Recovery Mode

It’s spring, or somehow in Alberta we skipped it and went straight to summer weather. Sadly, it’s still allergy season. I can barely breathe, and I’m always mere moments away from sneezing. Plus constantly scratching my new mosquito bites.

A couple weeks back, I quit Facebook, and it feels great. I don’t miss it at all. I never have that worry or fear of missing out, even if I am missing out on something. If there are important events, people will find a way to tell me. I’ll take all that energy back so I can hide away from the world and mind my own business.

Went to Edmonton for a friend's birthday, then went to see Gareth Emery. It was an amazing show, and I was with amazing friends. And yet, there was this moment where I felt my heart weighing me down heavily. Whenever this happened in the past, it was because of a specific event or painful memory, so I would process all the emotions and thoughts surrounding that memory, letting it all out while I danced like a maniac. This time, it was a generalized pain. Nothing popped out at me, no deeply hidden experience from my past. Just a heavy weight in my chest. A slightly younger version of me would have embraced it and dove in head first and ripped the wound open, but instead, the 30 year old me just let it be. Didn’t get too invested and didn’t run away either. The moment passed, and then I kept dancing like normal. This followed several days of going out late with friends. These feelings only seem to burn and pound in my chest only when I'm in the safest place I can be — the dance floor. It was a grounding moment to remind me where I am in my progress.

Recently, I applied for a new job, but I realized in the interview that I didn’t really want it. I made a calculated step to test the waters, to see how I would feel if I tried to take on more work, and the experiment provided a very clear answer. It’s hard for my ego and identity to accept, but I have it really good right now. I make enough money to pay the mortgage every month, and all things considered, I probably have the best part time job I could ask for. I have good friends at work, I have my availability and schedule just the way I like it, and I have enough time off to perform my main job as a house spouse. I’m so used to being a workaholic that it’s been a hard transition for me to be comfortable in my current situation. Normally it takes me six months to settle in to a new role, but it’s taken me about a year for this one. In preparing for the interview, I reflected on my time at the company so far, and it slowly dawned on me just how great of a chasm I crossed in getting here. After about 10 years of corporate office work, it’s been a big transition to retail. It was a big change having to punch in and out on time for work. Even while I was working in engineering, compared to some of my coworkers, I only had to report exception time, meaning I only had to file my hours when I was either on vacation or working on a specific project. Otherwise it was always assumed that I was at work on time, doing what I was supposed to do. As well, I’m so accustomed to working with the same 10 or so dudes, but this job is all about customer-facing work, and every day is a new mix of coworkers too. I have a ton of variety in my day, which I enjoy and prefer, but my mind has been solidified in the Dilbert routine for the last decade. As a result, in this past year I’ve grown personally and professionally at a rate I never have before, and I love it. I’m working on parts of myself I never knew needed work, and I’m even finding skills I never knew I had. After a year, I’m only just now getting settled into this job, so I shouldn’t be so quick to rush off and start new adventures just because of my pride. I should sit down and be humble.

Is there anything left for me to do now that I’m trying to stay out of trouble? Of course there is. There’s plenty.

This year I’ve embraced my responsibilities at home as a house spouse, and now that’s starting to pick up. As Carrie gets busier with her private practice, there’s more for me to do around the house, especially as we try to get out with the nice weather to see friends. I’m cooking more and experimenting with new recipes and cuisines. Supercook is a life saver right now, filtering recipes by what ingredients I already have instead of me starting with a recipe and going out to buy more ingredients. It’s spring cleaning time, so with the added daylight, there are tons of things we need to do to prepare for the summer, like flipping the closet or changing filters or killing bugs (eek!). Just finished up the last bit of car repairs for a long while (I hope), which has cost us a pretty penny. We just went through a small bout of financial emergencies for a couple months, but things are levelling off finally. We’re changing a lot. Not buying so many things on a whim anymore, making lots of little decisions that hurt in the moment but give us more oxygen in the future. Tightening the belt during the week and responsibly letting loose on the weekends.

It’s been six years since I started working on my posture, and I’m finally starting to see some progress. All those years of school and office work turned my back into a crescent moon, but now I’m catching my bad posture more frequently at the source. I remember to pull my shoulder blades down and together, arching my spine in the right direction. I’m doing a lot more stretching and strengthening of various muscle groups so that my baseline posture is closer to the ideal position. I’ve also been getting monthly massages for almost the entire past six years, which helps to reset most of my muscles because stretching on my own can’t cover everything. It’s an interesting project that’s stuck with me through all this time, even as I went through the Struggle and my New Three Years Resolution. Even when I hit rock bottom and during my time unemployed, I was still trying to work on my posture. Existing is such a painful experience for me sometimes. While I was writing about the worst emotional pain I had ever experienced, I was trying to sit up straight in my office chair, correctly aligning my elbows and forearms with my desk at a 90 degree angle. Feels good to finally see some improvement.

With the passing of my birthday, it’s also really nice to know that I have love. Abandoning my family of origin and creating my own family of choice has been a long and painful process, but I now have people who I can count on to show up for me when I need it. After recently visiting some in Vancouver and Edmonton, it’s reassuring to actually feel the love after years of cultivating a mass of relationships. I made a lot of those new friends after meeting them through mutual friends, and I’m still able to make new friends even now, with all the challenges of adult relationships. There was a time when I felt stuck with the same miserable people in my life, which was a very depressing fate to encounter. However, by sharing my experience openly with others after moving away from home, I learned from my peers just how dysfunctional and bizarre my childhood experience really was. I worked a lot on myself, and consequently, I started attracting different people. I have a full roster of people who stick by me, and Carrie still seems to like me despite all of my strong odours and weak puns. I am loved.

Even though I sorta just finished my New Three Years Resolution, I have to put myself on ice again for a few more years. I'm not back to a position of strength. It vaguely seems like I still have a few years left yet before I stop feeling so vulnerable. What's the rush? I have nowhere to be, no one to impress, nothing to prove. I've already shown up to the critical battles, and now's the time to eat and sleep. Doing nothing each day is the best, whenever I can get around to it. I'm an old man now, at the ripe old age of 30. I've been through some shit, a sentiment which Kendrick captured in the song "Mortal Man" with an interview he staged with Tupac. He puts it like so:

In this country, a black man only have like 5 years we can exhibit maximum strength, and that’s right now while you a teenager, while you still strong, while you still wanna lift weights, while you still wanna shoot back. 'Cause once you turn 30 it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a man, out of a black man in this country, and you don’t wanna fight no more. And if you don’t believe me, you can look around. You don’t see no loud mouth 30-year-old motherfuckers.

Tupac Shakur

Obviously there are huge differences between the African-American experience and my own, but that passage hit me hard. Everyone has the potential to do the impossible. On one end of the spectrum, some kids can launch startups in their teens and make millions, and on the other end, they quit school to find work and feed their families. I don’t feel bad for myself as though I never had that potential. I tried to start businesses numerous times, unsuccessfully. I juggled far too many activities at once while I was in school, and once I graduated, I worked extra hard at my jobs so I could feel better about myself. As a result, I don’t have that same energy anymore for getting ahead, to leapfrog the competition. I don’t have the energy to go back to school, or spend my spare time developing my skills using free online courses. Even though I heard about Bitcoin a long time ago, I didn’t have the risk tolerance to make the leap and invest even if I wanted to. I feel like I spent my best years trying to survive, and this is where I ended up, which is great by all measures. Still, it's a struggle for me because I always pictured having more by now, but the problem with those expectations is that I never calculated the impact that years of abuse would have on my trajectory. I'll always have this rebellious spirit, thinking for myself and standing up for what I believe in, but I don't have the rocket fuel anymore. I know life isn’t over yet, that there’s still hope for me, as all the recent graduation announcements for people in their 50’s to their 90’s have shown on Twitter. It isn’t the end for me yet, but now is not the time for getting ahead. Now is the time to stay put.

All I wanna do now is stay out of trouble, get by, and have fun with my friends. Who knows how long I need to recover? That's Future Jon's problem. On today’s to-do list is popping some anti-histamine pills and going outside to enjoy the sun and mosquitoes.

Battle Scars

I’ve been slowly upgrading my wardrobe, one article at a time. Got a couple good items so far, like sneakers, coats, and what my friend affectionately refers to as my “ass pants.” I don’t like to rush my clothing decisions because there are too many hypebeasts who buy whatever new trend there is and look terrible. They don’t wear their clothes, but the clothing brands wear them. That is, the clothes don’t enhance their personal look and style, but the people wearing the clothes enhance the brand’s value through their endorsement. The next item I was thinking of getting was something in camouflage, and in my nerdy way, I wanted to read up on the subject before landing on a pattern, colour scheme, and which article to get it for. It’s a pretty fascinating subject. There are different domains for animals and military vehicles to hide themselves, like the water, sky, forest, desert. There are different methods of achieving this depending on the milieu, like trying to not cast a shadow, trying to blend in with your surroundings, trying to hide your tracks. Fish will countershade by having a bright belly and a dark top, so predators looking from above and below have a harder time seeing it. There are planes that can avoid detection by radar or other sensors, and animals mask themselves to bypass the physical senses of the prey or predator. Interesting stuff.

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It made me ask a few questions. What does it mean to pay homage to the military industrial complex which forced my parents to leave their home country? What does it mean for me to camouflage myself as a human? What purpose will the camouflage serve in my survival? Physically, I stand out from the people around me because of my skin colour. Not only that but I was blessed/cursed with this quick brain, so even if I could look the same as people around me, I sound and act different. That’s something I’ve accepted as I’ve gotten older, that there really isn’t a chance for me to blend in. That being said, I have always been a little secretive with my goals. I generally try to present as plain and unassuming, but in the background, I’m actually working really hard to level up. It’s like the zebra’s camouflage. It’s very easy to spot them, but their striping makes it hard to see where they’re going. If you’re chasing one, it’s hard to tell by looking at it whether it’s going to suddenly cut left or right. For the longest time, I would work my regular job and finish the work assigned to me in an orderly fashion. But outside of work, I’d be reading up on industry trends, researching the next technologies, comparing how different regions handle our company’s problems, not the typical concerns of a worker bee. I was in power transmission, providing power quality reports, but I was reading stuff like how electrical vehicles would impact the country’s infrastructure and how billing would work on a smarter grid, especially as many Canadian parking lots already have some sort of free electrical outlet for block heaters. I tried to make it look effortless, like I just knew this stuff because it was common knowledge, not because I was ambitious and obsessively curious so I could get ahead. As far as clothes go, I’m trying to look more like the streetwear folks, so even by the simple fact that I’m dressing like them, I’m camouflaging to blend in like the kids these days. Maybe I don’t even need the camouflage pattern at all.

There are several ways that I blend into my surroundings. I use my language to sound like a Canadian. I try to be well-read so I can understand what people are talking about. I dress like people here. Nevertheless, I’ve always stuck out my whole life. I’m a person of colour in a province that’s only some 25% visible minorities. Growing up in church, I was the pastor’s kid, so right off the bat, I was different. There was a pretty clear delineation between kids of different ages, and there was only a couple people the same age as me. There were multiple families which shared the same few grandparents, so I stuck out because I wasn’t part of the fam. I was always the smart kid up until high school, where everyone was quite smart, but until then, I stuck out because I got good grades and didn’t struggle as much as my peers academically. Most of my junior high friends went to to high schools with their friends, but I went alone to a different one. Although I later studied engineering, the way I got there was a bit odd because there was my first year where I had to take the Faculty of Science equivalents of the Engineering courses before I could transfer over for second year. When I was 21, I started dating Carrie over long distance for 3.5 years, so there weren’t a lot of people I could relate to for relationship advice. My experience with my family of origin is super unique because there’s probably under 1% of the population that suffers from narcissism, and even if narcissistic family members are bothersome, there are still many people who stay in contact with them. I don’t mean to sound like I’m playing a tiny violin for my pity party, but over the last two weeks thinking about this topic of camouflage, the thought keeps popping up that I can’t really blend in.

Another important theme in camouflage is whether I am the predator or prey. I would say that I’m the latter because most of my significant experiences amounted to me getting away from people trying to attack me. I fought back against the man who sexually abused me as a child. I escaped my father who tried to bleed me to death slowly through emotional abuse. I quit a previous job when HR wanted to play chicken with my mental health. These days I try to just mind my own business. It’s not like I’m from a wealthy family that flipped businesses or homes, swallowing up the little guys, running the show. I have friends who are sharks, making tons of money, pushing their way to the top of the corporate ladder, overtly and aggressively asserting their power and influence to get what they want. Me, I try to slip through amongst the shadows. If I’m ambitious, I play my cards very close to the chest. I’m hyper vigilant due to my trauma, so I notice lots of minor details that most people miss, which I use to sneak around undetected. When I do reveal myself enough to make a move, it’s kind of confusing to most people. These days, people ask me why I work in retail when I’m an engineer. I tell them I do a lot of nothing at home to rest up from accomplishing too much too fast in my youth, which is true, except that I’m really resting up as much as possible so Carrie and I can blaze forward and survive. It helps us a lot when I can do some of the house chores which just require time and a little concentration, so working less and being a house spouse is truly an outworking of my extreme ambition. That doesn’t mean that I’m trying to run this town one day. My goal is still to slip by undetected.

Despite my use of camouflage, I’ve still collected some battle scars along the way. It increases your chances of survival, but it’s not a perfect defence. There are some frightening, lasting effects of abuse that I’m still working on. It’s hard work taking on the predators of this world and trying to escape unscathed, and I’ve taken some big hits along the way. At this age, it feels like there’s a direct trade-off between well-being and financial stability. I know people who got their paper but they’re not happy or well. We’re on the other end of the spectrum, where we’re emotionally and mentally stable, but our money ain’t right. Considering what we’ve been through and where we came from, we’re doing really well. It’s my feeling that with my upbringing, I wasn’t really meant to be happy and healthy, that the chances were really slim that I could live a fulfilling life. Things have stopped getting much worse, and we’re close to a standstill. We’re slowly climbing our way back up, but it’s a week by week process. Every little thing we do needs to be scrutinized, and now’s the time to do it. Any kind of debt should be treated as an emergency, so we’re getting ourselves organized before the long and arduous journey up from this valley. Making more money isn’t exactly a viable option right now, so we’re left with having to cut costs and change behaviours. There is hope. We could always sell our home or sell 3D prints in my new shop. We’re both very employable, so now it’s about reducing the frequency and size of our mistakes and avoiding unforced errors. I can cook like two or three dishes pretty well, and it hasn’t gotten boring yet. Financial responsibility is like 20% knowledge and 80% behaviour, so I’m taking better care of myself so that we can turn this ship around. There are a lot of good resources out there like Mr. Money Moustache, Dave Ramsey, Reddit Personal Finance Canada. Tax returns came in already, which helped us get over a recent hurdle, and now we’re on the right path for the long trek back up to zero. Week by week. Years back, we could have decided to stick with the money instead of our well-being, and we would have crushed our debt by now. Who knows if we would still be together though. It’s going to be really difficult, but it’s possible.

That all being said, there are a couple qualifiers I’d like to attach to our new project. As much as we’re focusing our attention on debt, I don’t want to talk about it all the time. I’m writing about it here so that it helps to process ideas and emotions on the topic, but I hate when money dominates a person’s life. You know those people that are always talking about money, when their life falls apart when gas goes up by half a cent per litre, when they complain about every extra penny they have to spend. I don’t want to be like that. And as much as we’re trying to treat it like an emergency, I’m trying to keep a cool head about it. There’s no use in panicking and worrying about it constantly since that leads directly towards making more mistakes. Staying calm and collected doesn’t exactly make a ton of sense when you look at the amount, but it makes perfect sense when you keep it together enough to consistently make progress on it. Life is more than just money, though money management is an essential part of life. We’re giving ourselves grace and being strict at the same time. We want to use up everything we’ve already bought. We’re saying no more often to all those little $5 to $20 purchases which evaporate your money so easily. There are a lot of direct and indirect moves we’re making right now to slowly inch our way towards stability. We’re doing our homework by budgeting. We’re keeping each other accountable with spending. We’re reaching out for support where we need to. Even being able to talk about it openly helps to take off some of the pressure so we can see a bit more clearly. That all being said, I really wouldn’t have done it any other way. I would rather be in this situation than to owe anything to my family of origin. I think it’s a clear difference between millennials and the previous generation where our parents would rather work and be miserable so they could save up for retirement. Millennials live more for experiences, and they take foolish risks like quitting a well-paying job. Being emotionally stable now allows me to have better judgement, whereas I was making tons more money just a few years ago but I was making way worse mistakes because my emotions were highly volatile and sometimes unpredictable. Money is very important in regards to having a self-regulating existence, but cash doesn’t rule everything around me. My debt doesn’t own me, I own it.

When looking for the next clothing item to buy, I did a little reading on camouflage in hopes that it would inform my purchase. It got me thinking about how I’ve masked myself from detection in my life, and though I had great success in certain areas, I also accumulated some serious battle scars along the way. My emotional and mental health were impacted by my family’s dysfunction and my childhood sexual abuse, and while it took some time to sort that out, now I’m turning my attention to our financial situation. It takes a toll when you have to quit your job unexpectedly, when you have to stand up to your attackers and choose the hard path to go out on your own. Even though it’s not such a great look, I’ll wear my battle scars with pride.

Disconnecting

It’s time for me to #deleteFacebook. Not just deactivating, but deleting it permanently. I did a bit of a purge this week. I was having some problems with my phone, so I reset it to factory settings and didn’t restore my backup, which was easier than going through and deleting everything I didn’t want. I’m cleaning up and trying out what those consequences mean. Instead of filling my time with junk from the Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram, I’m disconnecting. There’s only a finite number of connections a person can have, and I’m happy with the ones I have now. Nobody ever really needs to get in contact with me that urgently, and there are still like 10 others ways to reach me if you really wanted. By removing social media, I’ll have more brainpower left over for the things I want to do. I’m ready to disconnect.

I’m expanding my morning ritual of doing nothing. Sometimes after doing a challenging chore, I’ll need a bit of time to clear it out of my brain with video games, TV, and the like. Obviously there are things that need to be done, but when there isn’t, I’m going to lie down in silence. I accomplished a lot these past couple weeks. I fixed a shelf that had been sagging, pulled out the stove and cleaned the floor underneath it, changed the filters on my humidifier and HEPA filter, unclogged the drain (3D modelling and printing a custom drain snake in the process), sold some jewelry, wheeling and dealing on Kijiji (Canadian Craigslist), and fixed the car. All sorts of odd jobs, all in line with spring cleaning, taking the initiative instead of just not doing it like I used to. Carrie said that in the past few months, I’ve done more than in the past few years. Calming things down and breathing deeply helps the body enter into a relaxed state, so it’s easier to enter into a productive mode when you need it. Less really is more.

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In line with preserving what little energy I have, it was reflected to me a few months ago that I have too much empathy. It’s a skill I over-use, and I’ve started to notice when I get too absorbed into another person’s perspective. It comes from being gaslighted by my family over the years, having my grasp on reality questioned conveniently timed with when I was confronting them with their mistakes. As a result, I’m prone to being absorbed into other people’s perspectives, even when it conflicts with my own. That perspective-taking is an essential skill for surviving as an adult, but I sometimes take it too far. I have felt bad for people who were maliciously attacking me, when really I should have been directing that energy to protecting myself. Now, I’m trying to value my own perspective and stick up for myself. Sounds selfish, but I’m really trying to stop being so much of a pushover.

Saturday, I had a pretty bad anxiety attack brought on by an especially stressful day. I lost sight of things and just started doing chores like crazy. Feels nice to complete a lot of work, but then I ran out of fuel by the middle of the afternoon. I was trying to sell something on Kijiji, and something that a buyer said triggered a memory of my dad. (Believe it or not, I try to talk or think about my family as little as possible, but whenever it does happen, I process the thoughts and feelings until it goes away so I can go back to dealing with more important things.) So when the buyer reminded me of my dad’s bargaining, I started venting to Carrie, but then something different happened. Instead of the feeling going away, it started amplifying. It got worse and worse, and then my body went into a panic. Heart was aching, chest was tight, struggled to breathe. I tried to carry on with my day, but by evening, all I could do was lay down until I drifted off into sleep.

It was a reminder that even though I’ve regained some productive capacity in recent weeks, it’s still quite limited overall. I always seem to forget it, or maybe I just don’t want to believe it because I’m used to being capable and strong and I don’t like operating from this weak position. But alas, I have to reconcile with this new version of myself. This is who I am now. I wrote the other day about how I still have so much darkness left in me, and what I meant was that I still have a lot of delayed emotional pain to process from the abuse. Feelings don’t go away until you feel them, often requiring physical sensation and paying interest on the delay. Essentially, I just need to feel sad. So far this year, I’ve cleared my schedule, simplified my life, and done a lot of nothing, but I eventually need to address all these bottled up emotions. About a year ago, I stopped seeing my counsellor because I had run out of free sessions; 25 is extremely generous, and it saved my life. I could have sought more therapy, but I put a cap on it so that I could refocus my efforts on tidying up the rest of my life and marriage. I’ve been able to do that, but now that cap seems to be leaking from the pressure. It seems like stress triggers these little panic attacks, so I need to be especially careful to not put a chink in my own armour.

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Occasionally, I still wrestle with suicidal thoughts. When I get extremely stressed and overwhelmed, all my mind can think to do to remove the pain is to end it all. When the stress dissolves, the thoughts go away. I really don’t want to die, and I know I have options and places to turn to if I need. It seems like it’s time for me to pick up my shovel and continue digging into the shit-clogged storm drain of my past. I keep thinking of myself as a kid interacting with my dad, who was vastly more powerful than me, and how he repeatedly put himself first. Maybe he wasn’t capable of loving me. The human body is pretty remarkable in how it can delay emotions by bottling them up. My buffer is full though, and the only way to clear it out again so that I can adjust to the normal ups and downs of everyday life is by processing everything one by one. It helps to keep reading the book “Adult Children - The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families” because it explains so much of my family dynamics. If I’m ever going to survive, I need to continue dealing with the emotional abuse from my family. This go-around, I want to focus less on what they did and more on what happened to me.

Finances. This is one of the final hurdles for us. All that schooling, job changing, buying a place, it all adds up after a while. We have a lot of debt. It would crush lesser persons, but even though it doesn’t quite look like it, we’re in a much better position than previous years. All of our problems have gotten out in the open, and now it’s time to pull up our socks. I’ve more or less dealt with my childhood stuff. We both had our big spending years where we were soothing our inner children who grew up poor. We had our travels, our fun parties. We paid for our educations, and we had an awesome wedding. We made the timely job changes to escape burnout and misery, and now it finally feels like we’re settled. No need for big trips anymore. No need for super fancy status items or clothes because we already have way more than we need. Time to just buckle down and work on paying off our debts.

I never really meant for it to happen this way, but it’s time to grow up now that I’m entering my 30’s. Time to disconnect from the wasteful social media timelines and newsfeeds. Time to open up my capacity by resuming the process of cleaning out the closet of my childhood. Time to settle down, save money, and pay down debt. Time to see myself as a tired old man, and savour every moment I have because it could easily be my last. I’m disconnecting from the mental junk food of social media so I can reconnect with myself.

Survival

I started a special discussion group at a previous job. The industry was changing and moving so quickly that I thought it useful to discuss and process the implications of all these quick moves made in the industry and by competitors, so I selected a handful of brilliant minds that could debate these ideas and figure out what our next moves should be. There wasn’t anyone asking us what direction the company should take, but it was a mental exercise to learn where the puck was moving. Topics could range from global industry trends, technical innovations, regulatory consequences, and philosophy and morality. It was quite a beautiful group whenever we could meet. One question posed by one of our members was “what is your purpose in life?” Some people answered things like taking care of their families, to be the best person they could be, or to be a good steward of the earth’s resources. I couldn’t really pin it down to something specific because I was and still am trying to figure it out, but the answer I gave was that I’m trying to survive. With Carrie and I both coming from refugee backgrounds, there’s only so far we could reach in our new lands, especially since our parents could only guide us so much while they figured out their new homes at the same time. Maybe our kids will be able to dream big and make those dreams into reality, but we have to be a bit more realistic. I’m still very much an optimist, but I like to keep my feet on the ground. I’m playing the long game, so what does it mean for me if I exchanged survival for short term success? What are the trade-offs of dedicating my youth to making as much money as possible? What’s the point of getting rich if it all just slips away and jeopardizes my longevity? Through my morning ritual of doing nothing, I realized that though I have all the time in the world, I have very little energy. With what I do have, I have to be hyper efficient and effective with it because the stakes are high. Let’s examine some of the implications of fixing my goal on surviving.

My main job now is to be a house spouse. Sorry, I meant to say trophy husband. Everything else takes away from it, even if it’s a good thing or something I deeply enjoy. A friend pointed me to a great cooking app called Top Chef University, which has everything I was looking for that I mentioned in my last post. Videos that cover all the topics I want, from the basics to some of the finer skills, and the writing and editing are superb. Not too long, not too short, not condescending either. Friends at work were asking if I was going to apply for any new jobs, but I haven’t. Yes, it would be nice to get paid more, but I want stability right now. I love a challenge, I love to learn, but anything that takes away from my home responsibilities right now is a negative. I have this terrible recurring thought that “I have all this free time, so I should do something productive with it.” It’s one of the ghosts of my old lifestyle, where my only value was my output, and it has caused me much suffering throughout my short time on this earth. Why should I always be productive? What’s wrong with doing nothing? Isn’t it enough that I rest? Am I not productive enough at other times? My to-do list is basically the same every week, but it’s becomes an interesting challenge when you pepper in all the sudden changes brought on by life. I’m enjoying being a house hubby.

Being healthy can even be a distraction. There are lots of stuff I’m supposed to do in order to keep myself healthy, but are they all absolutely necessary? If my pursuit is to survive, does good health contribute or take away from it? The answer is that it depends. These are most of the things I’m supposed to do to be healthy:

  • Floss every day.
  • Roll feet with massage roller and hockey ball.
  • Exercise rotator cuffs.
  • Strengthen deep neck muscles.
  • Stretch out my chest in the doorway.
  • Pinch my shoulder blades together once per hour.
  • Exercise my medial glutes.
  • Don’t eat bread.
  • Eat organic even though the term isn’t regulated and it costs more.
  • Raw, natural sugar instead of refined, processed sugar.
  • No binge eating late at night.
  • Do nasal rinse twice a day.
  • Weigh myself once a week.
  • Do yoga couple times a week.
  • Moisturize.
  • Use sunscreen.
  • Eat yogurt to replenish gut bacteria.
  • Get a full night’s sleep.
  • Hit the gym couple times a week.
  • Keep the humidifier running.
  • Wash my face twice a day.
  • Use a heat pack on my neck before stretching.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook healthy foods.
  • Eat more meals with smaller portions.
  • Drink less.

That’s a long list of things, and they’re all nice to do. They aren’t absolutely essential for my immediate survival though. It’s easy to get caught up, running around and burning all my time and energy focusing on these things. I wind up feeling dizzy at the end of the day, wondering what I even accomplished. It doesn’t necessarily hurt to check off this entire list every single day until it starts getting in the way of my survival. I find that when I try to keep up with these little health tips pretty strictly at the start of the week, I crash really hard by Thursday. I take random naps, I binge eat, nothing gets done around the house, and then I feel guilty and pick myself up again at the start of the following week. Carrie likes to ask “What are you going to do with that extra life?” It’s fine if practising these things helps you to feel better because that’s what they’re for, but right now, I’m not just that interested in every moderate increase in health. Instead, I’m trying to be more adaptable as the situation requires. I don’t work 40 hours a week on my feet anymore, so it’s not absolutely essential that I spend time with the foot massage roller every single night. I abhor the wastefulness of the disposable dental picks, but as my dental hygienist says, it gets me flossing instead of not flossing. Raw sugar is expensive, so I’m using the refined sugar that we already have at home. Instead of doing all of them all the time, I’m trying to do some of them only on certain days. I’ve done a lot of things to increase my health, but if I focus on it too much, it gets in the way of my survival.

While I continue to start my days with boredom, my heart sometimes aches for seemingly no reason. With no impending deadlines or duties, my chest just pounds and hurts while I lay there doing nothing. The best way for me to understand it is that general anxiety is flushing out of my body. When you stop suppressing your natural alarm bells, all the little worries come out of the woodwork. I feel like I’m going through withdrawal from the stress and adrenaline or something. I’ll have nothing to do for three days in a row, but my heart will simply ache and pound through my chest the entire time. I’ll be exhausted by the end of the day, but I’ll also be confused because I hadn’t really done much visible work. However, I’m learning that letting the pain ache in my chest like that is considered emotional labour. I try to soothe it with the usual self-regulating processes, but for the first time in a while, I went on a raging snack attack. Grabbed the keys, jumped in the car, and roamed the earth until I ran into some food with high caloric density. It’s a terribly confusing period. Carrie reassures me daily that I don’t have to do anything unless I can handle it, so it’s fine if I do absolutely nothing all day. Not really sure why it’s happening, not sure how to make the pain go away.

Doing nothing every morning started off as a cute, light-hearted exercise. I was satisfying a years-long thirst for peace and tranquility. It was like taking a picnic by myself, drinking in the sunshine, patting myself on the back for doing the important and non-urgent work of genuinely resting. Then as I was sitting there, minding my own business, I slowly developed a sneaking suspicion that something was watching me. I was partly right. In fact, there were a couple things staring at me. Slowly turning around to identify what was stalking me, it was all of the long and winding storylines that were watching me with anticipation, waiting for a satisfying conclusion. It’s like I’m in the final season of Game of Thrones, wondering how these huge, distinct subplots should crash together into an unpredictable and penultimate climax. If we take the last five or six years alone, there’s my move to Calgary to start a new life with Carrie. There’s the one where she felt stuck in her old job of four years. There’s the one where I went to counselling to save my life from my own childhood. My spirituality is shifting, having burned out from going to church events 3 or 4 days a week for most of my life. Keeping to just the years we’ve been married, Carrie and I have taken many huge risks: paying our own wedding costs, buying our home, changing jobs (I’ve worked three, she’s worked nine), traveling, partying, escaping a dysfunctional family system, paying for and surviving grad school, and launching the private practice. By comparison, we have friends who’ve lived in the same place, worked the same jobs, and hung out with the same people. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily (in fact, that sounds like a mighty fine life), except until they judge our position as being as simple as theirs when really, we’re walking on thin ice. Years back, I craved stability. All I wanted was to be bored, to work the same job, to have the exact same schedule every week. A lot of that was motivated by my trauma, being unable to adjust to the shifting tides of everyday life. Now that I’ve processed a lot of it through therapy, I’ve been able to let go of the notion of a “normal” life, the 9-5 Monday to Friday glamourized by big corporations and skewered by Office Space. The universe is messy, and surviving it means being able to roll with the punches. By doing nothing every day, I’m paying tribute to all the vastly different and interwoven storylines, allowing the plot to thicken before they all get sorted out in dramatic fashion, where I’ll probably still be doing nothing every day.

I still have so much darkness inside. When I take a moral inventory, I see that I still have much pain and misery from my childhood. I’m managing, I’m doing a lot better, I’m self-regulating, all that good stuff, but at the same time, there’s only so much goodness in store for me in the future. There’s an upper range to how much better it can get for me, as good as it already is. If you were physically assaulted, you might have injuries that stay with you forever. I was emotionally abused for a long time, so I have to reconcile with the fact that it will take a long time to recover from it, if I ever do. That’s pretty much why all I can really hope to do is survive. That’s why I quit my previous job and why I’m not looking for engineering work right now, so I can work somewhere that doesn’t work me into the ground. I don’t want to get rich or die trying. That’s why I want to do stuff like learning how to cook better so I can take care of my family. That’s why I parted ways with my family of origin. I’m just trying to survive.

From trial and error, the road gets a lot bumpier when I want to thrive instead of just surviving. When I think that since I have so much time I might as well take a little excursion or detour, that’s when I get into trouble. Some of it is unavoidable, but I can help myself by not being distracted with things like getting too healthy. I’m a house spouse now, and focusing on the home will help me to survive by conserving what little energy I do have. Even though there is still a lot of pain and darkness in me, I’m doing really well. I have people I love who love me back, health, education, income. When I get greedy, I’m never happy because I’ll never have enough. When I remember that all I need to do is survive, then I can see that I already have everything.

Boredom

Last I wrote, I was doing nothing with my life. I start my day by doing nothing, and what’s developed from this ritual is a reminder to fuel my activities with boredom. It’s an under-appreciated motivator, but it’s responsible for a great many successes and serendipitous discoveries. I’m not saying that my life is boring and uneventful; quite the opposite. There are a lot of large moving parts at the moment, so I have to force myself to be bored in order to filter through the unimportant parts. It’s like when my piano teacher repeatedly told us that in order to perform quickly, you have to practice slowly. Some days I don’t get around to doing nothing. There’s an avalanche of tasks and anxiety at the start of the day, and I don’t have enough strength and willpower to take my timeout. Sometimes I can only manage to do nothing for 30 minutes, which doesn’t sound like a long time but it sure feels like it. Items have popped up on my radar that I didn’t even know were lurking, but really, they’re things that have been hiding under the surface for years but have been essentially invisible as I kept myself too busy. In these past two weeks of doing nothing, I cleaned up my contact list on my phone, I deleted photos from my library, I rearranged the layout of the home, I jumped on some home chores that would have normally been procrastinated for months, and I’ve been printing and modelling more in 3D.

While I’m learning to use boredom as a tool, I’ve been driven too long by anxiety. It’s too powerful and draining as an energy source. It’s a sticky feeling, taking quite a bit of both physical and emotional strength to peel yourself away even if you’re mindful that you’re having a panic attack. It makes me squirrely, turns my focus into tunnel vision, and I rush and make tons of mistakes. It’s like driving with nitrous in rush hour traffic. I’ve learned over the years how to profit off of my anxiety, like using the worry and fear to study for school, but it’s not fun and sustainable. Sometimes I’ll play video games, go to the gym, or play with the 3D printer out of anxiety, and that’s just not fun. The activities themselves aren’t so much the problem as my nervous energy. Once my anxiety is done with me, I’m left lying down on the bed or couch, heart pounding, mind racing, dazed and confused.

On the other hand, boredom is a special kind of fuel. Some of the best games we played as kids were invented when we were bored, like Night Crawlers. It’s a much gentler, powerful, long-term motivator, and I’m using it these days as the antidote to my insecurities and fears. It reminds me generally of adults who think bored kids should be doing something more useful with their time, but I don’t think so. Boredom is unpleasant, but it’s necessary for balance. Even though there are large impending changes currently underway for me, it’s easier to adapt and transition by essentially saying “No!” to all the unimportant things that want my time and attention. It’s not really that magic.

Some years ago, I had the brilliant idea of using an app that would download my contacts from numerous sources. I pulled contacts from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn, so for something like 4 years, I’ve had to sift through random usernames when looking up a person, and my autocorrect has just been a nightmare this entire time because of the odd names people use on Facebook to hide their profiles from coworkers and customers/clients. In one day, I deleted over 1000 contacts and trimmed down my list to around 250 people. In the process, not only did I remove contacts from those social networks like my best friend Barack Obama, but I also removed the people I stopped talking to years ago. feelsgoodman.webm. It may not have the same physical weight of cleaning your home and taking out the trash, but it certainly reduces the emotional weight of having digital crap piling up, taking with it some dust bunnies along the way.

Another activity I got around to was deleting photos. Storage costs money, on top of just feeling bulky. I had some 18,000 photos going back to 2009, many of which had lost their significance. I deleted around 2000. So many pictures of homework assignments and food. It was nice, strolling down memory lane with a machete. I found some old photos that I sent off to my brothers before they were deleted forever. Some photos not only lost their emotional significance, but some I couldn't even remember why I took the picture in the first place. That's when you know they truly become junk. There are the moments I won't ever forget, regardless of whether I captured it in a picture, so it was a nice reminder, reviewing hilarious or emotional memories. I haven’t picked up the exercise since, but I’m sure I will at some point. I foresee lots of boredom in my future.

Carrie just started a new job, and with my minimal hours at work, I’m resuming my role as house spouse. From my practice of doing nothing, I realized it was time to improve my cooking skills. I’m still operating off of the information I learned from home economics class in grade eight, so I think I’m due for an update if I’m trying to take care of two adults. I know the basics, but I want to learn stuff like how to properly chop different ingredients and how different flavour profiles interact and how to stock the home. There doesn’t seem to be a central place someone can learn these things, so I’m pulling from a bunch of different sources. I was told in Home Ec that you should refrigerate food right after cooking, but I was also told later that it can ruin certain foods like rice if you chill it while it’s still steaming. I have little understanding of the source of this principle besides that bacteria like warm places, but this is just one example of an area where there are so many unknown unknowns. I took a cooking class for fun once, but it was really just a bunch of people cooking different dishes and eating it at the end. There was no technique or lesson, just people cooking with and for each other. I could always watch YouTube videos, but the problem with that is you could watch five different people who say five different things, each of them adamantly insisting their methods are the best without any real reasoning. The limit with these videos as well is that there is only a one-way communication, so if I have questions, I have to hustle to find out the answer. I honestly don’t even know where to go from here. Luckily, I have a coworker who’s willing to teach me his professional skills. I haven’t given us food poisoning yet, but I’d like to level up my cooking so that it can turn from a chore into a fun activity. If you have any suggestions on how to improve my cooking game, I’m all ears.

Starting my day with nothing also helped with home improvement in these past two weeks. There are certain tasks around the home that take months of procrastinating before you get around to them. When Carrie was in school, one of the more important lights in our studio burned out, and due to the 12 foot ceilings and our lack of a ladder, we just left it alone for a long time. A while ago, we needed some plumbing work done in our place. I guess for safety, they install locks on the faucets so the boiling hot water doesn’t pump out during testing, but they forgot to remove them before they left. I noticed it immediately in the shower, so with some googling, I disassembled our shower knob and took out the little lock within the first day. With the kitchen sink though, I had no idea why it would only turn halfway. I didn’t clue in to the fact that it must have been locked from the little bit of work they did, so we just lived with it for months. Our problem was partially solved when our building upgraded the water heater, so even though our faucet could only go to half of the full range, it was hot enough to wash dishes. I didn’t even know what style of faucet we had, which was a rather minor mental barrier that only added to the problem. Once I actually had the capacity to face it, the whole thing was fixed in like 10 minutes. The problem wasn’t a lack of time since I was unemployed then, but I just didn’t have the emotional margin left over from quitting my job and supporting Carrie in her studies to deal with what felt like a small issue. I did this sometime late last year, but in the past two weeks alone, I rearranged the record player and vinyls, relocated the networking equipment, and reorganized my closet. These are the types of fixes around the home that I can get around to when I start each day by boring myself to tears. It’s a life changer.

I’ve been 3D modelling a lot lately. Here’s a picture of one of my projects.

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I often feel bad when my printer isn’t being used all the time because it cost so much money and I should use it whenever I get the chance since it’s a fixed cost and a depreciating asset that needs to amortize with each print and provide value to all my friends and family and potentially turn into a business if I can find the right niche to market and sell to because it’s fun and it makes me happy to make other people happy, and I like to find areas of interest in people’s lives where they would appreciate getting something like pop culture or a sports team they’re into or sometimes specialized tools can be cool too. That’s an annoying run-on sentence to read, but imagine if your mind operated like that on a regular basis. Ugh. I often fool myself into thinking I’m playing with the 3D printer for fun when in actuality, I’m doing it from fear and feeling like I’m running out of oxygen. The same goes with most activities. My autopilot is set to run off anxiety and shame from my traumatic childhood and history of abuse. It robs me of joy, so I have to slam the brakes with both feet before I get carried away. Boredom is the cure.

Boredom is good. Most of my adult life I’ve been only trying to climb higher and higher, but even roller coasters need to come down at some point. Starting my day with nothing is super hard, but early results are really positive. The fast lane is fun when you need it, but it’s taken me six years so far to learn how to get out of it. Boring myself is honestly such an amazing feeling. It’s incredibly restorative and cathartic, and the young me didn’t think I’d make it here until I was in my 40’s or 50’s. I would picture myself sitting in my recliner, pulling up a vinyl and some headphones, glass of wine in hand, soaking in the tunes. My hair would also be grey in that image, and the kids would be out for the evening. But here I am, pushing 30, learning to self-regulate, speeding up when I need to, slowing down when I choose to. I had always been trained to just keep going faster and faster, regardless of things falling apart like my health, but I was able to escape that state of carnage thanks to my counselling. Even though there are still some large moving parts shaking the ground around me, I’m able to recover and adapt faster than before. Forcing boredom on myself (aka foredom or borcing myself) is just being extra rigid about saying no to less important requests. No means no. Less is more. Boredom saves lives.