Old Habits Die Hard

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Simon in the window enjoying fresh air.

In times of stress, it is common to fall back on our coping skills. Some coping skills are positive and some coping skills are negative. As we age, we gradually replace negative coping skills with positive coping skills. When you know better, you do better.

Some coping skills are not necessarily negative, but there comes a point when a particular coping skill is no longer needed because you have overcome the problem. Either the life situation has changed so that you do not have that problem anymore to require a coping skill, or you have adapted to the situation in such a way that it is no longer a crisis which prompts coping skills.

This coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we have ever lived through before. It is prompting all types of coping skills in people, myself included. 

I keep trying to find something to equate to our current situation. After all, the beauty of coping skills is that if they work for one crisis, they will probably work for another.

I spoke earlier how the pandemic is worse than when I was in New York City on September 11. I stand by that statement. At least in 2001, one could leave the City and escape somewhere else where life was still relatively normal. In this pandemic, there is no escape. It is pervasive. It alters our daily routines, habits, and life. It even alters our homes, which is the place of sanctuary for many. Your home is like your lair where you can freely be yourself, and now your place of refuge is being invaded by “working from home.” 

In trying to somehow wrap my brain around this pandemic and what it is doing to life, the only situation with which I can equate the current situation is when I was homeless. Even that is not completely accurate. The only parallel between homelessness and the pandemic is the stress and the scarcity. Trying to figure out how to get food and basic supplies. Other than that, the comparison is an oversimplification. I have someplace safe to live with my family. The only challenge is how to get supplies safely.

Below I am going to outline three coping skills that have made a resurgence for me in the current crisis. I honestly never thought I would have use for these coping skills again. I thought I had finally gotten to a point in life where they are no longer needed. I thought wrong. 

Old Habit # 1 

Toilet paper. Oh, yes, you knew I was going there, didn’t you? Toilet paper is the story of my life. When I was growing up, I would have to make one roll of toilet paper last 4-6 weeks. Now, due to the coronavirus, I have decided I am going to do the same.

I am going to make a 12-pack of toilet paper last for an entire year. I am probably going to be doing this until I die. 

Buying one 12-pack of toilet paper each year saves money. By using less toilet paper, I can take the $5 or $10 I would have spent on toilet paper and use it instead to purchase food. Yes, our economy is that decimated. Food shortages are pervasive and real.

I am supplementing my one roll of toilet paper per month with cloth baby wipes. Some people may complain that this creates more laundry. They are small. I do not think it creates more laundry. Plus, now that I am wearing pajamas twice instead of once, there is “space” for the cloth baby wipes because I am going through less pajamas.

In fact, I am actually saving water by using cloth baby wipes for pee. I flush my toilet less. When I use paper toilet paper, I typically flush the toilet every 2-3 uses so that the toilet does not get clogged with the paper. Using cloth baby wipes, I only flush the toilet once or twice per day. There is no paper in it, unless there is # 2, which gets flushed immediately. 

Old habits die hard: I am only using one roll of toilet paper per month, similar to when I was growing up and would have to save the nickel change from food stamp purchases to be able to afford one roll.

Old Habit # 2

When I was in grad school, I would work Tuesdays through Saturdays instead of Monday through Friday like all of the other executives in my office. My grad classes were on Mondays, so this worked well for me. Weekends were Sundays and Mondays. I loved it. 

It was also nice having a weekday off, because if I need to schedule a doctor or some other appointment, I could do so without having to take off of work. The only challenge was that some places are not open on Mondays. For example, I remember I could never get my hair appointment on a Monday because the salon was closed on Mondays.

Trying to work from home during coronavirus has been a challenge due to little to no internet service. I type things into google docs so that I can copy and paste into an email when I do have internet service. I hope that I can get things in fast enough to be able to send the message before I lose service.

Also, being that I am in the high risk group, I am extremely apprehensive at returning to the office and being surrounded by my coworkers who have many many more exposures than me. I do not feel that is a safe situation. I can only control myself. I cannot control people around me.

I have asked to change my current work schedule from the Monday through Friday back to the Tuesday through Saturday format, and it is going great! I actually get decent internet service on Fridays and Saturdays so I am able to get more work done. This is in contrast to Mondays, where I spend all day waiting for one web page to load, and it may not even be the web page I need. 

Also, if I do have to go into the office, which I did this past weekend, I have the entire place to myself. I can get things done with minimal exposure. I have always worked well independently.

Tuesday – Saturday work reminds me of when I was in grad school. Summer 2015 was one of the best summers of my life, so there are good memories of this work schedule. I feel good.

Old Habit # 3

 Make do or go without. This was the mantra of the Great Depression and it is again the mantra of the Great Depression part 2. It was also what got me through the 4 months of hell when I found out my rent on my apartment doubled (with 2 weeks notice) and I was trying to buy the house.

I have spent so much money on trying to get food these past two months that I have completely blown my budget. It’s different when you have to have other people shop for you and then reimburse them. It’s also hard when you are trying to keep a week’s worth of extra food on hand in case people can’t get to you right away. I am dependent on when other people go to the store.

I do not want to ask people to go to the store for me because then they are putting themselves at risk for me. So I’ve been telling people to let me know when they are going to the store for themselves and I will just add to their list. 

Throw in multiple food allergies to that mix and the food shortages of food allergy specialty items … well, it’s been rough.

So my mantra is to make do or go without. I literally have no extra money to spend on anything. If you are expecting me to “stimulate” the economy, forget it. The only thing I am doing is paying my essential bills and food.

To this end, I have cut out all non-essentials. That includes hair cuts. Hair salons are still closed right now anyways, and even when they do reopen, I do not feel safe enough to go back. 

I am going to isolate and socially distance myself for a very long time until I am sure this is over. It could be years, and I am okay with that.

This means I will be cutting my own hair. 

Previously, “make do or go without” meant that I only had my hair cut twice a year. My hair was really long – down to my butt. What I learned was that only getting it cut twice a year saved me money but was horrible for my hair. My hair ended up so damaged that I ended up having to get it cut into a bob. 

Many people have said that I should grow out my pixie and that I can save money on haircuts by just letting it grow long again. The problem is, that is not healthy. Plus, long hair is a major pain. Now that I have had a pixie, I am not going back to long hair again.

I finally got a pair of clippers and buzzed it off. The clippers were $60. Since I usually pay $50 for a haircut, it will only take two hair cuts for the clippers to pay for themselves. If I do not go back to the salon and continue to do my hair myself, that is money saved I can use for food.

It is going to be a very long time, possibly even years before I will feel safe enough to go back to a salon, to be honest. Make do or go without. I am making do by cutting my own hair. I will go without the salon. 

Another way in which I am making do or going without is air conditioning. I still do not have enough money to get air conditioning for my house, even though it is medically necessary. Heat exacerbates my neuro symptoms. I have to go without, so I am making do.

We are supposed to get a heat wave later this week. I do not have money to buy any more black-out curtains for the windows, so I am going to go ghetto and tape towels and blankets over windows in addition to the curtains I do have. The more I can block the light, the cooler it will be in the house. Or, at least, I hope so. We will see how bad my neuro symptoms get. 

I am making do and going without air conditioning because I can’t afford it, no matter how medically necessary it may be.

What old habits do you have that have come back to help you cope with the pandemic?  

 

Depression Era Cooking

Cooking, baking specifically, is a positive coping skill for me. With 4 food allergies plus an autoimmune disorder all adult onset, both cooking and baking have become daily challenges.

I have, for the most part, mastered egg substitution. With an egg allergy, I have learned that I can substitute applesauce for up to three eggs. Recipes beyond three eggs require some creativity. The individual cups of applesauce commonly found in children’s lunch boxes are the perfect size to equate to one egg.

I have used this applesauce coping skill to adapt some recipes. I successfully make banana bread on a regular basis. I even found an allergy friendly recipe for pumpkin pie that, while a lot of work, completely made my thanksgiving last year.

Tonight, completely by happenstance, I came across a recipe for depression era chocolate cake. I don’t even remember exactly what I typed into google, except that it involved something concerning the link between egg allergies and gluten autoimmune disorders.

Whatever I typed, I was fortunate enough to come across the depression era chocolate cake recipe. In the 1930s, eggs, milk, and butter were limited and expensive commodities in the United States. If Americans wanted baked goods and treats, then they had to get creative. Ingenuity is a hallmark of American civilization, indeed.

While invented for the purposes of economy, depression era chocolate cake is actually vegan, and perfect for someone trying to navigate the minefield that constitutes the modern problem of navigating the world with multiple food allergies.

It is quick, it is easy, and it completely fills the void left by being unable to bake comfort foods due to multiple allergens. Prior to food allergies, I used to enjoy making brownies and other baked goods to take to the fire station, for example, for some of my friends who work there. Since food allergies, I have had to make my entire environment allergen free due to the severity of my reactions.

Last night, not only did I have all of the ingredients readily on hand, but baking depression era chocolate cake was the perfect answer to the “I’m sick of eating the same allergy friendly food all the time” dilemma.

I have a new recipe to add to my arsenal, and now feel that I have something to contribute when it comes to potlucks and dishes to pass that is not completely obscure to those who don’t have to worry about food allergies.

I’m starting to wonder what other depression era recipes may be out there that would help with navigating the very frustrating world of multiple allergens.

For now, I have baked my cake and am going to eat it too. Lets hope that my search for more depression era recipes that are allergy friendly proves fruitful.

Depression era chocolate “wacky” cake recipe found in multiple locations, so it should be considered common knowledge without having to be cited:

1 1/2 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used the vegan one)

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

 1 tablespoon vinegar

1 cup water

preheat oven to 350. Bake for 30 minutes. I would recommend 35-40 if you use a loaf pan as I did for thicker texture.

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Strong Currents

Today was the first day this season that we have not had an epic storm on my day off, so I was determined to take my wetsuit north to walk the board. It is only 45 degrees out today (in the middle of June!), so anyone who dares to surf in this has got to be pretty diehard.

However, emergency alerts came through saying that the Coast Guard has declared no boating, swimming, or other water recreation in this weather due to high winds, strong currents, and unpredictable undertow.

Now, pretty much any surfer will tell you that riding the waves coming in on a storm is pretty epic. However, I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. If the Coast Guard says no water sports, then I’m not about to become another casualty of bizarre weather conditions.

So, I’m spending my day off at home, yet again, realizing that there are some pretty strong currents in life itself that manifest in other ways.

Strong currents are usually indicative of danger. Stay out of the water so you don’t drown or crash. Yet, there are some experiences that run strong currents in our lives, and instead of being threatening, actually serve to anchor us in times of need.

It could be a familiar routine from childhood that makes us feel safe. Notice patterns in ways we react in times of stress. What calms and soothes you? Have you gotten into the adult coloring craze? Do you reach for the remote for some mindless TV or head to the movies? Some of these activities may be strong undercurrents in our lives that help us to cope when life is hard and overwhelming.

For me, one of my strong currents is running. I am now in week 2 of my training for medal # 15. While it is challenging to get back in the groove of training, it brings some much needed consistency and structure to my life. Running is something on which I depend no matter how I am feeling in life – happy, sad, tired, excited. Running has been the backdrop to both some of my best and some of my worst moments in life.

I’ve said that every major decision I’ve made in life has been made while running. This is mostly true. I’ve had some creative and powerful ideas while running that have helped me to navigate many obstacles in my life.

While some currents in life are generally positive, like running, we are bound to have some strong currents that are not-so-positive as well. These are negative coping skills in which we engage and continue to cling to, even though we know they may be bad for us.

Be crazy, but not stupid. It’s better to go with the strong currents than to get dragged into the undertow. Be sure the coping skills you are using are going to actually get you through adversity from point A to point B without pulling you under and making you drown.

What strong currents are carrying you along? Is the current pushing you forward, or are you being dragged down by the undertow?

Bottom of the Seventh

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Above photo: watching the 2013 World Series with Kitty

For some baseball fields, it’s the 7th inning stretch. At my baseball field, the bottom of the 7th is when we actively rally behind the team to turn it around if it is a game in which we are behind. As a lifetime fan of perhaps one of the most controversial teams in baseball, I can tell you that the bottom of the 7th has taught me a lot about patience, perseverance, faith, and how to stand strong in the face of adversity.

The past few weeks have been extremely challenging for me. In addition to my autoimmune disorder, my work schedule has quite literally blown up in my face in epic proportions, and we have also learned this week that the most important person in my life has cancer. This is one of those moments in which it is the bottom of the 7th in my life.

When it is the bottom of the 7th, you know the end is near. You know the outcome will probably not be good, but if by chance, it is good, then not only will it be good, but also it will be great. When you are trailing at the bottom of the 7th, you are either going to fizzle out like a dud or pull something off with a bigger bang than the inception of the universe. Either way, it’s time to rally. No team just walks off the field at the bottom of the 7th just because they are trailing. No sir. There is still time to write your own ending.

The bottom of the 7th has taught me to have faith in what may come. Just at that moment when you think all is lost, all of a sudden, there will be bases loaded and someone hits a homer to bring everyone in. Just because the game has been lackluster to this point does not mean that it’s not about to turn around. You prepare yourself for the worst, yet hope for the best.

One of my favorite quotes is from Satchel Paige: “Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don’t move.” At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Knowing that you have done your very best is all you can do sometimes. When you are at the bottom of the 7th and under pressure, this is the time to be sure that you are using all of your coping skills and doing adequate self-care to face all the challenges ahead.

I’m not sure how I am going to react when I lose the one who has been the only constant in my life for almost 18 years. I am preparing for the worst. I’ve been through some major crap in life, but I already know that when this death occurs, it is going to be the lowest and worst point of my entire life. I am at the bottom of the 7th; I already know how the game is going to end. It’s time to just start throwing strikes because home plate don’t move.

I am very fortunate in that at least I know I am in the bottom of the 7th. It’s not like some Mario game, where all of a sudden, the guy goes belly-up and falls off the screen, and it says, “Game over.” I know what is coming so I have time to prepare. This is not the first time I have watched someone I love die from cancer, and I am sure it will not be the last. However, this is the one who has been with me the longest in life, even longer than either of my parents, and I feel like my heart is being ripped out of my body.

There have been many times in my life that I have been at the bottom of the 7th, and I have been able to rally every time. This is the only time I have ever been at the bottom of the 7th and I honestly don’t know how I am going to be when I come out the other side. I just know I have to be strong while this person is alive to take care of them. It’s not about me. It’s about the ones we love and spending time together and being able to show love. It’s about being able to enjoy the time we have left because life is so short.

I am very fortunate in that I am finally done with school after spending 20 years in college so that I finally have leisure time to be able to attend to what’s important. Spending time with those I love is the most important thing in life, and when I was in school, every single relationship in my life suffered.

I am thankful that for the first time in my life, I only have one job. This month marks the one year anniversary of my only having one job instead of two or three. It is so amazing to only have to work one job 40 hours a week instead of running around everywhere working 60-70 hours a week. I’m not sure if I’m getting old, or just plain tired after 20 years of working multiple jobs, but it feels so good to only have one job.

Being done with school and only having one job are things I try to be thankful for as I face the most challenging bottom of the 7th inning in my entire life. If I am about to experience the worst thing ever, than at least I am coming at it from a foundation of being at the best place in my life.

The bottom of the 7th reminds us to look forward and re-evaluate priorities. When the game is all done, you want to know that you gave it your all and did your very best. Are you giving your very best? How do you rally from the bottom of the 7th?

 

 

 

 

 

Life Lesson #493: Do Not Wine & Adele

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Above: Recent art project in process. It will be much shinier and prettier after it is fired in the kiln. You can see some of my Deadpool skin courtesy of my autoimmune disorder.

They say that no man is worth crying over, and the one who is won’t make you cry. This is true for both men and women. While I have heard this adage many times, it has literally taken me years to develop a sense of self worth adequate enough to truly embrace it. When we are emotionally distraught, we tend to engage in negative coping skills in an attempt to deal with the pain. Part of growing up is developing and maintaining positive coping skills to be able to deal with life’s challenges so that we can become resilient and bounce back to full functioning in shorter periods of time.

When we are emotionally distraught, we are more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed by even the slightest thing. The smallest addition to the pile could be the tipping point at which distraught tumbles into full-blown despair or meltdown. About 5 years or so ago, I could very easily tell you what my most negative coping skill was for dealing with stress. It was then I learned to not wine and Adele.

We all have negative coping skills, from smoking to drinking, to binge-watching Bridget Jones’ Diary on repeat while inhaling tubs of Ben & Jerry’s to taking out our emotions on the people closest to us whether they deserve it or not. For me, it was wine & Adele. I could drink wine and listen to anything else from the Grateful Dead to The Doors to Florence & The Machine, but if I put on Adele, well, then, “rolling in the deep,” indeed.

Over the past few years, I have been successful in replacing some of my most negative coping skills with more positive ones. The fact that I have been able to minimize and simplify my life these past few years has greatly helped in this transition process of shedding negative habits for more positive ones.

Simplifying my life, slowing down my schedule, and reducing the amount of clutter around me has empowered me to more competently face and process my emotions better without being overwhelmed by anything around me. I have the time and space to process all my emotions, both positive and negative, without having anything in my environment be a tipping point to a negative place. I have been able to develop positive coping skills for processing negative emotions so that I can more quickly and successfully come through the other end.

March was a particularly challenging month for some reason I have not been able to identify. In March, I used my positive coping skills a lot. I did quite a bit of painting, I have been more active in community events, and have had more meaningful conversations with those whom I interact.

I did not wine, but I did Adele. With my autoimmune disorder, my wine consumption has gone from about 4-5 bottles per year to maybe 4-6 glasses per year, so wine is no longer a coping skill. I did, however, pop in the new Adele CD and have a nice, tear-free soak in the bathtub.

Sometimes when we are distraught, identifying our positive coping skills can by extremely difficult, even if it seems that they should be evident. For those moments when life is overwhelming, I have made a list of positive coping skills that I can look at to remind myself that there are ways other than smoking (I quit like 9 years ago), wine & Adele, or endless tears to be able to cope with stress and pain.

Some of my positive coping skills include:

  • Running
  • Painting
  • Baseball
  • Hockey
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Church

It is especially important to try to identify coping skills that are not dependent on other people, in case those people are not available, or maybe we just don’t have people in our lives on whom we can rely. Unfortunately, that is the situation in which I live. There is not a single person in my life that I could pick up the phone and call when I am having a hard time. I have tried it before and the usual response is “I’m busy.” I don’t even bother reaching out for human contact anymore. People know where I am. If they want to talk to me, they can reach out to me.

One of the reasons why learning to not wine & Adele is so significant is that wine & Adele was trapping me in a cycle of negativity. I was not processing my emotions and moving on from them; I was dwelling in them. Pickling myself in negative feelings is not what I have in mind for my life. In the process of slowing down, I now have the luxury of being able to unpack and address each emotion and move on from the situation that much stronger for having addressed the initial cause of despair.

Diversifying our coping skills is important in case our “go-to” is unavailable. For example, when I was injured last fall after my marathon, I had to rely on my other coping skills to deal with my running injury, because it was definitely not something I could just “run through.” If I ran with that injury, I would have done permanent damage that would have inhibited my running for the foreseeable future.

Do you have your own version of wine & Adele? What positive coping skills can you use to replace the negative ones? How can we be kind to ourselves and best allow ourselves the time and space to process our emotions in healthy ways? When we slow down our lives, we then have the opportunity to deal with our emotions instead of just dwelling in them. We are here to live, not to dwell.