Thursday, July 23, 2015

Witching Hour

It's the middle of the night and I am wide awake. I woke up well over an hour ago, overheated in the summer of my bedroom, pillow too warm and comforter too heavy, further aggravated by my two large and furry cats, one outstretched on each side of me and both leaning heavily and against my shoulders, slightly pinning me down and making it difficult for me to turn over. Why they choose to flank me in this way each night, instead of B, is a mystery.

It's a common scenario that plays out almost every night around the same time, and usually results in me turning over the pillow to the cool side, gently nudging the kitties for a little more room, usually until at least one of the fluffballs gets annoyed and relocates. I then roll to my side and tuck the sheets and comforter between my knees and position myself so that one leg is elongated beneath the covers and the other is bent atop the coverings, open air. Feeling cooled and realigned, I can fall back to sleep within minutes...unless the little mind gremlins of witching hour decide to wreak havoc.

B and I leave for MI (via a brief Chicago stopover) tomorrow. The anticipation of the forthcoming itinerary has jolted the on-switch in my brain (in a good way! I'm excited for the events ahead!), and I am therefore wide awake.

Back in my working days, this scenario of witching hour sleeplessness would have revved up a cycle of understandable anxiety.You know, the kind where you tell yourself "I have to wake up for a long day of work in 4 hours, go back to sleep! SLEEP already!" Consequently all of that worry about not sleeping just haunts you even more. So then another hour creeps by...and another...with the night eventually ending with the decision to just get up and start the day well ahead of schedule (which can sometimes be empowering...until the inevitable crash at 10am), or the (even worse) alternative, finally falling into the deepest sleep ever, just minutes before the stab of the alarm clock. Either way, it's a given that day ahead will involve venti plus levels of caffeine infusion.

My alarm is set to wake me at 7:15 for an early workout followed by a morning of household chores and final trip preparations while B gets a half-day of work in before we hit the road. Despite a busy morning followed by a 6 hour drive to Chicago, I haven't cycled into the sleeplessness dread and gremlin mind takeover scenario. After all, I don't have a stressful day of demanding clients, meetings and heads-down analysis ahead (packing toiletries doesn't take a lot of brainpower), I'm more well rested than I've been in years so a little lack thereof tonight isn't that big a deal, and I'm a wizard at sleeping in the car. Something about the hum of the highway and a reclined front seat knocks me out every time I take a lengthy road trip.

It's a little feeling of victory, actually, to know that even though sleep has eluded me tonight, I've eluded the mind gremlins of witching hour.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Escaping a Hijack

Yesterday, I cried. No obvious reason presented itself in the moment, except that my brain decided I needed to open up the tear valves and relieve the shock waves of pressure I put on myself - an imaginary, illegitimate pressure caused by momentary cases of malfunctioning circuitry inside my head.

What gives? I have temporarily eradicated any work-related pressure, and all the other external peripherals suggest I should be, by all accounts, enjoying a carefree ride, at least for the near term. And yet it seems my brain is on a constant search for ways to get me all worked up. Such is life when an anxiety disorder is always running in the background, like a useless, oversized, preloaded computer program, wreaking semi-(un)predictable havoc on an otherwise smoothly running system.

My tears lasted just moments, and B helped me to pull me out of my drive-by-funk and had me laughing and smiling again in no time. I recently learned that intense emotions have a biological life expectancy of about 90 seconds, and my mini anxiety tornado and its short-lived trajectory before dissipating into the cloud recesses of my mind suggests this new found knowledge just might be accurate.

It's a compelling little rule of thumb, The 90 Second Rule, that even the crappiest and turdiest of feelings can let go just as quickly as they grabbed hold in the first place...particularly if we are conscious enough to pull the plug on the negative circuitry to keep the pattern from reocurring. In related news, this rule on the biology of emotions was discussed in Jill Bolte Taylor's book My Stroke of Insight, which I haven't yet read, but is now on my must-have read list after watching her incredibly popular and compelling Ted Talk of the same name (it's well worth the 18 minute view).

"Curiosity" is a cognitive behavioral tool I often use to help quell the potential for an "amygdala hijack" and the resulting deep dive into the abyss of destructive thinking. I've learned to read the signs that I'm about to get sucked into a black hole of my own making. Usually, it's a mix of biological responses (tightness in my chest, a feeling that my body temperature is rising) combined with hyperbolized self talk in the form of catastrophizing and/or speaking in absolute terms ("never" "always" "best" "worst"). If I have the awareness to recognize these signs, then my next step is to allow myself to be a curious observer to my emotional experience. I like curiosity as an approach, because by definition, curiosity is all about genuine, open-minded, non-judgmental exploration. Approaching my emotions with curiosity keeps me from getting caught up the negative hype of the annoying shock jock deejay that is waiting to hijack the turntables that are the hemispheres of my brain.

So, I slipped a little this time around, and opened the door to a temporary hijack. But, even when things are good (which they, like, SO are right now, omg) the anxiety program is always running in the background, waiting to hijack my system. Diligence, practice, therapy, awareness, curiosity...that's what helps me to escape a long term hijack.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It's Not Exactly "Eat, Pray, Love"...

I'm not traveling to Italy. Or India. Or Bali. My big enlightening will unfold (hopefully it will unfold, anyway!) right here in Midwest Minne, with a few jaunty, Western-centric excursions to Michigan, British Columbia and Mexico, and possibly a few other destinations dotting the map as well.

I'm not in the midst of a divorce. Au contraire mon frere! Quite the opposite for this newlywed!

I do not make my living as a writer. No one is paying me for my dazzling prose as I get down and dirty with my amygdala. Very few people are even reading my words (about 9 readers, according to my Google stats -- don't worry, I have no clear way to know who you are, though I can educate a guess that one my mother, one is my sister, and one is my husband...). No matter, since I'm mostly writing for my own amusement anyway versus attempting to achieve some sort of sense of posterity.

However, just as Ms. Gilbert detailed in her acclaimed "Eat, Pray, Love" memoir, I too am searching for that elusive thing called purpose. My version of the journey is just a bit more "everyday average gal", and with considerably less wit, lacking in the charm or any level of profound insight.

Here's where I'm at so far on my magical journey to enlightenment, give or take a few steps and stumbles:

Step 1: Wear stretchy pants daily and watch a lot of TV. Sometimes do laundry, and try not to forget to feed the cats.

Step 2: Feel guilty for wearing stretchy pants and watching a lot of TV daily. Even though I'm doing other stuff too. Come on now, with the Netflixing four straight episodes of Drop Dead Diva. Good lord, it's a cancelled Lifetime show, for the love of Pete! Bad, bad Molly!

Step 3: Screw the guilt! When else will I ever get to sit around and just wear stretchy pants and watch a lot of TV?  I don't have any kids! I don't have any major time or life commitments! And, I worked my butt off for years to earn this lazy payout, and I'm going to relax and enjoy it already, dammit!

Step 4: Cycle back and forth between Step 2 and 3 for a bit.

Step 5: Consult with therapist about the discomfort I feel for not being more 'productive', and not knowing clearly what I want, because hey, I mean it's been over a month now, where's my enlightenment already??? Discuss many important truths that stem from this pain and discomfort, including its origin and its pervasiveness. No Balinese gurus for me, I have the wisdom of my licensed psychologist, thankyouverymuch!

Step 6: Noodle on themes from therapy, including observing my emotions and reactions without such harsh self judgement and criticism, accepting that I can love who I am, just as I am right in this moment, full of flaws and conflicts and stumbles (e.g. maitri), inviting in my own preferences as being valid, even if they differ from the preferences of others, and generally reflecting on the impermanence of, well, everything. And what the heck, let's share these vulnerabilities of mine in a public digital forum!

Step 7: Did you read step 6? Shit's heavy. I think I better stay on Step 6 for a while, before I try for step 7. And when I do start to tip toe onward, let's be honest, Step 6 is going to be a tandem effort with all other steps, from here on out.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Month One Recap - Running, Sock Puddles, Par 3s and a Sense8 Plug

How is it July already? June's collection of sunrises and sunsets felt like a flip book, each day a page, turning so effortlessly! While I am still recovering from years of over stress and under concern for what I really want and need to navigate this topsy turvy life maze, the key word is that I am, without a doubt, recovering. And, I'm just beginning to rustle the dust and debris off my psyche, to see what's been hiding underneath.

Health-wise, I'm back in the habit of taking daily vitamins along with my regular meds, which currently consist of plenty of allergy cure-alls, sine mine have been HORRIBLE this year. My little old lady, days-of-the-week pillbox, featuring adorable lady bug renderings on each day box, has been a huge help informing this daily habit (Thanks, B, for picking up that little treasure for your old lady wife!) I'm drinking more water, and I'm getting a full 8 (plus) hours of sleep each night. I'm also meeting with my therapist every week to help me remember that I am allowed to take this time off for myself, that I am worthy of it, and that it's ok to focus on my wants and needs, first and foremost. She helps me with that pesky negative self-talk and quieting those raucous voices that have a tendency to bucket drum and drone and hiss and tsssk inside the old noggin.

During "week the second", I started incorporating daily workouts, and for the past 3 weeks, I've worked out at least 5 times a week, including a mix of 3-4 outdoor runs (I'm training for the SeaWheeze half marathon in VC, BC this coming August), along with 1-2 interval workouts at OrangeTheory (btw, I am obsessed with OTF! And I can tell it's helping to amp up my running game). On my "off" non-workout days, you'll find me at the driving range or more recently, practicing Yoga at my favorite studio, where I started up again this past week.

I am so happy to be running again, and what's especially great about training for a race and not working is that I can fit in my longer training workouts on my favorite lakeshore paths and trails during the work week (usually heading out around 9 or 10 am) -- which means I can avoid the work crowds and the weekend warriors that pack the trails during the early mornings, evenings, and weekends. It's glorious to have my favorite running paths (almost) all to myself!

I am reading a fair amount, though to be honest, nothing all that noteworthy as of late. I keep my reading list up to date on Goodreads, and if you're a big reader and a Goodreads lover like me, then look me up and we can swap titles. My sister just got me a copy of Gretchen Rubin's new book on forming happy, healthy habits, and I'm looking forward to digging into that. I promised my sister I'd read it before we meet up back in MI later this summer (I'll do my best, E!), so I'll probably get cracking this weekend. The book found its way to me with a perfect sense of timing, since I want to use this time off to form new habits that will bring more peace and satisfaction to my daily life.

Speaking of new habits, aside from the ones I've already mentioned, I am working on embedding a daily/weekly household chore routine into my life (thank you, Pinterest, for helping me to put together what appears to be an eventually manageable maintenance schedule). Right now, I'm hit and miss on locking down the chore endeavor. But, that's ok. I'll get there, and I want to get there, because having a clean, orderly home makes me feel like I am taking care of myself, and Brian, too. For the record, Brian is not "off the hook" with chores even though I'm not working, nor did he expect to be, and he is great about pitching in on the weekends (and is still the go-to chef in our house). But I like being able to take more of the pressure off during the work week now that I have the time, so that when he gets home, we can relax together, free of the visual noise of a sink full of dirty dishes or an abandoned sock puddle on the floor (defn of sock puddle: a pile of socks, usually mine, that builds up at the foot of the couch when I inevitably kick them off while watching TV).

I'm starting to jump into new(ish) hobbies and interests with more fervor than I could muster up during my work work work life. For the past ~4 years or so, I've been a passive learner of golf, with sporadic trips to the driving range, and a loosey goosey commitment to the sport. I've gotten to the point where my driving range record is not always horrible, and B took me to golf my 9 holes at a nearby par 3 course. We opted not to keep score (thank goodness!), and although I lost 6 balls (yeah, that's right -- 6 balls lost on a par 3!), I still had a blast and cannot wait to get out their again for another 'whack' at it. I've got the name of an instructor, so I plan to get in a lesson this July to help me adjust my swing, which I've been told is actually pretty good, but I have a tendency to hit a little left, and as a lefty, this means I'm leaving my club face a bit open. And, now that I've finally been out on a course, I have learned that I need to pay a lot more attention to reading distance and adjusting my swing accordingly -- for the record, my revised new favorite club is the pitching wedge. I knew it was versatile, but now I "get" it with much more clarity than before with all of its pitching and and chipping prowess!

In June, I also took a somewhat unplanned trip home to MI. I've got a big trip planned for late July/early August (for 2+ weeks!), but my grandmother died at the end of May (during my last weeks at work, just to add to the stress of my final days), which lead to this added sojourn to the homeland. Our family opted in favor of a smaller, family affair a few weeks after her death (versus a big church funeral), in part to  allow some of my family abroad more time to arrange and make the trip. The memorial included a really nice family lunch and a visit to the cemetery to visit my grandmother's grave, and the graves of other family members as well. While death is never easy, I'm so happy my grandmother had 99 years on this earth, and I shared just a few small threads from her life in my previous entry.

Let's see, what else in June...Oh yeah, I ate a lot of ice cream and I watched a lot (lot!) of television - so much that I earned an Xbox "achievement" badge for using Netflix 7 days in a row. I didn't even know that was a thing, and I have an inkling that maybe I shouldn't add that achievement to my LinkedIn profile. Yes, I admit I am a completely TV junkie. TV and reading are my reality escape methods of choice. Anyone looking for a summer TV reco? If so, check out Sense8, one of the newest Netflix original series, developed by the famous Wachowskis (of Matrix fame). The series chronicles the lives of 8 people from different walks of life and from around the world, who discover their lives are interconnected across many dimensions, and in extraordinary ways. Their rare and unusual connection is seen as a threat to some circles, and they learn they must work together to stay in tact (e.g. not get killed). The reviews I've read about the series are polarizing, and I fall firmly on the "like" side of the fence, though at times the sex and violence is a bit much for my taste, and it took a good 4-5 episodes to lay the foundation (e.g. a bit of a slow start). I do have to give an especially rave review for whoever is in charge of the music for this series -- powerful stuff! Is Sense8 available as a Pandora Station? I must investigate this!

...And that, my friends, is more or less how I rocked month one. More adventures, big and small, to come!