Conspiracy Theories

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Several years ago I participated in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) group to help with my depression. The group didn’t do much for me, but I did gain some insight from it. We had a session where members of the group were talking about different issues. I remember talking about the realization that since we live in the Bay Area, I would never be able to afford a house in an area that I would actually want to live in. Mundane, but at the time upsetting to me since I had grown up believing that since my parents bought a house(while my dad was still in grad school) that I naturally would follow in their footsteps. The most striking shared story was from a young woman who started with a tale about being in a minor car accident, but that quickly morphed into some weird conspiracy theory about the government or some shadowy organization being out to get her and ruin her life. I remember the rest of the group just kind of going quiet and realizing that perhaps this person might be better suited for more specialized help. The facilitator played it cool, but I really hope that he talked to her afterwards. What I took from this was the way in that people can distort reality. Not just this young woman who took a car accident and some random phone calls and assembled the pieces of the story in a highly elaborate conspiracy, but that even I was guilty of it. I think I thought of it as differing levels of reality distortion. I tend to twist or filter reality to push out any positive traits about myself and convince myself that I am a complete and utter failure, worthless and better off dead. Having that realization didn’t make the thoughts go away, those thoughts still float around in the back of my head at times, but they aren’t as powerful or present as they used to be, but it made it easier to see that perhaps I wasn’t viewing things from a completely accurate perspective.

As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I started up couples’ therapy earlier in the beginning of the summer. The focus has been on recognizing how we trigger each other and fall into these negative loops. Our therapist specializes in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and recommended a the book ‘Hold me Tight’ . It’s been amazing for me to be reading this book and look back on what we’ve been doing in our sessions. I can see how our patterns of behavior are very commonplace and how many other people react the same way I do to stressful situations with their partners.

Things have been stressful at home with a new schedule for my wife’s work and a new school for the kids, as well my starting a position in a new lab. It came to a sort-of-head the other night when my wife seemed to suddenly get really cold and annoyed with me. I asked what was going on, and she told me that she was really mad at me and had been for several days . She didn’t know completely why(although there are plenty of reasons), but there it was. Normally I would have stormed off and announced thoughts of how our relationship was doomed, and I that couldn’t do anything right.

This time around, those thoughts were still there, but at the same time I was also a bit mad and feeling that she was being unfair. From the reading and our therapy sessions I knew that me withdrawing wasn’t going to help, so I calmed myself down and tried to engage my wife in conversation to see what was going on. She was very resistant to talking about it(I found it interesting that I was the one trying to work out issues this time around), but in the end we did manage to discuss her stress and worries over work and the kids. Nothing was solved, but it felt like a bit of tension was released and were able to do it together.

This episode reminded me of a recent exercise given to me by my coach, I had to come up with a list of reasons that I am a good husband. Painting myself in a positive light of any sort is extremely hard for me, but this exchange with my wife and thinking back on the CBT group has pushed me to go ahead and do it. Here is a subset in no particular order:

  • I respect my wife as a person and individual.
  • I support my wife in times of need as well as in the pursuit of her own dreams and goals.
  • I am committed to bettering myself and constantly working on our relationship
  • I am conscientious of how my being away from the house can impact the family and make an effort to always check before participating in activities that will keep me out later than usual.
  • I take an active role with the children.
  • I am willing to adjust and shift my schedule if she has her own obligations to take care of.
  • I encourage my wife’s independence, but also appreciate shared time and activities.
  • I appreciate how lucky I am to such an amazing woman as my partner in life and try to let her know that.

So that’s it for now. It’s hard for me to look at this list and not want to qualify it or put some sort of disclaimer, but I’m going to let it be. I hope I can keep this perspective during the inevitable stressful periods that I will encounter in the future. I’ll work on reminding myself that difficult children, eye rolls and exasperation from my wife are not necessarily signs of a conspiracy proving that I am a terrible person.

Raindrops keep falling on my head

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The image above is a recreation of what our couple’s therapist drew. Yes, that’s me with the raincloud over my head. For some background, we started up couple’s therapy again because my wife has been so stressed with work, the kids in general, my daughter’s recent behavior(really worth a post in it’s own), and our lack of communication. During our last session after hearing my wife discussing her various stressors. I was asked what I was feeling. I responded honestly that I felt like a complete failure in all aspects of my life. I feel so unhelpful and disconnected from her and the kids, and I don’t know how to help. Saying it out loud really hit me hard, and I really felt off and a bit out of it for the rest of the day. The therapist made the drawing and asked what we could do so that I was not only protected but not alone under that raincloud.(the theme of our therapy has been for us to turn to each other during difficult moments instead of turning away). By this point I think I had shut down, but I also was taking the question quite literally. I really couldn’t come up with a detailed plan on what to do next. My wife, being much less literal than me, and quick on the draw, jumped in with “an umbrella for both of us”. She’s sharp that one.

The deep depression from that session lasted the whole day and night. Since then it’s come and gone, and I had thought that I was doing okay. But then, earlier this week I ran across an article entitled Five lessons I learned from dealing with depression . I found it an interesting article. Not because I got new tips or techniques for dealing with depression(I didn’t), but it made me realize more about how my depression manifests.

The first lesson was that our self perceptions are frequently wrong, but following that was the lesson that our feelings regarding those perceptions are valid. This is me! I tend to have a negative self image to begin with, but when I’m more depressed than normal I tend to get VERY negative. In therapy, the “I’m a complete failure at everything” was a perfect example of that. I wasn’t beling melodramatic, I really and truly felt it. What I’ve noticed, is that despite knowing somewhere in my head that I’m not an absolute failure, I can’t seem to answer back to that idea. After relaying the incident to my coach she wanted me to come up a list of achievements and things I have done and learned. I’ve done this before with her, but I couldn’t come up with a good list this time.(Some examples were learning how tie my shoes and driving stick shift). I could start formulating more substantive examples, but I couldn’t follow through due to a mix of immediately rejecting those since I felt I hadn’t done anything well, but also due to a part of me which consistently fights attempts to get out of that negative mindset.

This is where the idea that those negative feelings are valid comes in. The article goes on explain that being told that you really aren’t that bad doesn’t help much. Several years ago, during a more prolonged and severe bought with depression, I tried a Cognitive Behavorial Therapy group. The basic idea is that you take your fear or belief and map out what the worse case scenarios are. The goal is for you to realize that your perceptions are off and that that information will help relieve the anxiety or depression. It didn’t work for me. I could follow the thoughts out rationally, but it didn’t seem to matter, it didn’t help change my negative thoughts about myself. I also felt like it didn’t deal with the underlying emotional aspect, but I digress. I see that same pattern still when I’m trying to answer the negative voices in my head, it is so easy to dismiss the counterarguments to my depression as inconsequential or not really representative of myself.

Perhaps more worrisome, is that, when depressed, to embrace those counterarguments feels like I’m getting sucked out of a sad but comfortable place. It’s like laying in the mud at the bottom of the ocean, it’s lonely and not so pretty and there is a huge weight bearing down on me, but I’ m used to it. To be pulled all the way up to surface feels like it would take too much effort and it’s too scary. Like some of those deep sea dwellers, I would die up on the surface. There is also the feeling that I would have to exert more energy all around.

Reading the article made me realize that I’ve probably been much more depressed than I had thought recently. The stress over my work(I found another lab to work with, but still worried), the kids, and the tension between me and my wife have left me in a not so good spot. I noticed today I felt pretty good. Looking back I realized that I had pleasant conversation with the casual carpool driver (a complete stranger) and I had run a successful experiment with a colleague at work. It’s a reminder that connecting with people is so important to my emotional well-being. I’ve been working on trying to connect more with my wife, which has been hard with my daughter’s behavior issues, and it’s helped a bit. Time to start working on that large umbrella for my me and my wife.

Spring, trees and surfing

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For some reason, this year was the first time I noticed the pink magnolias (Magnolia × soulangeana) in the bay area. I was dumbfounded, how could I have not noticed such amazing trees before? It seemed almost everywhere I looked I was running into them. For spring break we did our usual trip down to my in-law’s house in Southern California. The photo above is of a Coral Tree in their neighborhood that I always love to see in bloom at this time of the year. I’ve noticed this tree every time I go down there in spring. At times, Southern California tempts me not only with her beaches, but with the varieties of trees(and fruits) that can grow down there(I would love to have a fruiting Cherimoya tree someday).

It was an interesting week for me. Besides the flowering trees, I noticed a lot of stress in myself around the unsettled nature of my future employment and possibly a resultant depression. As has become custom for trips down here, I was waking up early to go surfing in the mornings. I managed to go every morning except for one. I finally realized I was depressed since surfing wasn’t bringing me the energy that normally keeps me content and in a good mood for the rest of the day. I noticed that I was more restless than usual and my wife and I had several stressful days when the topic of my difficulties in finding a job came up.

Despite not getting the usual boost, all that surfing gave me a lot of time to ponder life and the “bigger picture”. Besides being out in the water and the thrill of catching a wave, what I really appreciate about surfing is that it gives me the opportunity to slow down and think a bit. I’m realizing that for the past few months at home I really haven’t a chance to slow down at all. At work I’ve actually been pretty busy(not usually the case), but I have been stressing about the upcoming end of my current position, while also trying to sort out my research data for an upcoming presentation. At home things are always hectic and I haven’t had many chances to just be still. All in all, surfing that week gave me the chance to really slow down and take stock of things. I was greeted almost every day with dolphins and each day I found a new way to see the experience of surfing as giving me a message on life. Interpreting it has not always easy though.

On the first day out I was reminded that waves look a lot bigger or “scarier” when you are lying on your stomach. I’ve been out of the water for a few months due to weather conditions and scheduling, so I was happy to have small waves the first couple of days. I noticed(or was reminded) that when I was paddling out or just resting in a prone position on the surfboard that the waves looked a lot bigger than they really were. This meant that I might paddle for a wave that had no chance of breaking, or that I would get a moment of panic when an incoming wave seemed too big. I would sit up to turn the board around and realize that the wave was actually quite small and nothing to worry about or expend energy on.

Another day I went out it was quite foggy. I could only see a bit of shore and a small distance out towards sea. My focus was on a small circle around me that I could make out. At one point the fog lifted a bit and I could see the pier and other surfers up and down the beach. I had known where I was more or less all along but it was startling to be socked in by fog for so long then suddenly get a much larger view of where I was in relation to everything else. I felt more connected to the beach and world at large.

Another morning I went out again a bit earlier than usual and found the waves were bigger than the previous days and looked like it would be a bit of a challenge. I got out past the breakers and did well initially. Then for the rest of my session I kind of just drifted. I went after some waves with no success. I drifted closer to the pier where the waves seemed to be breaking with a better shape but it was more crowded and I never seemed to be in the right position to go for the wave. In the end, after my first couple of waves I spent the next hour or so not doing much other than floating and paddling for waves while in the wrong spot; I went home frustrated.

The insights from my surfing experiences are various. First of all, I found the experience of seeing waves as bigger than they really were speaks of my tendency to see problems or hurdles to overcome as much bigger than they really are upon first “seeing” them. Usually, any sort of obstacle immediately seems impossible and I tend to give up in despair. Perhaps I’m going through life in a passive and prone position and from that vantage point everything seems daunting. Maybe it would help to sit up and get a better view of what is really around me and what I am capable of. Similarly with the fog, I tend to focus on what is immediately around me and have a hard time getting the wider view of what is going on. I’ve found that in science, unless I have a good sense of the “big picture” I feel like my drive and purpose get hazy.

The experience that impacted me the most was the feeling that after a decent start, I kind of slack off. A lot of surfing is about going with the flow, but at the same time, especially at beach breaks where the waves don’t always break in the same spot, one must put effort into observing where waves tend to be breaking. Then, if you are going to move over to the “good spots”, one must be confident enough to jostle for position with the other surfers that will inevitably be there. I think I tend to seek out the less consistent waves because they are usually less crowded. Sometimes that is fine and I don’t mind the lower wave count and quality, I can be happy with the opportunity to be out in the water. That day however I was frustrated that I didn’t hunt down more waves. Perhaps it was because I was colder than usual(My old wetsuit isn’t in the greatest shape)or because I hadn’t been surfing for several months before the trip, but I wanted the short window I had to be more fulfilling. The realization I had was that I would have to work harder at not only making an effort and moving if I needed to, but also to be more observant and critical.

In life, I think this early success followed by passivity has come up again and again. More recently this has manifested itself in my current work position. When I came on about 10 years ago I had a highly productive period building models for research. After that I kind of coasted on that and let things come to me rather than actively search out new projects and opportunities to learn. As I trying to determine my next career move I see that tendency trying to take over all the time. I have a possible offer for employment, and while I appreciate it another part of me knows that I would be better off all around if I had several options to choose from. Even if this position works out and I choose it, I think I would feel better about it I knew that I had worked at setting up various options to choose between.

After that frustrating surf day I made a conscious effort to constantly reassess where I was and where the waves were breaking. I moved if I needed to and tried not to let the presence of other surfers deter me from the good peaks. It helped a lot. I felt more confident and had a better time. I even caught myself almost giving up an opportunity to surf on my last full day there(I was upset since my daughter had woken up with a fever after coming down with a cold the previous day). I realized what I was passing up and took my wife up on her offer, and had a really good time. I’ve tried to carry that experience into other aspects of my life as well this past week. I hope to keep at it.

A week out from vacation, and back at home, I am left with many things to think about. First of all, even if surfing wasn’t giving me the usual lift and energy, it still gave me time to still my mind, and from that I was able to slow down and make connections between surfing and my life. It reminds me that surfing has immense meaning to me, and I should devote more energy to making it happen more often at home. I should also sit up and better see the “waves” and beautiful flowers that life is placing all around me.

Surfing, again

This blog post has gone through several iterations. Basically, it has alternated back and forth between being about me questioning whether becoming a parent was a good idea, to “I really love being a dad”. I think it’s ended up being a bit of both, but much more on the positive side.

I had been in a “not so sure becoming a dad was an unqualified positive decision” a few weeks ago and we met up some friends who are about to start on their second kid. I think they were a little worried about how much harder it would be with two kids and asked me about my coming into fatherhood and if having kids had been a positive or negative experience for me. I was pretty blunt and said that on average I thought it came out JUST slightly positive, they were a bit taken aback; the husband actually said(kindly) “No, you don’t mean that!”. My main reasoning was that giving up so many things I loved and that made me feel good hadn’t necessarily been the right choice. I think the expectation is for parents to wholeheartedly believe that raising children is a difficult but nonetheless an overwhelmingly positive experience or decision. I understand the motivation behind that expectation, but I don’t always feel it. I love my kids and at this stage can’t imagine life without them anymore, but it’s been a hard journey with no signs of letting up. I felt bad in retrospect and was wondering what was wrong with me. I knew that I had good moments from time to time with the kids, but it just seemed like too much stress.

I then noticed an interesting trend with my kids. Basically, I would have an experience of feeling really good about being a dad, I mean a “YES! I can be a good dad and having kids is great!” experience and then almost always the next day one or both of the kids would act in some way as to stress me out and make me question what the hell I was thinking.

This has happened several times, but as an example, last week I ran across some old pictures on the computer from when my eldest was about a year old. I was moved by how little she looked in those pictures and how much she has grown up since those pictures were taken. I started thinking about all of her wonderful qualities and how she was growing up. I came home and was enjoying her and the rest of the family. Then at bedtime she went into a total meltdown/tantrum with screaming, kicking, some vomiting, hitting, etc.

Was something in the universe picking up on the fact that I was feeling open and loving and then deciding to knock that feeling out of my head, or test me in some way? Or perhaps, it was a message that the rest of my life was out of balance?

Last Friday , I had a really good morning with the kids and was feeling appreciative. We had a smooth morning and got out of the house with time to spare. The morning drop off at school for my older daughter was leisurely. What impacted me was being reminded of what a kind heart she has. She had made “Halloween Cards” for a friend and her teacher, just because she felt like it. She gave them to the recipients before school, and it was touching to see how much they appreciated it and how good she got to feel. Afterwards I was able to walk with my younger daughter to her preschool holding her hand. As I walked back home to get my car, I was struck by the warm air and smell in the air and on a hunch I took my surfboard with me for a post-work surf session. It turned out to be one of those classic fall days we get up in Northern California with warm temperatures and an offshore breeze. It was absolute heaven. I was so happy to be in the water and even got some decent waves. The photo up top is from that surf session. I came home and was in a good mood and enjoying the family. On cue, that evening my daughter started freaking out when bedtime rolled around. This time however even though it went much longer than usual, it wasn’t so overwhelming. I was able to have some empathy for her, and just let it roll off my back. I even was able to laugh (on the inside mind you) observing her theatrics. It was a totally different experience from the previous tantrum.

I always seem to forget this, but it is so much easier to take the hits in life when I am taking care of myself in other areas, and surfing really does seem to give my soul, or whatever you want to call it, nourishment. Surfing for me usually contains brief moments of intense focus and effort; when I’m actually going for a wave. Then during the longer periods when I’m waiting for another wave, I get to reflect on that last period of intensity but also on life in general. The ongoing struggle for me is figuring out a way to get the self nourishment I need on a frequent enough basis. The struggle seems worth it though, if it helps me enjoy my role as a father more.

Being out in the ocean seems to put things in some sort of perspective that I can’t quite articulate, but it makes my life seem pretty good, even if I do get knocked around by waves from time to time.

What’s under the surface?

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I had my 20-year high school reunion last month. Besides remembering that college students look so young to me, I have a hard time articulating it properly, but I guess I realized that people tend to be much more complex(in a good way) than one gives them credit for. I spoke with people that I really didn’t like much in High School(because they struck me as mean or arrogant or whatever) and they surprised me with insights into current day events and into many of our classmates as well as events they had experienced in high school(I had no idea that our principal had a “HNIC” placard on his desk!). Part of me regretted not having known them so well in high school, while another part reminded me that it wasn’t always possible to get to know them since the popular kids(a group I didn’t belong to) weren’t all that open to others. I also didn’t particularly try to make lots of new friends in high school either, so that all boiled together to me not knowing a lot of the people at the reunion that well.

A few days after the reunion, there was a memorial service for a doctor I had worked with. He was young so it was a bit of shock to me(it turned out that he had cancer, but had not wanted a lot of people to know). During the memorial people told stories about him, and as with my reunion experience I was struck by the rich and varied life he led beyond the bit I had gotten to know through meetings or projects. I knew he was a successful and hard working doctor and researcher, but I didn’t know so much about his music or how much he cared for his friends. It was moving to see what an impact he had made on so many people’s lives.

These two events started me thinking about how I can take this insight and apply it to enriching the experiences I have with people I know today. It’s so easy to fall into a routine and just take people for what I see. A few years ago I was listening to a lot of Buddhist-inspired mindfulness audio books and was struck by an exercise suggested by either Pema Chodron or Tara Brach of imagining that someone you see (but don’t know) is a close friend. After starting this exercise I realized that I had usually made all kinds of assumptions and judgments just based on how people looked. It reminded me of when I played soccer as a kid, and the people on the other teams always looked kind of weird to me since I didn’t know them. Is it a built in function to see unfamiliar people as odd or different? After doing the exercise and imaging someone is a friend, I find that my attitude towards these strangers softens. I not as distracted by visual oddities or unfamiliar behaviors and can realize that the person I’m looking has their own joys and sorrows and life story. I do this on the bus very often for kicks, I also tend to end up in a better mood when I do this. All of this leads me back to the idea of without being weird or creepy, how can I get to know the people I see around me everyday in a better sense? With the people at the reunion, or those who I have some sort of obvious connection with, Facebook has proven to be a useful tool to open up lines of communication, even if they aren’t ever used. At the least you can get a sense for what people are up to in their lives. But for those you don’t have shared history with it’s a bit harder. Further complicating things it that I barely see my close friends as it is, so the idea of making a whole new set of friends seems impossible.

At the end of the reunion(we got kicked out of the bar because it closed), people started looking for a house to “keep the party going at”. I guess it happened rather smoothly at our 10 year(Unfortunately I didn’t attend any of the after parties 10 years ago). If you can, try to imagine a group of 38 year-olds, many of us moms and dads, trying to find a house to party at. We tried to go the local pizza parlor, but it was closed for the night. Drunken college kids were also out and it was enjoyable and maybe affirming to see a tipsy college guy trying to hit on one of the women from our reunion; “Honey, I could almost be your mom”. In the end, the funny part to me was that in high school, people would have been trying to find a place where the parents weren’t home to go and party. This time the party couldn’t keep going because those who lived in the area all had kids at home.

I spent that night at my friend’s place, who lives on the other side of town from where I grew up. The next day, driving in that neighborhood, I was struck that I knew so little about the people who had lived on that side of town while growing up. It was a relatively small town, but once school assignment boundaries changed, it felt like another world. I felt nostalgic and maybe a bit melancholy(“oh, how I could have done things differently in high school”), but it was another subtle reminder to maybe stretch myself in getting to know the people I pass by everyday, I don’t want another 20 years to pass and realize I passed up some interesting relationships.

A break for repairs

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I just finished up my two week summer vacation at my mother-in-law’s house near the beach. The rest of the family is there for another two weeks, so I’m at home alone. My wife says it still counts as a vacation since I don’t have parenting obligations.
The vacation started off well, with surfing, swimming with the kids, all around relaxing and fun. I finished the latest book in Jo Nesbo’s Detective Harry Hole series(my wife says it sounds like a porno but apparently it is pronounced “Hoola” in Norwegian), “The Phantom”, then moved on to “Consider Phlebas”, the first book in the Culture series by the late Iain M. Banks. Kind of jarring to jump from Norwegian crime/mystery to intergalactic adventures. We even had a slightly awkward but generally enjoyable outing to my father in laws house and nearby park. The conditions under which we went were that there would be no discussion of the ongoing pool safety issues or the subsequent e-mails. Things started going downhill halfway through the trip when I awoke with a pulled chest muscle, probably from surfing, and my daughter started coming down with some bug that lasted about 3 days.

It was a tough adjustment to the new limitations on time and activities. The morning surf is usually the boost required to keep me in good spirits for the day. Without that surfing, and combined with the near incessant complaining/whining from my daughter, it was tough. As I’ve mentioned in the past, when I don’t get to surf I start feeling trapped and low on energy. I had hoped to meet a friend for lunch about an hour from here for my fish taco fix, but was ultimately unable to. Also the planned surf outings with my wife’s cousin’s husband were cancelled due their son’s having coming down with some illness, probably the same one my daughter had. I still managed to have fun though. Among the many family activities we did, perhaps my favorite was a beach trip(despite being only 15 minutes away, we don’t tend to go very often when we are down there) where my oldest daughter and I rode a tandem down the boardwalk. It was an hour of riding, and it felt special for just us to be doing a shared activity. I can’t wait to do it again.

Since I didn’t dare surf, I made the most of the situation and fixed up the surfboard I keep at my mother-in-law’s. The board had some holes that I had long ago covered with duct tape(so trashy looking). The problem with holes is that water eventually gets in and causes the foam to degrade and the fiberglass to separate from the remaining foam. I probably should have taken care of the holes long ago but I rationalized the fact that I use it for about 2 weeks a year and that it would interfere with my limited surfing window as reasons not to worry about it. Fixing the board helped me feel productive even if I couldn’t surf. At least I was doing something related to surfing or preparing for it. On my last day there I went for a surf on the fixed up board. My pulled muscle quickly made itself felt, so I had to hold back a bit, but I still got two great waves before I called it a morning and headed home.

Being on vacation also made me think about my career options in the future. Still no idea what I will be doing, but I’m pretty sure a key requirement going forward will be to work at a place where I have a sense of community with my fellow workers. I stopped by a small local surf shop to get some materials to repair my board and was struck by the sense of camaraderie the employees seemed to have. I know they are high school kids, they don’t make much money and that there are probably annoying parts of the job, but they seemed to be having fun just being there. It was slow and not a lot was going on, but they still seemed to be having fun.

Some images or thoughts that I had during the break:
1)Surfing on an overcast morning. Dolphins were out, but what was really striking was the silver on silver of the waves against the overcast sky. It was hard to see the waves coming or at least accurately judge their size. Liquid silver everywhere.

2)Sitting in the hot tub with the kids and squirting water out of my hands. I imagined someone hired to sit in a fountain and squirt water with their hands instead of a pump doing it. Kind of an absurd riff off George Saunders’s short story “The Semplica Girl Diaries”.

It feels good to be home and it’s nice to have time to myself. However, I realize I prefer vacations with my family. That in itself is a thought to keep me warm at night in an empty house.

Time

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I just realized that the photo above is the second long exposure photo in a row for this blog. Maybe I’m unconsciously trying to slow time down?

What prompted this particular post is that summer seems to be moving along so fast. Fourth of July came and passed(had a great time with friend and family, and got to try out a joojeh kabob recipe), and we are soon off for our summer vacation at my mother-in-law’s house. So excited, two weeks of surfing! As a kid, summer seemed to go on for such a long time(except towards the end where I wondered where it all went as I prepared for school and got somewhat depressed). As I get older it seem that time passes so much more quickly. I found a couple of articles explaining some theories as to why this happens here and here. It seems the prevailing theory is that when we are younger we are having new experiences on a much more frequent basis since most experiences are new to us. Since the events are new to us we tend to notice them more or pay more attention, and thus they are more memorable. To slow things down, they articles recommend creating more new experiences in your life.

I experience the sense of time passing quickly when I see my kids. I assume most parents go through that experience, I know my mom has been saying it all my life. My daughters are growing up so fast. It’s exciting, yet also scary and at times sad. I have videos of playing with older daughter in a pool when she was one, and this week she learned how to float on her back by herself. I ran across some photos of my younger daughter the other day on the computer from when she was about 6 months old. I was shocked to see that I didn’t really have a strong memory from that period. The first six colicky weeks are seared in my memory, and then there is a kind of blurring into the present where I remember her as basically the same as now, only younger. I felt so guilty for not remember her at that stage in the pictures, she looked so cute and smiley, yet I only remember a fussy baby crying and keeping me up at night. She too is growing up, and although she’s more interested in cuddling now than she was when younger it’s still sobering to know that she won’t be that little again. I’m wondering if I remember my first daughter’s early stages more clearly because it was my first time experiencing parenthood, a new experience! I’m setting the intention of trying to appreciate my daughters as they are now and will be at each stage of their lives. I only get to experience it once so it would be sad to not appreciate each stage of their lives and look back several years later and not remember much of it. I actually have thousands of photos, organized by month, as a way of keeping track of how they grow up, but it’s not the same has having specific memories of events and experiences.

That same sense of time passing quickly also comes up in my own life as well. My 20 year high school reunion is coming up in a few weeks, and that scares me a bit. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact the 1993 was really that long ago! Growing up I use to love listening to the oldies stations. The 60s seemed so much more interesting, yet so far away to me. I’m realizing that the 90s are to a kids now(at least in terms of time, maybe not coolness) what the 60s were to me. It’s an endless cycle with each new generation, but it’s striking me as more profound these days. It’s still makes me laugh when I end up on “modern rock” stations on the radio(my sister accuses me of being a radio snob since for music, I listen almost exclusively to college stations) and it seems that at least 80% of their material is from the 90s.

I guess what worries me most about time passing is realizing that I’ll be 40 in a couple of years, and I still having no idea what I want to do for a career. I ran across a blog post about job myths for people in their 20s. As I read it, the bits about using that period of your life to try out different things struck me. A lot of those issues about finding out what one wants to do in life apply to me, I’m just about 2 decades late to the game! For most of my life I KNEW that I wanted to be a professor at a university. Now, almost 10 years since my Ph.D I am strongly suspecting that a career in academic research is the wrong path for me. However, I still have no idea where to go. I don’t regret my time in college and graduate school( I did get to date my wife, play in a jazz band and learn to surf), but I hate the idea of all that training and those skills I had going down the drain(and out of my head) since then.

Going forward I hope that I can be mindful of the new experiences in my life, celebrate how the girls are growing up, and to keep creating new experiences in my relationship with my wife and not be afraid of changes(actually celebrate them!) to find my next career. Let’s also hope the “modern rock” stations on the radio evolve into something else than the equivalent of this generation’s oldies stations.

P.S. For those who read the previous post, the saga with my father-in-law continues. It has toned down a bit do his finding out child protective services did not have sufficient grounds to come out. I decided against sending a letter, which probably turned out be a good idea based on his last e-mail to the entire family with a summary of who had responded and what was discussed. It looks like we are setting some concrete limits during out vacation, but haven’t finalized all that yet. I think this will be a learning experience for all involved.

A mixed bag

Sick Ponies

I’m home with my younger daughter today. She picked up a classmate’s stomach bug and was feverish and vomited last night after complaining of a stomach ache all yesterday. Today, other than not being too hungry she seems much better. I just finished Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood”, which is the follow up to “Oryx and Crake”and the second in a trilogy set in the near future where a man made plague wipes out most of the earth’s population. It’s much more involved than that(touches on genetically modified organisms, corporate take over of government, and other timely topics) but given the stomach bug that’s what I am focusing on. Trying to wash my hands as often as possible.

The time since the last entry has been mixed. My coach and I decided that I would take the space of a month without any scheduled check-ins or meetings with her. This is in line with her realizing that things needed to change, and me realizing that I needed to take more of a role in doing things for myself. It’s nice to know that I can reach out for help if I need it, but I haven’t had any pressing issues come up. I find this experiment kind of exciting. Perhaps some more assertive engaged self will come out of this, or maybe I’ll just keep plodding along and nothing will change, we’ll see. I have been a bit down, but I think that may be understandable, and I’ve taken some opportunities to make more time for activities that I enjoy.

The being down I think is related to the news that a friend’s husband was diagnosed with a particularly deadly form of brain cancer. The doctors are giving him about a year a half to live, but no one knows for sure. My friend and her husband are trying to remain positive and not give up hope. To add to the difficulty in her situation she is also pregnant with their second baby. Besides being upset about the news, it makes me try to imagine how I would cope if I were in that situation. I have a hard time trying to imagine it. It’s also made me realize that I really don’t know when I could lose someone, and that I should take advantage of the time I do have with the people I care about. It can be hard to put into practice, but I’m trying to keep that present. I’ve focused more on that aspect than trying to imagine what I would do if I told I only had 18 months left, I’m a little uncomfortable with what comes up for me. My first thought is that I would want to travel. I would want to go back to South America and Australia. I would want to surf and scuba dive as much as possible. Then I remember I have a family and people who care about me(woops), and I feel incredibly selfish.

I actually did get to go out surfing last week. Part of the plan my coach and I set in place was for me to come up with ideas on how to use the time I would normally be meeting with her. Last week the weather cooperated so I went out for a surf. It was good to be back in the water, and despite the long interval since my last surf session I still remember how to do it(as long as the waves aren’t too big). I did notice that being out of shape was limiting(in terms of paddling for waves mostly) though. So it’s kind of like remembering how to ride a bike in that the motions are kind of ingrained, but the physical aspect plays more of a role than bicycling. Overall it felt great.

In contrast to surfing, the martial arts class I am taking was not as much an overall booster as usual. I went to class last week, and was feeling kind of off. My reactions were either slow or wrong, and I felt that I a lot of stuff I was supposed to know already wasn’t completely accessible to me. We had a seminar/testing event later in the week, and some parts went well, but as part of the testing we had to come up with our own applications of what we were learning, and that was kind of a bust. The Sihing (teacher) used it as a good teaching moment, but I still felt disappointed in myself.

I tend to be hard on myself, and get upset when I can’t do something I feel that I should be able to do. Besides the martial arts class, I think it carries over into most areas of my life. I should be more patient and attentive to my kids and wife. I should be able to pursue a job search(no qualifiers needed!). This is where the saying “Don’t should on yourself” fits, but it’s a hard habit to kick.

Being at home with my daughter so far has brought a lot of these areas into focus. Part of me wants to get some projects done (like this blog post) or continue on the stereo repair (started the process of replacing capacitors(re-capping) last week). Another part thinks that I should spend more time with her since she won’t be young forever and I should enjoy her whenever possible. The problem is that I can only take so much of playing with stuffed animals or her toys. I feel bad about it, but there it is. I guess I’m aiming for a compromise today. Some playing interspersed with TV time for her (yet another thing I “should not” be doing) while I do my thing. Maybe I can try to find an activity suitable for both of us such as walk outside.

Either way, I’ll keep washing my hands.

Finding my own path

paths

I’ve been feeling like I’m on the edge of something, like I’m close to finding some sort of path or gaining some insight. Maybe some opportunity is about to come up. Maybe what I can imagine as possible for me is expanding. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the feeling that the potential for some sort of change is there.

  • There was a brief moment of confusion last week in regards to my grant being extended or not. It turned out to be a typo(wrong date) but during that day of uncertainty I wasn’t terribly upset. While it would have complicated things, I also didn’t mind the idea of being forced to make a decision regarding my future.
  • A recent Altucher Confidential post reminded me that people are able to do miraculous things with their lives. He has a book coming out(hopefully not just e-book form) that I plan on getting. I’m also trying to follow part of his Daily Practice, and make lists of ideas that come up or forcing myself to come up with ideas for a list. This post so far is kind of a list!
  • I read an article on Gawker predicting that the current insane increase in housing prices in our area once again is unsustainable. Our neighbors across the street just sold their 2 bedroom house for approx $600,000! It’s a cute house, but the price is nuts. As during the housing boom of the mid 2000’s I had basically accepted the fact that I would never be able to afford a home. Whether I want to or not is still up in the air since there are plenty of arguments against owning, but “knowing” that I would know ever be able to afford a home in the type of places I like to live (large coastal cities) was upsetting. I’m sure there are many arguments against the idea of another bubble but entertaining the possibility that prices will come down again gives me some glimmer of hope, to have the option someday at least.
  • Lastly, my coach/therapist (she’s officially a coach, but I see it as a type of therapy) informed me that her role in our work together was going to have to change.

Several years ago the therapist I was seeing at the time also decided that things had to change. I would come in depressed and most of the session would be her trying to convince me that I wasn’t a terrible person or that I could get better. I would spend most of my time explaining why she was wrong and that I really was screwed and condemned to a life of depression and misery. I think I had grown to really need to hear someone say that I was a good person and had the potential to live a really fulfilling life. I probably put myself in a worse mood to get more of that message. I really wanted to believe it as well, but a larger part of it was getting that message. That day, she announced that things could no longer go on as they had. Our relationship would have to change. This was quite upsetting, I felt abandoned and that she had given up on me. I was also upset because I think hearing her say these positives things about me made me feel cared for and appreciated. Looking back I can see she was correct changing our working relationship, trying to be my cheerleader wasn’t helping.

Last week, my coach effectively said the same thing. She felt that being my cheerleader wasn’t helping me, in fact it was probably counter productive since I was coming to depend on someone else to “fix me” and I was spending more energy proving her wrong than anything else. In her words it was time for her to back off a bit. It’s a bit scary, since I don’t know what this all means yet, but I think she’s right. I’m also not as panicked as last time, I have more context to place this all in. Letting her assume the role of cheerleader is a way of escaping my own responsibilities again(similar to using my depression as in last weeks post). Also, if I’m not getting better(since I’m not necessarily trying), then I start getting upset with her.

This blog is a perfect example of coming to depend on others. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of getting this blog out for others to read. It seems overwhelming so I’ve avoided the issue and secretly hoped that either my coach or wife would find a venue to spread the word. I’m realizing that I really have to do it. I even made a list of possible places(mostly the “other stuff” section of some forums I frequent) I could go to.

I think this feeling of potential is the beginning of an awareness that I need to do more things for myself. I’m the only one who can really figure out what it is that I want to do with my life, I can’t expect someone else to do that for me. Awareness doesn’t always translate into action, but at least it’s a start. To paraphrase the PSAs at the end of each G.I. Joe cartoon in the 80s “Knowing is half the battle”

Lists and Bolts

Bolts

I started off last night trying to write some of the thoughts floating around in my head during the past week, but couldn’t really get anywhere with it. As I started writing I found myself getting into a worse and worse mood. That coupled with the fact that I was overly tired(I’ve been staying up too late at night researching soundcards for digitizing vinyl, which has led me to read up on better cartridges and phono-pre amps and so on) made me decide to go to bed instead.

This morning I made the mistake of listening to a show on public radio that was discussing some political topics, but what affected me the most was the reminder that politics has been completely co-opted by the super wealthy in this country and I believe we are headed back into another gilded age. I despair so much every time I think about it too much. So many indignities and abuses going on in this country (and others), it’s overwhelming. A regular trigger for depression is a sense that things are out of control, (for example this country, politics, pollution, poverty, erosion of civil liberties and to a less extreme level my finances, inability to figure out my career path, not teaching my kids Spanish) and feeling either powerless or too overwhelmed to do anything about it.

I ran across a post on reddit that seemed relevant to my condition and the blog in general. The main thread(is that the proper Reddit term?) is someone wondering if they were the only person who didn’t find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) useful. I tried this out a few years ago through and found that usually it didn’t work for me. However, with my coach last week, having someone help me discover the contradictions in my depressed mind-state was useful. I very effectively craft arguments and reasons for why I can’t do something or what is wrong with me. To defend one belief I had to concoct something else to account for a flaw. In the end, I was still not in a good space, but I was aware of the fact that I had to go through some convoluted mental gymnastics to stay hold on to those beliefs. Back to reddit, in that thread was what I thought a very good list of techniques to deal with depression. Some of those are very similar to the list in my man(bag) of tricks. The self.depression subreddit looks interesting.

Another article that stuck with me was by James Altucher. His website often has what I find at times very irreverant yet inspiring posts. The post in particular was about quitting your job. I’m not looking at a fiery departure, but I have a very real cut-off point and need to do something about it. What I took away from that article was that I should try to meet as many people as possible and to allow myself to indulge my interests or passions from time to time since they can lead to unexpected benefits. I was thinking about that this morning after I went to go pick up some parts from a 3D printing studio. I sent in a resume for some job listings there several months ago and never heard back. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to just get to know the people I interacted with so they would recognize my name in case they ran across my resume.

More generally I think that part of me is scared to leave the depressed state. It’s an escape from having to do what seems like the impossible task of crawling up out of this pit. It’s an escape from having to take responsibility for my behaviors or for neglecting stuff at home or elsewhere. It is so much easier to just give up and wallow in the despair and depression. Once again while writing this I am realizing how much more depressed I am than I normally realize.

To close, I will go over the positive experiences this week.
1) We had a nice family nature outing on Sunday. I enjoyed the change of scenery and being outdoors. I also feel that it’s important for the kids to get a better sense of nature, and living in an urban environment it can be tough to get out enough.
2)Work has been a bit more involved this week. I still wasted a lot of time on the internet, but I ran several experiments and got to do some basic data processing. I feel better when I am actively doing something, it makes me feel productive and useful. Also, I finally got a physical copy of the journal with my latest scientific manuscript. It’s my second first-author manuscript(not a lot for someone in my position), but it’s something.
3)I started the process of re-capping the stereo I’m working on. It’s a small step in that I just labeled the capacitors to prevent mix ups, but it’s something. It makes finishing this thing seem more manageable.

On that reddit list of things to help combat depression was getting small tasks done. I actually do feel better now that I finished this post. Now off to eat my lunch(thanks goodness for leftovers) out in the sun.