This isn’t really about Bob Ross.

My last post was about two months ago, so I figure it’s about time that I get back on my game. At least until another two months passes and I remember I should get my money’s worth while I own this domain. Since I’m sure you read and reread my last post just to see if it was a new one, you might recall that I was last dealing with stress.

Like all other breathing creatures, I’m still dealing with stress. But the once incredibly high levels have become my normal. I’m sure there’s something new just around the corner. My job title has changed twice since March, and I’ve spent most of the last six months learning. Though I’d easily be able to give you a list of what I’ve learned, I won’t bore you with the details of explaining how to audit an MVR to see if a driver self-certified correctly or what it’s like to navigate the various state requirements for tax-exempt ownership transfers of vehicles.

This Bob Ross clothespin doll you can buy on Etsy doesn't have anything to do with my work stress, but you click the picture for the link and buy it for me to keep at my desk and make this sort of make sense.

This Bob Ross clothespin doll you can buy on Etsy doesn’t have anything to do with my work stress, but you click the picture and buy it for me to keep at my desk. Then this would sort of make sense.

(I really just needed to create some mystery to keep you reading past that last sentence. It’s called creating tension and it’s a writing technique.)

Anyway, I’ve found that the most stressful part of my day doesn’t happen at work. After 8-12 hours of operating at my highest mental capacity, I come home and have little energy to do anything for myself. Things like working out, journaling, going through old journals for Throwback Thursday Posts, reading a few chapters (or compelling essays about brain disorders) before bed each night, or cooking a meal to share with friends. The few moments before I doze off after reading only 2 paragraphs of a novel are the worst of my day. That’s when I reflect on my day and realize I completely skipped over things that enrich my life. I absolutely love my job, but the sudden realization that my Me-Time has all but evaporated sometimes knocks the wind out of me. Fortunately, consciousness doesn’t last long. My sleep is usually heavy and dreamless.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made the deliberate choice to not accept vegging out with mindless television as the only way to recoup from the day. A year ago, I used to really look forward to my near-daily runs. I felt enormous pride knowing I could run a few miles after a full day of mentally-taxing work. It was a mental restart button for my day. Whatever I had dealt with earlier would lose its saturation by the time I started cool-down stretches. I read plenty, slept soundly, and awoke renewed. Knowing that better sleep and higher quality of life is just switch of willpower away is such a stupid problem, but my apathy made me powerless.

I’ve probably said it before, but the problems that frustrate me most are the ones over which I feel I have no control. These make me feel as if all my weaknesses and insecurities are a meme I can’t escape. I see my ineffectiveness everywhere. When I was really freaking out about a car, all I could see was evidence of everybody else successfully owning cars. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow one of my parents’ cars for a few months, but my insecurity about it was terrible. See a gas station? “OH MY GOD. YOU DON’T EVEN OWN A CAR THAT RUNS RIGHT NOW. YOU CAN’T EVEN PUT GAS IN YOUR OWN CAR.” Pull into the parking lot at work? “EVERYONE KNOWS YOU DON’T DRIVE A DURANGO AND THAT YOUR CAR DOESN’T WORK. ALSO YOU CAN’T FIX A CAR.”

I’m not really sure why it took me so long to change my approach with this problem (Foolish optimism? Fear of the salesman? Fear of rejection? All of the above?), but eventually I decided my dad’s time could be better spent on things other than trying to fix a 19 year old car I wanted to set aflame. I started car searching and I found a great car that was made in a year in which I have vivid and fond memories.

Seeing that I could eliminate that stress was satisfying. I was hooked on being in control. To prepare for the added expenses of a car, I created a really awesome budget spreadsheet (I only update TWO TABS with my debits and credits of a 15-tab spreadsheet. It’s uploaded to Google Sheets so I can access it on my phone and know exactly where I stand for the month). I got a Fitbit and started tracking my steps and sleep patterns. I started to meet with a health coach to set goals and hold me accountable each week. I took a Saturday off and spent six hours reading a book. SIX. It was incredible.

I feel like I’ve been complaining about my work/personal/sanity balance for a while now. I swear there’s more to my life than this. I have many more entertaining stories to share. Like the Sadness Parade I took part in with my dad and older brother (taking my old car across town for a mechanic friend’s opinion), what a food scientist packs for an evening picnic date, my realization that sports bars are not my natural habitat (weird, I know), what it was like driving my new car home the first night, or how I wish I would have handled a construction worker sort of sexually harassing me while we were both stopped at a red light. Spoiler alert: it’s not half-smiling and asking myself if that really just happened.

With time, you’ll get those stories. For now, I’m making the deliberate choice to read. I just had to share more complaints with you. Just one last time. Probably.

Defending One of My Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms

This thing I found on Wikipedia defines a maladaptive coping mechanism as follows:

a coping technique [that] will just reduce symptoms while maintaining and strengthening the disorder. Maladaptive techniques are more effective in the short term rather than long term coping process. 

I define maladaptive coping mechanisms as awesome.

I feel like I need to preface this whole thing by saying I’m not complaining. I’m just venting. Because there’s a difference, connotation-wise. Complaining is just going on and on about your problems and never dealing with them, just hoping that somebody will poof all your problems away. Venting is thinking aloud until you come to a plan of action that you and your audience agree on. Even when I complain I’m venting, so keep that in mind next time you hear me say something negative. You might not hear my action plan, but you’d agree with it if I bothered to articulate it.

The last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with an unusual amount of stress in my professional life and my personal life. My stressors are as follows:

  • Navigating new territory of more responsibility
  • Excel. The bane of a young professional with only a liberal arts background
  • Supporting a friend through a difficult period
  • My possibly dying plants: my ivy is getting dry, one sprig of a festival-purchased peony plant has turned black, and I have no idea if my bamboo has grown over the last 13 months
  • My constant deliberation over the pros and cons of living as a lazy slob
  • My not-so constant deliberation over the pros and cons of living as a productive human who eats more than a bowl of granola for dinner
  • The slow realization that I am no longer in my prime
  • The knee-jerk reaction to the previous point (RUN TWO MILES BEFORE WORK EVERYDAY! NEVER EAT PROCESSED FOOD! NEVER DRINK SODA! STOP DRINKING COFFEE! DON’T EAT THAT BREAD UNLESS YOU WANT TO GAIN 5LBS IN YOUR SLEEP! DON’T WALK – CROSS GROUND IN LUNGES ONLY!)
  • Working to pay off some debt to make room for new debt (ie, a car that was made within the last decade) & the realization of the fruitlessness of adult life
  • Wondering where I’ll be when my 19-year old car finally decides to die
  • Only being in Season 2 and not wanting to miss when someone finally kills King Joffrey, but not really liking anyone other than Tyrion

Without going into too much detail about any of the above items, I’ll summarize by saying that I feel like I spend 80% of my week being stressed. While I enjoy being challenged, I reached my point a few weeks ago where I was like, “COME ON, UNIVERSE. DON’T BE SUCH A JERK.” Then the universe was just like, “LOL NOPE. HERE’S MORE.” I expect that as I become more accustomed to my responsibilities, my stress level will plateau until the universe decides it’s time I have more excitement in my life.

Today happened to be a particularly stressful day (despite my better intentions, one interaction early in the day clouded my mood for the next 9 hours). After working for 9.5 hours, I came home and announced to my roommate, “I’m just going drink the leftover wine in the fridge and bake cookies. I’ll probably just eat cookie dough for dinner.”  I’ll defend it by saying this: Some days you just need to feel that you’re able to complete one thing from start to finish. I knew that there were about three glass of wine between the two bottles of wine (moscato and chardonney) in my fridge. I knew that I could follow a 7-ingredient recipe, set the oven timer to 8 minutes, and remove the cookie sheet without burning myself.

To cope with my stress, I really just needed to be reminded that I was able to complete something from start to finish without interruptions. I now have five dozen cookies to prove it. The same issues will still plague me tomorrow, but at least I’ll have cookies.

Don’t judge me.

Throwback Thursday: The 9/11 One

You guys. The last time I did a Throwback Thursday post was October. That’s crazy. And fairly unacceptable. Considering the fact I have a closet full of journals, I have virtually no reason to not write those posts. I owe you. Expect payment in future TBT posts. If I had at all planned this out, I would have written this post, adjusted the previously shared diary entries to arrange for this to be posted in September, when it was actually appropriate. I have a hard time holding myself to self-imposed deadlines.  Anyway, onto the meat of the stuff:

(Tues.) September 11, 2001

Wow. America was attacked today. This is horrible! I can’t beleive this happened!

Ok, today during ILA, Mrs. Sandlin freaked me out. she started out by saying how much of a horrible day today is. She went on to tell us about how terrorists attacked us. They highjacked 4 airplanes and crashed them into both world trade buildings and the pentagon.

It’s scary! I don’t know if anybody knows who did it, but Mr. Wittman in History said that there WILL be retaliation. AKA: go to war.

We watched TV like 4 times today about it.

President Bush called whoever did this “faceless cowards” and will “hunt down and punish” whoever did this.

And as of right now there are NO planes in the air. NONE. Planes coming into America are being diverted to Canada.

This is horrible! I was coming home from Jade’s house & we saw DOZENS of cars in line to get gas. I was wondering why & I asked my mom when I got home & she said it’s going to be $3.50 a GALLON. And my parents thought $1.75 was a lot!

This is horrible! I can’t use words to discribe how terrified I am! My life is going to change so much! I mean even just gas prices! My parents will be paying twice as much as they used to!

What if we go to war? I don’t think anybody in my family will go to fight for America, & I pray to god that doesn’t happen. i don’t know what I’d do without my dad being home!

I’m sorry I keep writing the same things down, but I’m so worried. The gas thing totally freaked me out. If we go to war, there might be rations of canned foods, gas, make-up, toys, everything! I just can’t believe this is happening!

I need to burn some energy.  Luv always!

Ashley

P.S. I’m in so much of a daze I forgot 2 tell you that the football game was cancelled & Cory hugged me after school. What a sweetie! LOL, there’s my shallow life again.

P.P.S. Oh yeah, more than 10,000 people died today.

I have a tendency to trivialize tragedies as a way to cope, so my gut here is telling me just to make fun of the fact that I said 10,000 people died that day or that I misspelled “believe” and “describe” though I used to pride myself on being one of the best spellers in my class. But to do that would be to further trivialize my experience. It’s unnecessary. Nobody gains anything from me making fun of Young Ashley for coping the only way she knew how: to write dramatically as if she were writing a new Dear America book.

Photo credit - Kaperuccio

Photo credit – Kaperuccio

Joking aside (sarcasm is so deeply embedded in my sense of self. I should go to a therapist), I remember this being a very weird day. Before Mrs. Sandlin told my ILA (English) class what had happened, I heard chatter about it during passing time. Grabbing my books and slamming my locker door, I rolled my eyes, thinking it was some “big” tragedy that the news networks were going to eat up. At that point, I had never heard of the World Trade Centers or terrorists. I assumed terrorists was a new gimmicky word aimed at scaring the public. I was underwhelmed by this supposed tragedy, even when Mrs. Sandlin turned on the TV.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I was excited while watching the news. Maybe this was really it – the event that would inspire historical fiction I could speak on! I had lived through this. I could someday talk about this. It was too abstract of a thing to inspire fear in me. I was thrilled by flares of anxiety later during the day, as I imagined a different life where my dad worked in one of the towers. Of course he came home at the end of the day, but I was just thrilled about the idea of wearing that badge of tragedy. It wasn’t real to me. That’s why I ate it up. I think on some level, I was aware that this was happening to real people and that other children were going through the terror of not knowing if their parents were alive, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. I felt empathy’s tug, but was saddened when it remained abstract.

Part of what has always disgusted me about national tragedies is the way in which people devour the story as if it’s their own. When young and in the thick of these events, of course I was scared and terrified, but it made me feel uneasy to talk about it, so I just didn’t. Maybe I had a deeply embedded journalistic integrity, but probably I was afraid of being found a fraud. I’m sure there’s some level of that anxiety that still keeps me away from news networks, but the news culture seems so cannibalistic. I realize I keep going back to this eating theme, but it works: viewers chew on this news for a day or two, enjoying the bursts of appropriate emotional flavor (horror, fear, sadness, excitement, etc) before digesting and leaving it behind when they’ve had their fill. The victims are eternally masticating an overdone steak while the spectators move further down the buffet line.

So what does this leave me with? Willful ignorance disguised as respect to victims? That’s probably pretty accurate, though a bit cynical even for me. Tragedies are personal. Media is not. Victims will always feel violated, and I’d just rather not be a part of that violation.

Coping with Winter 2014

I don’t mean to be crass, but this winter fucking blows. It started out okay – the snow held off till December. We had a white Christmas and the usual single digits that had everyone asking in that midwestern obligatory fashion, “Cold nuff fer ya?”

Then came the Polar Vortex. That was cool. I had taken a vacation (by vacation I really just mean a few days away from my cubicle – I didn’t go anywhere fancy or do anything terribly exciting), and the first day of -50 came the day I was supposed to return. I was terribly disappointed when my car didn’t start. (Dead battery, then eventual flooded engine – a quick and easy fix for my dad when the weather rose to positive single digits later that week.) I spent the day watching Netflix and crocheting.

Then we had a bunch of little snowfalls. Nothing significant, but just enough to grease the roads, flip a few cars, and make me feel guilty when I’m sitting inside while my neighbor shovels. There was a day or two of freezing rain that coated everything in an inch of ice. And now we’re on a second Polar Vortex – we’ll have a little break of this frigid hell tomorrow (a high of 14, with a real feel of -2!) only to return once again to a high whose real feel is -33.

I do not accept this as my reality.

I do not accept this reality.

My main way of coping with this winter has been to surround myself with lots of yarn. I don’t trust any Midwesterner who claims to not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. “I just like the cold,” he claims. YOU’RE A DAMN ROBOT.

Because I loathe wet socks, frozen nostrils, and numb fingers, I’ve never been one for winter activities. I might go sledding once a year, but I’m too busy thinking about how pissed I’ll be if the cocoa in the thermos isn’t hot when we’re done. I survive Wisconsin winters by maintaining a delicate balance of patience, apathy, self-examination, and binge-socializing. Allow me to explain:

1. Patience Lifelong Midwesterners claim that they could never live in a place like San Diego where the weather is perpetually perfect because they like seasons too much. I’m assuming this statement is only made on sunny July afternoons while drinking a cold Spotted Cow. Without rose-tinted glasses, a year in Wisconsin looks like this:

Science.

Science.

As you see, half the year is taken up by winter (see “THE WORST”). During this time we experience bitter cold, disgusting amounts of snow and ice, and asshole winds (technical term). The second largest part (see “Gross”) is closely related to the winter; the environment and climate are reluctant to let go of the winter, showering us with cold rain that yields mud, dirty snow heaps, and a perpetual grayness. This Gross period also occurs directly before THE WORST, giving an encore performance of cold rain and perpetual grayness. June, July and August tend to be quite warm and humid (see “Hot”), we either sweat at music festivals, baseball games, or coolourselves near a lake. During this time we should be constantly hydrating, but we like to chance it by drinking lots of domestic beer. There are a few days sprinkled throughout the year, during which the pictures depicting the glory of our four seasons are taken (see “Not Terrible”).

“Not Terrible” accounts for all of the following: Pristine snowfalls where the temperatures hover pleasantly between 20-35, cool spring mornings that allow coffee to be enjoyed on patios, sunny summer afternoons not requiring perpetual hydration, crisp fall days with maddeningly bright leaves and skies.

To get through THE WORST period, one must have patience to get to the first Not Terrible day in spring. You have to lie to yourself. “The summer is worth this. The summer is worth it. The summer is worth it.”

2. Apathy The winter is terrible. It is. Just don’t think too much about it. But you know what? You’ll get to one of those Not Terrible Days, but it will quickly change to a Gross Day. And just as soon as the Hot Days come, it will quickly become Gross again, and you’ll be forced to go through THE WORST all over. You’ll keep doing this, year after year, and then you know what happens? You die. So really, just stop thinking about it. We’re all going to die, so who cares?

3. Self-Examination I like to use winter as a time to do lots of reading. In between reading sessions, I bake, occasionally go to the gym, journal, and watch TV. Most of these activities inspire me to look within: How do I compare to that character? Should I really be baking cookies for the second time this week? I should go to the gym. I should journal about going to the gym and how good I feel afterwrads – that will inspire me to keep going. Then the self-examination just makes me bitter and I watch TV so I don’t have to think about all the things I’d like to change about myself.

4. Binge-Socializing After spending a significant amount of time on self-examination, I get sick of my own thoughts and reach out to people. I realize I have friends I haven’t talked with in a long time. I start dating again. I resolve to do something nice for someone else once a day. I’m just so sick of being in my head that I can’t bear to be alone with my thoughts any more, so I decide to just surround myself with people constantly. Eventually this becomes too much and I go back to my self-examination period.

It’s not a perfect or complete set of rules to get through the winter, but I’ve done it 25 times now, so I must be doing something right.