Roses and Time

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A few weekends ago my good friend from Australia, who I wrote about here, and his wife stopped by the Bay Area for a couple of days on their way to New York. Given that my daughter was celebrating her 9th birthday by hosting a sleepover at our house(it actually wasn’t as bad as I had feared!) I didn’t get to spend much time with them that Saturday. However, thanks to the generosity of my wife, I was able to spend all of Sunday with my friends. We went from the observation deck of the Lawrence Hall of Science (where, incidentally, I proposed to my wife) to the Marin Headlands to North Beach and Chinatown in San Francisco. I enjoyed playing tour guide, and also just getting hours to walk around, and talk with my friend and his wife.

What most struck me was the couple of hours spent at Vesuvio in North Beach. I occasionally meet friends for a beer in the evening from time to time, but this was different. Being able to sit and talk knowing we had many hours before having to be at the airport was so liberating. It had been a bit chilly outside, so it felt great to sit in a warm comfortable room, with interesting stained glass and a great overall feel. It brought to mind the international trips I used to take with my wife before we had kids. During those trips it felt like we had all the time in the world and could just relax into where ever we were. An image has stayed with me, of me and my wife at a Spanish cafe in Melbourne, Australia during our trip in 2001. There was a stained glass window above the door with an image of a red rose. We had stopped in to get a quick bite but it started pouring outside, so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon there. The joy wasn’t necessarily in drinking alcohol, but rather being able to talk, laugh, eat, listen to the music playing on the stereo and not have any worries at the moment. Those couple of hours with my friends at Vesuvio brought back some that feeling, and I realized I missed having those carefree periods of time and the chance to really be present with people. I was feeling connected again.

That feeling of connection and happiness was short lived; the next day I was triggered by a meeting with former colleagues. Seeing how much more productive and creative in work these people were made me question what I was doing. I sat with that for a day, then started questioning whether I would ever get my act together career-wise, and how I would probably never be able to buy a house, and what did that say about the professional side of my life, and so on down the tubes of misery.

As usual I can recognize that this is the depression speaking, but on some level I think it serves a purpose. I’m over 40, and even though I don’t work in Tech, where ageism is brutal, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m running out of time and options. I’m worried that the efforts I make, such as a great online class I took from Samantha Sutton PhD, don’t carry over because I lack the follow through. I’m taking some steps, such as setting up informational interviews, but it’s much easier to focus on the immediate tasks on hand I have to do for work, than to step outside my comfort zone and explore the unknown so everything seems to get pushed back. I’m not sure where to go next in this process, but I need to start moving.

Since then my feelings about work have gone up and down, I’ve gone from an intense pride and love of my kids to exasperation and annoyance, and back. I feel like I float between my various projects and responsibilities and have a hard time feeling grounded. I’m just not sure what do, and generally fear that everything will be too hard(and I’ve noticed that I tend to shy away from things that I think will take too much mental energy).

I want to find a way to more often feel at peace and connected, be able to enjoy the people in my life and their company and to feel relaxed. I want to be able to carry this with me where ever I happen to be, even if it’s not in a cafe with roses of some sort in the window.

A work in progress, or scattered musings

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It seems that work and career is where my ongoing issues and fears most manifest themselves in my life. It’s been an ongoing issue for over 10 years now, and a reliable trigger for my wife and I to fall into our cycle. I’ve been reflecting back over the past couple of months and having an impossible time organizing my thoughts in a coherent standard format despite a week of attempts, so I’ve decided to make a list.

Concerns or fears about looking for job

  1. I don’t know what I want to do
  2. I can’t stay where I am now indefinitely, and even if I wanted to I haven’t performed in the manner that would be necessary to make it work
  3. I’m scared to take on role where I wouldn’t have much training or experience
    Despite knowing that most positions are landed by contacts or networking, I’m scared to work for someone who knows me for fear that I will end up disappointing them(kind of happened with my current boss)
  4. Lack of energy and motivation in the search, possibly because job option in the works(like last time), so hard to motivate and put myself out there to find even more options

Things that have made me feel good in past few weeks

  1. Meeting up with former colleagues who I feel know and respect me, personal interest in me
  2. Feeling like I was part of a group and able to contribute following a presentation I gave at a small workshop for work
  3. Getting positive feedback from my supervisor following presentation

I have come to believe that I could work happily in almost any field, as long as I had the right environment, which would consist of:

  1. Being part of a collaborative and supportive team
  2. Feeling that I was able to contribute and felt appreciated
  3. Having a supervisor that also acted as a mentor, that could help me grow professionally

I’ve wrestled with these issues before, and I have an internal debate going on. One side says that I’ve done alright, but I really haven’t thrived due to missing key factors in my environment. The darker side says that I am not trying enough and have passed on countless opportunities to take projects and run with them. They both seem true, and perhaps are not mutually exclusive.

I actually went to see my old psychiatrist last week because I feel so stuck when it comes to career searching. He suggested a limited course(~6 months) of low dose of wellbutrin and adding exercise and diet changes to give me enough energy to overcome the activation energy peak, or at least to act as the catalyst (I forget what grade I learned this in, but that image has stuck). I was reminded that regular exercise is a very effective way of dealing with depression. He also said that my going into defeated or hopeless states of inactivity is my way of dealing with stress or anxiety. Other people, like my wife, deal with stress or anxiety by going into a hyperactive mode. I don’t think I’ve had my reactions described in that light and found it very helpful, it gave me a context in which to view my reactions. Rather than thinking “I’m just messed up”, I can use the framework to address the problem of stress and how I deal with it.

My original plan was to try to the regular exercise and other behavioral changes, and if needed start up the anti-depressants. However, like trying to search for a job, starting an exercise routine kind of never happens for me. In couples therapy we realized that while my inability to act was making me depressed and even more inactive, it was making my wife even more agitated. After some discussion, I have decided to start a short term course of low-dose wellbutrin to hopefully give me enough energy to organize some sort of exercise practice for myself and to also devote more energy to networking and finding a career, I just have to go pick up the prescription. I have resisted going back on anti-depressants for a long time because coming off Zoloft last time was a year-long nightmare of insomnia(had to give up roasting regular coffee and can only roast and drink decaf now), digestive and heartburn issues and flashes that felt either like electrical currents going down the back of my head or that would rev my mind up so much that I couldn’t lay still. But I’ve been stuck for too long in a rut, I need to make some change happen, and wellbutrin is supposed to be one of the easier anti-depressants to come off.

We’ll see in about 6 months how I’m doing. Hopefully I’ll have landed a better fitting job, in which I get to work with a collaborative and supportive team that will allow me to feel useful and will have a boss that I can connect with. Having the flexibility to exercise regularly would be great , and not going through horrific withdrawl symptoms would wrap up this dream scenario nicely!

Hearing my fear

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Driving in to work the other day, Pete Docter, the director of the new Disney/Pixar film “Inside-out” was being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air. I had seen ads for the movie, but hadn’t paid much attention. The basic premise is that we see a young girl’s emotions as characters inside a girl’s mind, and how they drive the girl’s actions and feelings after moving to a new city and leaving her friends behind. The segment that most moved me was the director recounting a letter he had received from the father of a boy who had attended a screening the movie. The boy was in a swim class, but for the entire session he had been too scared to jump off the diving board. The day after seeing the movie, the boy finally jumped off the diving board. People congratulated him, and his father asked what had happened that had allowed him to take the jump. The boy replied with “I saw that fear was driving, and I asked it to step aside for a bit”.

It seems that the universe has been trying to send me a message. Everywhere I turn, I run across some mention of fear. From the radio to couples therapy to T-shirts and many places in between, the message coming through is that I need to pay more attention to my fear, and the role that it plays in my life.

The first time that topic of fear came up was in couples therapy a couple of months ago. For a few weeks in a row, I had come into the session feeling okay, and invariably at some point in session I would get triggered and I would emotionally shut myself off. Seeing as how this normally happened when I had to deal with voicing strong emotions or feelings, our therapist suggested that FEAR had a large role in my ongoing depression. My coach had presented this idea a long time back, so I didn’t find it a novel idea, but it served as a reminder that I had to pay attention to that.

Soon after that while reading Refuse to Choose, a book about personality types like mine who don’t seem to be able to limit themselves to one interest or pursuit in life (Scanners or renaissance souls), I found myself face to face with another mention of fear. In this case, it was demonstrating how fear can kick in too strongly and when not necessary. To paraphrase, it’s good to experience some fear when considering a life-threatening scenario, but being paralyzed when contemplating singing in front of other people(or in my case dancing) is fear overreacting. A little bit later in the book it laid out some examples of where fear can stop someone from starting on a new route or idea because rather than start small, people often look at the whole thing and get overwhelmed. I felt it described me perfectly.

Then, perhaps the coolest of all, a couple of days later I saw a T-shirt which read “Fear is the Mind Killer” The fact that fear was on the shirt drew me in, but the phrase seemed familiar and I eventually found it was the beginning to the Litany Against Fear from the book Dune by Frank Herbert. The full text is as follows:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through
And when it has gone past
I will turn the inner eye to see its path
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing
Only I will remain.

Here’s a link to a scene from David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune that incorporated the use of the Litany Against Fear

That’s some heavy stuff there, and I don’t normally have the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit holding a gom jabbar to my neck while I try to resist the primal urge to pull my hand out of a painful situation. However, I think it speaks to how if one let’s fear take over, then you lose control. My experience with a potential drowning while surfing made that very clear. Also, thanks to my experiences with mindfulness, the idea of facing your fear and letting it pass rather than try to fight seems very true. I also like how this is very visual representation of the concept that the fear or idea of what he is experiencing is much worse than the reality of the situation, his mind is telling him that his hand is burning and being ripped open, but his hand is fine when he looks at it. I think of it as an amped-up version of how my fear often kicks in to tell me that a certain task at work, or a certain conversion with my wife, will be much worse than it actually turns out to be.

Coming back to the boy on the diving board, this is where I am aiming to get with my fear. It’s been working so hard to keep me safe, but in the end I am not really living my life as richly as I would like. I still am held back in a lot ways by my fear, but I’m trying to work with it. Being aware of it is the first step. I’ve found myself more engaged at home recently, more patient and the voice telling me how horrible I am has decreased in volume, and I can usually gently answer back to it. Hopefully by continuing a dialog with my fear it will eventually relax enough to step aside for a bit, and finally let me take the plunge into really living.

More life lessons (and possibly death ones too) from surfing

surfpanic-1When I’m in more depressed states, I often feel that things would be easier if I were dead. I haven’t really thought about killing myself for many years, but the idea of escape sounds comforting from time to time. However, while surfing during my break last month, I actually came much closer to dying than normal, and I had a very different reaction.

The ocean can kill. I’m always well aware of that, and never take the waves or water for granted. Up here in Northern California, several abalone divers were killed earlier this month due to rough and changing conditions. I tend to stay out of the water when the waves look too big, but on this last trip I got caught by surprise. I was down in Southern California for spring break and went down to the beach on my first full day there. I haven’t been surfing much at home because of weather and water conditions(Oh San Francisco! You fickle surf temptress) and our hectic schedule, so I’m also not in the greatest shape either. I went to a section of Newport Beach with various rock jetties, since the waves tend to be bigger than at the pier which is where you normally find the longboarders, and I don’t have a longboard down south to use.

I paddled out without any issues, but then kind of drifted around for the next hour without any success. I found that either the waves were closing out, or that someone else was closer to the peak and would get the wave. I had started at one end of the beach and eventually found myself on the other end, with a jetty in front of me and to my left if I faced towards the shore. Suddenly a set of what seemed like HUGE waves started coming in. I was sitting in too close to shore for these waves, so I was not able to paddle out past impact zone. The first wave tore the board out of my hands as I tried to dive under it, and for good measure it pushed me around underwater for a bit. At this point I wasn’t too worried. However, the waves kept coming. I would come up, get some air and then try to dive for the bottom to get out of the roiling water, but the waves must have been breaking hard because it didn’t seem to help, and I kept getting pushed and turned around underwater. This was scary, but I had experienced something similar in San Francisco, so I knew I could wait it out since the set wouldn’t last forever. What really scared me was that the Jetty was getting uncomfortably closer with each wave.

As the last wave approached I mentally readied myself to be bashed against the rocks and tried to roll up into a ball with my head protected. I took a big breath and the wave hit. I was pushed fast and hard underwater and I kept expecting the impact. It never came. By some stroke of fortune I had been pushed across the front of the jetty and ended up on the other side, so it was on my right when I surfaced. My surfboard had come along as well. The water was much calmer when I came up and I was able to swim in to shore. I was extremely tired and winded so I sat on the beach for about 10 minutes recovering, then walked back to the car and went home. I told the story to everyone at the house, but despite everything, it really didn’t impact me in the way I would have imagined. The next day I went to the pier to surf the smaller waves.

I was telling this story to my coach and she asked me to think about what I did that allowed me to not drown in that situation. My first answer was “luck”. All bets were off if I had hit the jetty at full speed. But I was urged to look a bit deeper. It’s always hard for me to say positive things about myself, but I can say the one thing I did correctly was the first piece of advice imparted by the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I did not panic. The second piece of advice imparted by that book is to know where your towel is and have it with you, so I guess I somewhat followed that bit as well. If I had panicked I would have used up my energy and probably not have been able to hold my breath underwater. I feel like I should come up with more things, but that is really the key, to not panic. I was scared and uncomfortable, but I was still able to plan my moves. Everything I’ve been taught during SCUBA diving and everything I’ve read about surfing stresses the importance of not panicking. Even Jaimal Yogis, in Saltwater Buddha(which I’ve written about before), recounts a similar experience while surfing at Rockaway beach in NY(but he got trapped under the rocks of the jetty). It was keeping calm that let him find a way back up to the surface. If you can’t think clearly, you can’t function well, and bad things tend to happen.

It’s an important lesson, which I’m trying to figure out how to apply in the rest of my life. I’m just coming out of a persistent low-ish level depression. During this time, so many interactions with my children and with my wife, as well as thoughts about how little movement I’ve made on my career issues have triggered waves of despair or overwhelm to crash over me. That’s when the thoughts of how things would be so much better if I were dead start. I need to work on ways of not panicking so much when these emotional waves come up. Despite the thoughts, I really don’t want to die yet. I think there are too many good waves left in life for that, maybe it’s just a matter of going one beach over, or waiting for the next day.

10 years and still learning something new everyday, even if I’m not surfing

Where I didn't get to surf

Where I didn’t get to surf

Last weekend my wife and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. As has become custom, we watched parts of our wedding video and looked over the photo album. The kids, as usual, complained that it was boring but at least they were able to comment on how many people that they knew looked younger. It made me nostalgic to see us so young. The world seemed so open to us and family and kids were an adventure waiting to happen. I still lived under the illusion that my parents would be together forever. I looked so happy! Later, I wondered what I would have told myself if I could go back in time. No clear answer, but I wish I still had that optimism.

My mom was kind enough to take the kids for the weekend while my wife and I went to Santa Cruz. We had chosen Santa Cruz with the idea that I could go surfing while my wife did her daily run. There would be something for both of us(on previous getaways I felt kind of stuck while she was off running). Of course the one time I make it to Santa Cruz there were no waves, so my surfboard and wetsuit ended up just coming along for the ride. I ended up joining my wife on hikes in the redwoods for both days, and really enjoyed the experience. She ran off a few times to get her jogging in, but overall we spent a lot of time together on the trails. I realized how much I missed being in nature and started getting a bit depressed since I obviously was so out of order in taking care of the things I value. The interesting part was that I shared my experience with my wife as it was happening, and she was able to redirect me to acknowledge that I wanted more nature in my life, but without the judgment. Amazingly enough it really helped me feel better.

Coming back home was not too difficult with the kids (I tend to miss them when I’m away and they didn’t have a difficult readjustment this time), but I was kind of swallowed up with the stress at work. Since I’m leaving my current group I have to train my replacement and also try to finish up some loose ends. At the same time I am attempting to get trained for the group I will be joining since there will be no overlap between existing group members leaving and me officially starting. It’s been hectic.

In our couples’ therapy after our weekend away, I triggered a big episode because I said I had a “nice time”(I’m not the most verbal person) during our weekend away, but I was back to the grind. From the ensuing discussion, among other things, I was reminded that I tend to have a very porous sieve for holding onto the good stuff in my life. It made me think back to the origins of this blog, and how it was an attempt to keep track of the good things in my life, to hold onto them longer.

It’s good to be reminded of my intentions. Seeing the video and photos from 10 years ago reminded me that we got married so as to go through life together. We were vowing to be there for each other. In the subsequent years I think I’ve forgotten that fact when it comes to my own issues, and have tended to operate under the assumption that my depression is my problem to deal with on my own. However, between our couples therapy and the experience during our hike, I am learning that it’s not just my problem and that I can get support and help from my wife and in doing so brings up closer together. Being alone with my wife reminded me of how well we tend to do with each other when we get time alone, and also of our connection and bond from all those years ago. I don’t know if this blog will be around in 10 years, but I am working to make sure the marriage is. Maybe for our 20th anniversary celebration I can convince my wife to go surfing with 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.

Fix the damn stereo already

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The stereo, whose insides are in the picture above, has been sitting on my desk for months now. Every time I see it I feel guilty for not getting it back to the friend who asked if I would fix it. Have I had it a year already? I replaced a few transistors and all the light bulbs a few months ago but it still has some problems. I finally ordered new parts and have kept meaning to get around to replacing them, but for one reason or another I can’t seem to get to it. This evening I was going to heat up the soldering iron and replace some capacitors(“re-cap”) and transistors(“re-trans” is not used), but I decided to write a blog post instead. I need to flesh out what I’ve been thinking today. I’ve been feeling okay this week(had a wonderful time with the family on Mother’s Day), but going to a colleague’s medical school graduation ceremony this afternoon made me reflective and that made me start worrying about my future again.

This colleague is incredibly smart and also a real people-person. I met him when he came to the research group as a graduate student. He had worked in industry for a while before coming back to school. While finishing his PhD he decided to attend medical school. He got a scholarship to go to our local (highly prestigious) medical school, and more recently was assigned his internship and residency in the same city. I always enjoy talking with him, and besides his hard work and intelligence, I’ve also admired his ability to strike up conversations with anyone. His outgoing and warm personality, projection of confidence and fearlessness in striking up conversations has led him to meet so many women that it’s mind boggling. I’m happily married now, but for a long time my fear of talking to women that I was interested during school and college was a constant source of anguish and I would get depressed over all the opportunities and experiences I missed because I was too afraid of rejection. That’s another blog post though. Anyhow, I appreciate that ability in him.

Yesterday I read a New Yorker article about Dr. Steven Zeitels who has pioneered all kinds of advances in vocal cord surgery and has operated on famous singers. His background was interesting, with a stint doing leatherwork while in his teens(supposedly that is where he gained his ambidexterity). What stuck with me, beside the leatherwork, was the creativity and passion he put into his work. He was constantly innovating and coming up with new ways of doing things. Then today, on the way home from the graduation party, I listened to a radio story about Bob Harris who became interested in helping the poor while on a travel writing assignment in Dubai,and just wrote a book about it. The lead into the story was talking about what many consider “dream jobs” and then saying that Bob Harris had done a lot of them (stand-up comedian, successful Jeopardy! contestant, radio host, travel writer and now author).

My colleague’s graduation and the two stories on interesting careers started me thinking about my possibilities once again. I’m surrounded by very intelligent people who seem to put more into their work than I do. I used to think I was good with people in a professional setting, but more recently I’ve found myself lacking in that area as well. I’m only in my late 30s, but I’m feeling slow witted and lacking energy. At home I have a list of things that I keep putting off. For example, I’ve wanted to learn some songs on guitar via youtube videos for some time now but I just can’t seem focus enough to do it. The stereo repair also falls into that category. At work, I am easily frustrated by tasks that require some serious thought/analysis or coming up with creative solutions to problems. My coach says that the lack of energy is because I am not inspired by my work, but I’m not so sure. My ongoing fear is that no matter how wonderful the job or opportunity I won’t be able to rise to the occasion and take advantage of it.

I have good benefits at work, a ridiculously flexible schedule, a quite reasonable salary and I really like the people I work with. Part of me feels it is foolish to expect a better position and really wish I could just adapt or turn on some switch to make me thrive in the lab. My wife’s colleague sent her some warm words telling of his own story of really not finding his calling of school psychology until he was about 40 as a way of suggesting I not lose hope. I thought it was a nice gesture, but with the family to worry about and the high cost of living in this area I don’t feel like there are that many options left for me (not to mention the ongoing fear that I don’t have the energy or drive for anything). As time goes on I am less and less convinced that I will find this fantasy job or career.

A couple of years ago I was looking back at my time in graduate school and realized there were so many amazing research projects going on that I could have been part of or even how my thesis could have been so much better. I feel that I wasted so many opportunities that were open to me then. I’m afraid that a couple of years from now I will look back at my time in my current lab and feel the same thing. What’s upsetting is that I can’t seem to do anything about it.

I just spoke to my wife (she wanted me to lay with her while she went to bed and I’m working on communicating my moods and feelings more) and she reminded me that I’ve been here a million times before, and that I seem to forget how frustrated and restless I get at work. I was also reminded of my need for structure and deadlines. I know the depression is casting a negative pall on everything, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am not good at much that would help me get a job. I feel like that dismantled stereo that has been sitting on a desk for too long. If I could get re-capped and swap some transistors out maybe I would function a bit better.

Music

Photo from the days when I used to hang with the band.

Photo from the days when I used to hang with the band.

I’ve been depressed today. Not quite sure why, it just kind of hit. I first noticed it when some of the guys at work suggested a last minute outing for beer after work with the group. I’m usually the one organizing these sort of things, but I just didn’t feel like today. I went for a short while, but left when the majority of the group showed up. A friend in Chile e-mailed me last week to let me know that her husband had a seizure and it turned out that he had a medium sized tumor in his head and was going for surgery early this week. It’s been on my mind, and I’ve constantly been checking my e-mail for any news. I think the surgery was today, but I’m not sure. Anyhow, this probably has played some part in my depression today, but again I’m not sure.

The weekend went well. I took my daughter swimming which I really enjoyed. It almost didn’t happen though. There is a small wealthy town surrounded by our much larger and urban city. My wife heard that this town had a nice heated public pool about 5 minutes away from our hosue and had planned on us all going. My younger daughter was being quite fussy so I offered to just take my older daughter. We showed up and I asked how much non-residents were. I knew that it was more expensive for non-residents but I was flabbergasted when I was told that non-resident adults were charged $30 and non-resident kids $7. I was so shocked that I actually exclaimed “$30!?” out loud and made some comment about having to see if I had enough money. I was actually going to leave, which would have been sad for my daughter, but the guy was nice and gave me the resident rate of $15. (Seriously, $15?)

So I sucked it up and paid the $22 for my daughter and I to go swimming. I was able to put that aside and actually had a good time. The small pool was pretty warm, and for a long time we mostly had it to ourselves. I enjoyed playing with her and seeing her having so much fun. The pool was only three and a half feet deep, but I got her to go down the bottom and retrieve an object for the first time, and I even got her to put her face in the water without holding her nose for short periods. It made me wish that we lived in a warmer climate so that she could get more pool time. I think she is like me in that she really loves the water(now if I could get her to be comfortable in the cold ocean I’d be set). I’ve found that I really enjoy the opportunities to do an activity alone with her. I’m not good at the daily stuff around the house, but actual activities outdoors I tend to really like.

I also spent a lot of time over the weekend, starting on Friday night, watching a live stream of the Coachella festival (hooked up the computer to the TV and stereo). It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a concert, so being able to see these bands play live, even if it was on the TV, was fantastic. I gained new found appreciation for some bands I was already familiar with and liked (Café Tacvba, Blur, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and discovered some new music as well. I stayed up way too late for 3 nights in a row, but it was very much worth it.

Despite enjoying the music so much, I also found missing being around live music. When I was in graduate school a friend of mine from high school was in a fairly successful band in the same city I was studying in. Besides the small club gigs, they also got to open for major acts at big venues. During that period I used to go his shows a lot. I was kind of the unofficial photographer for the band so I often got backstage passes. Seeing the bands on TV/computer made me miss that period in my life. It reminded me of the excitement of live music and everything involved in touring and playing. I spent about 5 days at one point with the band on a mini-tour. Not that I needed an excuse (it was just the band members in their van), but I went along as the photographer. I still remember that week as one of the top 2 or 3 weeks in my life. It had been a long time since I had just spent time in a car with friends, or actually just spending so much time with friends in general (I considered the rest of the band friends). The time in the van on the highways, the small parties and BBQs at friends’ houses, setting up for shows and taking everything down, it was all great. I realize that this can get tiring if you are doing it all the time, but for those 5 days I had the time of my life.

Besides missing that time in my life, I also admired the musicians I saw on TV for being so good at something. Part of me had the normal reaction of wishing I could play music in front of thousands of fans, but I more regretted letting most of my musical training lapse( I was never a great player, but I enjoyed it) and I more generally lamented feeling like I’m not REALLY good at anything. This has been a problematic theme for me at work, but this week it has felt more general. I just honestly feel that I am not good at anything. It’s not to say that am terrible at everything, but rather I don’t have any skills that I can point to say “I’m really good at this”. This is also probably getting me down as well.

I remember one of my philosophy professors in Australia (an American ex-pat, probably depressive) telling the class a story about being on some bluffs overlooking the sea on the east coast with his wife (he pointed out to us that they had divorced) and being depressed because he had just read “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and felt that unlike the protagonist, if he suddenly found himself in the past he would have no useful skills, for example making matches. I haven’t read the book but I completely understand that sentiment and I think that the memory has stayed with me for these past 17 years for that reason. I feel as if I have a bunch of small disparate skills that I’m okay at, but that in the real world (life or job-wise) I’m pretty useless.

Update Okay, I posted this about 10 minutes ago, then browsing the web(rather than going to sleep) ran across this, maybe someone is trying to send me a message?

Nowhere Man

The Beatle’s song “Nowhere Man” came to mind as I was beginning to write this post. I feel exactly like I’m making all my “nowhere plans for nobody”. I actually often create problems with scheduling at home because I make all these stupid plans in my head and it seems all decided but then I forget to tell anyone about them.

I’ve been feeling somewhat lost this week. We had my daughter’s 6th birthday party on Saturday which was fine. Nothing particularly bad has happened since, but I just feel so ungrounded and unmotivated. For example, I’ve been trying to write up a paper on some research I did but I’ve just had the hardest time doing it. It feels like I can’t wrap my mind around what I am trying to say and that I get bogged down in small grammar details, and nothing flows or makes any sense. Trying to dig up citations seems to be such a huge task for some reason. I escape by working on the figures, which for me is much more straightforward and fun to do. It’s funny, I can do a decent job editing other people’s writing but writing my own stuff is usually such an overwhelming task.

Today this inability to act or do came up at my daughter’s school. She left her backpack in the cafeteria by accident yesterday and my wife had asked me to look for it this morning when I dropped her off. I checked the lost and found, but when it wasn’t there I kind of gave up. I’m still not sure why, but the idea of having to go sign in and find the cafeteria(I still don’t fully understand my way around the school) then take the backpack back to the classroom seemed too hard. Writing about it seems ridiculous, but I just couldn’t do it. The secretary is kind of mean, but so what? All I had to do was explain that I needed to look for my daughter’s backpack and be on my way.

When I told my wife she was somewhat incredulous that I didn’t do it and was annoyed because it meant she would have to go after school with both kids to find it. She didn’t yell or anything, and given the circumstances was quite gracious and calm about it. I tend to cut myself down when I’m upset about my behavior but she was patient enough to ask me to stop insulting myself and listen to why it had inconvenienced her so much. I grudgingly listened and realized that I had made things difficult, apologized and still felt like shit. The rest of the day I’ve been off, questioning my ability to do anything in life, feeling like I’ve reached my peak in income and career and everything from here on out will be downhill. I feel like I’m too dumb or unmotivated to learn anything new that requires mental ability. I’m also beginning to get worried because my usual excitement for doing stuff like surfing is also beginning to diminish. I haven’t had the opportunity to surf since vacation, and the conditions haven’t been good anyhow but I’ll have to keep an eye on this.

To focus on the positives (since there are so many negatives I could go off about), I did make some progress on some ongoing projects I’ve fallen behind on. I complied the list of replacement parts for a receiver I am fixing for a friend (this had been seeming impossible for weeks now) and am waiting for confirmation to order the parts. My other accomplishment this week was posting the vacation pictures online for family members. I also got around to printing some B&W photos (one of which I posted above) which I haven’t done for months. Unfortunately, these actions didn’t pick me up as much as taking care of unfinished business usually does.

I’ll try to focus on the rest of Nowhere Man, and hope that I am not completely hopeless and just viewing life through an extremely distorted lens.

The Flu and going public

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I fell behind a bit in this blog this past week. As I’ve mentioned before, at least one person in the house has been sick, non-stop, since the beginning of January. This last week it was my turn. Despite getting the flu shot, I ended up with a full-on 5-day flu. I haven’t had the flu in at least 15 years and I had forgotten what it was like to have a fever several days in a row. On the bright side I got to finish Haruki Murakami’s latest book, 1Q84. It had been sitting next to my bed for months but I couldn’t seem to even open it. I had other books I was reading and I’ve been so busy recently. Since I was sick and in bed I finally had the time! His books tend to be a bit dreamlike anyways, so reading in between the spikes in my fever made for an interesting experience. It happened several times that I wasn’t sure if what I was reflecting on in the book had really happened or I had dreamt it. Several of these imagined happenings worked their way into some of my fever-induced nightmares which was kind of funny. It didn’t turn out to be my favorite Murakami book and it’s probably not the best introduction for someone new to his work but I still enjoyed it a lot.

The other benefit of having the flu was that I got to practice my mindfulness. I worked on just accepting the situation (I had a fever and a horrendous cough and wasn’t sleeping much) and on reminding myself that this was temporary. I had to mentally keep chanting “this will pass” several nights just to make it through the fevers. I had the naïve notion that my flu would mark the grand finale of this family’s non-stop illness this winter, but I was proved wrong when my younger daughter came down with what seems to be the same flu that I had. I’m really hoping my older daughter doesn’t get it next. Besides seeing the kids suffer and not sleeping we are leaving for the in-laws at the beach next week and I want to get as much surfing in as I can. Keeping my fingers crossed.

So what I’m really intending this post to be about is that this blog hasn’t been made public yet. That’s not to say that it’s not accessible, I just haven’t told very many people about it. I actually haven’t told a single friend or family member (other than my wife). By not really trying to reach anyone, this blog serves as a sort of diary. I have to work on it some, since I know I have at least a couple of readers(wife and life coach). My wife commented that I am much more open in these writings than I am when it comes to talking about what is going on in my life. So besides serving as a place for me to write and reflect on my life this blog also helps me communicate with my wife!

I have mixed thoughts about going public. I think the original intent behind this blog was to use my experiences to possibly help others in a similar situation. I was asked what the worst possible response to my blog would be and I realized that I didn’t really have one. I think I’ve been fairly open in this project, maybe because I know almost no one is reading it and I’m anonymous for the most part. Still, it’s hard for me to imagine that anyone could really care about what I write. I answered that I guessed the worst possible response would be someone saying that my writing was shit and that the blog is a waste of time. Even that doesn’t faze me too much. I think the person I was talking to was looking more for how my blog might impact someone or how someone might say that I was hopeless and doomed to a life of depression and melancholy. The thought didn’t even cross my mind because I have a hard time imagining that my experience could really make enough of an impact, positive or negative in someone’s life that they would bother to read it and feel strongly enough to respond.

In a scenario where I try to spread word of this blog indirectly it doesn’t seem so scary to go public. I can hide behind a veil of anonymity and keep writing as freely as ever. Perhaps someone who recognized enough about my life would realize it was me, but it still wouldn’t be as if I personally invited them to read it. What I find really scary is the idea of directly telling friends or acquaintances about this blog(e.g. linking to it on my Facebook page or something). Exposing my thoughts and worries is something I rarely do even with close friends. Thus, to imagine friends and acquaintances reading about my failings and depression is too uncomfortable. I’m afraid I would start self-editing and end up without this space to write about and reflect on the things I go through.

I also feel somewhat presumptuous when I imagine advertising this blog. I ask myself “who do you think you are that anyone would want to read what you write, let alone get anything from it?” Thinking about this some more, I realize that the same sentiment carries over into my life as a whole. If I keep my head down and not strive for anything visible then I’m safe, no one pays attention to me and I don’t set myself up for failure. When I’m in one of my melancholy or depressed states it’s hard for me to believe that my being or existence could really impact anyone’s life. Granted having a dad is probably good for the girls, and my family and wife love me, but other than I don’t see much value in me existing. I can’t even really believe that I have much of an impact in my friends’ lives. In my less depressed states, I don’t necessarily think that I matter, but I can at least focus on the benefits I provide my family.

So I end at somewhat of a conflicted place. I’m obviously writing this stuff down and part of me wants someone else to read it and get something from it, but it feels safer to imagine it’s just me writing in some sort of diary. Also, if I don’t advertise then I am not being presumptous and full of myself. So I guess I want people to read this, but not necessarily people I know and I don’t want to come across as presumptous as to how this blog could help anyone. Does a blog about melancholy and depression make a difference if no one is around to read it?