Breathing Through Stagnation

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I haven’t been blogging lately because I have felt stuck in a motivational malaise. I think part of it is due to financial stagnation. Since I am an adjunct instructor, I don’t teach for most of August and the payments for the fall contract don’t kick in until late September. This year, Irma also cost me hours at my part-time writing consultant job. Although I also run my own academic editing and coaching business, the beginning of the academic year is always slow.

I always plan for this economic downturn, but I hate to see monthly expenses eat away at my savings, even if it was saved for that purpose. The financial stagnation chips away at my motivation. When I have a goal, I like to see forward momentum, no matter how small. Right now, my goal is to save the down payment for my own condo.

I left a job in academic administration and moved out of my apartment during a bad bipolar episode seven years ago. I have rented a couple rooms since then, allowing myself the financial freedom to restructure my life in a way that would be more beneficial to my health and the well being of my daughter. Now we are ready for a two-bedroom condo of our own. We should be ready to buy this spring. It’s hard to be so close, and yet be in a position where you must simply wait. I have never been good at waiting. I like to doing.

For now, I take deep breaths and try to focus on other things. I finished my academic article, did my research for a conference presentation, and now I am reviewing and revising my business plan for the upcoming year.

Sometimes stillness can be as unsettling as chaos, but I know things will soon change. They always do.

Evolution is Exhausting

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I try to increase my energy level with a sheer force of will. I want to focus, be productive, but my brain is drained tonight. Not even an afternoon coffee could stimulate my intellectual faculties. It’s not just my mind that is worn out; my muscles ache from yesterday’s workout. My triceps, my biceps, my quads, each movement stretches a tight pain out of my body. I’m emotionally drained, too. Implementation of a new element into one of my course threw everything out of balance and I have been concerned about how it will affect my students.

This is the cost of evolution. When you push yourself to keep improving, eventually it takes its toll. That doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. It’s just time to rest. Since I can’t get any work done now, I decided to develop another plan. Instead of working tonight, I will set my alarm for early tomorrow and go to bed early tonight.

I grab a bottle of Diet Coke from the fridge and the Captain Morgan from the cupboard. I mix a drink and settle in. What will my writing reveal tonight? It has already revealed that I am not Wonder Woman, no matter how much I want to be. I have my limitation, but I am happy to have the opportunity to reach them.

We often forget to be grateful for our difficulties. Many of my students are first and second-generation college students who struggle to work and go to school. When they are stuck in the struggle, they forget it’s the very thing they came to America for, the opportunity to evolve. We forget that evolution isn’t easy. The evolution of a caterpillar into a butterfly is not painless. It is stressful.

We should each keep that in mind. Ease is not evolution. To wish for ease is to wish that things stay the same . . . forever. If you want more, to become better, stronger, wiser, richer, happier—whatever you want more of—you will need to struggle. You will need to evolve, and evolving is stressful. Evolution is not for the weak.

How we define the stress is the important part. If we view stress as a noun it is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances,” but if we use it as a verb it means “give particular emphasis or importance to (a point, statement, or idea).” So, stress could be a difficulty we must endure, or serve as an emphasis highlighting where we need to grow. Pointing out what we must overcome to evolve.

You’re not Superman or Wonder Woman. There will come a point when you might start to feel overwhelmed. When that time comes, rest, but don’t quit. Evolution is exhausting, but it’s worth it.

When You Don’t Feel Like Adulting

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The digital clock on my tablet reads 8:58 am, and it is time to head inside to work. I snap the keyboard cover over the touch screen and put it in my backpack. Standing up from the quaint bistro table, I toss the backpack over my shoulder and head to the automatic doors. Like a magic portal, the doors transport me from a sunny, subtropical paradise into the artificial chill of the Green Library. I find myself slightly annoyed, not because I dislike my job. I love my job. I just don’t feel like upholding my adult responsibilities today. I want to write, read, doodle in my art journal, and enjoy the sun. Basically, I want to relax and play.

I find my resistance a bit humorous since I only have to work five hours today. I have plenty of time to do my own thing; although, the idea of going to the gym at 5:00 pm makes me feel petulant. I have a feeling I am going to be a bit sassy with my trainer today.  I have learned that if I acknowledge and accept these feelings with the same patience I would extended a strong-willed toddler, my day goes a lot smoother.

Would I be happier if I were home today? Probably not. I would probably lament the wasted time and opportunities lost. In fact, when I leave work today, I know I will change into my gym attire then go to the coffee shop right next to the gym to work on my scholarly article for a couple hours. I am just having one those generally dissatisfied days.

Being bipolar, I have learned how to separate feelings and thoughts. Thoughts create feelings and feelings create thoughts, but if you can stop the transaction for just a moment you can see how illusionary it can be. There is no reason why I shouldn’t have a good day at work today, unless I decide my irritation is a valid emotion. So, I recognize it for what it is, restlessness. There are so many things I want to do today, and there’s no possible way of doing them simultaneously, so my brain has thrown its metaphorical hands into the air and said “Whatever!”

I remind myself that there is plenty of time to do everything, and everything will get done as long as I do one thing at a time. I remind myself that what I consider work and play are so closely aligned they are almost the same thing. I purposely designed my life to be that way. I remind myself that I like getting paid. Being free is not fun when you are broke. I remind myself that the sun is almost always out in Miami, and that after a couple hours, I would be so hot that I would want to come back in. I remind myself that I signed up for the gym because I wanted to be strong and active. It’s all about the story I tell myself, so I choose the story that makes me the happiest.

Bee in My Bonnet

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I jab at the keyboard like the keys have offended me. It’s 7:30 pm, and I am sitting in the Miami heat having a cup of coffee as I try to override the mounting irritation. I need to complete a couple projects this weekend, but I am currently angry at a particularly rude individual. The individual was not rude to me per se, but rather rude adjacent, attacking a peer and disparaging others.

As the debate regarding the appropriateness of the individual’s behavior percolated, I found myself irritated that such a debate was even taking place. I try to stay calm because I know it is my personal bias rearing its ugly head. I am irritated because I know that if I had behaved that way, retribution would have been swift and from multiple sources. Although I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, such behavior would be deemed inexcusable. I would have been taught a lesson. I would have been put back in line, roughly if necessary. Yet, I am supposed to make accommodations for others who are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions. I struggle to take the higher road that would not be extended to me.

Perhaps tough love begets tough love. I was always taught that tough love was the best way to handle inappropriate behavior, and I experienced it first hand when I had a bad bipolar episode five years ago. But is tough love really the answer? Obviously, I still have some unresolved resentment to the method. My hatred for the participants bubbles just below the surface. There is a trust that has be broken, and perhaps, it will never be repaired.

It did, however, modify my behavior. I learned how to feel one way, but behave another, at least until I could process the emotions at a later time. Sometimes it feels dishonest, even if courteous. But, isn’t that maturity? So here I am, trying to focus on what I need to do, despite the irritating rage swirling inside me.

The key is recognizing that my perception of reality is just that, a perception. My anger was triggered not by the event, but by what the event represented to me. I take a few more deep breaths. My mind is still not convinced. I am still not ready to let it go, but at least I have some space between my emotions and my response. I know in a day or two I will be fine, the incident far behind me. The trigger, well that is a different story. Perhaps there is some damage that can’t be repaired. At least I can choose how to respond.

Slow Assassin

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I am convinced someone is paying my personal trainer to kill me. Oh wait, I am paying my personal training to kill me . . . slowly . . . very slowly . . . one thirty-minute appointment at a time.

I was run over by a truck while biking on New Year’s Day 2013. The accident left me with a broken hip, fracture pelvis and fractured tail bone. I was in the hospital for 28 days, and it took me four months before I was able to walk without assistance. Even then, I needed to medicate for the pain and limit the length of my activity. It was a long slow healing process. It took years to gain full mobility without pain.

Those injuries, and the slow recovery, curtail my otherwise active lifestyle. I gained 50 pounds as I became more sedentary, and of course, I lost most of my muscle tone.

This year, my goal is to be more active and to get stronger. I try to eat healthy more often, but to be honest, losing weight has not been the primary goal. I simply want the freedom to be active without feeling pain or feeling exhausted. Each week, my trainer pushes me a little harder, and I get a little stronger.

Emotional recovery is like that, too. It is usually a slow process. At first you will need a lot of assistance, and when you first try to stand on your own, it will hurt each time you use your muscles in new ways. The effort will leave you exhausted. When you finally reach your comfort zone, you will have to start stretching yourself, pushing yourself through harder and harder exercises until you are confident you can handle anything. At times, the process will make you grumpy even hostile. You may swear someone is trying to kill you, but your tough. You can handle it . . . thirty minutes at a time.