundreds of years of writers in this particular city.¬† I am not, however, polished and well spoken, at least not¬†consistently, so my disconnect is entirely a personal one.

And yet, there was a period at the end where everyone was asking questions, and I did not.¬† I wanted to ask about how being a woman, and a woman¬†of our age, impacted Crosley in her writing.¬† I thought about asking, do you feel you approach your work differently than you would have had you been born a few years later?¬† Were you better able to perfect your craft because you were first published in 2002, not 2012, and personal essays were not yet tarnished by a culture of oversharing?¬† I wanted to ask, how do you feel your voice is affected by being a woman?¬† Do you feel you write differently or approach humor differently than your male counterparts?¬† However, I felt like it would have been putting that author on the spot to ask about the differences in how women experience humor, especially since she has never written about the challenges of being funny¬†as a female.¬† I felt like she was somehow disconnected from the challenge of being a woman in comedy because of her medium as an essayist, as opposed to being a woman comedian in a performance role.¬† I feel like we’re just not making progress in allowing women to be funny in America, and yet this was not the funny woman to ask about that particular topic (unlike again, say, Lindy West).

Still, I was riveted by Sloane Crosley, by how quick her wit is in conversation.¬† I appreciated hearing about the writer’s craft, about the intensity of fiction versus non-fiction, about the way creating a story out of memory impacts the original experience.¬† It’s so true, how crafting an anecdote impacts our perception of an event, as we select only the details that are most relevant to the concept we’re trying to convey, or that are most interesting to our audience.¬† The memories I’ve written about over the years are now one-dimensional, almost shellacked and preserved for posterity.¬† Some may have been lost otherwise, but others have been polished into representative tales.¬† It was interesting, to hear that perspective from an essayist who has given her own memories to her craft.

I even actually enjoyed the most awkward part of the evening, which was where I sat down at a table of total strangers.  The series format is a buffet dinner, at tables of 8 people, each table stocked with wine, thankfully, to help it along.  I took a seat at a table with two welcoming older people, who kindly told me where the empty seat was and then said the nicest thing possible, which was that they guessed my age at twenty-five.  They were lovely people who lived in Brooklyn Heights, and had been in Brooklyn for decades.

The rest of the table, once they returned from the buffet, also all turned out to all be closer to my parents’ age, retirees with time and means to engage in the arts.¬† They weren’t all familiar with the author, but they all came to every event in the series, whether or not they had read the books.¬† I quickly discovered that most of them were also long term residents of Brooklyn, going back to the seventies, a time unimaginable in Brooklyn to those of us who consider a pre-2008 home purchase to make one a pillar of the community.¬† Fortunately, I am fascinated by anecdotes of Brooklyn and New York City from the 70s, and they seemed interested enough in my anecdotes of being a Canadian.¬† We all got along just fine, and despite my initial nervousness, I found myself chatting away.¬† (Did I mention these tables also had wine?)

I found the whole experience immensely worthwhile: a chance to support literature, to support the National Book Foundation, to support BAM – but most of all, it was important to support¬†myself.¬†¬†I do not write essays, exactly, but I do write thousand word blog entries.¬† I would¬†like to write those kind of essays, to be able to tell a story that encapsulates so much of the world around me, to be able to use non-fiction as a narrative that still manages to contain metaphor.¬† That, to me, is a high art.¬† This was also something I chose as my first “artists date“, part of the Artists Way project I’ve committed to doing this quarter as a way to reconnect with my own writing and creativity.¬† It was something that inspired me, that challenged me a bit, that gave me some concepts to mentally chew on – an idea right in line with the dinner party.¬† Maybe I’ll go back in a month for Min Jin Lee.

 

 

the scourge of rumination

I have always been prone to an unfortunate cycle: that of impulsive action, resulting in a negative response, followed by self-shaming and rumination.¬† In recent years, I’ve recognized this cycle, and begin the process of distancing impulsive and inappropriate behavior from my self-worth or my value as a person.¬† I Vaguebooked about one such incident and my mental process on Friday.

The problem is that I still have a lifelong habit of ruminating.¬† It’s a well-worn track in my brain, a habit that is hard to break.¬† It’s re-living and re-thinking through the Moment of Shame: the moment of realization I have where an external response causes me to re-contextualize my behavior as wrong and inappropriate.¬† I will then ruminate over the behavior and berate myself for it.¬† In my twenties, when these actions were bigger and clumsier, I could¬†really self-shame myself.¬†It’s why some of the emotion expressed on¬†Crazy Ex-Girlfriend resonates so strongly with me:

Now, it’s both better and worse.¬† The problem is better because whatever I did, it’s usually a small faux-pas, as I’m obviously much older and wiser and have been working on my social skills for years.¬† ¬†However, the problem is worse because my rumination isn’t limited to my own brain.¬† It now spreads out and colors the lives of my husband and son, or my friends, or my family.¬† It’s hard to be an attentive and loving wife and mother when the inside of your brain is busy regurgitating shame and anxiety all over itself.

I’ve also realized lately that this kind of rumination triggers a second narrative, which is that of a greater sense of self-doubt and failure.¬† Once my mind starts telling itself this story, and my brain recognizes the emotions, it starts referencing¬†other¬†similar incidents to create an entire negative narrative.¬† Whatever the context of the original mistake, be it social or professional, family or friends, day job or volunteer work, my brain will use the latest incident as a trigger to reference¬†past¬†incidents.¬† These become citations and proof points that I will never function in society as a successful human because I am not trying hard enough to develop and display behavior that would garner mutual like and respect.

The whole process then expands from one small incident into an entire Flowchart of Negativity:

rumination spiral

I suspect that the original rumination process was a coping mechanism I developed in my late teens and early twenties, a way of trying to make myself¬†better so I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life in the kind of social isolation I experienced growing up.¬† Originally, this was a way of trying to understand external response to my actions and correct the behavior so people would like me.¬† Over two decades though, it’s now expanded, like some kind of self-destructing¬†grow in water toy.¬† There’s two¬†additional¬†boxes now on the original rumination track¬†plus an¬†entire new macro level track¬†of negative thought that opens up from these kind of incidents.¬† Its a disproportionate response that in turn, can open up a depressive episode.

Lately though, I’ve started to realize that my response is not too far outside the spectrum of normalcy, which means there’s plenty of research and material available on this particular mental process.¬† I’ve read that this is especially common because of the way humans are programmed to need their tribes.¬† Without the tribe, one is vulnerable, and therefore we are overly worried about behavior that could cause one to be cast out of a tribe.¬† It turns out that I’m not special, I’m just¬†human.¬†¬†

Furthermore,¬†rumination is a well-known negative mental process.¬† It is not something I need to further berate myself for.¬† I have made it a default behavior, which has made it stronger and harder to break from though.¬† Just as how I’ve developed the muscles for riding a bike (and killing it in spin class), I’ve also developed the mental muscles around negative thought.¬† Just like my quads though, these have grown stronger, and more developed, with time.¬† So just like how I can return to spin class and make progress quickly, it’s also entirely too easy for me to re-build the strength of these old mental patterns.

The strength & training metaphor also makes me realize that I also have control over the situation.¬† I used to say I wasn’t a runner, that I had developed my muscles for cycling, not running, and that I couldn’t run.¬† Years later, I run perfectly well – slowly, of course, but I am capable of running and¬†getting faster over time.¬† I also used to think that the rumination and shame process was hardwired into my brain and that it was a function of my depression and anxiety.¬† What if it is actually just something that I need to re-train on, just like how I re-trained my quads to run?¬† MIND.¬† BLOWN.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a connection between self-shaming and depression – but the depression can be a function of rumination rather than the other way around.¬† That makes it more controllable.¬† I’ve observed and documented above how my self-shaming not only leads to rumination, but now opens up an entire additional track of negative thought.¬† That’s been studied and there are real, scientific brain connections between rumination and depressive episodes.¬† It’s still a bad thing that I have built connections in my brain between meaningless incidents and a conviction of failure, but it isn’t unique or extreme.¬† It’s a¬†known quantity, and it’s possible to fix it.

Finally, knowing that this is a mental process happening to other people makes dealing with me so much easier.¬† It’s easier for me to feel compassion for people other than for myself, and I do not believe that anyone deserves to go through this kind of self-berating shame cycle.¬† Therefore, if I don’t believe that other people should do this to themselves, I should extend the same sort of compassion to¬†me.¬† I need to let go of the “tough love” narrative I’ve used to justify berating myself over the years, telling myself that ruminating and the resulting suffering was necessary to make me a better person, one less likely to engage in the poor behavior in the future.¬† That rationale was a terrible story to tell myself, and one I would never encourage in others because it’s a needless source of torment.¬† I should therefore show myself the same compassion I would show any other human.

To that end, I’m looking into self-compassion solutions.¬† If I can stop the process at the original root – the Moment of Shame – I can keep it from branching out into a whole¬†thing.¬† It turns out there is literally an entire¬†center for this, and they have courses and books and all kinds of things I can use to upskill my brain.¬† I am a great believer in books, knowledge and training.¬† It’s also something a therapist is very likely to understand and support me with.

Figuring all this out is hard.¬† Admitting to it is harder – there’s also an element of lack of self-control here, a further berating for not getting over this years ago.¬† However, like most things, it is easier once I take it apart, break it down, build a flowchart and attack the problem at the root cause.

stranded in stamford

Thanks to tonight’s MEGA WINTER STORM (#avery #winterstormavery #whydowenamethestorms) I am stranded at a Sheraton in Stamford.¬† Because, obviously, when a storm hits, one wants to go for as much alliteration as possible when seeking shelter.

I had to go on my last ever trip to my Connecticut based bank client today.¬† This required driving, because I had to go to “Real America”, aka Not NYC.¬† And despite my best efforts to leave sooner, I found myself on I-95 right as the storm hit the area around 4pm.¬† I watched as my time to home on Google Maps went up…and then refused to go down again.¬† Despite two hours of driving, the time to home stubbornly stayed at over three hours, just with a continuously later arrival time.

Eventually traffic just…stopped.¬† I sat there watching the snow get heavier, and realized: I was equipped to drive in the worsening conditions in the SUV I was upgraded to this morning at the rental car location.¬† ¬†The other vehicles around me might not be as well equipped, and my SUV would not be immune to other cars or trucks sliding into it.¬† ¬†That was when I gave up, pulled off the highway, and sought a hotel.

It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to be able to do this.¬† First of all, I can likely expense this back to the client since I was asked drive to them on the day of a major storm.¬† Second of all, if the client is not amenable to the expense, I can afford a $200 hotel room.¬† My time getting home also isn’t critical: I have my husband to take care of our son so I’m not needed at home until I can get back tomorrow, and even if Paul also got stuck in the storm, Ben could go to any of a half-dozen neighbors or friends locally as part of our Brooklyn child raising village.¬† I have the sheer luxury of being able to put my own safety and wellbeing first and procure a hotel room instead of slugging through the storm.¬† I’m grateful that my path in life put me in a position to be able to make a night like this a little easier on myself.

Also: I left the house yesterday!  I did a bunch of things that reminded me of what it was like to have kinetic energy, instead of being dragged down by inertia working at home.  I even managed to socialize a bit, seeing a dear friend for a quick catch-up and then going to a Canadian college alumni event to say hi to the two or three people I knew from other Canadian gatherings,  and pick up the latest UBC Alumni swag:

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I’m not sure when my alma mater started handing out swag notebooks and pins for an alumni association, but I’m happy to have it as a conversation starter in work meetings.¬†¬†Why yes, it’s a real school!¬†¬†

Sadly when I go to a college alumni event, it’s difficult to share memories of university.¬† UBC is¬†huge, and the experiences differ radically.¬† I have yet to meet anyone who has even a Venn diagram overlap with my memories: most of the alumni I meet at expat events are younger than I am, and many are Business school graduates, not Arts majors.¬† I¬† also graduated in 2003, and the defining event of my last two years was my participation in the Arts Undergrad Society and Arts County Fair.¬† With that major annual event having been defunct for (yikes)¬†eleven years (shut down in 2007), I haven’t met a lot of fellow alumns who share memories of it.

However, there are still plenty of things I’m sure I could talk about with UBC alumni.¬† Memories of the old SUB, for example!¬† The many drinking establishments on campus!¬† The wide range of actual academics!¬† Vancouver in general!¬† I mean, how lucky were we to go to school in such a beautiful setting, attached to such an incredible city?¬† But last night I was just¬†so tired after a day of being outside of the house, from having taken Ben on a school tour, gone to the office, gone to the dentist, met a friend for coffee, done a spin class and walked the ten blocks from the gym to the event…now that I think about it, no wonder I lacked enthusiasm for reminiscing about UBC.¬† I’ll have to try again at the¬†next expat event on Monday.

Meanwhile, I’m rapidly running out of energy, here in my now cozy hotel room in Stamford.¬† Being warm.¬† Having unlimited access to heat.¬† Also something I’m thankful for.¬† May all people be so fortunate on a night like tonight.

still benched

I went to the doctor on Monday to check in on my foot, which continues to go from Fairly Normal at the start of the day, to Bloated Puffy by the end of the day.

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First thing in the morning, minimal puffiness.  Or puffins.

On Monday, by the time I got to the doctor at 4:30pm, it was puffing out of the top of my ballet flat shoe like rising dough. I took it to the specialist I saw back when I first sprained the ankle, and he pressed down on the swelling with a concerned expression. “Hm. This shouldn’t be,” he said, and I felt my heart sink.

“So the swelling isn’t normal?” I asked

“Nope. Let me just see how you’re healing. This may hurt,” he said, and then poked my ATFL tendon, where the tear is, connecting my leg to my foot. I winced and exclaimed, “OW!”

“Yep, that’s the ATFL we talked about. This isn’t recovering as much as I’d expect for six weeks in.” He asked if I had been doing the exercises he suggested, and I told him I had, and showed him the range of mobility in my foot. That was actually better than expected, as the doctor was quite pleased with my ability to rotate and flex my foot. He asked me to walk across the room and stand on one foot, and I did. Then he looked at my foot critically, and said, “I’m going to prescribe you an AirCast”

“Oh,” I said, “you already issued me one.”

“Then why aren’t you wearing it?”

“It was slowing me down?” I said, and then started laughing. The AirCast was making it hard to walk quickly, but I did wear it for the two weeks I was supposed to wear it. Now I’m supposed to wear it if I’m leaving the house, again. I’m also supposed to ice my ankle (which I’ve been doing!), elevate it at night (ditto), and wear a compression sock (which I already own). And, most of all, I have to stop pushing myself into activity and telling myself I’m “working my ankle for recovery”. I did manage to regain a lot of mobility doing that, but not a lot of actual healing has taken place.

So yesterday, Tuesday, I dutifully put on my compression sock and AirCast and went to fetch my son from school and take him to a dentist appointment for a chipped tooth. I took Lyfts when we could have walked (we did walk a few blocks here and there, but less than we usually would). I THOUGHT that would be the end of the physical stress on my ankle for the day, and settled back in to work, ankle propped on a stool under my desk, while Ben worked on a school project.

Then Ben managed to slice open his thumb with a knife cutting a carboard box – and I ran with him to Urgent Care, a half mile away. It was only after the adrenaline wore off that I realized how exceptionally bad an idea it had been to run with my bleeding son, his hand compressed and elevated in a dishtowel, across Prospect Heights.

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I got him to urgent care for stitches within twenty minutes of the cut!  Parenting win!

Now I have re-trashed my ankle. Even if I wasn’t committed to resting it and getting better, I would be now because it hurt more today than it has in weeks. The bright side is that it actually isn’t puffy at all: the compression sock and the rest for the past two days has actually reduced the edema. The original ATFL tear, however, is still there. There will be no hiking on Mount Misery this weekend (it’s quite pleasant despite the name!), but there may be a trip to the MRI if it doesn’t improve.

 

Return of the Cankle

My wedding night, I was six months pregnant. I still danced until my feet gave out. I remember after a night of celebrating, both ankles were so swollen that they had disappeared into my calves, a phenomenon charmingly referred to as “cankles”. Today, I didn’t even get the fun of dancing but still, after walking a mile and sitting at a desk, here we are with one cankle:

I still went to the gym tonight, but only to swim. Being in the water meant activity without weight on my ankle. I kept it to 20 minutes on the pool, 200 yards of laps, just enough for me to feel like I did something and to see if that negatively impacts my recovery at all. The ankle hurts, especially since I went off my painkiller/NSAID medication this week, but it’s a pain I can live with.

Also, it was nice to get the swim time in. I have to do some sort of cardio to keep my endorphins up. In my toolkit of Ways I Manage my Brain, cardio is one of the tools I don’t reach for enough. Then on nights like tonight when I do use it, I remember it’s extremely helpful and I should pick it up all the time. It would be smart of me to do more cycling and swimming while recovering enough to run. I just need to get back in a daily habit of prioritizing that time.

Also, I got to see how my new Fitbit tracks swimming! The answer is: in stalker like detail

Like most people, I have a bad habit of dithering time away on the unimportant, which means work takes longer, which means I don’t get to the gym until after 7pm and then end up heading back to the office to take a Scout planning call instead of getting on the subway, which means in turn I don’t get home until 11pm on a Wednesday, which means I can’t get up early enough to work out because I have an 8am appointment to get my bangs trimmed in SoHo. This has nothing to do with my sprained ankle of course, and everything to do with bad habits, the kind of habits that allow me to put off self-care and fitness time under the guise of work, which in turn has been dragged out by a lack focus. Which is why I’m on a subway at 10:30pm on a Wednesday.

In the interim, I have bloody cankles, and my entire right leg is twinging with the effort of balancing on one leg this evening as part of my requisite physio recovery process. But at least I went swimming. I got the start of a better habit in place. I prioritized that activity even if it wasn’t well planned. The cankle will eventually go away, but maybe, just maybe, I can use this time of recovery as impetus to be more mindful and deliberate in my physical activity.