This is the New Year

WP_20181225_10_32_32_Pro

Simon at Christmas 2018

Welcome, 2019! Every year, for the past three years, I have wished for a quiet year. And every year for the past three years, I have had challenging times with multiple tragedies that were anything but quiet. So I’m not going to wish for anything this year. I know better.

My favorite New Year’s tune is done by Death Cab 4 Cutie. I’m just going to follow their lead on this new year (listen to the lyrics, people).

What I am looking forward to the most this year is that my 40th birthday will be coming up in March. We all know that birthdays are my favorite holiday. Every time I get one, it’s like a giant middle finger to the world that I was able to survive another year of whatever life threw at me. Plus, anytime I turn an age with a zero at the end means I get to move up an age group in running. But my birthday is still a few months away …

Something new I will be starting this week is minimalism Mondays. My house is quite larger than my apartment, so I am going to take my time in going through each room, closet and drawer to be sure all I have is what I really need.

Not to mention, there were some items that the sellers left with the house for me. Some of those items have been quite useful – I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the wheelbarrow, the front window curtains and the entryway doormat. Then, there are some items that are so old that they are no longer useful and belong in a museum. Other items are so rusted that I am afraid to use them because tetanus is one of only two vaccines that I cannot have with multiple food and drug allergies.

So, next week I will be starting minimalism Mondays and going through one area of the house per month. My goal at the end of this exercise is to have a house that is easier to clean. If the house is easier to clean, then I have more time to spend doing the things I really want to do. I do not want to be chained to this house.

The other advantage to creating a minimalist interior, is that I can then focus my attention on the outside of the house. The exterior of the home has been the most challenging part of home ownership for me to handle. I am fine with cleaning a house, but dealing with lawn care, grass mowing, and snow is too hard on a body.

In addition to minimalism Mondays, I’m hoping to get back on some sort of schedule in 2019 so that I can do the things I really want to do. I’m going to run a half marathon this year. It will be my second race post-stroke. I need to go camping. 2018 was the first time in over 20 years that I did not get a vacation and get to go camping.

So, yes, I guess you could say that I am hoping 2019 will be a quiet year. But, shhhhh – I don’t really want to say that. I don’t think I can handle tragedy four years in a row right now. The goal for 2019 will be to slow down so that I can actually enjoy life instead of just trying to survive.

I’m hoping to make some changes in life on the professional front too that will extradite me from the bullying situation I am experiencing. Getting out of that mess is going to take some time. There is a lot more involved when you have to handle something like that on your own because the powers that be refuse to address it. So I do anticipate change in 2019. I highly doubt I will get the quiet year I’ve been wanting for awhile.

Most of all, I am entering 2019 grateful. I am so thankful that will all the tragedies I have experienced in the past few years that I am surrounded by some pretty amazing people that have been helping me. I would not be able to get by without a lot of help from many people.

A key aspect of slowing down my life and minimizing what is inside of my house around me is to give me more time to show the people in my life that I am grateful. I don’t want to be spending my time maintaining a home that is twice the size of my apartment. I want to maintain my home and spend my time with the people that matter. I want to be able to give back to them as much as they have given me. I would not have made it this far without all the amazing people in my life.

So minimalism Mondays will be starting next week, as I start going through the first room on the list for the month of January. I’ll let you know my progress. I’m focusing on the large indoor areas this winter. As soon as spring/summer arrive, I have a whole list of outside things that need to be done. There is no rest for the wicked. But, that’s another song.

Happy New Year 2019.

 

Slow Down does not mean Stop

A few months ago, before the shit hit the fan both literally and figuratively, and my life turned into a Dickens tale, I remember sitting in church listening to that day’s sermon, and the phrase “slow down does not mean stop” stuck with me. I honestly don’t remember what the sermon was actually supposed to be about, but that one phrase stuck. I’m pretty sure it was sometime in mid-September that I heard it.

Since hearing that phrase in mid-September, I have successfully survived a bout of the flu that completely flattened me for a week, and took a total of almost three weeks to fully recover; I survived being rear-ended on my way to work by an impaired driver while I was sitting completely stopped at a red light; and I survived being in the hospital for a possible stroke, and all the cardiologist and other doctor visits that ensued trying to figure out why I was suddenly blacking out all the time. If bad luck comes in threes, then I have had my share for this year.

Slow down does not mean stop stuck with me because in addition to my recent challenges, I passed my one-year retirement anniversary. For the first time since I started kindergarten at age five, I have been out of school for an entire year from Nov 2015-Nov 2016. After spending twenty years of my life as a college student working multiple jobs, I have spent the past year working one job trying to slow down my life.

Slow down does not mean stop.

Whether a warning or a premonition, that phrase has come to apply to my life more than you can possibly imagine.

In some ways, my life has stopped.

No one talks to me now that I’m not in school. When I was in school, life was a flurry of activity, and with that came emails, text messages, and a slew of things on facebook. I deleted my facebook account almost nine months ago now, and I can still say it was the best thing I have ever done. I have no regrets on that one. What I would like to know is, where did all the people go now that I am not in school? I’m lucky if I get four text messages a month now.

I have no goals and no purpose. I have been mindlessly wafting. When I was in school, I was in constant action working toward a goal of finishing a degree and building a better life. I do not know what the definition of “a better life” is, but since I have been retired, I am simply working, reading, and hanging around home.

Probably the scariest, worst, and most significant way in which my life has stopped was that I stopped running. This is a problem on multiple levels.

Last spring, I was training for a full marathon and had to stop training when my work schedule became so overwhelming that I literally could only work and sleep. My work schedule was messing with my autoimmune disease, which means I was not sleeping, and was too tired to run. When I finally got my work schedule and sleep schedule around so I could run, I got the flu. Life has been a downward spiral. It quite literally took being in the hospital going through stroke protocol that gave me a very alarming wake up call.

I had a cardiologist years ago who had told me to try running to strengthen my heart and to overcome problems with a faulty valve I have. It worked. Fourteen marathon medals later, my echocardiogram is showing improvement in that compromised heart valve. However, the fact that I stopped running for five months, the longest amount of time in almost ten years that I have not ran, is a problem.

Stop running is what caused this “I almost had a stroke” mess.

Slowing down my life does not mean to stop doing what I love. Slowing down my life is supposed to give me more time to do more of what I love.

Instead, I have spent the past year in a dazed haze because I feel as though I no longer have an identity now that I am not in school.

Slow down does not mean stop. I learned that if I stop, it could kill me.

Since my hospital scare a few weeks ago, I have started walking every day (this came highly recommended by the cardiologist). I am working on getting myself back up to a point where I am running again on a regular basis. I do have a race picked out for September 2017, and plan on training for the 2017 season. These are all things that the cardiologist is excited about as well. Hopefully as I get to more running than walking, my “I’m going to pass out” symptoms will be gone.

I still don’t have a goal or a direction for my life. Honestly, I am very much lost now that I am no longer in school. What I do know is that while I want to slow down my life, I need to enjoy my life also. I haven’t been doing that. I just kind of slowed down and stopped.

Somehow I have to figure out how to keep myself going without school. That has been the hardest lesson to learn this past year. I am not doing very well with that.

We always say we want more time; we want more hours in a day. I believe that to be true. We will always want more time. It is easy for people who are on the outside looking in to say to someone “you need to slow down.” That may or may not be true. Only you know what’s best for you. Even if you do decide to slow down your life, be sure to remember: Slow down does not mean stop.

There Goes My To-Do List

IMG_8725

Oops. No more list. It’s all good. I can get everything done.

Back in the day when I was working 2-3 jobs 60-70 hours a week and going to school full-time pulling a 3.9 GPA, my to-do list was massive. I even had to schedule laundry, cooking, and cleaning. My life was so overscheduled that if I did not purposefully plan every single activity, it would not get done due to sheer lack of time. I was not living. I was surviving. I was working to pay the bills and trying to get through school to hopefully build a better life that I could enjoy at a much slower pace.

Last summer, as I was writing my thesis and finishing grad school, I had successfully minimized and downsized my life enough that my to-do list consisted of three items per day. I did this in order to prioritize my activities and to try to regain a sense of control over my time. It was quite effective. While the goal was three items per day, there were some days when my to-do list had five items, and others when it simply had one, but it was way better than what I had previously been facing.

My to-do list was so overscheduled that at one point I was a participant in a research study for Cornell on time management, and the researcher was so overwhelmed with my process that they even photographed my planner. Not only did I have a 5×7 size planner, but also it was color coded and notated with various tabs and small post-it notes with additional information that would simply not fit in the box. No one seemed to be able to understand how I was able to accomplish it all. Quite frankly, I have no idea either. Lately, my autoimmune disorder has been taking pretty much everything out of me, and I honestly cannot fathom how, just a few years ago, I was able to achieve everything in one day that I completed. Yet, somehow, I did.

I have been out of school for a few months now, and not only have I been able to better keep to my three items on the to-do list per day rule, but often, my to-do list has nothing on it. Nothing.

How does this happen?

Well, first of all, now that my life has significantly slowed from its breakneck pace, I no longer have to schedule, list, or plan for activities that need to be completed to sustain every day life. When the laundry basket fills, I wash clothes. When I run out of food, I cook more. I actually have time to do these necessities on a daily and as-needed basis without having to schedule every minute detail.

This means that my to-do list now only has occasional items on it such as doctor appointments, my book and writing clubs, and major home projects that need to be done as part of my KonMari plan. I have leisure time now that I never had before. Retired college student, indeed.

No longer having a to-do list is very freeing. It is freeing to the point where I actually feel lazy. I have been able to slow my life down to the point where not only am I able to effortlessly perform the duties required to maintain everyday life like laundry and cooking without having them scheduled, but I also have time to do pretty much whatever I want to do with my non-work hours. I have plenty of activities to fill my time, yet I do not feel overwhelmed in the slightest.

If you do not have the luxury as I do to throw your to-do list out the window, can you minimize it? Once we get past the point where we are scheduling survival activities on the to-do list, the list should only consist of those additional activities that are an addendum to everyday life, and not a necessity.

Another thing that has helped this process immensely is identifying my priorities. I have three priorities in life, and now that I have identified what they are, I am able to be sure that everything I do is aimed at achieving those goals. Everything in life that is not a priority, I have let go. Everything else is simply extraneous activity and background noise to what is truly important in life.

I still have a planner. My planner has gone from 5×7 size down to a more 3 ½ x 5 size. I no longer fill the boxes completely, and gone are the highlighting, tabbing, color coding, and additional post-it notes that I used to have. I use the square provided to me, and it is not full on any given day.

There is great freedom that comes when we have the privilege to be able to slow down our lives. When we have employment we enjoy that pays our bills and allows us time for recreation, we have time to do what we truly want to do without having to engage in the never-ending rat race that steals souls.

While my to-do list has gone out the window, I am in fact accomplishing more than I was completing before and I am so much happier doing it. Life is much more manageable when we slow down the pace to be able to focus on our priorities and goals to achieve that which is truly important.

If you do not have the luxury of sending your to-do list out the window, what can you prioritize to make it more manageable? How can you slow down today?

120 to zero

IMG_9715

Zero to 60 sounds so sexy when you think of a V8 engine with synchronized 6-speed shifting under the hood of some hot ‘vette with the top down on a sunny day. Every once in a while, we all feel the need for speed, however that may manifest. Sometimes it’s the feeling of pedaling superfast on your bike like you were a kid and letting go of the handle bars. Sometimes it’s trying to run super fast and get under a 6-minute mile. 0 to 60 takes on different meanings for everyone, but always results in excitement.

120 to zero does not elicit the same thrill. It is pretty much the equivalent of hitting a brick wall. No one wants to be a crash test dummy. Unless you are talking about the band, they are pretty cool. My personal favorite is Afternoons and Coffee spoons. I digress. When slowing down, the key is to slow down slowly, not to come to an abrupt halt. It is true in traffic as well as in life.

I feel as if I have gone from 120 to zero in the past month. My purpose in retiring from 20 years as a college student was to do so gradually so that I could adjust to the change without instigating any sort of crisis – midlife or otherwise. Slowing down slowly did not happen as I envisioned. Once I completed my master’s degree, my life came to a very abrupt halt.

The first few weeks were not too bad. It was similar to being on school break such as the winter break for the holidays or even summer. However, now reality has set in, and I am not really sure what to do with myself. The change in seasons is not helpful. At least in summer, I had the parks and the beaches. I took my schoolwork with me as a necessary evil, but I certainly had plenty to do between leisure reading, my surfboard, a Frisbee, and a few other beach toys. In winter, things are much more dismal.

With the exception of the past week, we have had snow on the ground pretty much every single morning since mid-October. We haven’t even hit New Year’s yet, and I am already going stir-crazy with cabin fever and frustrated with my lack of a game plan. Oh, sure, I now have plenty of time to get caught up on leisure reading and to binge watch certain shows I have checked out of the library on DVD. While I have plenty of things to do, I feel like my life is going nowhere fast. I have hit a brick wall.

This was not my purpose. My purpose was to slow down gradually, not come to an abrupt halt. All of my social interactions were school related, and my phone never rings or dings anymore. If I am not in school, it’s like I don’t exist and no one bothers to talk to me. Quite frankly, it’s probably just as well. A big part of the reason why I have not been online much is that I have nothing to say.

While 120 to zero was not my intent, it is my reality. Now I have to figure out how to pick up the pieces and move on. Abrupt halt to my social and intellectual life was not something I wanted.

People say I should get a hobby. I have plenty of hobbies. What I lack is something to give me meaning, and people with whom to interact. I am not sure how to fix those challenges.

Have you ever had an abrupt change? Even when you see something coming and feel you have planned so well, have you had something happen that completely sideswiped you in a way you could never anticipate? Zero to 60 is exiting. 120 to zero is hard. Hopefully I will find a way to turn this around into something more exciting. When one door closes, another one opens. Right?

Maybe not.