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.