Thursday, May 31, 2012

Root Cause

I can't keep kidding myself that I'm merely "in a funk" - my give-a-damn is full on broken and for the life of me I couldn't figure out exactly why.  Until yesterday.

Root cause is a buzz word I've heard thrown around the I.T. industry for at least a handful of years - coined by someone who I'm sure copyrighted it and is making tons of money just by my referring to it here in some way.  Basically it means that every problem can be traced back to the very beginning of any chain reaction where you can find the very first thing that happened to set things in motion.  Once you understand the root cause of an issue, you then know how to fix it at the most basic level.  See, fancy name for a pretty simple concept.

I don't hide that I am a problem-solver with OCD tendencies in every aspect of my life.  Remember, I'm the one who has a spreadsheet to plan Thanksgiving dinner to the Nth degree of minutia.  (Although in my defense my sister's spreadsheet is even bigger and better than mine...)  So it might surprise you that it took me several months to even put my finger on the fact that I had an issue that needed to be solved.

So what, you ask, is my problem?  I am losing my mind.

There.  I said it.

Here's a few items of proof illustrating just how bad it is:
  • I say things that come out of my mouth followed by me immediately wondering where the hell the comment came from.
  • I am short (and sometimes borderline mean) to my kids.  I've become the mom who yells - and swears - all the time.
  • I have zero patience with Hubby.  Well, everyone, really.
  • I'm a totally raging bitch basically every day.  And I don't mean bitch in a positive way this time, either.
  • I have zero ambition or drive to push myself in anything - whether it's writing or running or just getting the dishes done at night.
  • I have constant cravings to eat junk food and find myself standing in front of the pantry without memory of how I got there.  (Luckily I've had enough will power to not buy junk so there's nothing I actually find...)
  • And inside my head where it's just me, I don't fundamentally feel like me anymore.

It has all been building slowly over the last couple of months.  The fact that it did sneak up on me slowly probably explains why I didn't notice it.  This past weekend it came to a head - filled with crazy and ready to burst.  Like the big zit on the neck of the kid sitting in front of you in 9th grade English.  So big you could see it stretching beyond the containment limits so far you were worried it would burst and spurt right at you while you watched and wondered why the kid couldn't see it himself to take care of the thing.  It was that kind of coming to a head. 

I knew something was super wrong with me when I let an entire weekend slip by - one with an extra day in it for the holiday - and I didn't go for a single run.  Me, who used to wake up and first thing to pop in my head was planning when I'd get to run that day.  Me, who has a Ragnar to run in less than three weeks.  I let four days slip by without a run and at least two distinct times consciously decided to skip it and "do it tomorrow instead" with no solid plan as to when I'd have time to fit it in.  The thought had even occurred to me that I could be suffering from some sort of depression since it was so unexplainable otherwise. Pretty damn scary especially for this girl who has always had everything under control.  I feel like I can't cope with day to day life anymore.

I was talking to a handful of women I work with yesterday and the subject of permanent sterilization versus birth control options came up.  Several have or have had IUDs, a couple have taken more permanent sterilization measures either on their own or their husbands.  One just went off all birth control so she could get pregnant again.  And then there were two of us who had just recently switched from an IUD and started back on the good old 'pill'.  Yours truly fits into this particular category.  (Oopsie, forgot the disclaimer that we were going to be talking uterus and all things related!)  As the other girl currently taking the pill was describing how crazy she has been the last couple of months and why she hates taking the pill because of it,  it hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was like she had been living inside my skull because she had just defined everything about how I'd been feeling but until now had been unable to articulate.

And then everything clicked into place.  With a big shiny spotlight pointed directly at the root cause I hadn't even consciously been looking for.  (Queue hallelujah chorus.)  I looked back through my blog posts and found that everything suddenly changed in late January - when I'd started on the damn pill.  God I miss my IUD and wish it didn't cost $900 to replace it... but this isn't a blog post about the ridiculous cost of healthcare or the pitfalls of having high-deductible insurance coverage so we won't go there.

Just the knowledge that I know why I feel crazy and helpless and lethargic all the time gives me hope and has me excited to take control of my life back.  First thing first: I MUST find a different form of birth control.  Immediately!  Then, once I feel like myself again mentally, maybe I can finally shed the last ten pounds from my injury-induced weight gain that even though I've been running again and eating right won't budge from my hips and - what do you know - can also be explained by that goddamn pill.

I'm hopeful now and looking forward to getting back to normal...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Myth busting

Ever heard someone say it is so much harder and more time consuming to cook dinner every night?  Or that eating healthy costs so much more money?  Or that wearing special shoes or taking a miracle pill will help you tone your body and lose weight?  Well today I'm putting on my myth-buster hat and tackling all of these.

We'll start with "it's so much easier to pick up fast food on your way home from work rather than cook dinner" with a peek into a day of my life.  This particular day was crazier than most.  I headed off to work in the morning leaving Baby Sister with her nanny after scooting Big Sister out the door to walk to school.  (Yes, my kid walks to school - shouldn't every kid?)  I worked a typical day except that I had to leave a couple of hours early since Big Sister's dance studio decided once again to conduct business as if none of the dance moms actually work outside the home.  Meaning specifically that she had to be in full hair and make-up and across town by 4:30 for the annual team photo shoot.  Awesome, since I don't usually get off work until 5:30.

I left the office at 3:00, rushed home while project managing Big Sister's efforts from the phone in the car, and did the fastest make-up and hair I think I've ever done including ringlets.  Big Sister has stick straight and super thick hair - I love that she did not get my curls except for when she wants curly hair and it becomes a chore.  Thank god for my Chi and my ability to use it for creating curls in addition to it's straightening properties.  Of course Murphy was alive and well since the shirt I'd bought her the night before was too big through the chest when she put it on.  I had to get creative with safety pins because I didn't have time to whip out the sewing machine to take in the sides. We left the house only ten minutes behind schedule leaving Baby Sister with Daddy and hoping they were correct that the shoot would only take an hour. Pictures were fabulous and we were headed back across town by 5:30 now hoping traffic wasn't too bad.

This was also the night of our first neighborhood walk-about which we never miss.  During warm weather months, two or three different families host little block party gatherings so that everyone can wander around and mingle with each other, catch up on gossip and meet any new people who have moved in.  It started at 6:30.

Here's where the myth comes in.  Considering I only had an hour to drive across town, feed my kids dinner and head out to the next activity,  society would say I had to pick up either burgers or a $5 Hot n' Ready pizza on my way home.  But NO!  Instead I went straight home, browned up some ground turkey, made it into taco meat and served my kids taco's.  Well, Big Sister prefers to eat her taco fixin's atop corn chips instead of in the crunchy shells and Baby Sister prefers little individual piles of cheese and meat, etc to eat as finger foods so basically, I ate tacos.  The point is, it took me no more time than it would have to sit in the long ass line I passed at the Wendy's as I drove by.  Not to mention how much healthier my choice of meals was by comparison.  Plus, now I have an extra pound of taco meat in my fridge to eat left-overs in the next couple of days when I'm in an even tighter pinch for dinner - say tonight when Big Sister has to be at the dance studio by 6:30.

I cook ninety-five percent of the time at home.  It isn't always quick and easy but it is always better than anything else I could feed my family.  The extra effort this activity requires is actually on the front end when you're doing your grocery shopping.  I usually have the basics on hand like spaghetti (I make my own amazing and authentic sauce) or homemade macaroni and cheese (that actually uses cheese and milk instead of powdery blobs of orange chemical concoctions you get in the box).  Then I mix things up with a few preplanned meals in mind for the week.  We always have tons of fresh fruit in the house and the crisper drawer is always full of veggies.  With a little creativity I can throw together many a meal just by opening the refrigerator - even if I don't know exactly what's for dinner before I walk in the door from work.

It makes me wonder who exactly "they" are that says it is so much easier to buy crap from a fast-food joint and eat out of a bag every night.  Probably the people marketing the crap in a bag from all those different places who only care about their bottom line.  And let's talk about cost!  I can feed my family of four for an entire week buying the ingredients to cook my own meals on less than what it would cost to eat out just one meal a day for that same week.  This is based on fact since we had way more money left over at the end of the month once we started eating in versus when we were subscribing to the marketing ploys.  This was also before I'd pulled my head out of my ass about things like processed foods and high fructose corn syrup evils. 

With obesity rates in adults and children alike continually rising, I wonder how long before the general population demands better choices in their food that contribute to better health instead of sacrificing long-term health for the convenience of a packaged dinner or fast food slop.  Most of the food we eat isn't even real food when you look at the ingredient label.  When was the last time you had to list the ingredients on a head of lettuce or a bundle of bananas?  Even more frightening is how many people I talk to who never even glance at the ingredient list of the 'food' they consume every day.  When you cook your own meal, using real whole foods you know exactly what you are eating and feeding to your kids.

There was a story in the Washington Post this week about how Sketchers are settling a lawsuit for $40 million.  Turns out they were lying when they said wearing their funny looking shoes would tone your lower body without stepping foot into a gym.  You can't tone your lower body by wearing a pair of shoes and sitting on your ass all day any easier than you can lose weight and keep it off by eating some fad diet or taking some pill that causes side effects worse than just keeping the extra weight on.  You have to eat real food to nourish your body and burn more calories than you take in every single day.  Period.  There's no other way around it.  Trust me, I've tried it all (minus surgical measures where I drew the line).  When is society as a whole going to wake up and realize that corporations are only after one thing - to make money by selling us crap we don't need - and start listening to common sense again?

I challenge you - if you aren't doing it already - try cooking for a week and see how easy it really is.  You don't even have to have a recipe box that your mom or grandma handed down to you anymore.  All you need is Google - recipes for everything and anything are right at your fingers.  It's an amazing world out there!  And if you want a quick, easy to read, common sense book on how to incorporate real food back into your diet, I highly recommend "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan.  That little book was partly what changed my life years ago and should be required reading for every American - in my humble opinion.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

You're doing it wrong

I took another step on my journey of figuring out how to write a novel this week.  In an attempt to pull myself up by my bootstraps and self-motivate some action in the writing department since writer's group looms over my head, I reached out to my editor for some advice. 

I know what you're thinking: Wait, she has an editor?  But she isn't even finished with her first draft!  This is my friend who I found out recently is also an editor.  He will be tasked with editing my work once I get it finished.  And since I think it is super cool to refer to the fact that I have an editor, I'll now be doing so every chance I get.

Remember I said I was currently discovering my own editing method?  I told him what I had been doing and how unmotivated I'd become and asked for some advice on the whole process.  Turns out, I was doing it all wrong.  In my haste to have something for my writer's group to see, I was doing the editing completely out of order.  I was editing on the micro level instead of the macro level.  I haven't even worked out the big picture and filled in all the gaps yet.  I haven't figured out what the outline is to make sure I flow from scene to sequel and back to scene yet.  All this has to happen before we go through chapter by chapter which is what I'd been doing with my alpha-readers.

AH-HA!  No wonder I wasn't feeling the flow!  It was like recapping a race I hadn't even trained for yet.

I know my writer's group is going to be sad that they won't get to see what I'm up to for a while again, but I'm back to the writing desk.  This time with some direction on how to get from here to the end.  And with my new knowledge I'm excited to be here again which is the whole point.

This also reminded me of something else a lot of people have said...  Writing is damn hard work.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I think I can...

I've been in a bit of a funk the past few weeks.  Life interfering with my running has me doubting whether I can even be ready for Ragnar this year.  Being crazy busy with Big Sister's dance competition season leaves me no time for much of anything past my day job, cooking dinner and trying to stay ahead of Little Sister's toy bombs before bed.  I've had zero energy for staying up late which means I haven't written in weeks.  Because I haven't written in weeks I feel like I've lost the spark of creativity and the roll I was on a couple of months ago; and the overwhelming thought of what it will take to re-immerse myself has me dragging my feet to start again.

I certainly hope this shit is somehow normal because I rarely find myself in this land called self-doubt. But right now the world is pressing on me with stress and insanity and I have yet to rally myself completely out of it.

Maybe I'm just sad because we are losing Little Sister's amazing nanny at the end of this week as she embarks on new adventures with her husband - on the other side of the country.  She's been with us since Little Sister was five months old - two solid years - and has become one of my closest friends and confidants.  Whenever I think of life without her I get all weepy and sad.  I don't even want to think about the reality of what next week will look like where I don't see her every morning.  And work from home days without long lunch-time conversations are really going to suck...

But, like the little engine that could from that childhood book I remember having to read to my youngest brother over and over again... I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can.  I keep telling myself that - even if it is something I actually believe one minute and the next something I'm merely willing to be true.

It's amazing what a positive attitude can do to turn things around.  Even if it isn't in profound ways.  After taking a week off of running to address some knee pain issues - caused by lack of cross training to strengthen my quads - I went for what my training program called for yesterday: an EIGHTY MINUTE run.  Twice as long as I've done since my injury.  I didn't think I had it in me but guess what, I did!  The first mile was all uphill and I powered through it.  The middle was fraught with headwind that sucked the speed out of me.  But when it was all said and done I busted out FIVE miles and did the entire run.  Boo-ya!  Just because I'm using a different training program from the last two Ragnars doesn't mean it isn't effective.  I just have to keep believing I can stick with it and be ready in two months.

Luckily I have my writer's group looming toward the end of the month spurring me on to get writing - which I haven't done since the last meeting.  Instead of wallowing in all that I could have been doing which is in the past and cannot be controlled or changed, I am choosing instead to focus on what I can control: now, the present.  As always, I get my creative juices flowing and build momentum by crafting blog posts.  Step one, check! since here I am!

A conversation I had with an old friend a couple of days ago reminded me that even if I don't make cookies from scratch, even buying the package you add butter and an egg to and making a dozen cookies 'hot from the oven' is enough for my kids and won't overstress me.  All I remember from making cookies from my own childhood is how messy the kitchen was and that I always got stuck doing the dishes afterward.  This way, my kids only get the joy of warm cookies without all the extra fuss and I'll still be a great Mom in their memories.

Maybe I should write what I know - who's interested in a story of an overachiever fighting to be super woman and perfect in every aspect of her life?  Because I could totally write that shit with my eyes closed and two hands tied behind my back!  Too bad inner conflict isn't enough to build a solid plot.  Guess I'll stick with living that story and finishing the one I'm writing instead!

Here's to getting and maintaining momentum - may we all be successful at it at least today.