Category Archives: fear

Saying goodbye to the Bay Area

No Orpheus, no!

Holy crap. I’m moving. Sorry, WE’RE moving. After 16 years in the same place in Oakland, a frustrating house search in this area, and a house that seemed to come to us, we are moving down to coastal Orange County.

I feel like I should be more excited. I’ve always wanted to live near the ocean, and I’ve always wanted to be able to buy a house. I actually remember being in a Kaiser therapy group years ago for depression (it wasn’t very helpful), and feeling so upset because I felt so sure that I would never be able to afford a home in a place that I wanted to live in.  Both of those wants had seemed out of reach until I left public service in June and went to work for a large tech company (another post that I’ve been meaning to write) that luckily didn’t have many layoffs during the recent economic downturn.  Since my position is 100% remote, we spent the summer break and the first 7 weeks of my new employment at my in-law’s house in Orange County. It felt so good to be there. My older daughter blossomed in the junior lifeguards program. She got over her fear of waves and is mostly over her fear of seaweed, but also discovered a love for surfing and we were able to bond over that. It really repaired our relationship, it’s an amazing contrast to how we were before that stay. I loved being able to surf in the mornings or after work and also going to the beach with her. I felt better both physically and mentally from that regular contact with the water. It was also nice to get away from the difficulties of living in Oakland, the questionable safety after dark, the sirens, muggings, robberies. I’ve also grown tired of having to drive the girls everywhere. To school, to BART, to swimming in Albany and so on. The idea of having them take a local bus or bicycle to school and extracurricular activities sounds like a godsend. At the same time the Modest Mouse song “Head South” is playing like a soundtrack in my head

Despite obtaining these twin life goals, it seems that I have to work hard to remind myself about the benefits of the move and the potential it holds.  What’s most present for me is what I am giving up, or at least moving further away from. My family (parents and sister) is the obvious one. We’ve grown used to being able to see each other on a whim; I often go over in the evenings to roast coffee at my dad and sister’s place or to just hang out, or we can invite them over for a last-minute BBQ or dinner. I can also usually send a message to the family and get have one of them watch the kids, or even have them spend the night when needed. More recently, my mom’s partner recently died from COVID while they were vacationing in South America, so it’s been a hard transition for her, and having both me and my sister around has been very helpful for her, I appreciated having her near by, we are all getting older. Things have been more difficult since my parents separated and they sold the house since we don’t have an easy place we can all spend the night at anymore, but my family’s houses are still a place of refuge in some sense. My mom and sister both cried when I told them that we had made an offer on a house down south.

 Many of my friends have moved out of the area, so that’s not as hard emotionally, although I will miss the opportunities to see them and at times I realize that I won’t get to see them very often at all. I’ll also miss the specific winter cold of the bay area, Berkeley Bowl for produce,the scenery; especially the winter sunset light on the hills, the opportunities to hear live music and eat great food, and of course being able to meet up with former colleagues and professors.

Our home here, although uncomfortable in many ways since the girls stopped sharing a bedroom, is also going to be something I’ll miss. The space itself and the other people that live in the building have really played an important role in our lives. We’ve created so many memories over the past 16 years. The girls have lived here their entire lives and I’ve lived here longer than I did in the home I grew up in (that was 13 years).

My younger daughter became very excited about moving, after flat out refusing, because she was having some problems at school. Yesterday, the Wednesday of her last week, they had a small going away party for her at school. At bed time she became emotional and started crying a bit, realizing that she won’t be seeing many of these people again. Despite the problems at school, I think she is realizing that she had an amazing support team of teachers, office staff, counselors and other people looking out for her. She’s good at making friends, but I told her it was very normal, and actually a sign of how caring she is that she was sad about moving away from her friends. I also reminded her that you don’t have to give up your existing friends to make new ones. It’s times at these, and we’ve had many, that I wonder if we are making a bad decision.

The other factor leading me focus on the negatives is the move itself. So much to pack and so much to get rid of. Going through my boxes of books and lecture notes was an odd experience. I’ve held onto those for so long, hoping that someday I could go back and re-learn the material. But I’ve come to some sort of understanding or acknowledgment that it probably won’t happen. I loved learning much of that material, but I can’t necessarily justify the time nor impose the self-discipline necessary to sit down each evening or night and go through it all again. I have too many other things I should be focusing on for both my personal enjoyment as well as for my current job. Earlier this evening, I was standing by the trash bins outside, opening  huge 3-ring binders and watching my past, what was once a large part of my identify, fall into the recycling bin. A clear reminder that the 20-something  year old student, who while never the sharpest in my cohort still had much of the math and physics understanding to be able to follow the fluids and solids courses I was taking, is really gone. I’m almost 50!  

So here we are, our entry way taken up by boxes waiting to be fed our stuff. Trying to figure out the logistics and timing of movers and moving. The pantry getting less crowded and the lump in my throat getting a little bit bigger each day. Saying goodbye to the people, places and things we have been around for the past 16 years. I really hope we aren’t making a colossal mistake in uprooting our family. This house and life in Oakland in general has treated us well. I can only hope that our new home will bring us new found things to appreciate and grow to love. That we can create new wonderful memories, that I am intentional in seeing my family, and that the regular surfing in the ocean water will help wash away some of my anxieties and fears.

Dreams in the new year


I have been thinking about a new job for quite awhile. I would say “looking” but my wife(and the more honest part of me) would quickly point out that I really don’t “look” very much. Let’s say I dream about a new job. The dream itself has been really hazy, but the idea of “something else” has been a constant. A few weeks ago I interviewed for a job with the State. It was all a bit fast, a friend of a friend was the director of the specific department, and I had initially just been curious about what kind of work there might be for someone with my background. Things progressed quickly, and before I knew it I was interviewing, and then a little bit later I was offered the position. The exact work wasn’t quite what I had been “dreaming” about, but I thought it would be interesting enough, and very safe and secure. I then had a bit of a shock when I realized 1) that the initial pay would be significantly lower than what I am making now, and 2) that the earned leave/vacation was less than half of what I get now. More importantly, after about a week of anxiety and feeling torn, I came to realize that although it would have had some great benefits, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I had an emergency session with my therapist/coach, and with some inventive and intuitive exercises, I was able to vocalize what a part of me had kept to keep hidden, that I wanted something with a better fit, that is something more in line with my values and interests.

It had been hard for me to allow that thought that I want “something better” to be there because I always fear that I am asking for too much. Here was a job close to home, with life time security, and probably interesting work. I was crazy to pass it up! Who was I to think that I deserved, let alone could find a better option? With the exercises I did in my session, I was able to not judge that feeling, and let it come up. I realized that my vacations are incredibly important to me; it’s the few times a year when I get to be with the family and not deal with the stress of school and work. We can be together and have fun. I also realized that the kids are getting older and we can start doing new activities as a family and also that they won’t be wanting to spend that much time with us pretty soon, so I should take advantage of it while I can.

It was an incredibly hard decision to turn down the offer, and I almost threw up after letting the person who interviewed me know. I sent a heartfelt letter expressing my appreciation for the time and effort to bring me in and my reasons for turning down the job. It’s very possible I will regret this decision down the line(I still do from time to time), but I feel I have to really try to find what I want this time around, rather than just take whatever falls into my lap. Despite the incredible benefits, I know I don’t want to stay where I am. The work itself is okay, but I am too isolated and the limited interactions with my advisor aren’t that fulfilling. I also feel that if I tried to stay in academics I would keep falling in the same rut as I have the past 11 years. The State job would have been fine, and I’m sure I would have done pretty well, but despite the security, working in the same job for over 20 years, in order to make the pension make sense, it seemed constraining.

The exercise with my coach was very interesting. Using purely intuition, I laid out 3 potential paths, represented by scarves of 3 different colors, and selected photos at random that belonged to each path. The 3 paths were, 1)take the state job, 2)try to stay where I am, and 3)the unknown, or to follow my dream. Each path had it’s own theme and scenarios along that journey. The unknown path is what I choose. We constructed a story from the photos. To summarize, my vision is hazy but it will come into focus. There will be tough periods ahead, but if I keep moving forward with determination there will be joy and peace at the end of that journey. It was scary to choose that, but on some level deep down it was I knew I was feeling, I just needed the safe space and process to allow that choice to be made.

As this process has been unfolding I was bombarded by the word “Dream” everywhere I turned. From Dizzee Rascal’s “Dream” on the radio, in which he tells of becoming a successful musician.

The song’s chorus is:
“I like the talky talky happy talk
Talk about things you like to do
(Talk about things you like to do)
You got to have a dream if you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?”

To quotes involving dreams in my daughter’s mindfulness coloring book such as “Dreams are illustrations.. from the book your soul is writing about you” to the idea of dreaming of new potentials in the book Who moved my cheese? that I found at my in-laws house during vacation.

I’m scared. I have moments, especially after some of my job search training exercises where I think what I am looking for, decent vacation time, interesting work and team, and a good location are a pipe dream and then kind of freak out. I have to remind myself that I have time still to keep searching and stay on the path I want. I also try to remember that I want to show my girls that it’s okay to reach for your dreams, that even if you go through tough times, you can lead a much richer life. So I’ll keep bringing that dream into focus, and keep pursuing it. I still fear that I am asking for too much, but for once I’m letting myself dream a bigger reality for myself than I have for a very long time.

A work in progress, or scattered musings


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


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.