Archives for posts with tag: incremental change over time

…It’ll be another. 🙂

In this case, it’s a lovely sunny Spring morning, a Friday. I took the day off because I’ll be on a plane heading to a work conference late tomorrow evening, sleeping thousands of feet overhead as I wing my way to the conference location. I’m not exactly excited about it… I’m not exactly not excited about it. I spent so many years as the partner staying behind, staying home, venturing out seldom, that this still has some novelty and interest – especially after two years of pandemic life. But, whether I am excited or not, I definitely do want and need time to chill, to plan into it, to prepare with care – because when I give up that time and don’t do those things, my experience feels frenetic, chaotic, and stressful. Besides all that, a Saturday departure makes a short weekend with my Traveling Partner (who is the more likely of the two of us to be staying at home, these days). I didn’t want to undermine those limited precious minutes we share, so taking the day off results in something more or less like a normal weekend, at least in duration.

I’m sipping my coffee contentedly. Just finished off the payday stuff – that’s a pretty low stress endeavor these days, and I feel that. The lack of stress, I mean. It’s pretty splendid that the mere mention of a payday, or a bill, or indebtedness, or budgeting doesn’t send me into a massive anxiety attack of some kind, or trigger my PTSD. A lifetime ago, being even a penny off on the painful process of balancing a checkbook with my first husband would almost guarantee I’d have terrible dark painful new bruises afterward. Literal violence, over pennies. What a lot of horrible bullshit. I can look back now and see that I should have walked away much sooner, but it wasn’t so obvious at the time. Understanding now that I was also viewing life through the lens of a fairly serious brain injury that was not actually rehabilitated (and that I was not, at the time, aware of), I am much more compassionate with that younger version of me.

Have you ever thought about that? How easy it actually could be to cut your younger self some fucking slack? Bad decisions are pretty commonplace when we’re young; we have limited life experience, and we’re the sort of creatures that commonly learn best through our mistakes. So… yeah. Every one of us has fucked something up, probably pretty badly. The world is going to make a point of ensuring we get a proper reckoning, more often than not. We could at least be there for ourselves, after the fact, right? We could bring our wiser perspective to our recollection of events, be kind to that younger self who just didn’t have all the tools or knowledge to do things much differently, and be just a bit more nurturing of ourselves on that look back – couldn’t we? And why not? The events of the past are past. Treat yourself more gently now and then. It’s okay to be your own best friend.

I’m not saying ignore warning signs that you need real help – definitely seek out and get the help you need. Think your mind “doesn’t work right”? Get therapy. Just like you would if you had a broken bone, or a terrible case of flu – get qualified help. Get treatment. Embrace change. Don’t like who you are? Make other choices. Change your thinking. Change your practices. Walk away from a situation that you are not thriving in. Jobs? There are plenty. Find one that you enjoy and doesn’t entirely drain away your joy in life! Relationships? Yeah, I know, we get attached, we feel that connection, we hope… But a bad situation is a bad situation. You could walk away. Maybe you should? Don’t like where you live? Move! Okay, resources are limited, so maybe that feels out of reach – but setting a goal is within reach. Making a plan is within reach. Exploring options is within reach. Steps. Incremental change over time adds up.

Anyway. It’s a lovely day, in spite of this being a world filled with violence and chaos, and threats to our freedoms, and shitty entitled ass-clowns seemingly just every-fucking-where… it’s okay to choose joy, and to live life. Savor what feels good. Seek to change what isn’t working so well. It’s okay to look back on yourself with kindness, and with respect for what you have endured so far, and how far you’ve come to get where you are now.

…It’s okay to begin again. 😀

Improving my self-care, and slowing down a bit, along with assorted other verbs and changes, has been having some pleasant outcomes. My fitness is improving (physical therapy for the win!), my memory and ability to sort/store information – and then also find it again – is also improving a bit (I can thank better sleep, and just generally slowing the fuck down for that). All of this adds up to feeling a bit more “on the ball” and cognitively sharper (it doesn’t hurt that I’ve also cut my cannabis use way back – a tale for another time). Ever the student, never a “report card”… except for today. Today I feel like I “got a good grade”…

I had offered verbal assurances to my Traveling Partner that I’d run a couple errands today on my lunch break. Simple stuff, but easy to forget (for me): swap out an empty propane tank for a full one at a local retailer, and swing by the pharmacy to pick up allergy meds. No problem – but it’s the sort of thing that often plagues me with repeated forgetfulness in the busy-ness of a typical work week. I get immersed in the work details, and forget the “us” or “me” details entirely… or don’t follow through in spite of my awareness of the need, in the background, feeling rushed and overwhelmed. Very human.

Today I did not forget. Win! It gets better…

I left the pharmacy and went to my car. I love my Mazda. Fun to drive. Keyless ignition. Great back-up camera. Lots of ease-of-use features that fit me particularly well. Rainy day, so I left my keys in my pocket, grasped the door handle and pushed the wee thumb button that would unlock the door based on the keys being “right there with me”.

…Nothing happened. No click, nothing. Door did not unlock. Fuck. Oh, well. I didn’t panic, I just pulled the actual physical key from the fob, unlocked the car and got in.

…The car didn’t start. Weird. I did some troubleshooting (foot on the break? check! ignition switch lit green? check! car in park? check!). I took a breath, and exhaled. I’ve got a “supercomputer” in my pocket pretty nearly all the time (my cell phone), so I quickly googled “Mazda CX-5 won’t start”. Right there, in a list of the most common causes, the likeliest of the most common causes in bold font: key fob battery. Oh yeah… that battery is the same one that has been in that fob since I got the car… 3 years ago? 4? Conveniently, I was parked at the drugstore… and they’ve got batteries. 😀 I went back in, opening up the fob as I went (a subtle indicator of how much it actually was stressing me out), found the battery I needed, and had the package half-opened before I even got to the register. Checked out, finished replacing the battery in my key fob on my way back to the car.

I pushed the “unlock” button and felt more than reasonable relief when the lights on my car flashed merrily back at me. My car started right up, too.

No panic. No fear. No confusion. Very little stress. I am okay right now, too – no “after-shakes” or pounding heart. No headache. No dry mouth. No madness. No harm done. Hell, I wasn’t even late getting back from my lunch. Who even is this woman looking back at me in my mirror these days?? lol

There’s something to be learned here… or… something that has been learned? Discovered. Renewed? I smile and grab a bottle of water as I head back to my desk. I’ve got things to do, and it’s already time to begin again.

Met with my new physical therapist today. Well, more to the point, met with them. Two helpful professionals who seem eager to support my wellness. I’d say, cynically, “for a price…”, and realistically, yeah, that’s true. It’s a job for them. It’s a service for me. There is an exchange of cash between us. I’m okay with that – I’ve had clinicians of various sorts over the years, and every one of them worked for pay, and they were not all anything like as encouraging as these two humans were with me this evening. It was quite nice.

…I’m so tired though… LOL

Look, I’m not trying to get fit for a marathon. I’m not trying to rehabilitate a tragic injury that impairs my most routine life functions. I’m just in pain. Injuries over time that weren’t properly cared for, piled on top of whatever the fuck is going on with my damned neck (and my six year headache), and aging, and the long-time lack of real fitness, and the excess weight… Yep. It adds up, and it’s hard dealing with it “alone”. (I’m not alone, and my partner is both helpful and supportive.) Having care providers who are not emotionally entangled with my outcome, who are quite wholesomely optimistic of my potential, and encouraging of my progress is – I hope – really going to help me get fitter and more well, and just maybe also in less pain… maybe…? A bit…? Over time…? I laugh quietly to myself thinking about bits of the conversation…

PT Person: “Where do you see yourself, if you achieve your fitness goals?”

Me (being perhaps just a tad flippant): “Hiking a 50lb pack 3 miles without being breathless or ending the day in so much pain I just can’t even move again for two days..? Somewhere between able to do the Nijmegen march without significant exertion and comfortably able to go/do whatever/whenever without having to plan around my abilities…? Maybe down to 150lbs.”

PT Person: “Okay. Sounds achievable. Let’s work on what that’s likely to take.”

Me: … “Um… Seriously?”

Other PT Person: “What would you consider your personal ideal for fitness? What would you be able to do comfortably on a typical weekend?”

Me: “Peak fitness? I’d be able to hike a 70lb pack over cross-country terrain, maybe 5 miles – or do 10 miles without a pack. Easily lift 70 lbs without asking for help. Balance on one leg for a laugh, without falling, for like… minutes. Run upstairs right quick without being out of breath. Get my weight down around 135 lbs.

PT person just nods and takes notes. Other PT person looks thoughtful and asks some specific questions about specific injuries. We talk about pain. Pain management. This injury. That one. Throughout the entire appointment, they were encouraging. Listening. Open. It was a pretty uplifting and positive experience.

…G’damn am I hurting right now, though. LOL Physical therapy. Physical therapy. We worked on some things. I came home with instructions. A list of upcoming next appointments. A plan. An intention. A fire inside me where enthusiasm, sparked, now smolders, ready to ignite. Am I going to make this a thing that happens in my life…? Incremental change over time. It takes verbs. Repetition. New beginnings on top of restarts following do-overs, preceding next steps, and first steps, and other steps, and moments of frustration – it’s a fucking journey, which means it’s not “easy”, nor “effortless”, and it will be ongoing… one exercise after another. Repetition upon repetition upon repetition. Tracked. Remindered. Followed-up upon. Damn, y’all, we gonna be actioning some shit around here!! I mean, I hope. “You’ve got this!”, she said, as I wrapped up in my coat for the chilly drive home.

…I’ve got this. I’ve got this pain. That pain. That injury bothering me right now. The one that isn’t bothering me much at all. The other one that flared up as I left the appointment. The one that felt better with even a moment of attention paid to it. Maybe. Maybe I’ve got this, though. Maybe I do. I guess I’ll begin again, again, and see where this path takes me. 🙂

Incremental change is. Practicing the practices works. I’ll just stay on this path right here…one step at a time is enough.

This morning is weird. I woke early, no idea why. Maybe I just had to pee? I feel generally okay as the morning begins. The usual amount of pain, in the usual amount of places, and I feel decently well-rested in spite of the short night. The weekend was strange. Strained in some moments, infused with a too-fragile joy in others. I struggled to find balance. From my own limited point of view, it seemed my Traveling Partner did, too.

…Very human…

I wanted to spend the weekend painting; I’ve got some good ideas and feel inspired, but that intent went awry, skewered by other moments. It’s a routine Monday, today, and my to-do list is a mix of errands, phone calls, and shit left from the weekend that didn’t get done – and work. I’m not bitching, just saying that is where things stand today, on a chilly damp autumn Monday.

I pull my attention back to me. My focus back on this moment, here. I lift myself more erect, correcting my posture to preserve my comfort. I take a deep breath, listening to the sound of it mix with the sounds of the house. I feel where my pain is. I make a point to also feel where it isn’t. I take a minute to reflect on the things I would like to get done today. I’m hoping that by doing so, I’ll be more likely to remember them all and get them done.

I’ve “lost some progress” emotional-health-wise over the course of the pandemic. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I’m back in therapy. I’m not saying that with any particular sense of failure (although I sometimes feel a certain pervasive sense of “catastrophic futility” when I’m taken by surprise in some bleak moment); it’s a complicated journey, and realistically, there’s a high probability that I’ll sometimes struggle with some trauma-relevant detail of my experience or another, now and then, all my life. If I set the emotional wellness goal at “just as perfectly whole and well and balanced as if I’d never experienced any moment of trauma ever at all”, I’m guaranteed a lifetime of struggle, failure, and futility. It’s not a realistic goal. That’s why I focus on contentment – which I can build – rather than chasing “happiness”, which is not only fleeting, but also damned difficult to define clearly. I have at least learned to avoid setting myself up for failure. Mostly.

I finished the book my Traveling Partner recently gifted me, “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?“, by Alan Alda. First rate work on communication, and I plan to read it again, immediately, and maybe also buy the e-book so I can easily highlight passages I’d like to study further, savor, or share. It’ll go on my Reading List shortly (yep, it’s that good).

I take time with my coffee to properly reflect on my recent business trip. I think over what I learned (about various things, including some travel practices that could improve my experience if I am to do this sort of thing regularly). I think over even details like “what I packed that I did not need” – there’s an art to traveling light, and still having “everything I need”. I’m rusty. The last job I had that required regular travel was… the Army. Trust me when I say that it was a very different style of travel! I’m surprised to find that I genuinely enjoyed being in the office for a couple of days – and I got a lot done. I also enjoy working from home very much, and find that day-to-day my “baseline” productivity is generally much higher working from home. It’s the “living life” part of work-travel I haven’t figured out; I finish those work days wrung out, in physical pain, and cognitively exhausted, just as I often do at home, and lacking any reserves with which to do anything much recreational. I got my walking in. For now, that’ll have to do, and I guess I’m okay with it.

I sip my coffee and consider what value my Traveling Partner may get out of my occasional business travels. We miss each other so much when we’re apart, but it seems to have a healthy positive value to get that “bit of space from each other”. How to do that in a way that does not create moments of insecurity and doubt would be helpful as a skill. I think more about what he may want and need out of life, generally, and ask myself some hard questions about whether I provide those things, and how I could do a better job of that? Then I turn a mirror on that question, which is super hard for me, and I ask myself what I want and need out of life generally – and whether I am providing myself with those things (or communicating them skillfully to my partner), and how can I do a better job of that, too? It’s a profoundly different question – and deeply relevant to my emotional wellness. In a very real way, I can only treat people around me as well as I treat myself. I’ve been letting myself down rather a lot, sacrificing pieces of myself to the job, to the world around me, to the household, to my partner, and to those vacant slack-jawed moments of cognitive ease that end up being my inadequate substitute for legitimate self-care, too often, lately. (I could “blame the pandemic”, but I recognize it is more complicated than that.)

…Damn, I’m glad I got back into therapy…

Here it is, the edge of a new day. The beginnings of a beginning. There are so many other things to reflect on, to consider, to handle differently, to work at… it seems like a lot, taken as one colossal single monolithic unsatisfying uncompleted “project”… I sigh, sip the last swallow of my first coffee of the day. One step at a time. One task at a time. One reminder at a time. Eventually, things get done, and incremental change over time becomes part of the here and now. “Could be” becomes “is”. It still takes so much practice. So many new beginnings. I stare into my empty coffee cup. It’s time to begin again. 🙂

It’s raining this morning. I slept deeply through the night. It’s been a painful couple of days, but the pain has been just that physical experience of arthritis and of aging. I could feel the rain coming.

This morning, I sip my coffee and welcome the rain. The window of my studio is open to the sound of it, the smell of it, and the coolness of the fresh damp air that has begun to the fill the room. Refreshing. The cadence of it varies; sometimes falling quite heavily, a momentary drenching downpour, other times a soft quiet spattering of smaller drops, sometimes stopping briefly. I could listen to the rain for hours, doing nothing else but enjoying the sound of rain falling.

I sip my coffee and think about how the garden flowers will appreciate this rain. I think about taking my walk in the rain after so much dry summer weather. A bird begins to carry on rather loudly, somewhere in the pear tree beyond the fence, outside the window, disturbed by something I don’t see. Today I’ll run an errand or two, which will take me down the road, on this rainy day. I smile at the thought. It’s not raining hard enough to cause me any stress over the driving, and I realize as I consider that… well, it’s been a long-ish time since I experienced any stress about driving in the rain. 🙂 Progress. Trauma does heal over time – given a chance. That’s nice to experience, and to recognize, firsthand.

…Let’s be real, though, y’all… The event that caused the trauma that drove the driving stress specific to driving in the rain? That happened back in… 1997? It’s now 2021. We’re talking about 24 years here. 24 years to heal from a single traumatic incident. Of that 24 years, I didn’t drive at all for about 14 years. I even let my license lapse and just replaced it with an ID card. Circumstances rather unforgivingly nudged me in the direction of needing to get over my anxiety about driving and just fucking deal with it, about 7 years ago. The first 6 months were sometimes challenging, and for a handful of years after I got my license renewed, I drove when I had to, and it wasn’t something I enjoyed at all. That changed when my Traveling Partner more or less insisted that I go ahead and buy a car for myself, that I would really enjoy driving, when he needed his car back (he’d loaned it to me while I was moving, and it suited us both for me to keep and maintain it for awhile). I enjoyed shopping for a car for myself, on my own, with very little input from anyone else. It was fun. I found something affordable that I really liked, for me, and went for it. I still love my car. I’ll probably replace it, one day, with another just like it – only newer.

Am I rambling? I’ll blame the rain, and this good cup of coffee, and this very relaxed morning. 🙂

I guess what I’m saying is that healing takes the time it takes. Yeah, we can (and do) make choices that may slow that progress (or seek to rush it through), but none of that truly matters – it still takes the time it takes to heal. Physical hurts, emotional injuries, mental health trauma: all of it takes the time it takes, to heal. Seriously. Give yourself enough compassion and kindness and general decency to understand that it’ll take time to “get over” something that has wounded you. The time it takes you, versus the time it takes me, or someone else? Those things don’t compare directly; we’re each having our own experience. If I resist being open to healing, I’ll for sure slow the progress I can make toward wellness – I’ll say that again – If I am not open to healing, or unwilling to let go of my pain, and my chaos, and my damage, healing will definitely take longer. Let’s not quibble, and just accept this for a minute; sometimes we are “not ready” to get well from emotional injuries. Anger or resentment that still needs acceptance and soothing, and authentic understanding and love can really get in the way of emotional wellness, however sincerely we weep that we wish to be well and whole again. It’s complicated, isn’t it?

I sip my coffee thinking about the many days and years of this journey, behind me. I listen to the rain fall and consider the path ahead. I still have flare ups of my PTSD. The chaos and damage may be, to an extent, a permanent part of the emotional landscape (although things have improved so much over the years!). I give myself a moment of kindness as I consider that. My cognitive quirks, and eccentricities resulting from head injuries, are part of who I am – some of them I would not trade for an opportunity to be “normal”, ever. This? This life now, these moments, here? Pretty splendid, generally. I can recall a very different life, mired in misery, anxiety, chaos, anger, and pure effort spent hiding as much of who I am from everyone as I comfortably could – even from myself. I was deeply unhappy, and doing not much at all about that. I was consumed with resignation and a sense of utter futility.

I stare out the window, watching the rain fall, thinking about that life, and that woman and her deep deep suffering. I sip my coffee, silently acknowledging how much of my pain was actually self-inflicted, and how many verbs were involved in getting from there, to here. So many new beginnings. So many “failures” along the way. So many opportunities to inch a little bit closer to the woman I most wanted to be, living that beautiful life I could envision, and somehow could not achieve. I wish I could reach back and assure her we got here, and how good it is. Enough. More than enough.

There’s still a journey ahead. That’s living life, is it not? One moment after another, and always time to begin again. 🙂