Reverse Engineering Your Life

Three cheers for utter devastation!

They say that the top five stressors in life are:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Moving
  • Major illness or injury
  • Job loss

Thanks to this freakin’ pandemic, along with life in general, many of us are experiencing several of these stressors at once. It can be devastating. It’s a fragile time, and an all-time low. Under the circumstances, you can’t be blamed for feeling like a starfish that has been washed up onto dry land.

If the hits just keep on coming for you, it’s important for you to understand that you’re quite likely in a state of mourning. You are grieving the life you once had that has been ripped out of your hands. It’s perfectly natural to be upset, depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and afraid, by turns, or all at once.

Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as though you’ve just come out of major surgery. Give yourself time to heal and breathe. Let yourself feel all the different emotions. There’s no shame in that. It will take time to regain your bearings.

But once your feet are back up under you and you have a renewed sense of the compass points of your life, dare I say it? You have a unique opportunity. Yeah, I know. Hard to believe. But hear me out.

Your life has been stripped down in such a way that you are practically reborn, and yet you’re no baby. You are a capable, imaginative, creative creature who has just been stripped of its shell and perhaps everything that you’ve held dear up to this point. You are naked and vulnerable in the world, but you still have your brain and your character and your life experience. No one can take that away from you.

That vulnerable state also means you have more options than you ever have had in your life. And options equal opportunity! Even though you might be feeling like you’re at the bottom of a blast crater, you can now rebuild your life any way you want. You are at the foundation. You can build something amazing out of that crater. The land has already been cleared for you.

Believe me, I speak from experience. In 2014, I had hit rock bottom. Someone I loved more than life itself died quite unexpectedly. I also had just gotten my third college degree and was realizing that, like the other two, it was completely worthless in terms of starting me on a career path. I had a job that I knew would not be able to sustain me financially moving forward, and I had been kicked out of my apartment and had no idea where to go. The few days I experienced homelessness was enough to make me understand how I didn’t want my life to be. I had nothing left but the ringing in my ears after the explosion that was my life.

But that’s when I had an epiphany. (Don’t you just love a good epiphany?)

If ever I was to have the life I wanted, I needed to start now. Rather than scrambling through life, desperately clutching at whatever handholds came my way to get me out of this pit, I needed to reverse engineer everything, and I mean everything, about the way I chose to live.

I needed to think deeply about what it is that I truly wanted out of life, and then position myself to achieve those goals. I thought about where I wanted to live. (A liberal place, definitely not Florida). I thought about what I wanted to do. (Be in a stable, healthy relationship and build a solid home base from which to travel. I thought about what that would look like in detail.)

Your goals might be very different from mine, but one of my major realizations was that my job should not be my life. My job should be what allows me to live my life. I didn’t want a job that made me so miserable that that feeling bled into my off hours. If I was miserable, how would I be attractive to a healthy and positive life partner? I wanted a job that sustained me financially, but I also wanted one that I didn’t have to bring home with me. I wanted time to explore and have adventures and read books and focus on the people I love. I wanted time to write. I wanted to be able to turn off my phone whenever desired, without consequences.

I needed to do several things. First of all, I had to stop settling for the crap jobs that continued to put me in the waiting room of life. Waiting for change and not being the change was getting me nowhere.

I also needed to break free of toxic people. If I wanted to have a good life, I needed to be surrounded by good people, and those people would never present themselves if they had to swim through a sea of poisonous drama to get to me. I needed to put myself in places where I was most likely to meet the kind of good people I want in my life. That process was an emotional spring cleaning of sorts, and it wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

But most of all, I had to take chances. I needed to have a clear vision of what I wanted, and I needed to say no to negative things and break old destructive habits, and say yes to opportunities. I needed to move. And now was my chance, because I basically had nothing and no one. While traveling through life without baggage can be scary, it can also be liberating.

If you’re at ground zero, down there amongst the smoke and rubble, there’s nowhere to go but up. This may seem counterintuitive, but I’m telling you to stay in that crater for a bit. Take some time to carefully plot out your course so that when you reach the rim of that crater, what you’re looking out at is exactly what you want to see.

I’m not saying that my path from 2014 was easy, but it was carefully plotted out. I now live in liberal Seattle, have a job I love that I don’t have to think about after the shift is over, I’m happily married, and life is good. For the first time in my life I feel as though I’m exactly where I need to be, and it took total effing devastation to get me there.

I never thought I’d say this, but three cheers for devastation, and a hearty thank you.

It can be done. Don’t just let life happen to you. Make it happen. There will be better days. But take some time to figure out what a better day would look like for you, and only then go there, step by step.

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Inadequate to the Task

I often worry that I’m not saying the right thing.

Sometimes I expose my soft underbelly in this blog. I do that because I hope it will help others, and also because it’s therapeutic for me. I often find I am willing to say things that others are not, so I’d like to think that, in some small way, I’m giving them a voice.

Because of this, over the years people have confided in me. Sometimes they leave raw, vulnerable public comments. Other times they contact me personally.

Either way, I’m very honored. I know it takes a lot to put yourself out there like that. I know that in many cases what you reveal has been festering inside for a long, long time. I am humbled by what people have shared with me because of this blog.

At the same time, though, I often feel inadequate to the task. I’m not a mental health professional. I don’t have that skill set. I often worry that I’m not saying the right thing, or not saying enough. Sometimes I wonder if I should say anything at all. What if I get it wrong and there are dire consequences? I take this very seriously, because you matter.

Through this blog, people feel that they know me, and I’m proud of that. In fact, I’ve made many friends through this forum. But in actual fact, I’m a stranger. A stranger who speaks, and a stranger who listens. But I’m still a stranger.

It means a great deal to me that you’re reading this. It means even more to me when you participate in the conversation. I hope you’ll keep it up.

But please understand that I’m still just a woman sitting alone at a laptop, exposing my underbelly, and when all is said and done, my underbelly is no better or worse than your own.

Soft Underbelly

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Chinese Robocalls Indignantly Revisited

It’s much worse than I previously thought.

Recently I wrote this post about my frustrations about not only getting robocalls on my phone, but getting them in Mandarin, a language I do not speak. Beyond irritating. After that post, though, a friend sent me this article from NPR that addresses these calls specifically.

Whereas I was irritated before, now I’m outraged. Nothing has changed for me personally. I’m still getting the stupid calls. I’m still blocking them. But now I know the heinous purpose behind those calls, and it has triggered my Capricornian desire to protect others from all things unjust in this world.

These Chinese scammers are not simply trying to sell me something. No. They’re hoping I’m a Chinese immigrant who is understandably nervous about the human rights violations that China is so well known for. These robocalls tell them that this call is from their embassy, and that they’re suspected of committing some crime or other, and that the way to resolve this issue is by sending money to this bank in Hong Kong.

It’s amazing that people still fall for this stuff in this day and age, but imagine what it must be like for these immigrants, who most likely still have family back in China. They don’t want trouble for anyone. According to this article, immigrants have paid out at least 2.5 million dollars since December.

That’s a highly lucrative scam, so rest assured, it’s not going to go away any time soon. It breaks my heart that so many people who have struggled to come to America are now losing their life savings in an effort to stay here. Con artists tend to prey on the most vulnerable among us.

I really don’t understand psychopaths. They are completely devoid of empathy, so do they have any problem at all looking in the mirror after devastating others? Nope. They’re just fine. It makes me sick. (If you are one of these people and you’re reading this, you are twisted and evil and I hope that karma rolls over you like a crosstown bus.)

All I can do is shake my head and do my best to spread the word. I hope you will, too. Meanwhile, here are some things you should do to avoid scammers in general.

  • If you don’t recognize a phone number, don’t answer your phone. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.

  • If you do answer the phone and hear an automated voice, hang up immediately. If a company or individual really needs to speak to you, they won’t use a recording. If they do, whatever they have to say isn’t that important.

  • Do not give out personal information over the phone, especially your bank account number, your credit card number, or your social security number.

  • I have just downloaded an app to my phone called YouMail. It’s free, unless you upgrade for even more awesome features. It blocks many robocalls, and will even make them think your number is out of service so they don’t sell it on to the next scammer. It also provides you with personalized voice mail, auto-reply when you’re out of town or unavailable, conference calling, and reverse phone lookup. All for free. That seems like a pretty good deal to me. If it turns out to not work, I’ll be sure and let you know right here.

I hope you’ll all take a moment to have a conversation about scammers with the more vulnerable among us: the less tech-savvy, the very old, the very young, or the easily manipulated. This evil must end.

Robocalls

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Even Weeds Belong Somewhere

My whole life, I’ve felt as though I didn’t quite fit in. So much so, that at some point I gave up trying. In fact, these days I seem to have gone to the other end of the bell curve entirely. I kind of delight in being out in left field most of the time.

Except when I’m feeling vulnerable. When I’m tired, I feel much more insecure. When I’m improperly dressed at a party, and have no idea which fork to use, I’m not going to lie–that kind of sucks.

But it isn’t anyone else telling me that I don’t fit in. It’s entirely me. And it’s based on some pretty arbitrary social rules. It always makes me think of weeds. I’m a weed.

During my young adult life, I lived in a town called Apopka, which called itself the “Indoor Foliage Capital of the World.” (I wonder if they still do? It’s been many decades since I’ve been back.) Back then, you couldn’t throw a rock in that town without shattering a greenhouse window. It made me look at plants in an entirely new way.

It amazed me how much people were willing to pay for stuff that you can find growing entirely wild somewhere or other. People do love the exotic, but even exotic things have to be commonplace in some location, or they wouldn’t exist.

So, a weed is simply something that doesn’t fit in. It’s not where it’s supposed to be. Worse case scenario, it’s invasive. But that’s not the weed’s fault. It never asked to be uprooted. There it was, minding its own business in its natural habitat, when some fool decided to send it half way across the world without considering the consequences. And then the name calling begins. (Damned weed. Get out of my yard! We don’t want you here!)

So it’s all about perspective and location. We all have our place. It’s just a matter of finding it. So maybe as you walk along the path of your life, try being a little less judge-y of the other living things that you encounter who are feeling out of place. They, too, have their journey. Just sayin’.

Weeds.jpg

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My Voice

I had a fascinating conversation with some old friends recently. I’ve known them for 10 years in the virtual world of Second Life. We hang out a couple times a week, but in all that time I’ve never heard their actual voices. All our communication is via text.

Am I alone in this? When I read something, I “hear” what I’m reading inside my head. I’ve always done that.

But the other day, for the first time, it occurred to me that when I read what these two friends type, I have different inner voices for each of them. Based on their personalities, my mind has created a kind and gentle voice for one, and a straightforward, practical, no-nonsense voice for the other. Fascinating.

So naturally, I asked what my “voice” sounds like to them. I was really surprised by the answer. They said it doesn’t sound like my blog.

That’s intriguing. I think of this blog as me on a screen. I’ve taken pride in laying myself bare and being honest and vulnerable here. But my friends say that in my blog I sound like a strong positive woman, and when I talk to them, I’m more fragile.

Hmm… Yeah, I can see that. Since I write my entries several days in advance, I have plenty of time for multiple revisions. That means by the time my posts reach you, I’ve edited out a lot of the craziness, impulsiveness, negativity, and basic hysteria. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) I think that makes the blog infinitely more readable, but perhaps it also makes it less “me”.

But when all is said and done, that’s the definition of true friendship, isn’t it? Someone who sees the unedited version of you, warts and all, and loves you anyway.

I’m a very lucky person.

voice

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Age Hath Its Privileges

Many years ago, I was standing with my niece and nephew in their Missouri kitchen. As we talked, I got the orange juice out of the refrigerator to pour myself a glass. Just then my brother-in-law walked in and snapped, “Who left the refrigerator door open???”

The tension level in that room was palpable. My niece and nephew fell nervously silent. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I did.” Then I finished pouring my juice and calmly put it back in the refrigerator and closed the door. He turned and left the room.

I thought, “What’s the matter, Buddy-roo, can’t you pick on someone your own size?”

I found this doubly amusing because this was a man who thought nothing of leaving the lights blazing continually throughout the house, and he was worked up about the energy consumption of an open refrigerator for the 5 seconds it took me to do my thing. But it was kind of sad that he “had to” let it drop because the perpetrator was full-grown me. If it had been one of the kids, he’d have probably caused a massive stink.

It seems you have the least amount of patience for the ones you love. Perhaps because deep down you know you can get away with bad behavior with them. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the opposite of the way it should be.

When you find yourself being harsh with someone, you might want to ask yourself if you would react the same way if that person were an 80 year old total stranger. If not, perhaps you should re-think your tone. If you are capable of reacting with more respect, you should do so.

Similarly, I’ve worked with people who are absolute bullies to their subordinates, but are obsequious to their superiors. That makes it even more shameful, in my opinion, because they clearly know how to be polite; they just choose not to be when they can get away with it. Given the choice, I prefer people who are equal opportunity offenders.

Bullies are a pet peeve of mine. If I see you taking advantage of someone who happens to be more vulnerable, I will take you down every time. This often puts me in awkward situations, but the buck has to stop somewhere. Why not here?

bully

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Gratitude

Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my ribcage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.

I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.

But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.

In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

nostalgia-sentimental-vivir-en-el-pasado
[Image credit: sonpareja.com]
 

Asking for Help

In mid-July I’m having outpatient surgery on my wrist. It’s fairly routine, but I’ll be home recovering for a week. This has me rattled. It’s my dominant hand, and I have no idea how truly incapacitated I will be.

Will I be able to open jars? Medicine bottles? I’ll open them in advance. Will I be able to cook? I’ll make casseroles that will be easy to heat up. Or maybe a big pot of spaghetti. And there’s always pizza delivery. I won’t wear anything with zippers. I’ll do all my shopping in advance.

Still, it’s scary to think of being even the least bit helpless when I have little or no support in this town. A coworker is actually driving me to the surgery. And my neighbors would come if I shouted out the bedroom window. They’re really nice. I have also made a few acquaintances.

I just hate to bother anybody. That would even be the case if I were back in Florida where I had plenty of friends around. I’m used to having to rely on myself.

And yet, if someone were to ask for my help, I’d give it without hesitating. Why don’t I think I deserve that same treatment? Why do I think that others would not be just as generous?

Maybe I need to be reminded that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to not have everything under control.

[Image credit: mindsetdaily.com]
[Image credit: mindsetdaily.com]

Learning to Fall

The other day at work I had Fall Prevention training. As a bridgetender, there will occasionally be moments where I’m called upon to work at a dangerous height, so this training is essential. The fact that I never received this type of instruction in my thirteen years as a bridgetender in Florida tells you everything you need to know about the difference in work culture here in Seattle. My current employer actually cares if I live or die. Yeah, yeah, part of that is due to litigation, I know, but I genuinely believe they value me much more than my former employer ever did. Heaven knows they pay me more.

The class was actually rather interesting. Not only did I learn how to properly inspect, wear and maintain my harness, but I learned some basic physics. To oversimplify things to an extreme degree, there’s no point in attaching your harness to a 60 foot rope if you’re standing on the edge of a 40 foot drop.

I also learned something rather fascinating. If you do fall and you’re dangling in a harness for more than a minute or two, expect to pass out cold when you are finally rescued. That harness is going to cut off the circulation to your legs, so your body will be taking all the oxygen out of the blood in the lower half of your body to survive. So when you finally stand up again, all that deoxygenated blood is going to rush to your head, and, basically, it’ll be lights out. You can count on it. They don’t show you that in the movies.

But of course, since I live in my head most of the time, I also learned a few philosophical truths along with everything else. Learning how to fall is important. If you do it right, you’ll survive. It’s okay, it’s even attractive, to be vulnerable, but it’s also critical to have contingency plans and put serious thought into everything that you do. Prevention is key, but plans are necessary, too.

It’s also about educated faith. Trust the equipment, but inspect it first. If you’re going to fall, make it a knowledgeable fall. If I had a coat of arms, I think that should be my motto.

scraping-the-sky-mission-impossible-ghost-protocol-_129913-fli_1362912699

[Image credit: mubi.com]

I’ve got a Crush on You, Sweetie Pie

Here’s an interesting thought: at least once in your life, someone has had a crush on you and you didn’t even know it. You know how I know? Because I’m quite sure that every single person who is reading this has had a crush on someone at least once in their lives and has kept quiet about it, so you do the math.

Ah, to bathe in the deliciously warm and silky waters of a crush is like nothing else you will ever experience. For a brief shining moment in your life, you get to indulge in the sweet fantasy of positive possibilities. You get to imagine your future as a thing of perfection in which every touch, every word, every experience will be pure bliss. Colors appear more vibrant, everything tastes better, and you seem to dance down the street, your feet never quite touching the dirty pavement. When the object of your affection comes into view… paradise. What’s that you hear? A choir of angels singing. “Ahhhhhhhhh…”

I’ve had more than a few crushes in my lifetime, and I hold each one close to my heart like a precious jewel. It’s also why I never go to reunions. I don’t want the balding man with the beer gut in the ill-fitting polyester suit to take the sparkle off my sapphire.

Crushes can run their course and fade away, or they can lead to a rude awakening when you discover him in the supply room with Becky Maplebottom. (I don’t want to talk about it.) They can lead to humiliating rejection, or they can turn into sweet agony and endure for decades. On the other hand, if they become obsessions and enter the realm of stalking, then you need to be in a rubber room.

The only sad thing about crushes is that when kept in the closet, they also represent potential that was never realized. Being vulnerable is scary, but if you don’t take a deep breath and speak up, for crying out loud, you’ll never know what you might be missing.

I’d like to think that for every contented couple out there, there was once a delightful crush that ended in a breathless mutual admission. And I’ll make that the happy ending to this story. Because I can.

I shall leave you now with the dulcet tones of Frank Sinatra. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtH02InlKP4 )