Strange, what being forced to slow down could do to a person.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song

Immediately upon returning from vacation in early August, our lives have been go, go, go. Mario had two week-long business trips in a row. I started plugging away at projects around the house in preparation for our meeting with a realtor. I took care of Kiddo, prepped for the upcoming school season, and tried to keep my rising situational anxiety under control.

Actively slowing down reduces the number of thoughts racing through my head at any given moment. Because anxiety came standard with my brain, letting stressors roll off my back does not come naturally. Over the years I have learned to control it, but it requires a lot of effort. Categorizing worries is essential. So are tried and true coping mechanisms. Here some strategies as of late:

Walk away: I consciously neglected to buy a parking pass for the college's commuter parking lot, which will save us nearly $100. I am taking one class, which only meets two days per week, and searching for a spot for a noon class is an exercise in futility anyway. Instead, I opted to park in a public lot 3-4 blocks away. The bonus? I have to be intentional with my time. No more pulling into the lot ten minutes before class starts only to circle for a spot like a hungry shark among dozens of other sharks. Or arriving at 8a for a noon class just so I can snag a place to park. I said NO to the parking anxiety that has plagued me (and countless other students) for the last 4 years. I am guaranteed a place to put my car and I get some exercise and fresh air. I hadn't contemplated these built-in bonuses when I dug in my heels and refused to give in to The Man. I've had three classes with this new arrangement and find that a few moments of movement and solitude can make all the difference.

It's the little things:  I am in the throes of trying to post-summer sleep train our family. In the past we gradually moved our bedtimes up and set alarms progressively earlier in preparation for a 6a wake up time. This year we failed royally and didn't get much of an adjustment period. Needless to say, Tuesday morning was a little rough for me. If we don't get used to it pronto, we will suffer for several weeks while we adapt. The problem? I'm not tired come 9 or 10. My brain and body want to stay up late and watch Law and Order. Alas.

The other night I proclaimed my bedtime restlessness to Mario. He asked if I'd like him to sing me to sleep. That man has the voice of an angel. I kid. ""Yesterday" by Boyz II Men!" was my immediate response. Where did that come from? He warbled crooned until he started forgetting lyrics. What started as a joke ended up being a half hour of watching music videos of our favorite 90s love songs on YouTube. Brian McNight, Jodeci, and more Boyz II Men. Fact: I'm quite certain I've listened to "End of the Road" over 500 times. I used to play it on repeat for hours as a preteen. I have a very diverse taste in music, but boy does this girl love Motown. But I digress. I'm not sure it got me to sleep any earlier, but I can't remember the last time we put everything aside and participated in an impulsive, stream-of-consciousness activity. It was awesome.

Lighten the load:  In preparation for staging our house, I began packing up the excess. Despite a big purge in January, I went through every closet and corner and eliminated more. A lot more. As my attitude changes about clutter, and we move toward living simply, I find that I can let increasing amounts of stuff go. I now judge an item's worth based on my willingness to pack it up and move it across the country. If the answer is no, or even meh, it goes. There have been a half dozen trips to the Salvation Army. An unfinished room in our basement is loaded with donations for the school yard sale fundraiser. Another batch of clothes are destined for local consignment shops. Even some of the things we want to hang on to, favorite books or family photos for example, have been tucked into boxes. Our living room bookshelf was bursting at the seams, and until we have a roomier living area, some literature can remain out of sight. We also donated several bags of books to Jared's class library. Although we are no longer putting our house on the market in the immediate future, I continue to stow and send away items that don't hold any significance in our lives. The added benefit? My mind seems a little less cluttered as well.

If it doesn't have to be done now, put it off:  In an attempt to commit myself to a date, I registered for the GRE. If you are not familiar, it's basically the SATs for college grads. It requires weeks of prep and the exam itself is 4.5 hours long. While I admire my commitment to getting it out of the way, it simply wasn't enough time. Nor was it the right time. There was too much going on to devote the mind space necessary to be successful. So I pushed it back until October 10... which is coincidentally my birthday (that should bring good luck, right?). This will allow me to establish a consistent, methodical plan to study for it. Sure, the $50 rescheduling fee stung a bit, but it's a lot cheaper than having to retake it because I was unprepared.

Plan ahead: Mornings are tough at our house. Because we have a 25 minute commute, and Kiddo is not a morning person, being unprepared or frenzied is the kiss of death for a good start to the day.  I bought all of Jared's lunch supplies early and really stocked up. Last night I made a big batch of our favorite enchiladas for dinner but divided it into 3 smaller pans. Two are in the freezer awaiting a night that is short on time. I have similar plans for several more meals. Kiddo has a weekly breakfast and lunch chart that he fills out every Sunday night. Eliminating momentary decisions makes all the difference. It takes more time on the front end to do these things, but being prepared takes a huge chunk of anxiety out of the daily equation. Another added benefit is that we haven't eaten dinner out on a weeknight, nor considered it, in quite some time.

Seek advice: I found a job that has potential. It will get me established at the local hospital (essential for getting other desired positions that are filled from within), will help with my grad school applications, and will add to our much-needed moving fund. The benefits of getting a new job far outweigh the negatives, yet I find myself staring at the ceiling at night wondering how I can possibly balance it all. How can I get them to hire and train me without the certification they prefer in an applicant? Will they let me leave for 2 hours in the middle of the day on Mondays and Wednesdays for the duration of the semester? There are so many questions swirling around. So I made an appointment with my favorite professor. She is a resume-boosting goddess and a wealth of knowledge. Instead of fretting endlessly, I simply needed to find someone who can help me navigate the nuances of asking for concessions when it comes to employment.

Work it out: Upon returning from vacation, I had intended to retake the Foundations course at my local CrossFit studio. The owner never got back to me and I kind of wrote it off. Then she did. I went back last week, but felt tense all day leading up to it. It was fine! So I have decided to return. The workouts are intense, and require a lot of focus, so I leave feeling like someone hit the reset button in my brain. I'm not going to lie: those 10-15 minute WODs suck. Big time. In fact, I'm usually pooped after the warm up. But man is it worth letting it out. All of it. The stress, worries, anxiety... they all seem much smaller after a good workout. Although I'm still trying to establish a set weekly routine, I like knowing I have thrice weekly CrossFit workouts to lean on. As a part of my (considerable) student fees, I also have access to the college gym which is a really nice facility. I keep a locker stocked with everything I need. No excuses. While I tend to shy away from exercise during times of stress (what am I saying... that's true all the time), eliminating potential excuses to get out of a sweat session gets my butt in the door. Once I'm in, I'm all in.

Read up: I have 3 books going right now. Two nonfiction, one fiction. I went from zero to sixty in five seconds flat with this reading thing. Although there is still one textbook in my life, I have time to read for pleasure again. I'm still plugging away at The Happiness Project, and a couple chapters into The Light Between Oceans, and last night I added in The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. With student loans coming out of grace in a few short months, and the desire to start over next summer with a clean slate (and to not get further in debt getting there), I decided we need to get serious with our money. We have sat down and budgeted on many occasions, but nothing sticks. Summer vacations, unexpected expenses, and well, life, get in the way of the best laid plans. I've always been attracted to a "Debt Snowball" system, but instead of winging it I decided to go to the source. Although I am thirty pages in and he's still trying to convince me to keep reading, I'm hopeful that I have stumbled upon a system that will work for us. I've read tons of reviews and recommendations, so my fingers are crossed. Either way, I am taking action instead of standing in one place worrying that nothing will change.

Admit that I'm lame: This is the final hurdle, and the hardest. I have to admit that I am schedule-driven. That I like stability and predictability despite having a rather restless soul. That's the primary reason we decided to move to Portland rather than leaving it up to chance. I like to know where I'm going, what I'm doing, and what the time frame is for all of it. I so badly want to be the cool chick that just goes with the flow. I pretended to be that girl for years and years. But it's not who I am. I don't like unknowns and I crave situational control. I can't always have it, obviously, but finding ways to make life more predictable is of the utmost importance. I've been fretting about the job thing for a while, but the fact is having set hours every day will be awesome. After school activities for Kiddo will be found. I will feel more settled. Impromptu weekend getaways are one thing, but a consistent lack of routine just doesn't work for me. It's about time I admitted that I am not the fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants girl I wish I was.

Long post, eh? There is more that must be done, but these are the biggies. What are some of your strategies when things feel a bit up in the air?

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