Personal Growth

It's been a little over a year since I started tracking my "Level 10 Life" and I thought it was time for an update. I think I've been improving my life in the last year, so it's interesting to see it graphically represented.

Companions - My goal this year was to cultivate closer relationships with my core group of companions. Between #gradSchoolSucks, chronic illness, weight loss surgery, and other demands on my time, I haven't spent as much time with the people I care about but I think it's been a little better. Progress, not perfection, right?

Romance - The Mister continues to be the most awesome mate for me. We had our first real honest to goodness fight recently, and I'm frankly impressed with the way we recovered from it. I have never been with anyone where we were able to be painfully open and honest about the things that drove the fight (because it's rarely about whatever the fight was about) and end up closer as a result. He's awesome, and we're awesome together.

Health - I did one of the best things I have ever done for my health last year, with the weight loss surgery. I've had some rough spots since health-wise but it remains a really good decision, I think. I'm able to move easier than I could last year and I just overall feel better, even when my chronic illnesses are fighting me. I gave myself credit for that, but there's still a lot to be done. I just signed up with Good Measures which provides consultation with Registered Dieticians who are experienced with bariatric patients. Had my first consult this morning, and am really feeling good about this step as well. My goals for the next year are to improve the quality and variety of my diet, and get back to working out reguarly (including weights) so I also need to get enough protein in to support muscle gain.

Environment - We've de-cluttered quite a bit, even though you can't tell right now from all the boxes piled up in my front room right now. I haven't posted about it here, but Munchkin ended up moving home after the roommate situation went WAY south. She'll be here for a year or so pursuing her career goals and building up a financial reserve for her next foray into independence. So a lot of the decluttering and home maintenance has gotten set aside, but there's still some improvement.

Career - I've been increasing my responsibility and skill set at work, and will graduate this December with my master's, so I'm doing good in this arena. Next year will be focused on finding the next job, if that's in the cards.

Finances - Haven't managed many of the financial goals, but we did buy The Mister a used truck for cash, and paid off my jalopy. We're doing better than just treading water, but there's still a long way to go on this. Re-committing to YNAB again.

Personal Growth - This is completely stagnated while #gradSchoolSucks. I don't have the bandwidth to do much here. I do want to start journaling regularly again, and grad school ends in December, so that'll be when I can really start moving on this area again.

Spirituality - Pretty much the same response as for Personal Growth. Not a lot of time to focus on this.

Recreation - Ditto.

Giving - I'm still medic-ing for the derby league, and really enjoy that. Nothing else has really changed, but as with Personal Growth/Spirituality/Recreation, 2018 will be my year!

So in summary, some forward progress in the areas I prioritized this year through WLS and Spoonie Life, and still lots of room for improvement.

I haven't as yet posted much with the Politics tag in this blog. There's been so much going on in my life with #gradSchoolSucks and WLS and living with rheumatoid disease, that politics necessarily took a back seat. The political climate has certainly changed over the last six months, and I am finding myself getting more and more vocal about politics in every arena as a result.

I'm a progressive liberal, and I'm not ashamed of it. Despite what many may think, this is NOT contrary to being fiscally responsible, or to having personal liberty. I also make a distinction between progressivism and liberalism. David Sirota in his blog "What's the Difference Between a Liberal and a Progressive" (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sirota/whats-the-difference-betw_b_9140.html) states the following:

[...] there is a fundamental difference when it comes to core economic issues. It seems to me that traditional “liberals” in our current parlance are those who focus on using taxpayer money to help better society. A “progressive” are those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.

To put it in more concrete terms - a liberal solution to some of our current problems with high energy costs would be to increase funding for programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). A more “progressive” solution would be to increase LIHEAP but also crack down on price gouging and pass laws better-regulating the oil industry’s profiteering and market manipulation tactics. A liberal policy towards prescription drugs is one that would throw a lot of taxpayer cash at the pharmaceutical industry to get them to provide medicine to the poor; A progressive prescription drug policy would be one that centered around price regulations and bulk purchasing in order to force down the actual cost of medicine in America (much of which was originally developed with taxpayer R&D money).

Let’s be clear - most progressives are also liberals, and liberal goals in better funding America’s social safety net are noble and critical.

I realize that this puts me in direct opposition to my friends and family who espouse Conservative and Libertarian ideology (both Big-L and little-L). I disagree that the solution to every problem is "remove the government from the equation" and let people sort things out without government interference.  But that doesn't mean we don't have common ground we could start from.

I agree that there are numerous cases of government overreach (a town north of me is trying to impose building restrictions on people who live outside the city's jurisdiction) and government corruption (too many to list). It would be nice if we lived in a society where people could be trusted to do the right thing and the free market corrected all evils. History tells us that's unrealistic, especially when looking at corporations. A lot of the "government overreach" has been in response to egregious actions on the part of corporations. The Department of Labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act for example is rooted in a history of corporations horribly exploiting and abusing their employees. The classic libertarian response of "they can go get other jobs" doesn't wash, since corporations were able to reap huge financial benefits from the abuse and exploitation of workers too desperate to feed their families to go elsewhere.

I used to agree that it was ridiculous for people to have to go through the time and expense of obtaining a cosmetology license in order to braid hair. Until I got more information on the story from my stylist. Braiding hair seems pretty simple, but in actuality there's a lot of information that someone should understand before opening up a shop. Many clients have had irreparable damage because of products and techniques that are not only damaging to hair, but to the scalp itself. Those who set up shop in their garage or whatever don't have assets to cover the results of a lawsuit, so the injured clients are left with no remedy. Most laws have roots in people being harmed, and trying to prevent it whenever possible, even if the history and reasoning is not apparent to everyone.

In short, it all comes down to what kind of society one wants to live in. The lawless Wild West may sound romantic in bodice-ripping romances and old TV shows. I wouldn't want to live there however, because the reality is that people in groups tend to turn alll "Lord of the Flies". I don't want to live in that kind of society, where ultimately whoever is in power makes the rules and the rest of the people have no say in it, nor any recourse for the abuses of those in power. I see government as the only protection available to people in the society. Right now, corporations are the group in power and our political system has been bent to reflect the goals of corporations and the ultra-rich who run them, instead of protecting the people who are the backbone of the country. Abolition of the government "intrusion" into corporate dealings is the absolute worst thing that could happen in my estimation.

Does government need to be held accountable? Absolutely. Should government programs be held to a higher standard for economy and efficiency than they currently are? Absolutely. Are some government programs too far gone to save? Very likely. Does that mean that every government program should be terminated, and all federal regulatory bodies disbanded? No way, no how. Look at pictures of the air over Los Angeles from the 1960s compared to now.

Downtown Los Angeles smog photographs by the Herald-Examiner Collection (1968, left) and Gary Leonard (2005, right) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library (http://www.lapl.org/#photo-collection).

Federal regulations are responsible for cleaner air in LA, period. There's still needed improvement in air quality in many cities including LA, but the improvements achieved by the EPA and the regulations that preceded its establishment are directly responsible for the ability to breathe at least decent air in our cities. Right now the EPA is fighting to stay operational, as it's under attack by corporate interests. When did corporate interests trump (pun intentional) the health and welfare of the American citizens? The ideology that government is bad is part of what's allowing the EPA to be gutted, instead of fixing what was broken with it (and I admit there is plenty broken).

Ultimately, we have too large of a society with our 320 million people (Census Bureau, 2015) to manage with a Wild West mentality. Too many corporations are trying (and succeeding) to influence legislation to their financial benefit. And yes, taxes are needed to run the government. I'll write more about taxes in another post. "Taxation is theft" is a catchy meme, but it ignores the responsibility people have to support their society, because of the benefits they reap from it.

I want to live in a society where everyone truly can become whatever they want to be. That requires everyone in the society to have a certain amount of safety net. People who have security in the lower 2 levels of Maslow's hierarchy are more able to contribute positively to society. Meeting those needs is a lot less expensive overall than dealing with the negative consequences as a society for not meeting those needs. A healthy population is one that enhances the GDP and drives the economy, not a sick population with a bunch of really wealthy dudes at the top. A healthy population breeds innovation and discovery, because when people are secure in knowing they have a safe place to live, enough to eat, and healthcare they are able to build new businesses, experiment with ideas, and take chances that those scrabbling for a bare existence cannot. How many cures for cancer remain undiscovered because the kid who would have found it dies due to lack of healthcare and decent food?  Crime drops when people have options and safety as well.

So yes, I am in favor of universal healthcare. I've done a hell of a lot of research on the subject over the years, and as a nurse I've seen what happens to people when we don't have it. I'm in favor of providing safe places for people to live, and healthy food for them. I believe it's the responsibility of the richest nation on Earth to provide these things, and excuses as to why it can't happen are just that - excuses. In this current political climate, the excuses aren't even ideological -- they are for the benefit of oligarchs and corporations.

For me, this goes beyond ideology. Until people stop arguing ideology and start working together for common goals they can agree on, the corporations and oligarchs win. If you believe that the perfect society is one with no regulations, we could at least agree to work together to reduce the ones we agree are the worst. If you believe that the perfect society is one where people are free to pursue their dreams with no restrictions, we could at least agree to keep corporations and oligarchs from abusing and financially enslaving them. If you believe the perfect society is one where everyone is treated equally, but you disagree with me on laws for protected classes, we could at least work to stop the abuses that are currently happening.

Instead, the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. Because you and I don't agree on what the perfect society looks like, we fight about that instead of coming together and promoting the improvements we can agree on. The oligarchs and corporations win and we all lose.

I started writing this post today because last night divergent political viewpoints caused a huge fight between me and one of the most important people in my life. I intended to write about how politics adversely impacts relationships. I'll have more on that subject later. Right now what I want to say to anyone who will actually listen is that there is a common ground when we give up the extremes.

Please, for the love of our country and our future, give up the extremes and start looking for commonality.

Well, it finally happened.  Munchkin has flown the coop.

Shortly before Thanksgiving last year, Munchkin's dad (Ex#1) passed away after long-standing health issues.  As she dealt with cleaning out his hoard (seriously, I'd forgotten how much stuff that man could cram into a closet) she decided she would keep the lease on his duplex and her BFF would move in with her.  It's taken her this long to get the place liveable and get the bulk of his stuff cleared out in between school and work.

But this week Muchkin & roomie decided even though things aren't 100% ready, to start sleeping over there and get the rest done while living in it.  So I'm officially an empty nester.  Though my garage will be serving as a storage facility for Munchkin's overflow for the forseeable future, and she hasn't completely cleared out her room yet.  Hopefully she'll finish that out this weekend.  Her leasing company bans pit bulls, so the dogs will be staying with us, and I imagine Munchkin will still be a frequent visitor.  We'll just have to train her to text before she comes over so we can put clothes on.  LOL.

So it hasn't quite hit me or the Mister yet.  We'll have our hands full for a while moving our own furniture around and filling space back up, as we get used to rattling around in the house by ourselves.  I plan to take over Munchkin's old room and turn it into my office/craft space and we'll see how the rest of it comes together.  I think we'll adjust to it just fine, I don't anticipate being all weepy over my baby being on her own.  But you never know until you are actually dealing with a situation, right?  We'll see how it goes.

 Well, 2016 is finally winding to a close. My friends who are into numerology tell me that 2016 is a "9" year, one of endings and closure. They say that 2017 is a "1" year of new beginnings. I hope that's true. Because while there have been good things that have happened for me in 2016, it's been a slog of a year.

We've lost so many celebrities this year, and some of the losses have been hard. Which always feels odd to say. I mean, I've never met these people, and only know them through their movies or music or writing, plus whatever news and gossip hits the few media channels I frequent online. Why should their deaths impact me in any personal way? But the fact remains that it does. I think part of the phenomenon is that it reminds us that time marches on, and we're older than we feel. Well, most days anyway. And that Death comes for us all in our time. Sometimes before our time, it seems.

Many of the famous people who died this year were getting up in years, and had been in poor health. So it's not like most of the deaths were surprises. I mean, when someone who's in their late 90's dies, how is that surprising? Sad, perhaps, but surprising? It's the ones who were "so young" that always cuts most deeply. It reminds us that we're not immune. I've known that from a young age working as a Paramedic, and more recently as an ER nurse. When you see death regularly as part of your work, you have a very intimate sense that each day is precious. That sense gets numb sometimes, but it's always there. Deaths of well known people just alert the sense once again.

A friend posted this link today on Facebook, and while I'm not a Millenial, some things he had to say really hit home for me.

Simon Sinek on Millenials in the Workplace
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU

If you don't have time to watch the whole thing (but I highly recommend it), one of the things he talks about is how social media causes dopamine to be released, which hits the addiction/pleasure center of our brains. He is of the opinion that if you're sitting with friends but texting/facebooking/whatever on your phone with other people, you're missing out on some of the really incredible things that are supposed to happen when you spend time with friends. If when you wake up in the morning, your first action is not to greet your significant other, but to turn on your phone and check facebook, then you're losing out in your relationship. If you're on your phone while waiting for a meeting to start, you're not creating relationships with your co-workers through seemingly insignficant chatter.

That really made me stop and think. Evenings at home have my family sitting on the couches, watching TV together, but not really together. Munchkin is typically on her phone doing something with her friends. The Mister is usually playing a computer game and occasionally checking his Facebook. I'm checking my Facebook and other social media, or doing homework. None of us are focused on the TV show we're watching, and we're certainly not doing anything actually TOGETHER. That's not to say every minute of our lives has to be doing something as a group, but shouldn't some nights, some activities be more present somehow?

I have a group of people who are my tribe. They are more vital to my well being than my blood family in many ways. We get together in person all too infrequently, and when we do there is a technology device in virtually everyone's hands. We do interact and chat and catch up with each others' lives, but it's an intermittent experience. Someone will get a text from another friend and engage with that for a while, or possibly share it with the group, or get disinterested in the topic of conversation and check out with their phone for a bit. Part of that is because we're a tribe of introverts, but I wonder what it would be like to have a gathering where the devices were left in the vehicles, or even just in the bags, for an hour or two.

I know lately I've been feeling very disconnected from my friends and family. I don't know if it's the season, or the culmination of a hard year for everyone, or maybe the long-term effects of the technology addiction that Sinek talks about. Sure, we "talk" all the time on Facebook, but that just seems to be very superficial to me right now.

When problems brought about by technology arise, I'm a person who tends to ask if there's not also a solution that technology offers rather than a knee-jerk reaction to decide that technology is bad. Perhaps I need to see if some of my friends are interested in a group video chat or even just a one-on-one Skype on a regular basis so we're more in-touch than what Facebook allows. Maybe just more in-person get-togethers are in order, and technology can facilitate the planning and coordination. I don't want to sound like I think technology or social media is the bad guy. I'm in touch with friends who I would have never found again without social media, even if it's just the occasional update about how life is going, it's still nice to wave at them. I have friends who have moved away that I've been able to stay in touch with through social media, where we'd have completely lost touch without it. I think it's about finding ways that technology helps, and limiting the downsides.

So.

New beginning for 2017.

Makes me ask the question, what's REALLY important to me? What's worth the time and energy to start over and build on?

At this point in my life, I'm finding that it's about the people in my life. My relationships. I haven't been a good friend in many cases. I get wrapped up in my own stuff, anxious about talking on the phone (it's a weird phobia, I know), over-scheduled and stressed, and the first thing that goes is my communication and face-time with the people who are important to me. I think I'll catch up later, and then suddenly months have gone by. Relationships take work and time, after all. It's going to be up to me to figure out how to make that time and energy available.

But that's my priority for 2017, I think. Right up there with finish grad school. And get back to the gym. And start cooking more. And start journalling. And keep a cleaner house. And write a book. (Too much? Probably.)

It seems trite to do all of this self-analysis and "I'm going to change my life" stuff coming up on New Year's. Maybe it is trite, but it's also a collective threshold that our culture recognizes, so it's kinda built-in. Why not use it? Either it becomes a true "new beginning" or it's something that sounds good, and it's tossed aside by Super Bowl Sunday and at least it was a good blog post, right?

I know it's been weeks since I posted anything on this blog. The end of the year is always a bit of a blur for me, and this year is no different. Mea cupla.

Halloween rushes into Thanksgiving, and then there's a rush of birthdays and anniversaries for me before Yule gets here. Add in the end-of-term school projects and shopping/knitting for presents before Yule and people pestering me to start my holiday baking, and it's a recipe for craziness. I have one more school project due in two days, and then I'll be done until January 9th. So Saturday will be the start of my holiday rush and I can start catching up on sleep.

During nursing school, I thought I would never be so happy as when semesters ended and I could catch up on sleep. All I can say now is #gradSchoolSucks. In fact... https://twitter.com/#gradschoolsucks In many ways nursing school was worse, but grad school is right up there.

I have another year to finish my Master's program. Three semesters. Six classes. Forty-eight weeks of coursework. I don't regret deciding to go to grad school, but boy has it been a slog. I have so many things piling up that I want to do, and I'm tired of saying "I'll do that in 2018." But if I try to add things into my schedule now, I'll end up sick from the stress. Dare I say it again? #gradSchoolSucks.

In other news, things continue to go well after my weight loss surgery. I'm now about 3-1/2 months out, have lost 62 lbs, and am having wardrobe crises regularly. So far I've been able to avoid going clothes shopping, but that won't last much longer. I'm able to eat pretty much anything I want, though things with a lot of sugar and/or fat I have to be very careful of. I'm also still working on slowing down when I eat, because it makes me physically very uncomfortable, and the habit of wolfing one's food down is hard to break. I'm getting to the gym about once a week, and am trying to ramp that up, but #gradSchoolSucks.

My RA/PsA is doing much better now that I'm back on my meds. And while my inflammatory factors are still a bit elevated after the surgery, they're low enough that we are no longer considering biologic therapy, which is a good thing. We may still have to raise the dosage on my current medication and/or add in a second medication, but that's preferable to biologics if it will work. I finally ordered a splint for my thumb that has let me get back to knitting. My blood pressure is back into normal ranges after we stopped the medication, so all of the health indicators are heading back in the right direction.

All in all, life is good, if way too busy. And #gradSchoolSucks.

heavyheart

Your heart is too heavy from things you carry a long time,
You been up you been down, tired and you don't know why,
-- Matisyahu, Live Like a Warrior

You can count me among the millions of sad, scared people this week. My Facebook feed is mostly split between two groups this week: those who feel the same way I do, and those who think I and the others who feel this way are reactionary whiners.

I could write for hours trying to explain why we're scared and sad, but it would be wasted time. You either already agree with me, or you are likely not listening, REALLY listening, to anything I or my scared contingent say.

That is what I see as the biggest problem we face in America today. No one is really listening to the other side. We are all mired in our own echo chambers and when someone breaks through with a message contrary to what we believe, our reaction is to attack instead of listening.

I am told there was a time in America where the concept of a loyal opposition was an accepted, even celebrated, role in politics. I can't imagine it. For my adult life, the political reality has been "if you're not with us, you're against us" which has resulted in a do-nothing Congress hell-bent on accomplishing absolutely nothing for the American people in order to block any attempted legislation by President Obama and his supporters.

I naively believed that those on the other end of the political spectrum from myself still wanted the same things for America, namely a strong economy with unlimited opportunity and equality for the American people. That even if we disagreed on the "how" we all agreed on the goal.

But we have stopped listening to each other and assuming the best in each other. We are talking over and at each other and not listening.

The Mister is a hard-core Libertarian, which results in some ... um, well, interesting conversations about politics in our home. I know that the Mister loves me dearly, and would defend me to the ends of the earth if I were actively threatened. For the last few days, he's made comments about the people who are protesting the outcome of the election that while not directed at me, felt very personal. This morning, as I was getting out of the car, he took my hand and said "I know you're scared, but remember we're in this together and we'll get through it." I almost broke down in tears right in front of my office building because that was the first time this week I've felt my feelings validated by anyone who doesn't share my fear and sadness.

I know that most people who voted for Trump are good and decent people who do not support the vile, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, mysogynist, hateful rhetoric that he was spewing. Most of the people I know who voted for Trump would never condone the verbal and physical violence that has occurred this week in the wake of the election. But instead of hearing our very real fear, I see many of you trying to convince us that we're over-reacting or whining that we lost, and in some cases even trying to prove that the verbal and physical violence isn't real. Or worse, saying things like the only proven case of violence was graffiti in schools, and that's not worth discussing. What we hear is that children terrorizing other children isn't significant.  What we hear are statements mocking our very real fear and pain.

The Democrats are guilty of this too, don't think I'm giving us a pass. The leaders of the Democrat party have become completely out of touch with the "regular" people and the struggles they deal with every day.  The party has completely failed to hear and understand what people are going through and has marginalized those who don't agree with the platform.

Let me say this loud and clear. I hear you. I get that you're worried about how to keep a roof over your head, feed your family, and get healthcare when you need it. I know that entire swaths of industry have disappeared in this country, and that it leaves you and yours scared and angry. I get that terrorism is scary, and every time something happens here in the U.S. it feeds that fear. I hear your fear, I see your anger, and I understand.

If you're a conservative voter, you and I disagree on the best ways to fix the things driving those fears. I believe that a strong safety net is necessary. I believe that a public option for healthcare that is available to every citizen is a necessity. You believe that getting the government out of it and leaving it to the market is the best way to fix it. You believe the way to deal with issues of discrimination and hatred in this country is for everyone to just get along and quit talking about the issues.  I look at the history of discrimination and hatred in this country and believe that protections need to be established.  We disagree, and that should be OK. But instead, I get labeled a Socialist, you get labeled a Fascist when neither term means anything close to what we're trying to say.

If we could just talk to each other, and really listen to what the other person is trying to say, I believe we could find solutions that would work for both of us. But when the labels and judgment come out, there's no more communication.

That's when the political machine comes in, spreading lies and distraction to push us even farther apart. When we can't even agree on the facts, and issue moral judgment against the person who disagrees, nothing can be accomplished.  Fear and hatred are magnified, and the machine doesn't want us to find common ground.

If I could wave a magic wand and change anything about the politics in our country, it would be to close this entrenched gulf. I would not, in fact, wish that everyone thought the same way I do. I firmly believe that it is our differences that make us stronger. I believe that the strongest leader keeps people around them who disagree about what to do. I would just wish that we could once again embrace the loyal opposition, and figure out how to disagree in a civil and respectful manner.

There is a common saying in my UU faith which I wish for our country:

We need not think alike to love alike. *

This is my prayer for each of us.

 

* The quote is frequently attributed to Francis David, but arguably originated with John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church) so correct attribution is difficult.

lifechanges

Wow. Over a month since I've posted anything. I plead life changes, grad school, work, and illness as excuses. Life is beginning to look a LOT different than it did pre-op. I'll post more on that later.

It's interesting to me how we define moments as life-changing. Life before this event and life after this event. There are the huge ones that everyone remembers as a frozen snapshot in time: JFK assassination, Reagan shooting, Challenger explosion, 9/11 attacks. The "where were you?" moments. We all have stories to share about where we were when we heard, how it's changed our life or society since then.

But then there are the personal ones. Some tragic, more that are joyful (hopefully), but each one marking a point in life where everything changed. Moving to another state, life-changing injuries or illness, graduation, marriage, ending relationships, forming new relationships, encountering the death of loved ones. Events that change the trajectory of your life, for better or worse.

It seems like I've had nothing but changes over the last few years. Back to school 3 times. 4 new jobs. Divorce. Remarriage. Chronic illness diagnosis. Weight loss surgery. Whew, and that's only the last 5 years. Needless to say, my life doesn't look anything like it did five years ago. I live in the same house and Munchkin is a constant as are friends, family, and the remaining cats. Nothing else is the same, and that's a good thing.

Some of these are certainly life changing moments. A clear line in the sand of time where something stopped or started or both. But many of them blend in like a wave of tiny changes that go almost unnoticed until in a moment of retrospection you look back and see how far you actually got moved.

I've been - mostly - a "go with the flow" kind of person my whole life. Especially regarding my career. Opportunities presented themselves, and even if it meant a complete shift from the prior plan I embraced those opportunities. That's resulted in an odd patchwork of job history and an interesting mix of skills. It's served me well overall. It meant that when a chronic illness diagnosis required me to leave bedside care, I only experienced some regret but no panic as I made the decision to move into Informatics. When changes come, I tend to roll with them.

The only things I tend to really regret are opportunities I've missed. Like when I was too scared as a 19-year-old to take a Paramedic job in Alaska (even though I "had people there") because it was so far from home. And leaving bedside care and a future as a nurse practitioner because I really didn't have a choice. I don't carry around a lot of regrets about life choices, and I think it may be because I did embrace opportunities and change when they came.

Since this has apparently become a "Wear Sunscreen" kind of post, I'll close with my advice for what it's worth. (And if you've never read "Wear Sunscreen", click the linky thing and read it now.)

Embrace the opportunities that come to you. Take the job that means moving across the country. Go to school (or even back to school) for the thing you've always wanted to be but didn't think you could. Go out on the blind date (but have a safe call set up). Travel every chance you get. Take that dance class that requires a public performance at the end. Life is about change, so buckle up for the ride and enjoy it.

stuart_smalleyAs happens around my house, a conversation with my husband about a weird dream I had turned into a deep conversation about "imposter syndrome".  I've suffered from this most of my life and am only now starting to have any real confidence in myself professionally.

Anyone who knows me has heard tales of the multiple jobs I've had throughout my life.  My standing joke well into my 30's was that I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up.  The saddest part is that I know exactly what I wanted to be, and I didn't have the courage to do it when I could.  So instead I drifted through life, jumping at new opportunities when they presented themselves.  I'm lucky to be white, female, intelligent, and well educated.  These advantages opened up a lot of doors for me over the years.

Most of my working life has been spent in corporate IT working with databases, reports, and data warehouses.  While I was pretty good at it and learned new concepts and technology very quickly, I always felt that imposter syndrome.  I didn't have a college degree where many of my peers did, and no formal education in computers.  I spent most of my years feeling deep down that someone was going to figure out I was an imposter, and I'd get fired and wouldn't be able to take care of my child.  There's a constant anxiety level to deal with that makes everything stressful.  I still cringe when I'm asked to step into my boss' office (or worse, my boss' boss' office).

Once I got my initial nursing degree and moved back into the medical field, I started feeling more comfortable.  The hardest job I ever loved (before nursing) was working as a Paramedic.  I didn't do it long enough to get seasoned, but I knew I was reasonably competent.  I had the same training and certifications as my peers, the only thing I lacked was experience.  Nursing felt like coming home, and again I found myself with the same license and (mostly) training as my peers.  My comfort must have shown because I can't count how many times people I worked with were shocked to find I was a new grad nurse.  I was told many times that I didn't comport myself as a new grad, and they had assumed I had been a nurse for many years.  Having worked for some two decades feeling like an imposter, that was incredibly affirming to me.  I loved nursing and was sad when I had to leave.

Moving into healthcare informatics, I knew I would have more computer experience than a huge majority of my peers.  What I didn't expect was several rounds with recruiters essentially telling me I had nothing to offer because my computer experience was then three years old.  I started feeling the anxiety of imposter syndrome again.  I had just started my master's program in informatics and wasn't far enough along to feel like it gave me any credibility.  I'm very lucky to have found my current position because I'm reassured on a daily basis by what I accomplish that I can do this job, and do it well.  It's a small slice of healthcare informatics to be sure, but I have no doubt now that I can walk into an informatics job at any level and rock it out.

Interestingly, I thought it would be getting my master's degree that would help me get over the imposter syndrome.  I thought it would give me the informatics specific training as well as fill in some of the formal computer science education I missed.  What I'm finding is that higher education is more of an endurance test than actually teaching anything.  The professors in my graduate classes say that their job isn't to teach us any information.  That as graduate students, what they are teaching and evaluating is our ability to research and learn from existing materials and then translate what we've learned.  Hell, I've been doing that since high school.  I can honestly say I'm not learning anything in my classes about how to do an informatics job.  The best I can say about my incredibly expensive graduate degree is that I'm being exposed to sources of information I didn't know were available in the form of books and peer journals.  I know how to read and extract information.

I don't think I'm over the imposter syndrome completely.  I'm not sure if this syndrome is a function of misogyny in professional life or our overall culture.  I'm not sure if it's just something that people face when they're good at a lot of things and just "pick things up" along the way.  It could even be a function of age, and now that I'm getting closer to 50 (cringe) I'm just growing out of it.  I'll leave those questions to the social scientists.  What I do know is that I'm not alone in it and that it's an anxiety construct and needs to be dismantled as such.

So to quote Stuart Smalley,

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

kaizen

I used to love Tony Robbins, reading his books and watching his shows. I still think he's awesome, but hadn't thought much about him until this past week. One of the things he promotes is from the Japanese concept of 'Kaizen' which in simple terms is to commit to constant improvement in whatever you're trying to achieve. Never being satisfied with your performance, and looking for little ways to improve. This really resonated with me when I was younger, and I've worked to implement this in my own life.

What really got me thinking about it this week however, was a simple blood draw. With surgery upcoming, the surgeon wants to make sure I'm healthy and all that, and it's standard to draw some blood and run a few tests to make sure the system is operating within normal parameters. No big deal. I have zero issues with needles. Back in the day, we practiced on each other in Paramedic school, and since then I've let nursing students and other people training to start IVs and draw blood to practice on me. I don't have much pain with it, even though I bruise like fruit and sometimes come away from those sessions looking like a junkie.

I preface all of this by letting you know up front that I am an easy stick. My skin is quite light, and while some veins are not visible to the eye, they are easily felt and not very deep. My veins aren't particularly prone to rolling or blowing. I also have quite a bit of experience with both blood draws and IV starts. I am fond of telling people "I used to do this bouncing down the road in an ambulance with very little light." I am not a "vein whisperer" by any means, but I'm better than average, I would say. Working in the ER as a nurse gave me opportunity to regain my skills from years ago as a Paramedic and expand on them.

Drawing blood requires a slightly different technique than starting an IV, but they are similar enough that we tend to discuss the techniques interchangeably. It's a skill to be sure, so my next comment is not intended as a denigration of the people who do it. It is not rocket science. It doesn't take dizzying intellect or some special knowledge, nor is it an unachievable skill for most people. People who are particularly good at it usually are happy to give you tips and tricks they use, and with the advent of the internet there are dozens of places to go for information including videos about improving your IV skills.

So it always surprises me a little and seriously disappoints me when medical professionals who need to draw blood or start IVs regularly just throw their hands up and say "I'm not very good at this." It reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies where a hunky Viking throws Antionio Banderas' character a sword, and he complains that it's too heavy to use. The Viking's response? "Grow stronger."

So my surgical intake nurse this week was very nice, and seemed to be a very competent nurse. She wasn't a new grad by any means. As a surgical intake nurse, she probably has to draw blood on a dozen people or more a shift. I could tell she wasn't terribly comfortable with the draw, so I tried to reassure her by letting her know that I'm not a hard stick. She flat out told me that she can't really feel veins at all. This floored me a bit, since you can't see the veins on most patients due to skin pigment, tattoos, scars, hair, and more. We are taught to evaluate the veins by feel. Location, direction, valves, "bounciness", and size are all things we tell from feeling the arm.

One of the large veins that is almost a default for blood draws and often for IVs is the antecubital, which is on the inside of the bend of the elbow. You know the one I mean, some of you are cringing and pulling your arm in to protect it as you read this. Mine is fine, no issues with sticking it, pretty much ever.

She missed it. Clean.

Which I should be happy about, since that means it doesn't bruise. But there's no reason for it. I was hydrated and in reasonably good health. So she moved to my forearm wherebruise she could see the vein. Long story short, she went through the vein. Which is actually quite common with people learning to do blood draws, but they usually get better. It makes for a leaky IV and blown veins if you're trying to start an IV, but it doesn't usually screw up a blood draw. So she got the blood she needed. And I got this bruise:

I'm honestly not upset with the nurse. Like I said, I routinely let people practice on me. But I am disappointed that she doesn't seem to be trying to get better, she's just accepted that she's not good at it. In her position, that means that people who are harder sticks than I am get stuck way more than they need to. She did state that if she didn't get the second try, she'd get someone else. Which is good, because it at least limits the number of sticks and bruises. However, there are people for whom even this article is painful. They have a real anxiety about needles, and it's traumatic for them to have repeated sticks. Some people are truly hard to stick, and while they're usually patient, they need people who are working to improve their skills, not people who have given up.

When I was working ER, it was a point of pride that I was pretty good at IVs. I enjoyed having people come to me for help when they were having problems. I liked passing along the tips and tricks that worked for me and seeing my cohorts improve their skills as well. When I worked with honest-to-goodness vein whisperers (and I worked with several) I watched carefully how they did things, and asked questions. I sought out internet resources to find new information about ways I could keep getting better. I would ask for help when I was outmatched by a patient's veins, because I wasn't going to turn my patient into a pincushion. But it was my goal to be the person who, if I couldn't get a line, the patient needed a sonogram placement or a surgeon to place a central line. I wouldn't be satisfied with myself until that happened.

Kaizen isn't an obsession with perfection.  It's a commitment to becoming just a little better every day.  That's a healthy approach, and one we should all embrace.

Especially if you draw blood every day.  Just sayin'.

level10lifeAs part of my foray into bullet journaling, I ran across some people doing "Level 10 Life" in their journals. This intrigued me, so I started researching it. From what I was able to find, it started with the "Miracle Morning" by Hal Elrod. I've borrowed one of his books available on my Kindle and am reading it currently to see if the morning process he advocates will work for me. I'll report back on that after I finish it. One of the bullet journalers I follow has several posts about how she's implementing it, here and here.

Since I'm trying to digitize my bullet journal (at least for now) I wanted a way to put this into my OneNote, which means either hand drawing and taking a picture or doing an Excel chart. While expert Excel chart makers can do this wheel type chart, I don't have the time or expertise to do it. So I did a radar chart. I may change this later on, but thought it was a decent start. While the graphics are amusing, the heart of this is setting goals and tasks that will improve the self scores for each area. That's a little harder. I decided that I'll categorize this blog along the ten dimensions, and see how it shakes out. My OCD tendencies had me re-wording the categories as single words, but no single word seemed to work for Personal Growth, so I decided the OCD person in my brain needs to just shut up.

Companions - for me, this is about the people who mean the most to me. I blur the lines between "family" and "friends" enough to cause confusion. So the concept of companions on this journey of life seemed appropriate. My challenge is staying in closer contact with these people. I've come to rely on Facebook to update everyone on what's going on in my life, and it's very impersonal. My goal is to cultivate closer relationships with my core group of companions. I'm not quite sure exactly what that's going to look like yet.

Romance - I am so lucky to have a great guy who loves and understands me. My goal will be to spend more quality time with him, and less "veg in front of the TV" time.

Health - I gave myself a really low score on health. I know my health could be a lot worse, but I rated it in terms of how happy I am with my current state. I'm having bariatric surgery to start working on the weight. I will increase my activity level as I'm able post-op. Once I'm far enough post-op to get on the biologic treatments for my PsA I will. So my focus will be eating well and moving more for the time being.

Environment - This one seems a little odd in comparison with the others. It's about the physical environment we're in at work and home. I haven't been able to tolerate outside activities or do much in the way of clearing clutter and cleaning inside, so I also rated this one pretty low, but only because there's so many things I want to do as I have time, energy, and finances. De-cluttering, cleaning, landscaping, and decorating for starters. I'll refine this one as I go along.

Career - I think I'm doing pretty good in my career. Once I made the decision to go into Medical Informatics and landed my current job, things have smoothed out. I'm including graduate school in this category, since the only reason I'm doing it is to advance my career. All of my goals are long-term here, so I'll focus on school for now.

Finances - This area sucks for us, there's no way around it. All in all, we're very lucky. We make enough to support the family, and are comfortable. But the debt doesn't seem to budge, and we're not implementing much of a plan. I have loaded our data into YNAB (link) and the Mister and I have committed to reviewing it jointly every week, developing a plan and working the plan. First goal is to re-build our emergency cushion as recent unexpected expenses had reduced it. Then get rid of the debt as aggressively as we can. Oh, and buy a used truck sometime late summer or early fall for cash.

Personal Growth - All of the non-school stuff I want to learn and do falls into this category, except for Spirituality. So my bullet journal/miracle morning stuff will go here, trying to learn other languages, etc. My goal is to dedicate some time to doing these things on a regular basis.

Spirituality - I feel like I've really lost something here. I used to be active with the church I attended, even serving as a Board Member. I've worked with and founded non-traditional religious non-profits, and used to spend a lot of time working on my spiritual life. I feel like that completely flew out the window during marriage #2. I want to get this back, and I'm looking at a few ways to work on that. More to come.

Recreation - There's so many things I love to do: knitting, spinning, beading, reading, computer stuff, etc. Right now I can't do much of the craft work because of the pain in my hands, but hopefully this will change.

Giving - I wasn't sure what to do with this, at all. I volunteer time as a medic for a roller derby league a friend of mine skates with, so I counted that. I don't feel like there's a lot of 'giving back' in my life right now, and I don't know what that will look like, but I'm going to give it some thought.

This ended up being a much longer post than I intended, and a lot of it is "I don't know what this will look like, but I know I want it to be better." But it's a start, and one of the lessons I need to learn is that sometimes good enough is good enough.