Today everything is shit

Foul mood(having my “getting killed by muggers fantasy” again). I tried to write something for the blog(3 failed attempts) but it all feels like shit, and I don’t even have the energy or care enough to spend time writing something other than a “Everything is shit” diatribe.

Sorry I didn’t get a post up.

Drowning

My copihue

My copihue

My post last week ended with my daughter coughing. My premonition was correct and we’ve had a hellish week with little sleep and a sick daughter. Towards the end of the weekend I was planning on writing about how happiness is bullshit, how I hate my life, I shouldn’t have had kids and that this blog is nothing but a stupid waste of time.

I never do well when the kids are sick (makes me question my parental aptitude a bit) but that wasn’t all that was going on.  I’m stressing about a dispute we’re having with our landlord over a proposed rent increase (our city has strict rent control regulations but we may have missed our window to fight it). My wife has been primarily focused and stressing about an IEP(Individual Education Plan) meeting with the school district requesting speech services for our daughter(the one who is sick right now).  My wife’s been irritable and snapping at me much more than usual and her snapping at me always makes me feel worse. In addition I think both my wife and I have been fighting off a cold, probably our daughter’s, for the past week. I’ve been tired in the evenings so a lot of projects have been put on the back burner. Surf has been too big and I’m not feeling 100%, so no surfing either.

On Sunday we were invited, along with the rest of the research group, to my advisor’s house for brunch. My sick daughter had been okay in the morning(although she threw and broke a point and shoot digital camera) but as we started getting ready to go, she started melting down, and wouldn’t stop crying. I was about ready to scream at this point. We decided that my wife and younger daughter would stay home, and I would go to the party with my older daughter. The drive to the party was when I decided to write the “life is crap” entry.  My advisor lives near some preserved open space, so after eating and socializing I went on a little hike with my daughter and some other attendees from the party (a family with two boys). Being outside in nature, seeing the kids playing, climbing hills, and throwing rocks in the stream was so healing. I was able to forget about the stressors for a little while. Even when my daughter tripped on a rock, bumped her knee and started to cry I was able to still feel calm and actually feel empathy rather than annoyance. After the party we came home and my parents came over. My mom cooked up a delicious stew and it felt so good to have my parents there and also to be taken care of a little bit.

Monday was a holiday, so I finally got to take care of some errands(oil change!) and after reflecting on the past week, purposefully went out back to take some photos. The pictures were of my Copihue (Chilean Bellflower). My parents are from Chile, and the Copihue is our national flower.  The plant is a vine and the flower is heavy and waxy and beautiful. When I found out that I could buy a plant locally several years ago I jumped at the opportunity. I guess it can be quite finicky to grow but ours did really well, it grew vigorously and by the second year it put out a bunch of flowers. I sent photos to the family back in South America and they were impressed and heartened by my success. This continued for a few years.  Last year I changed the vine into a new bigger pot. After a month it started wilting. No flowers developed, the leaves were looking brown and dry on the tips. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then about 4 months ago I found out that the new pot (plastic) was not draining enough and the plant was basically drowning. I drilled more holes in the bottom of the pot, filled the bottom with perlite and hoped for the best.

Flower buds appeared 2 months ago and the first flower bloomed last week.

Since Monday, things have gotten a bit better. My daughter is beginning to get over her cold. Less snot to wipe up(yeah!) and she’s in better spirits. The IEP meeting was on Tuesday. I loved seeing my wife be so assertive and authoritative. She participates in many IEPs for her work (usually representing her school district) so she was quite prepared. Unlike me she is not afraid to be seen as pushy or ruffle people’s feathers if she needs to. We got pretty much everything we had been wanting.

After hitting a bit of a stalemate with our landlord and it seeming as if we were irreversibly bound for mediation (probably due to some misinterpretation of e-mails), I changed course and wrote a heartfelt letter, detailing our relationship with the landlord, our view of the statutes and offered a compromise.  We’ve had a really good relationship with our landlord for the past 6 years, and I was saddened by the prospect of getting in a nasty fight. I don’t know if the letter will help us settle this amicably or lead to anything, but I feel good that I actually made an effort to reach out.

So things are calming down for now and we’ve been sleeping better. More importantly, I don’t feel like I’m drowning anymore.

 

The sun set on this latest round of happiness.

sunset-1

Last week went really well. I went to see Jaimal Yogis give a reading from his new book The Fear Project .  I discovered him by accident while looking for books about surfing and spirituality(Kook by Peter Heller, Saltwater Buddha by Yogis, and West of Jesus by Steven Kotler where the three I read).  His book Saltwater Buddha detailing his practicing of Zen Buddhism and surfing totally blew me away. I have a feeling that parts of that book will be the basis for many of my blog entries.  I admire his pursuit of leading a life that would let him be near the ocean and surf every day.  I particularly liked the way he used surfing as an analogy for some of the teachings of Buddhism.  It was weird; it was the first time I’ve read a book and really felt like the author could help me figure out what to do with my life. I felt like I had a million questions for him.  I didn’t dare ask anything during the question and answer session, but asked him a question about surfing a local beach break while getting the new book signed with my favorite quote from Saltwater Buddha “Samsara is Nirvana”. Specifically I was looking for tips on getting past the fear of dropping in on head high waves(small for proficient surfers, but it’s my current ceiling) I felt dumb afterwards since it seemed like a dumb question and he was rushed, but at least I stepped out of my comfort zone.

Later in the week, I was talking with a colleague while running an experiment and he said he had suggested me as a possible person for a new research institute his friend is starting up in a warmer coastal city. Normally, before even finding out more about the job I would have come up with reasons why I would be no good for the position(issues about moving, my deep seated conviction that I am not good at anything and thus couldn’t do the job, etc). However, this time I was able to just say “yes” to whether I was interested and just go with the flow. It felt good to think that this colleague had thought of me as a good person for this institute and I was able to put aside all the usual doubts and just let it be what it was. The next day another old friend called and filled me on the latest developments on his goal of setting up a math and science after-school academy for latino students. We have worked together in the past in similar projects, so he asked if I was still interested. Who knows if either goes anywhere, but two potential career options in two days!

Then Sunday, despite it being really really cold out, me being tired, and my neighbor deciding it didn’t look worth the drive, I went out for an early morning surf. I didn’t have high expectations, but I had a surprisingly good time. The waves were fun about “chin high” as a local website described it after the fact, and at least initially it wasn’t the usual crowded zoo. I caught 3 really fun waves in the time I was out. At this beach, the waves tend to close out(that is come down all at once, rather than peel off), but I was amazed to find longer rides and for once I was able to plan my attack down the wave. I could see where the wave was going to break and steer around it. I was even able to see bowls forming and use them to bank off of. Usually I just make the drop and then hope for the best. Towards the end it got too crowded and then I got caught in the inside with another guy and we kept getting tossed around by the waves and getting in the way of people actually riding waves so I decided to quit while I was ahead. I froze changing out of the wetsuit, and I found a ding on the board that I’ll have to fix before going out in the water with it again but it was so worth it!

I noticed however that as the rest of Sunday went on, the glow of the previous week started to fade.  My youngest daughter seems to have gotten a cold, and was up a lot on Sunday night. At some point I went in to try and comfort her, but she just kept crying and asking for mommy. Now, a day past the weekend, I’m back in the usual slump. My other daughter was driving me crazy by ignoring me and beginning to yell and scream when I asked her to change into her pajamas so I could read to her. I feel totally useless with both of them when they are upset. My younger daughter just keeps crying and calling for mom, and my older one just tends to escalate when I try to interact with her in those states. Then my wife has to take over and she seems annoyed with me the rest of the evening. The potential jobs now seem impossible, despite not having discussed either any more with my colleagues. On top of that I feel that my writing is crap, and I can’t believe I’m posting this for anyone to read.

(Deep breath) Since the purpose of this post is to try and focus on the happiness, I will give myself credit keeping the happiness stoked for as long as I did.

Okay, that was weird. I just went back through what I wrote a couple of minutes after initially writing it (despite the rambling I do make some effort at editing here). Reliving the experiences (especially the surfing) has made me feel noticeably better.  The kids don’t seem so overwhelming. No, wait, as I’m writing this the younger one just now yelled for mommy and started coughing her croupy cough and I can tell it’s going to be a long night, so maybe they are still a bit overwhelming.  At least I can entertain thoughts about the job opportunities again.

Melancholy what?

manbagcroppdI’ve been depressed to some degree for a long long time. The severity has varied over the years, from what I remember as a near constant melancholy during my childhood to really thinking my family would be better off if I were dead after I had my first kid. These days I am doing okay, I think the depression is most present when I try to figure out what the hell I am going to do for a career after my grant runs out, and when my kids or family life gets stressful. Despite all the visible success in my life, I still feel like a failure. I feel too lazy, too dumb, too moody. I feel like something is missing in my life, a sense of purpose, or energy or excitement about something.

I first heard the term “depressed” associated with my state in grad school. During my first year of brutal coursework, I had felt stressed but I managed to do well on the exams. I felt I was learning something. After that, I found that I really didn’t do so well with the unstructured time I was supposed to devote to research. I was in the lab, but looking back I wasn’t all that productive. It was much more attractive to me to take classes, learn to surf, play in the jazz band, spend time with my girlfriend, etc. I found that I would feel stuck in research, not sure how to move forward or find it hard to focus enough to get anything done in the lab. It was much easier to focus on everything else. This worked for a few years, but eventually that inability to focus and complete lack of motivation crept into the extracurricular activities I was doing. That scared me enough to go to the counseling center, commencing what has been something like 10 years of therapy with various therapists.

During the course of this all this therapy an important theme has seemed to resurface time and time again (remembering it has been hard). It seems that I don’t let myself feel happy for very long.  I think I learned long ago somehow that it isn’t safe to let myself feel really happy or excited about something. It feels unsafe to me. I know that the happiness I’m feeling won’t last and that I will be disappointed and feel like a fool. I’ll probably be judged by others and made to feel stupid for ever being excited. This has been around for awhile. I remember in college, a girlfriend telling me that a friend had described me as never getting too excited about anything nor getting too upset. At the time I thought that was a good thing, but no longer.

Also affected by this inability to let myself feel excited about things is my assertiveness and inner sass/creativity/wild side. I was kind of a smart ass in early grade school. I remember talking back to teachers, particularly in 2nd and 6th grade. In sixth grade I really stood up for myself when I felt I was being treated unfairly (more details in a later post).

Sadly, that 6th grade rebel and person that stood up against unfairness and wasn’t afraid to be heard was crushed along the way. There was a brief visit of that person in 8th grade with a certain teacher, but she was smart and took me under her wing, and the need to rebel subsided.  The part of me who could get really emotional and worked up is also hidden or repressed. I remember my parents forcing me into a cold shower if I really got worked up. My poor girlfriend once told me to calm down while I was telling her about someone who had really made me mad, and I refused to talk about feelings with her for a long time.

I’m rambling, but the point of all this is to make the point that I’ve learned to repress any positive and generally really strong feelings.  To those close to me I’ve been able to express my depression and despair at times, but even to them it doesn’t feel safe to express too much happiness or excitement.

So, I’m proposing an experiment. I’m not a new-agey type, although I do appreciate mindfulness and meditation. By training I’m a scientist. The goal of this blog and experiment is to see if tracking the positive occurrences in my life and really celebrating them, no matter how small, will lead to a less “Depressed” state, increase my vitality and enjoy my life more. Even though I was moody as a kid, I still had hope and was excited about the future. Maybe if I can recapture that young spirit I can recapture that young hope and optimism.

I’m not sure what to expect here. I’ve seen enough happiness columns to understand that celebrating the positive is a helpful step, but the cynic and internal-happiness crusher(okay, a little melodramatic there) thinks I’ll probably screw this up and self-sabotage or something. But I’m pressing on.

If anything I’ve described here feels like something you are going through I invite you to join me in this journey. Perhaps this blog will help you find your way to what you want.

As for the Melancholy Manbag? Not sure where the “Manbag” came from. I could make up a bunch of reasons like issues of masculinity or this weird nostalgia for the 70s, even though I was born in that decade. Basically, I just liked the sound of it!