Combos

Almost everyone who has played a video game for any length of time – particularly if that video game is a role playing or fighting game – is aware of the benefits of a successfully executed combo. For the uninitiated, in a video game, mastering a combo move means dealing more damage to your opponent, unlocking extra abilities, or even finding hidden Easter eggs within the game. Sometimes half the game is spent trying to achieve particularly difficult combos just for those reasons. It’s annoying . . . but also rewarding.

The term “chaining” can be used almost interchangeably when talking about forming combos. The premise being that the consecutive actions taken form an unbroken chain (the combo) that in turn leads more benefits, ect.

More links in the chain equals a stronger the chain.

Similarly, people have proven that chaining actions in real life also provides benefits. I’m quite sure that you’ve seen advertisements or articles that speak of 21-day-fixes or 30-day-challenges . . . and the same concepts are at work there. By doing something everyday, without exception, you will see the difference it makes and find that the something (whatever it is) becomes a matter of habit rather than effort.

People have come up with a remarkable assortment of ways to track their own personal chains, to build their own combos. There are phone applications that can be programed to track any number of things, calendars and planners sold with workout plans, chore charts for children, printable spread sheets for those who like things more tangible. Really, the list goes on and on. What method works for you doesn’t even matter, really, because the entire point is simply to record the addition of links in the chain.

I have chosen to create a bullet journal to track my own links. As noted in my last couple of posts (Shifting Focus, Sunday Evening Reflection), I am reading a book called Getting Back to Happy by Marc and Angel Chernoff. I am currently one chapter in and have followed their advice (mostly) when it comes to creating rituals that will – via consistent effort – result in all of my goals being met. At least . . . that’s the theory.

Rather than putting off the starting of such goals until the beginning of next month, or my birthday, or New Year’s Day – any one of the typical “new start” milestones – I went ahead and started working on them yesterday.

Per the book’s recommendation, each ritual only needs to have fifteen minutes dedicated to it each day. That’s enough to create momentum while not creating a burnout. Going against the book’s recommendation of having only one ritual to start, I went ahead and settled on five. Yes, I know. Naughty of me.

I simply couldn’t see not working towards each goal, because they are all things I want to have sooner rather than later and I am fortunate enough to only work three days a week. I have plenty of time for self-enrichment and want to take advantage of that while I can.

Thus far, I have succeeding in chaining two moves. Hardly worth calling it a combo, really. That said, it means that I’ve put two hours towards my goals in the last couple of days. To my surprise, I’ve found that I’ve gotten quite a lot done even just in that time.

For instance, I’ve reviewed some helpful tips and tricks to start IV lines.

Also, I began comparing hotel and rental car prices in preparation for a trip to New Orleans that I now intend to make in mid-October as a birthday present to myself.

Those things don’t seem that impressive . . . but . . . they’re part of a larger picture.

Reviewing helpful IV information is one way of taking a step towards becoming a more competent RN. Looking up hotels and rental cars gets me a step closer to traveling.

Tomorrow, I will print a couple of maps of New Orleans and start thinking about what sites I want to put on my must-see list. Tomorrow, I will read about different types of fluids that are used to treat different types of fluid deficits. Tomorrow, I will continue to develop characters for my novel. Tomorrow, I will follow along with a yoga video.

I will make more progress. I will take more steps. I will continue.

Essentially . . . I’ll continue to rack up combo points!

 

Advertisements

Shifting Focus

Almost 50% of Americans make New Year Resolutions.

Losing weight, learning a new skill, and being more financially savvy are the top three. They’re followed by quitting smoking and doing more exciting things.

Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of Americans who make resolutions feel they were successful in completing or adhering to them. Just 9.2%, actually, according to this site – which has other interesting statistics related to this and other topics, if you’re curious.

Okay, you’re thinking. It’s August. Why the facts about new year resolutions?

Per my last post, Sunday Evening Reflection, I am reading a book by Marc and Angel Chernoff titled Getting Back to Happy. Although I am less than one chapter in, I must say that I’m finding the book helpful/motivating already. From the lists and bullet points to the personal anecdotes and history lessons . . . this is what I’m looking for in a self-help book. It’s already been the inspiration of one (now, two) blog posts.

As mentioned in the post linked above, I was encouraged by the book to select some destinations . . . places in my life worth walking a metaphorical (or literal) 20 miles a day to reach. In my typical over-achiever fashion, I wasn’t able to select just one destination.

Competent RN, World Traveler, Famous Author, Ninja Master. Happy Individual.

Now, I’m the first to admit that just writing those is intimidating. As far as goals go, those seem almost unattainable. Which, of course, contradicts the commonly advertised notion that goals need to be realistic and measurable. How does one measure competency or fame or mastery. Or happiness?

(Unrelated, mostly, but I did just buy a measuring cup set shaped like a monkey that does in fact make me giddy. Here is a link to a picture of it. In case you need it. Monkey FTW.)

Despite the proven ineffectiveness of New Year Resolutions, I found it tempting to push off starting towards any of those destinations until January 1st. Or, until my birthday, in October. Or next Monday, when I’m not sick with a chest infection. Or until . . .

You get the point, by now, I’m sure.

Having recognized, just prior to starting this post, that I was already searching for excuses, I turned back to the book and resolved to continue reading chapter one, which is all about turning daily rituals into pathways towards your chosen destination. I can’t say that was a bad choice. Not by a long shot. Marc and Angel are wonderfully blunt.

“If you’re not willing to create a daily ritual to reinforce your goal, you don’t really want to change your life as much as you say you do.” In another paragraph, on the next page, they go on to elaborate and write that, “Rituals are meant to change your mindset about who you are as a person and broaden your belief in what you can accomplish.”

Inevitably, of course, I do have some variations that I’ll be making to their proposed method to ritual creation. For example, they suggest beginning with one choosing one ritual that relates to one goal and committing fifteen minutes a day to it until it’s second nature. As noted above, I am something of an overachiever and my new career means I have more free time than the average person (working three 12’s has it’s benefits).

Already, I’ve decided to work towards my destinations more or less simultaneously, because that is what I can foresee working for me. The destination Happy Individual, for starters, will be inherently worked towards while the others are being worked towards.

That said, I can’t dispute that their suggestion of creating a 15 minute ritual is a good one.

After some brainstorming, I’ve come up with four fifteen minute rituals that will combine to be an hour of time, but that can be done in separate blocks as well. I’ve also included additionals – things that aren’t ritualistic, but are markers on the path.

Competent RN: I will spend fifteen minutes a day reviewing pertinent materials – lab values, medications, evidence based practices, new technologies, patient care, ect. I will also ask my mentors questions, learn from my mistakes, and be mindful when at work.

World Traveler: I will spend fifteen minutes a day reviewing things related to travel – costs, locations, reviews, tips and tricks, ect. I will also determine how much I need to save to make my first trip, set a deadline for it, and make weekly deposits into my “World Traveler Fund” – which I will do a separate post for, because I’m looking forward to making a sort of piggy-bank for it.

Famous Author: I will spend fifteen minutes a day working on my novel. I will also research self-publishing, publishing houses, and novels similar to mine to learn the market better. I will also continue to learn more about the craft of writing itself.

Ninja Master: I will spend fifteen minutes a day exercising – a jog, body-weight work out, yoga, ect. I will also be more mindful of my intake (my body needs good fuel), chart my progress, and weigh myself weekly.

Happy Individual: I will spend fifteen minutes a day in “quiet time” – morning cup of coffee with a book, listening to my favorite podcast, tending to my new garden, ect. I will also start a bullet journal of sorts to track the above rituals and my daily mood.

Looking at the goals, in this way, makes them seem much more tangible.

By shifting my focus from the destination to the steps needed to get there, I am essentially no longer daunted by the destination itself. Instead, I am feeling excitement about the journey. Of course, I’m still anticipating the destination, but now it’s not something I’ve overwhelmed by. In that sense, I almost like them better, really.

I can feel myself leaning towards the quick fix methods, but I know that way doesn’t work. If it did . . . everyone would be where they want to be. I would be there already.

Today, I will start walking twenty (figurative) miles a day. My path looks pretty clear at the moment. In taking consistent, steady steps, I can get where I want to be. At the end of August, I will have put 26 conscious hours towards my goals. On paper (screen?) it doesn’t seem like much. Little more than a day. However, the proof will be in the progress, I suppose. I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

Until next time, be that tomorrow or the day after, I hope you enjoy your life.

 

Sunday Evening Reflection

Two men on the same epic journey through dangerous, uncharted territory. One of the men decides that he will travel as much as possible on days when the weather is mild and that he will rest to regain his strength on the days when the weather is poor. The other man decides that, no matter the weather, he will travel twenty miles every day and spend the remainder of the day resting to regain his strength after that distance has been covered. Which man will reach the destination first?

My first thought was that the man who traveled as far as he could on the good days and rested on the bad days would beat the man who maintained a pace of twenty miles a day.

Surely, I reasoned, the man pushing himself on the good days and taking the bad days as losses would outpace the one not taking full advantage of the good days. Right?

Well . . . no. That’s not actually what happened.

Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott were real life explorers in the early 1900’s. These two men and their teams set out – each with the goal to be the first to “discover” Antarctica. Scott directed his team to go as far as they good on the good days and to rest on the bad, but Amundsen told his team that they would travel twenty miles every day until they reached their destination. In the end, Amundsen is the one in the history books.

Now, I don’t know about you, but as a child growing up in the U.S.A. I was told the story of the turtle and the hare. Even so, I still didn’t recognize that “slow and steady” would win the race. I undervalued the effect of consistent effort as opposed to bursts of activity.

In retrospect, I think that’s something that a large percentage of society does. That doesn’t make it any better, but it does make it a tad more interesting. What led to my knee-jerk conclusion? It’s said we live in an instant gratification society, but when faced with a situation in which I know the task is going to be time-consuming, why did I lean towards a method that gave up consistent progress in exchange for erratic progress?

Why did I bet on the hare, when I already know that turtles win?

I have – perhaps unsurprisingly – begun reading a new book. Getting Back to Happy by Marc and Angel Chernoff. In the first chapter, they present this story and offer an explanation for the outcome.  Doing a thing consistently will create reliable and/or predictable results, but it takes self-discipline. On the other hand, working very hard only when doing so is easy will inevitably lead to a mentality that defines struggle as bad and succeeding or failing as out of their control.

Having traveled fifty miles during one day of good weather, but not moving at all during three days of sub-optimal weather will inevitably lead to you being outpaced by the person who traveled twenty miles on all four days.

The individual who persisted in traveling on all four days will also become stronger more rapidly due to braving the storms while the other individual sat by their fire.

Okay. All of that sounds well enough, but how do you develop self-discipline?

Honestly, here are probably a million and one books out there that offer all kinds of advice on the matter. Marc and Angel, in true self-help form, encourage their readers to first ponder what it is that they want.

What motivates you to walk those twenty miles? And what do the miles translate to?

They ask, essentially, where you want to be. They ask you to consider what it will take to get there. And then they encourage you to take the first steps towards it. And the next. And so on and so forth until you reach your destination. Rinse and repeat.

Helpfully, they offer some generic destinations: physical health, home ownership, best-selling novel, world adventuring, parental role model. So on and so forth.

I started by writing one destination. Competent RN.

But I couldn’t help, but realize that’s only one of the places I want to be. There are others.

World Traveler. Famous Author. Ninja Master. Happy Individual.

There are steps to each of them. Some clear . . . some less so. Tomorrow, I’ll make an effort to determine what constitutes the first steps of each of those. Some are maybe obvious. Others less so – or at least more demanding. We’ll see where I’m at by the end of this month and how much further I still need to go. (Que Moana soundtrack.)

 

 

(Im)patience is a Virtue

Merriam-Webster defines patience as the capacity, habit, or fact of being patient. In turn, Merriam-Webster defines the word patient as bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint, not being hasty or impetuous, and as being a sufferer or victim.

Which, essentially, allows for the statement that patience is habitual and active passivity.

So, why then, do people sometimes cite patience as a virtue?

A virtue is defined as a beneficial or commendable trait. Other examples of “virtuous” traits include loyalty, honesty, valor, integrity, so on and so forth . . .

Individuals and societies often hold different views on what is virtuous. Circumstances can also influence what we see as virtuous. For instance, telling a child that they’re dying is technically honest . . . but it may be seen as more beneficial or commendable to spare them that knowledge. As another example, one culture may view stoicism as commendable while another views expressiveness as preferable.

Patience as a virtue, then, is reflective of the ideals of those who cite it as such. Out of curiosity, I consulted the denizens of the internet to ask if they agree that patience is a virtue and to find out why, if so. The answers were interesting and ranged from the belief that patience is indicative of self-control to the statement that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Others took the route that impatience is a bad thing . . . thus making patience a good thing by default. One of those individuals went further and declared that impatience is downright dangerous and has no place in modern society.

As you’ve maybe guessed, from the title of this post, I’m of a different opinion.

First, let’s consult Merriam-Webster again. It defines impatience as a state of restlessness and short temper – especially under irritation, delay, or opposition. It goes on further to note that impatience can be defined as eagerly desirous.

Which, essentially, means that impatient individuals are unwilling to accept passivity.

It seems to me that, somewhere along the line, signals became a bit crossed. American society, largely, purports the importance of seizing the moment. Quite literally, the pursuit of happiness is part of this nation’s underlying foundation.

(Pursuits, by the way, don’t usually reward those who take a patient approach.)

Even those who tend to say everything happens for a reason are inclined to admit that opportunity doesn’t always come knocking without first receiving an invitation.

I can’t speak for other cultures, but Americans are told at a young age that chasing after our dreams is worthwhile. We’re encouraged to take action, to do the impossible. Success is seen as something gained, not something merely offered or accepted. Relaxing is reserved for weekends and the rarely earned vacation. “No pain, no gain,” is part of our national character . . . yes, even for the millennial generation.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

This post was initially inspired by my impatience to move out of my 1/1 apartment.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I liked the apartment. I can even remember when I loved it. After four years of being crammed into it with my other half, however . . . well . . . I didn’t love it anymore. Due to new management that took over in January I actually kinda hated it.

And I realized that – with the money I’m now making – I didn’t have to stay there.

Once I realized that, I became a tad impatient. Borderline unreasonable.

But, actually, it worked. It really, honestly, worked.

I’m typing this in the living room of the newly remodeled 3/2 house that I’m now renting. The house has new floors, new paint, new cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms, new appliances. Even new lighting fixtures! The neighborhood is great and still close to where both of us work. The landlady is the sister of the man who owned our apartment complex prior to selling it. The yard is absolutely giant and completely fenced in back.

We would not have gotten this particular place if I had been more patient. It wasn’t even listed yet. I went to our former landlord and asked if he had any rentals available or coming available and he told us about this one. We actually got it for $250 less than asking, because we offered to do the lawn maintenance ourselves.

(Hence, I’m now the proud owner of a new set of hedge trimmers.)

So, while some people may still tout patience as a virtue . . . I think I’ll make use of impatience more in the future. You gotta give it credit . . . it gets shit done.

 

 

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 7

“Once you’ve been bitten by a snake, you are very cautious even of a coiled rope.” – the Dalai Lama.

Logically, of course, you know the rope is just that . . . a rope.

Fear, however, doesn’t generally listen to logical arguments and sees . . . a snake.

The book I’m reading and basing this series of blogs off of is titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. The first post, Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1, is not necessary. Nor are the others, if you’d rather just read this one, but there is some continuity between them all.

You see, the section of the book I’m currently reading involves taking closer looks at anxiety, panic disorders, obsessions, and trauma. The quote above is in the part that deals with trauma. It resonated with me, despite the fact that I don’t really think of myself as having suffered anything traumatic. Which, of course, made me curious and got me to thinking about that. After a little while, I realized that my panic attacks could be considered a form of trauma – at least by this book’s definition of it.

The above quote, in fact, is relatable to me, because of my anxiety and my panic attacks.

I had one panic attack and now anxiously await another . . . to the point where every rope does indeed look like a snake. Metaphorically, in my case, but still.

Another quote, directly from the book, is, “You tell yourself to relax, but it comes out as RELAX, RELAX.” This is accurate. Especially when I’m trying to settle down during an attack. I literally walk around the hospital I work at thinking, “Just BREATH. Just FUCKING breath. In. Out. CALM DOWN, DAMMIT!”

Not exactly relaxing.

Less Dalai Lama. More drill sergeant.

While I understand that the book has good intentions, some of the suggestions for reducing anxiety still strike me as somewhat impractical or unrealistic. For instance, one such suggestion is to, “Delegate as many responsibilities as you can.” Of course, I do agree that delegating responsibilities can reduce anxiety by reducing things like perceived business and pressure to perform . . . but adulting sometimes means that one can’t delegate responsibilities.

Agoraphobia, in particular, can make delegating responsibilities seem very appealing. Reduced responsibilities leads to reduced anxiety, but becoming used to delegating responsibilities, rather than shouldering them, can lead to increased avoidance issues and procrastination tendencies.

Similarly, saying, “No,” to things is often talked about as a learned skill and a solution to the demands that modern society can place on people. Unlike delegation, saying no completely removes the source of the anxiety, rather than just shifting it. Again, like with delegation, I do see how this can be helpful in reducing anxiety, but . . .

I am also a believer in the truth of the expression, “Life begins outside your comfort zone.” This isn’t always true, but stagnation can do a lot of damage. Saying no to everything that may trigger anxiety will – not to be repetitive – lead to the sorts of avoidance issues that characterize agoraphobia. Plus, it doesn’t mean that the anxiety will magically disappear or be “cured.” On the contrary, saying no to everything can actually cause a sort of paradoxical anxiety all on its own.

OCD is – like agoraphobia – something that I didn’t really understand prior to taking a mental health course in college. The media representation of OCD generally involves people who are obsessively clean or who count. Monk, from the detective show of the same name, is one such example, but there are numerous others. Typically, the rituals or repetitive behaviors carried out by someone with OCD involve magical thinking. A person may lock, unlock, and re-lock their front door seven times prior to leaving the house in an effort to reassure themselves that no one can break in.

Interesting, my significant other has told me to let my OCD take over when I start to become anxious up at work. I understand what he means by that. Left to my own pace and devices, I will meticulously double and triple check a thing to convince myself it is correct. This is a good safety measure, for a nurse, but it can also eat up valuable time.

That said . . . I don’t believe I do actually have OCD. Instead, I honestly think that my anxiety and agoraphobia simply combine to make me a person who strives for organization. Honestly, the act of organizing something can quiet my anxiety like few other things can. I am the type of person who likes routines and consistency. Chaos and mayhem stress me out, because of the unpredictability involved.

Hence, part of the original reason I got the book. Working as a new nurse in a large hospital on a busy medical-oncology is not exactly a walk in the park. My anxiety is finding new highs that have led to my crying almost nightly and questioning my personal goal not to use pharmaceuticals as a fix. In trying to learn to reduce my anxiety, I do have to admit that I’m learning a lot about it.

For instance, I did make it through today without tears, despite it being a work day. I managed to discharge one patient, transfer another to a different hospital, admit a third, and still take care of four others. Medications were mostly on time. Doctors were talked with, electrolytes replaced, progress charted. Tomorrow morning, I will go back and do it all again, more or less. I’ll look forward to having two days off, afterwards.

At the moment, I’m going to sit back and watch a super hero movie while my SO makes us dinner. I may also have a Twisted Tea, since it’s a holiday and all.

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 6

How anxious are you, right now, on a scale from one to ten? One being at peace and ten being, “Oh god, oh god, we’re all going to die!” Take a minute. Think about it. Really.

(This is, as evidenced by the title, part six in a series of posts I’m doing while reading a book titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fear and Anxiety. I checked the book out from my local library, because I’ve been struggling with agoraphobia and panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. I’m moving forward in my life, but these things are hindering me and so I thought some self-help couldn’t hurt. The first part in the series is here: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1. You don’t need to read the previous posts to still appreciate this one, but it may be helpful.)

My answer to the above question is about a three.

Mild anxiety . . . butterflies in my stomach; muscle tension, definitely nervous.

I would also consider this to be just about my base-line when I’m at home. There’s the nagging sensation that there is something I need to do, but haven’t. My jaw is tense, my back is stiff. I feel restless and yet mentally worn out. Still, I have the wherewithal to be grateful that I’m not higher on the scale. Especially since I go in to work tomorrow.

Level four is the level at which the book suggests you take action to prevent further escalation. At level four, you are experiencing marked anxiety and may feel “out of it,” have an increased heart rate, tense muscles, rapid breathing, and a worry that you’ll lose control. In other words, level four is not a happy place, but it’s still a manageable one.

It is me, in the car on the way to work. Or in Wal-Mart. Or studying for an exam.

The book suggests removing yourself from the situation that’s causing the anxiety, but I don’t think I agree with that as a tactic, because it seems like the road to agoraphobia. Surely facing the anxiety and coping with it is better than avoiding it? Another questionable suggestion, in my mind, is to do something repetitive. This does release serotonin, but seems like it could lead to the development of an OCD-like compulsion or ritualistic behavior that will also have negative effects in the long run.

I feel the other suggestions offered by the book are more useful and practical.

Talk to someone, get active, focus on your surroundings instead of your symptoms, do a puzzle that requires concentration, indulge in something pleasurable, visualize a calming scene, use positive self-talk,practice diaphragm breathing.

I do use some of those when I feel a panic attack starting or cresting.

At work, in the hospital, I offer to run an errand – such as getting a telemetry monitor or restocking a cart – in order to get moving and focus on something tangible. I also picture my significant other and use positive self-talk . . . when I can calm down enough to. It also helps me to talk with my patients, when I’m at work, because it shifts my focus to their problems rather than my own. On the other hand, charting is a welcome distraction and can absorb some of my restless within the routine nature of it.

The mind and the body are linked. As such, it’s not surprising that the physical and mental elements of a panic attack feed off each other. Recognizing that, the book suggests, can help to reduce or manage both elements during an attack. In that vein, the book provides lists of mental and physical “symptoms” that people experience during panic attacks, has you rate them in terms of their frequency or strength, and then brings your attention to their relationship.

My top five physical symptoms include the sensation of a lump in my throat, nausea/diarrhea, a feeling of detachment, heart palpitations, and tingling of the hands/feet. My top five mental symptoms/thoughts are I’m going to die, I don’t understand what’s happening to me, I’m going to have a stroke, something is really physically wrong with me, and I’m really scared.

I do see how the physical symptoms I experience as a result of my panic attacks (in addition to my general anxiety/agoraphobia) cause the thoughts I have. Feeling as though there’s a lump in my throat makes me fear dying – even thought I know from a logical standpoint that there’s nothing in my throat and that my breathing isn’t being hindered.

Of course, as noted in the book and as I’m sure most people who have suffered from panic attacks are already aware . . . sometimes nothing does prevent a full blown attack.

In those instances, the book also has some suggestions for shortening the duration of the attack and lessening the overall severity of it. Many of them reflect the above suggestions for preventing the attack from occurring, but one other struck me as interesting and a kind of novel idea. The book recommends resisting the urge to “fight” the symptoms.

It can feel unnatural, the book notes, but will generally lessen the attack’s duration, because you’re adopting a passive stance rather than an aggressive one. In a way, you intentionally lose the fight in order to end the attack.

Another exercise in this section of the book relates to the diagnosis of GAD – generalized anxiety disorder. Once I learned about agoraphobia and panic attacks, about a year ago, I dismissed the notion that I had GAD. But . . . in filling out this particular worksheet . . . I did score 21 out of 35 possible points. This indicates that I am at least chronically anxious. The question is then whether or not it is due to the agoraphobia and panic attacks or if it is an entity in its own right.

I was inclined towards continued dismissal, but then realized that I experienced all of the same things prior to what I consider the first panic attack and I attribute that first panic attack to my eventual development of agoraphobia.

So, maybe, I do still actually have GAD.

Also, disclaimer, I don’t think that self-diagnosing medical issues – be they physical or mental – is entirely advisable. I should, honestly, go get evaluated.

Helpfully, the book explains that anxiety prone people are likely that way due to a combination of nature and nurture. It explains that people who are genetically predisposed to anxiety may be more sensitive to loud noises, bright/flashing lights, textures. It goes on to note that people who are predisposed towards anxiety tend to see others as disapproving or indifferent and to worry about the safety of themselves/others more than average.

Technically, I’m not finished with this section, but this post is about as long as I’m ever comfortable making them. Instead of continuing on, I’m going to end this post here.

Not only due to the length of the post, but due to the fact that it’s approaching ten at night (which is my bedtime on work nights). Also, my SO wants to sit in my front of me so I can play with his hair and rub his shoulders.

A quote . . . to finish things out.

“It’s no use putting up your umbrella until it rains.” – Alice Caldwell Rice

Conquering Fear and Anxiety – pt. 5

Is the glass half full or half empty? The question is fewer than ten words long and yet the general population – at least in America – tends to view it as a reliable way to determine if someone has an optimistic or pessimistic mentality.

The optimists of the world would claim the glass is half full.

The pessimists would declare that it’s half empty.

Honestly, I’ve always felt that the “true” answer depends on whether or not the glass was empty or full prior to reaching the half-way mark. If the glass’s most recent state was empty, then it’s now half full. If the glass’s most recent state was full, then it’s now half empty. I tend to think of this answer as being indicative of being a realist, but I’ve encountered a lot of individuals – both optimists and pessimists – who say it makes me pessimistic. I am inclined to think that means a lot of people view realism as depressing.

(For those interested, this is part 5 in the blog series I’m doing while reading the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. It isn’t necessary to read the other posts, but here’s the link to the first one: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, optimists reportedly have more self-esteem and feel as though things will turn out alright more often than they will go wrong. On the other hand, pessimists are reported to suffer from lower self-esteem and a belief that the worst case scenario is the most likely one. Of course, in both instances, there are exceptions.

I noted above that I think of myself as a realist and that’s largely true . . . but . . . according to the book, I do have a lot in common with pessimists in terms of how we view successes and failures.

Pessimists, for example, view failure as a confirmation of their inability to do something. As a result, they avoid trying new things, if they’re unsure whether or not they’ll be successful at them. Even when they do succeed, the success is a source of anxiety and guilt, because it feels undeserved, false, or embarrassing. In that same vein, pessimists tend to be perfectionists and will critique themselves much more harshly than an optimist – or even a realist – would.

In that way, I am pessimistically minded. I don’t tend to “take pride” in my achievements, because I usually feel ashamed of how long they took or how hard they were. I am also inclined towards attributing quick or easy successes to flukes or to chance, rather than to myself and my abilities. Similarly, I do tend to focus on my mistakes. It’s not that I don’t see the good . . . just that I blow the bad out of proportion.

I don’t actually view other people’s successes the same way. If another individual succeeds at something they struggled with, I see them as having persevered and think they deserve admiration. If another individual succeeds at something easily or naturally, I appreciate their talent and envy their swiftness at the task. Also, I don’t tend to pick apart other people’s accomplishments the way I do my own.

Another point made by the book is that, when perfectionists are praised for their “imperfect” works, they can feel guilty for “swindling” their audience. They become determined to lessen that guilt by being “better” at their next task. This struck a cord with me, because I do tend to tell myself and others, “I’ll be better, next time.”

For instance, my supervisor will praise me for passing all my medications on time and doing my charting early . . . but I will be focused on the fact that I forgot to bring someone the ice chips they asked for and will feel the praise isn’t truly deserved.

Not only can pessimists feel anxious about succeeding due to an inner belief that the associated praise isn’t deserved, they can also fear succeeding for other reasons.

Mark Twain sorta nailed down one of them when he said, “There’s always something about your success that displeases even your best friends.”

In other words, fear of succeeding can actually mean fear of rejection.

We talk about sore losers, but we don’t tend to have the conversation in terms of the effects on the winners. By that, I mean we talk about the loser’s self-esteem and need to develop good sportsmanship . . . but not about how the winner can grow to regret their win or feel guilty over it or even like they should have intentionally lost. Not only that, but frequent successes can be met with indifference or even exacerbation, despite the fact that the newer successes might have taken more effort than the original ones.

For instance, I have always been an A and B student, but it took more work in college . . . yet my mother didn’t hang my thesis paper on the fridge. A sort of why bother mentality can arise from this type of situation being repeated in various forms.

The last note the book makes about fear of succeeding has to do with sex and performance anxiety. It’s explained, in the book, that performance anxiety in the bedroom is closely tied to a pessimistic world view and a fear of success. What, you may wonder, could cause a fear of succeeding at bedroom activities? Well, you’re setting up a standard for yourself that will need to be met repeatedly (if not surpassed) and you’re also opening yourself up to greater intimacy with someone . . . thus making failure an even scarier prospect.

I think part of the reason I enjoy bondage and submission in the bedroom is that it takes some of this away. I have a fetish for being used/abused, because I feel more comfortable in a passive role than an active one. I do tend to avoid initiating sex out of fear of rejection and it takes alcohol to change that. For me, it’s not just self-consciousness regarding how I look, but fears that I will do something awkward or “wrong.”

Logical flaws in the thinking process are most to blame for the above anxieties related to success, but can affect anyone. I am guilty of three such flaws on a regular basis and particularly in the midst of my panic attacks.

  • Over-generalization. “I will never be able to get everything done.”
  • Disqualifying the Positive. “I know people say I’m doing well, but . . .”
  • Magnification/Minimization. “I forgot to page this doctor about xyz!”

The notion of failure as a desirable outcome is another type of logical flaw in thinking, but it’s not covered explicitly in the book. Failure can feel like the safe option when you consider that success can lead to guilt, rejection, and embarrassment. Deciding not to try to succeed can completely eliminate those issues. Also, for agoraphobics . . .  such as myself . . . avoidance of the source of the anxiety makes the anxiety go away and thus reinforces the notion that failure (or inaction) is best.

All that can seem daunting. How can someone learn to be less self-critical? Or more optimistic? Is that even possible? Where would you even start?

The book attempts to answer these question by pointing to something called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is the belief that you have mastery over the events in your life and can meet challenges as they come up. Apparently, this is the key to being the type of person who isn’t afraid of failing, doesn’t procrastinate, and is hopeful about life in general.

Okay, great! Now . . . how do you develop self-efficacy?

The book suggests that you build success slowly in order to avoid feelings of guilt/fears of loss and learn to be happy with not being perfect. Another recommendation is to become your own best friend by caring and nurturing yourself. To that end, the book explains that taking care of your physical and emotional needs is extremely important. As is redirecting negative self-talk.

For example, instead of thinking that I can’t do a task properly, I need to think about how I’ve learned new tasks and done them well in the past.

The negative thought may be, “I’ll never learn to manage my time properly.”

The positive counter-thought may be, “My time management skills have improved since I started at the hospital and will continue to get better with more practice.”

I don’t think – nor does the book claim – that building self-efficacy is an overnight process. It can actually, according to the book, take years of therapy to really make it stick. Which is great, for those who are able to afford that, but less great for those who can’t . . . like me. There is still hope; however, because the concept of self-help does still exist and the internet can be a great resource.

For the time being, I’m going to continue this sort of introspective blog project. I have already learned several things since starting. Here’s a little mini-list to end this post!

  1. I really do match the definitions of someone with agoraphobia.
  2. I actually have a pessimistic world view, based on the definitions.
  3. My fear of the unknown is rooted in a fear of lack of control.
  4. There are things in my childhood that account for all of the above.
  5. Being more self-aware can lead to being able to cope with the above.

 

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 4

Not too long ago, I would have defined agoraphobia as fear of leaving the house. If pressed, I would have explained that my definition was based on the portrayal of agoraphobia in the media and conversations had with my friends about phobias.

“Agoraphobic people never leave their houses,” I would have said . . . confidently, no less.

I would have been wrong. Both in my definition and my assessment of the result.

Technically, the word agoraphobia comes from the Greek language and almost literally translates into fear of the market place. The DSM (a sort of encyclopedia of mental illnesses) further explains it as anxiety about being in places of situations from which escape might be difficult (or embarrassing) or in which help may not be available in the event of having an unexpected or predisposed Panic Attack or panic-like symptoms.

Additionally, the DSM explains that the individual with agoraphobia handles the fear/anxiety by avoiding the situation entirely. Also, to count as agoraphobia, the avoidance and precluding anxiety can’t be better explained by another condition.

It’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?

Only about 0.8 to 1.7 percent of Americans have agoraphobia – depending on which source you choose to trust. More women than men seem to be afflicted by it. People who suffer from panic attacks are also more likely to develop it than other groups are. Generally, people with agoraphobia display avoidance of more than one situation and the situations themselves can vary widely. Some people, for instance, even avoid being alone within their own home. Others feel most anxious when in confined spaces – like elevators. Still, there are those who avoid open areas – like parking lots.

Clearly, it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of condition. Though it unfortunately plays one on TV. Which is what led, perhaps unsurprisingly, to my not recognizing that I suffered from it until I took an actual mental health course as part of getting my nursing degree.

In a classroom setting, I sat and silently absorbed the fact that the list of symptoms on the white board matched my own. Not in a slight way, but in a 10/10 kind of way. That evening, I called my mom and said, “I know what’s wrong with me. I have agoraphobia.”

She laughed and told me that I didn’t, because she also thought that it was fear of leaving the house and to the best of her knowledge that wasn’t something that affected me.

Trying a different tact, I started listing the symptoms of agoraphobia. By the end of the phone call, she was also certain that I did actually have it. She also observed – as many others have – that agoraphobia can, in a way, be called the fear of fear.

Which makes me, basically, Harry Potter.

If you don’t get the analogy, go watch or read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As per the author herself, Dementors (the villains of this particular book/movie) were her representation of depression, but I do think they also do a good job of standing in for agoraphobia. I was even recently tattooed with the spell that fends off the Dementors – which is the featured image of this post . . . in all of its new, shiny beauty . . . it has since healed up, but it’s a bit awkward to try to photograph on my own.

Now is the time when I refer back to the fact that this post is part of a series of posts relating to my reading of a book titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. I’m currently reading the section about specific phobias – hence my discussion of agoraphobia.

Interestingly, some of the hallmarks of individuals who develop agoraphobia coincide with some of the characteristics of children who develop in what is called the “Insecure Anxious-Avoidant Attachment way (which I discuss in this post: Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 2). In both instances, strong displays of separation anxiety as a child and the tenancy towards suppressing negative feelings are seen. So is the development of psychosomatic physical issues – like upset stomachs and headaches.

Of course, as a self-help book of sorts, the book does offer some possible solutions to agoraphobia. The primary one being action. In theory, the act of doing will absorb the anxiety related to the thinking about doing. Personally, I feel that this can definitely be the case. At the hospital, for instance, I usually feel less anxiety once I have gotten report and started the morning medication passes. Or, when out shopping, I make it a goal just to get what I need on each isle, rather than thinking about the entire experience.

My other half frequently tells me to get my brain out of the way of my hands.

I let him have an, “I told you so,” moment when I read this bit of the book.

In fact, the book actually references having a “guardian angel” of sorts. For agoraphobics, the book explains, having a designated safe person can be a help make daily tasks more manageable. Even just having the ability to contact said person in triggering situations can lessen the feelings of impending doom that accompany panic attacks. I think that is an accurate assessment and I have told my other half that I wish I could take him with me to work . . . just to have him sitting in a corner somewhere, in case I need him.

Also, in a real way, my entire dynamic with him reflects these same things. I’ve mentioned in past posts that our dynamic falls within the BDSM spectrum, but I don’t know that I’ve ever tried to delve into that from a psychological standpoint. I mean, I’ve noted that I have a submissive personality and that I’m a people-pleaser at heart, but I don’t think I’ve elaborated on that as it relates to our BDSM dynamic.

I do think that I would struggle in a standard relationship. I recognize that I need and want the security of not having to make decisions in some areas of my life. He – through being the dominant to my submissive, the yin to my yang, the black to my white – gives me that option. I tend to have fewer “attacks” when I’m out with him and he helps me to work through them as they do come up. I know that I can message him when I’m having a random breakdown at work and he will encourage me to breath through it and to take action instead of hiding in the bathroom.

While I could likely continue on in these same veins for another several paragraphs, it would likely be rather repetitive. In the interest of preventing that, I’m going to go ahead and leave this part here. I have, approximately, have the book left to read. Truly, I don’t know how much it’s helping. For instance, I had a panic attack yesterday at work that included hyperventilating, crying, and feeling like I was sinking through the floor.

But! I recognized it for what it was and did manage to finish my shift.

I thought about telling my charge nurse that I’d thrown up, or had the flu, or that my grandmother was dying . . . but I didn’t do those things. Which feels like a win, to me.

Moving Out; Moving On

“Home is where the heart is. Even if you can’t remember which box you packed it in.”

I can’t find who to attribute that quote to, but I found while looking up quotes related to moving. I am, as the astute may have gathered by now, preparing to move from my one bedroom apartment to a three bedroom house. I honestly can hardly wait for it to be made official . . . for the last boxes to be moved over, the last papers signed.

Truthfully, I’m actually getting a bit ahead of myself. The house that I and my other are moving into is still being renovated. We won’t be able to even begin moving things in for another two weeks – which is when the landlord expects everything to be wrapped up in terms of improvements. It is getting wood floors, fresh paint, custom cabinets, new appliances, and new windows. Though built in the 50’s, it will be new for us.

I didn’t anticipate being able to move this quickly. Technically, our lease isn’t up until the end of the year. That said, our landlords have already broken it in several small ways and we don’t expect a fight when we let them know we’ll be moving out. Worst case scenario, we will continue to pay the rent until the lease is up, because we really don’t want to miss out on the chance to rent the house we’ll be moving in to. It isn’t that the house is perfect for us . . . it’s just that there’s no denying the pros of it.

Here, by the way, is our pros and cons list.

PROS

  • 3 bed/2 bath – extra space for guests/office
  • Garage and paved parking
  • Shed and carport for extra storage
  • Wood/tile floors throughout
  • Open living/dining/kitchen floor plan
  • Dedicated laundry room with more storage
  • Screened in porch off the living room
  • Large, fenced back yard
  • Close to shopping and our jobs
  • We know and trust the landlord

CONS

  • The master bedroom is small, compared to what we have now
  • Despite all the upgrades, it doesn’t have central AC or heat
  • The next door neighbor is a hoarder and her front yard is . . . messy
  • While still close to where we work, it does add about ten minutes to our drive
  • It is at the high end of our price range and costs double what our current place does
  • We will need to actually move all of our furniture and belongings into it ourselves

Overall, I do think it’s plain that it’s an upgrade and a good choice, for us. I’m looking forward to starting to pack and to donating things that I don’t really need anymore. I know, for instance, that I have a lot of craft stuff that won’t be coming with me. Also, some school books and supplies, a bunch of cookware, some clothes and bedding, and god only knows what else that’s at the back of the closet.

Now, in order to help make up some of the moving costs and the difference in rent, I’ll be going back to working part time at the call center in addition to working at the hospital. It’s not something that I must do, but it will definitely help and lets us continue to save money back. In fact, I actually need to leave this post here, because I’ll be putting in two and a half hours at the call center this morning/afternoon.

More to come regarding our adventure in moving, later!

Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 3

I am inclined to believe that modern culture – at least in America – pressures individuals to seek fulfillment in all aspects of their lives. The concepts of sacrificing a career for a family, or friends for family, or personal time for friends are seen as ridiculous. Why sacrifice anything? Why not reach for it all?

The average American in their mid-twenties earns about $40,000 a year, lives with a significant other in a rented home in the suburbs, has some college education, and is likely to have had at least one child.

As far as I compare, I’d say I’m pretty average.

I do make about $40,000 a year – now that I’m working at the hospital. I live with my significant other in an apartment . . . but it’s in an urban setting, instead of the suburbs. I did graduate with my AS in nursing and am working towards starting school for my MSN in nursing education. I don’t have a child, but I do have baby fever occasionally.

Incidentally, I’m also one of about 4 million adults in America who suffer from anxiety. Hence, this post . . . the third in my Conquering Fear/Anxiety series. The first two are here (Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 1, Conquering Fear/Anxiety – pt. 2), for convenience, but reading them isn’t necessary for this one. I am, essentially, reading through a book titled the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Fear and Anxiety. As I read it, I’m making notes and hoping to come to better terms with my own fear and anxiety, even if I don’t conquer it completely.

I started this post off the way I did, because something in the book struck me as being particularly true in modern American society. That is, the battle cry of, “Self-reliance! Independence!” I noted that I think most people of my generation are inclined towards wanting it all in terms of a career and family and personal fulfillment, but I also think it’s important to note that I think a lot of us feel the need to do so on our own feet. Asking for help is difficult and actually getting the help can seem impossible.

That said, it doesn’t surprise me that so many adults in America suffer from anxiety – or depression, or another type of mental illness. While my own anxiety issues are probably traceable all the way back to my early childhood, I can’t negate the fact that my day to day life also plays a role. Also, as much as I’d like to believe that I’ll find a magic cure within the pages of this book, I can’t say that I do actually believe that.

Even so, the second section of the book does go through a few different calming techniques and compares different types of therapy. The calming techniques are generic and I can’t help, but think of them as the “bargain bin” fixes to anxiety – sure, they look like a good deal, but the odds of them breaking five minutes after you get them home seem high. These techniques are also – the book notes – best for in the moment mild-to-moderate anxiety issues.

Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, meditation . . . they are the triad of quick fix solutions to anxiety. I don’t know anyone who suffers from anxiety or panic attacks who hasn’t, at some point, had someone tell them they should try closing their eyes and counting to ten. Personally, I feel that both progressive relaxation and meditation are too much like work to be truly practical when I’m in the midst of anxiety. I can see the benefits of using them as preventative measures, but I tend to enjoy relaxing in other ways, when I have that sort of time that either of the above require (at least 20 minutes).

For me, breathing exercises are the best of the three. I can do them anywhere and they take no more time than I would ordinarily spend breathing. I find that inhaling for a count of three and exhaling for a count of six is usually sufficient to stymie mild anxiety. Sometimes it will refocus me during moderate attacks, or even severe attacks.

Now, the book covers explanations of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, humanistic therapy, systematic desensitization, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Honestly, each of these could be a post in and of itself, but that’s not what I’m about to do. Instead, I am only going to note that both systematic desensitization and cognitive behavioral therapy are the two I find most appealing from my standpoint.

Another thing to note is that the book also discusses different anti-anxiety medications. One line, in particular, struck me as interesting though. It reads, “If you suffer from anxiety, one of your toughest decisions is to swallow the pill or to go drug free.” I don’t personally find this question difficult. I have tried taking anti-anxiety medications in the past and did not like doing so. The act of taking the medications makes me feel more anxious – side effects, judgements, trying to figure out if it’s working. Not for me.

In the final part of this section, the book mentions the relation of diet and exercise to anxiety disorders. Stress reduces your body’s ability to digest food due to the nature of the flight or fight response. Hence, some people with anxiety experience IBS. Additionally, food allergies and sensitivities can lead to increased anxiety. Exercise, on the other hand, can reduce anxiety. Cardio, in particular, is recommend by the book.

Truthfully, I can think of several things that I could incorporate to reduce my daily anxiety levels – healthier eating, more exercise, using the counseling session that are available to my via working at the hospital, maybe even trying a medication. I will, perhaps, find that something as simple as making time to do some yoga really makes a difference. I may also let myself take more time to do things I enjoy – like gaming and reading. Again, I don’t think there will be a quick fix.

Which is maybe okay. In today’s society, I think we’re inclined towards quick fixes, even if they’re temporary, but that doesn’t mean everything will line up with that all the time.

I’m going to end this post here. I am also going to aim for my next post to be unrelated to this “series,” because there are also other things happening in my life and it’s good to mix things up a bit, I think. So, until next time!