Friday, October 27, 2017

This is your brain on...(Part 2)

The digital distraction edition.

You guys know my new thing is binge-listening to podcasts and in late summer I was on "Note to Self" with Manoush Zomorodi. I was intrigued by the concept of "Bored and Brilliant"---of needing some distraction free time to let your mind roam in order to facilitate creative thinking. I realized, somewhat ironically, that I had lost a lot of that much-needed empty brain space to...podcasts.

I always used my walking commute to think things over, process, brainstorm, problem-solve, and write blog posts in my mind. It also served as a nice transition between the dueling demands of work and family life. While having soothing voices imparting wisdom or humor into my ears is pleasant, it also ends up with me feeling unprepared to take on the tasks that await at the other end of the commute. I resented having to turn off the podcast to see a patient or pick up the kids and interact with them (they are real pills in the evening, in my defense).

So I decided to reinstate quiet into my commute and the blank space is back! Plus I get to save up the podcasts to add some joy to the truly uninspiring moments of life, like laundry-folding and kitchen-cleaning.

Of course there is more to discuss here, because like many, I struggle with the role of technology in my life and specifically the negative effects of constant pull of social media and other online distractions on my productivity and mindset.

I'll admit this here---I'm back on facebook (I put the app back on my phone when they d/c the Groups app in September) and I'm OK with it. I thought about it seriously (on one of my "boring" commutes) and realize that there are definitely more positives than negatives at this point. I  only check briefly 1-2X a day to make sure I haven't missed anyone giving away a Sodastream on BuyNothing (this has happened twice this month), to note/share any school/PTA related posts, and to keep up with book club and other neighborhood events. I've removed myself from any non-local super-large groups that  allow/encourage endless scrolling and toxicity.

I rarely check other social media accounts---I have to remember to check WhatsApp and realized my cousin had a baby 3 weeks ago when my mom told me (we have a huge extended family/international group chat going) and I joined instagram so L could browse Lego updates while on the bus.

I have whittled my blog reader feed down considerably. I follow people I feel personally invested in (i.e. all of you!). I usually do my blog-reading on my phone while I have my morning coffee (its so exciting to see bunches of new posts like today!) so I don't comment as much as I'd like, but I am definitely reading and feeling everything you guys post.

I do have one guilty blog pleasure that I am trying to eliminate--shopping-enabling fashion blogs. I just get filled with longing & wanting and I honestly don't need any more clothes right now so I took those out of my reader and am trying not to even check in (I am so tempted because one of the bloggers I followed lives in my neighborhood and always posts cool local stuff that I am not hip enough to have been aware of on my own).

Funny that the one thing that was a supposedly better alternatives has turned out to have a downside for me---reading books on my phone. I have books on the overdrive and kindle app and I definitely end up reading more if I pick up my phone in spare minutes and get little chunks read. The problem is that when its a really good book, I resent the interruptions from my family, which lead to an annoyed and impatient mindset, waiting for the next minute no one freaking needs anything and I can get back to my book god dammit!  I'm calmer if I just give myself over to family time and use a larger block of uninterrupted time to do my reading.

And last but not least...the games. Basically if I have a game I'm playing I'm apt to want to play constantly so I don't play at all in daily life, but will sometimes intentionally decide to play unlimited amounts of a game when I'm traveling. When I find myself WANTING to play, its a tell that I'm anxious. I was really intrigued by the Note to Self episode with Jane McGonagell about purposefully USING games, in pre-prescribed doses, for stress reduction or mood boost. I've been trying that this week. I'm about to give up on my current book, and we don't have a show to watch, so I've been playing a game for 15-20 minutes before I go to bed to unwind. So far its working, but if I feel pulled to play at other times, I'm going to delete it.

I think I've found a good balance for now. This is obviously something that I'm going to regularly revisit with evolving technology and changing demands on my life. The next challenge is finding time to blog regularly, I really have so much to say, but when I have the time & energy I feel compelled to use if for getting caught up on so many other things.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Behind behind behind

After a whole weekend at home just the 4 of us, I definitely feel more on top of things on the homefront, but still feeling woefully behind at work. Not sure exactly why, but I've been fuzzy headed and tired, having trouble concentrating, so everything feels like a slog. Also, as usual, new things keep coming up that take precedence over my plans and I just don't know when I'm going to catch up. I am on consults this week, have three days of clinic next week, and so on.

Anyways, you guys don't want to see my to-do list, so I'll update you on some other things.

L is having a surprisingly rough transition to kindergarten. He misses his old pre-K teacher & friends, and the long day with no rest is getting to him. We've had meltdowns in the morning for a while and several evenings where he basically just screamed from the time we picked him up from aftercare, until he fell into bed, a writhing, snotty, tearful mess.  No, he's not an infant. He turned SIX this month. He just has trouble articulating his big big feelings. And while I do get it, I really truly do, I am also not a fan of being abused by a tiny tyrant. He enjoys taking his emotions out on me, hitting/spitting/calling me names. Things seem to be settling down and I am grateful.

No one is traveling anywhere until we all go away for winter break. Activities are winding down, by November we'll just have the afterschool karate. Just in time for me to really push into grant writing. I need to have EITHER work or home be chaotic. I can't deal with both. Maybe you can, but I need my margins somewhere.

Speaking of margins, I have been experimenting with more ways to create blank space and time for thinking/processing. Its working. And its helping my time at home immensely to be more engaged and present. (blah blah buzz words, I know, but seriously! Its true!) More on that later. I need to actually eat my lunch during the break from rounds.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Process

I was having a text exchange with a friend yesterday about how I tend to write more "negative" posts here because it helps me process my thoughts. Its very much a version of therapy for me. Having the space to not only express my issues, but the additional necessity of articulating them in a way that is understandable to another person, often helps me see my problems more clearly and often identify my own solutions.

In fact, this post began as a "woe is me" litany of all the things making me frantic and overwhelmed right now. Its been feeling like an unusually busy month and I keep waiting for things to calm down.
Then I realized I'd written a similar post this summer. And probably another one a few months before that. In other words, the "extra" in my life may actually be my new normal.  I can continue to feel overwhelmed and frantic and count down until I can reclaim my precious margins in my life, or I could work to find some moments of peace amidst the craziness.

One of the worst things I've noticed in the past few weeks is the distance I've been feeling in my marriage. We've both been traveling a few times, and have had to divide and conquer a lot of household projects and kid management, and then I head to bed early and exhausted. We haven't had time to talk or even watch a TV show together in weeks. And since we are both feeling stressed and overwhelmed and not quite clear what all the other person has on their plate, we can't really help, and we find ourselves getting easily annoyed and snippy.

I realize it would have been a good idea to realize this ahead of time and book some date nights into our month. I have a tendency to put that off when we are too busy but in actuality, that is when we need it most. Thankfully we have greatly expanded our arsenal of sitters this month, as we've had "needing to be in two places at one time when only one parent is in town" happen a few times and we've got a few excellent kid-approved neighborhood sitters on the ready.

We also have had some drop-the-ball moments, like the day neither of us made it home early enough for our old dog's poor bladder's liking.  We discussed that I would get the kids and whoever "got home first" would take out the dog...which was unwise, as we both got home the exact same time which was clearly too late. With the different evening activities, we need to sit down, calendar in hand, EVERY week and clarify who is doing what, and book dog-walkers as needed.

That same night, I found myself resentfully eating bowls of chips for dinner because we didn't actually have enough leftovers for all of us and I wasn't about to cook at 8:30 pm when the kitchen had already been cleaned (I'm not knocking chips for dinner as a valid option, I just was in the mood for the hot meal I thought I'd be having, thus the "resentfully"). We were completely out of the TJ's frozen meals because we've been resorting to those options a lot lately. We just need to keep them permanently on our shopping list and buy extra so there is always a yummy, no-cook option.

My parents are in town, and I have to head home to walk the dog and bake cupcakes for L's birthday party tomorrow so I better finish up work. I will be back next week, still have a lot to say, positive and negative and in between.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

This is your brain on... (Part 1)

"To alcohol...the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems"--Homer Simpson

G and I realized our drinking had really ramped up over the summer, what with vacation and rosé and not having our kids in the house. It had gotten to a point that was making me uncomfortable, as I found myself thinking "ooh, a drink would make this more fun!" about pretty much every experience, from play dates to movies to board games with the kids. I've definitely successfully cut back before, but I often felt deprived, and I realized to my shock that I hadn't gone longer than a week of call without drinking since my last pregnancy six years ago.

I was idly googling "cut back drinking", as you do, and came across a slew of blogposts singing the praises of "The Naked Mind", by Annie Grace, which is a short book (that I somehow got a link to a free copy) about changing your thought processing around drinking so that you can quit/cut-back without feeling deprived. In brief, she talks about the neurologic changes that occur with habitual drinking, and the dopamine surges that alter your hedonic setpoint so that things really aren't as fun for you without a drink. She also lays out how alcohol actually worsens anxiety and depression and that you don't really relax/sleep well/become more social under the influence, despite popular opinion. It was eye-opening and encouraging. When she started a 30-day-alcohol-free Experiment, we decided to try it for the month of September (I actually signed up for the on-line program, G just said he wouldn't drink).

The underlying mantra of the program is to use this time to see how your life may (or may not, who knows, its an experiment!) be better without alcohol. She is a classic Questioner (like me!) so obviously this approach spoke to me much more than any kind of "challenge" or "streak" or "accountability" would. Every day there was a blog post and a video that centered around, basically, do-it-yourself cognitive behavioral therapy. Teaching your brain different ways to respond to cravings, to find new go-to ways to respond to stress/boredom, to convince yourself into a self-fulfilling prophecy that you will have fun at the party drinking seltzer instead of wine.

We both succeeded (well, I made it 28 days, with a planned ending before my weekend at the retreat, and G did take a 2 day break during his work trip) and it absolutely worked. We drank liters of seltzer, and on crazy Saturday nights we'd spike it with some juice! I made it through a family vacation, work trip with networking events, date night, book club, and countless evenings that I would've just reached for a glass of wine (or two, or three). I totally feel like I can moderate better going forward, and if not, I will abstain again, maybe for longer, because I know I can do it and I won't feel like I'm missing out.

The downside? I did not lose weight like I thought I would. Maybe it was because I took a 2-week hiatus from exercise thinking it would help my back. Most likely it was because I weirdly developed a sweet tooth for the month (that promptly disappeared last weekend after the Friday night wine social), craving the dopamine hit in the form of cookies and ice cream. So it made me wonder---am I just replacing one bad habit with another? Can I really train myself not to look for those mini-doses of "fun" and "excitement" in the form of unhealthy addictions? I think I finally understand the "food should be boring" thing from Katrina Ubell's podcast I mentioned earlier---its not that food should literally be bland and unsatisfying, but that if you do want to lost weight or change your relationship with food, you absolutely do need to find a non-caloric way to meet those needs.

Someday maybe I'll figure this out. For now I'll look forward to ending my day with 2 squares of dark chocolate, a 100-calorie Yasso yogurt bar, or a sensible serving of wine.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Finally Fall

Hello hello! I promised I'd be back and here I am! The crazy continues, this week includes L's 6th (OMG how???) birthday and treats we have to take into school, my parents flying in to help him celebrate, L's birthday party and the pinata/cupcakes/planning involved, and me traveling again for work (leaving Sunday night-Tuesday afternoon). And that's on top of, you know, work, the kids karate/soccer/running club/woodworking class/therapy, and the usual needing to be fed, read to, consoled and put back to bed for the 1000th time.

Honestly, our lives are usually quite full of blank space, but everything just sort of coalesced into a clusterf&ck of crazy, as it does, and we will have our usual boring routine back soon enough, so I'm trying to just go along for the ride.

I was away this weekend, but it was NOT for work, it was an amazing 2 nights away in the mountains for a "Women's Wellness Retreat" with my BFF and a bunch of women from my neighborhood book group. We drove up Friday and came back Sunday. In between we hiked, rode horses, rock climbed, did yoga & archery, zip-lined, and ate and drank and talked for hours. It was many women (some strangers) in one cabin several of whom found it appropriate to set early AM alarms and snooze them, and some of whom snored & coughed & sleep-talked, so I did NOT get much sleep and came home way more tired than I left. But happy. Very happy. I highly recommend doing something like this should you get the chance. It was super-empowering and rejuvenating. Just bring ear plugs.

G did amazing holding down the fort at home (i.e. keeping children & dog alive and fed), but there were ALL the weekend chores to be done when I got home at 3pm yesterday and I just wasn't up for it. So I am working from home today so that I can simultaneously change out laundry and can get dinner prepped before I go pick up B for his group therapy session.

Things I have to tell you about: recent self-improvement projects, the ongoing back pain saga, L and his kindergarten woes, recent books I've read, and much much more. But I just heard the cute little tune the washer plays when its done, so time to put the clothes in the dryer and work on the "final scientific/invention report" for my completed grant.