The futility and stress of anger

I have a tendency to react before I think through events that have happened. My mom used to say I was "cutting off my nose to spite my face," and I pretty much ignored what that meant until I was well into the process of adulting my way through life.

I'm trying to remember at least one situation that I made a choice in the heat of the moment that I later regretted. I know it happened - more often than I'd like to admit back in my teens - but I can't seem to dredge up any examples from the depths of my brain. After all, this year, my teens are officially over 20 years ago. (Whoa.)

The thing is, I learned this response from both my parents. My mom and dad both had strong views and reacted with equal strength at times. They weren't hotheads, getting angry at the least little thing. There was usually a good reason, but their reactions weren't as measured as I believe either of them would have preferred to be. It didn't help that my mother had to take steroids as part of her treatment for neurosarcoidosis. I'm pretty sure we're kinda wired to have strong feelings, too. That doesn't mean it has to be the default reaction, though.

Mom eventually mellowed, partly due to a therapist that helped her figure out how to look at things differently so that anger and irritation weren't the default response. (Frankly, when you're chronically ill, is it all that shocking when there are bursts of anger from time to time? Because that's a sucky way to live.) My dad has mellowed, too. I think living just gives you a different perspective in these situations if you're open to it.

Being with Matt for the past 19+ years, I've mellowed too. Matt is ridiculously slow to anger - in fact, I've only seen him get truly angry a couple times and it comes nowhere close to what most people think of as an anger response. It's been humbling to watch how he reacts and compare myself to him. I never went to therapy but watching others in potentially charged situations has helped me learn the value of taking a step back to breathe and think.

My son has been the best possible teacher in this. He does such frustrating things. Try to imagine someone who's more stubborn than my son and you probably won't succeed. (Well, unless you know someone who thinks very literally, black-and-white, wrong-and-right about the world.) Communicating with him about various issues and events can feel like you're driving in circles and can't find a single exit that goes to your destination - or even close to it. 

I've had to remind myself that there's a reason for his response to every situation. When I remember to stop and talk to him about it, I get to understand him better so I can help him navigate similar circumstances when he experiences them in the future. And I've reinforced those ideas for myself in the process. 

One thing I've started to do is go to trusted friends for a gut check. That one step of describing a situation and asking for their input has made an enormous difference. Especially when I'm advocating for my child. 

Report cards came home recently and I have yet to sign and send his back because of one teacher's grades and comments. They're infuriating, particularly since I had no warning, despite meeting with her just a few weeks prior. I've done several gut checks. Described the situation to friends who are removed from it. I've talked to a friend who has two children in classes with this teacher - one is Brandon's best friend. 

My view has been validated, but I haven't gotten to the point where I don't want to swear when I talk about it, so I'm waiting a bit longer to address it. Because I've learned how much anger stresses me out and that it won't help me to get what B needs from school. Instead, I want to use it to drive the right actions to make things better for him. 

Anger's not a bad thing. But I think we have to be careful how we express it and when. You never want anger to undermine your ability to get the right response and you certainly don't want to regret decisions, actions, or words you make, take, or say in anger.

A promise kept

Have you ever had a year that is so momentous that you feel like you can relive it every single time you hear it mentioned? That year for me was 2000. It was a huge year. (And I don’t mean because of the 2000 election, in which Tallahassee had a starring role, whether it wanted it or not!)

In January, something devastating and hurtful happened just before I moved from my cute little studio apartment into my (recently deceased) great aunt’s house to live while it was in probate.

In February and March, I spent all my spare time distracting myself by setting up house and trying not to be lonely. I lived on the other side of town from my parents in a super cute house surrounded by a neighborhood that was slightly run down and perhaps not the most law-abiding at times.

In April I turned a corner. I began to regain my balance only to begin the process at work of going through a re-org. Uncertainty was everywhere, including in me. I didn’t know what I was doing there other than marking time.

In May I flew to Canada - and this is where things get interesting - and promised Matt that I would move to Canada by the American Thanksgiving. (For anyone who isn’t in the know, that effectively gave me an extra six weeks.)

In June I dragged my brother to St. Petersburg, FL to go to a Canadian consulate-approved doctor to have the medical exam required for my Permanent Resident Visa. 

In July I found out that my great aunt’s house was done with probate. Since the rent on it was out of my budget I had to move again. (That’d be move #2.) And I also turned 23.

In August I moved into the apartment that I’d found in July. It turns out that my dear friend was moving back to town and needed a place, so she moved in with me. Perfect - someone to take over the lease when I left by November.

September came and so did Matt. He spent a week hanging out with me and my family, seeing the sights in Tallahassee and this is the one visit we had together that I can barely remember. The highlight was Starvin’ Marvin and his stinky bum and flakey skin playing with Emo and Colonel Mustard, but that’s another story for another day.

October was a really big month. When it started, I lined up a second job for myself as a seasonal worker at Barnes and Noble, hoping with each passing day that my Visa would arrive soon. All the paperwork had been sent in plenty of time for me to get it by the end of October and I was getting nervous.

Midway through the month, my roommate and I noticed that Colonel Mustard wasn’t eating so I took him to the vet. Diagnosis: most likely FIP. I said my goodbyes to the best cat ever the next day. I only had him a year and a half, but he’d been with me through a LOT.

Within about a week or week and a half, I was at the second job one night, bored and counting the seconds until I could leave, when I got a call. It was my mom. She never called me at work but she wanted to let me know there was something from the Canadian Consulate (or whoever it was that sent my Visa; I can’t remember now). And I just gave away what was in the package.

And here’s the relief part: I was movin’ to Canada! I was going to keep the promise I’d made. 

I already had my resignation letter written. All I had to do was change the date, print, sign and give it to my supervisor, who was expecting it.

About a week after I gave my three-week notice I left work early, wrapping up by scheduling a meeting with my supervisor and someone from the big boss’ office. Later that night, a coworker called me at home to give me a heads up that my supervisor - someone I truly liked - had been let go. The next Monday morning, he called me at my desk to say his goodbyes - he was a great man to work for.

By then, November had come, I had two weeks left to work and I no longer had a supervisor. You’d think I would have switched off, but I didn’t. I had the final awards ceremony that I was going to manage and that was important to me. I had some big send-offs from the people I had worked with for 3.5 years. When Matt rolled into town in late November, sporting a champagne-colored minivan, I hadn’t even packed a box. (Gasp!) I was in total denial that I was leaving.

Matt spent the days I had left at work walking around the (huge) complex and going into every building to collect boxes. We didn’t have a single moment alone since he’d driven into town. So, when he got tired of waiting, he went for it right where we were - my cubicle - and with a co-worker walking by chit-chatting with me. When she saw him down on one knee (before I did), she quickly scurried away. He asked and I said yes.

It was Monday, November 20th, I was engaged and I was definitely moving to Canada. It was a done deal. We quickly packed everything we could into the van over the next two days. Said as many goodbyes as we could and celebrated an early Thanksgiving with my parents and brother.

The day before Thanksgiving, amidst political turmoil, Matt and I drove away from my parents’ house on our way north, just as I’d promised.

That was when the real relief began.

*****

Mama's Losin' It

This post was based on the prompt “A moment you felt truly relieved” from Mama Kat’s writing workshop. 

What’s your moment of relief?

Unwanted Change

Within the last year, I’ve had some experiences that have slowly changed me. I feel myself becoming more cynical, negative, even jaded. I’ve found myself feeling overly suspicious of people’s motives and intentions. It’s partly a coping mechanism, but I don’t like this new aspect of myself. 

I like to think I’m a trustworthy person and I’m willing to trust people at their word until proven otherwise. But I’m starting to question what I’m told on a regular basis. I think it’s healthy to be discerning, but automatic distrust is hard for me. It doesn’t feel right.

The battle between my natural instinct to accept everyday occurrences at face value and my newly minted cynical side is weighing me down with stress. I alternate between resistance to this change and wanting to go with the flow because it’s easier.

It took me months (and my husband’s input) to see this was happening, and weeks to figure out the answer to the problem.

Just as I do with my son when he’s getting upset, I have to remove myself from the situation. It won’t be as easy as plucking a child off the floor and carrying them to another room, but one way or another I’ll figure out how to make it happen. 

*****

Written in participation of Bigger Picture Moments, “A moment where you recognized the role your faith plays in your every day life. A moment where you take note of motherhood and the importance of what you are doing. A moment that made you stop and breathe in the bigness of it all. The hugeness that is life and the small moments adding up to one Bigger Picture.” Check out this week’s posts at Madeline Bea.

No longer an interview virgin

Since being laid off in May, I’ve applied for somewhere around 60-70 jobs. It was a slow summer and some jobs I applied for ended up being wrong for me for a variety of reasons – at least the ones I was contacted about. 60-70 jobs sounds like a lot, but one of my neighbors actually applied for at least 100 before she finally got an interview – and I’m happy to say she got an offer that she accepted from her one and only interview. It’s indicative of the timing and the market over the last few months that I’ve only been able to apply for 60-70 jobs. As soon as school started up again, I noticed a dramatic increase in the number of postings. It’s almost like the world shuts down for cottage season in Canada. But patience is paying off!

This week I had TWO interviews - both for very similar positions. I feel like my return on applications has been justified by those two interviews alone (when compared with my neighbor’s experience). The anticipation of meeting with these two prospective employers was nerve-wracking in a way that interviews hadn’t been for me previously. I know I’m capable, have a strong work ethic and I have always been confident in my ability to express myself in interviews in the past. However, in both interviews this week, I got questions that I couldn’t immediately answer and I floundered. It wasn’t pretty. That’s not to say that the interviews didn’t go well overall – I was actually fairly happy with the end result. I’m just wondering why I’m so nervous and I have a few theories.

I suppose it’s primarily because I really want to get a job sooner than later, so there’s some anxiety coming into play. Being off all summer has been nice, but I like being busy and at times that I’ve felt at a loss for what to do; there’s only so many hours in the day I can look for jobs online without being in danger of losing my sanity. Additionally, although the title of this post implies otherwise, I have interviewed quite a lot. However, it’s been over three years since I went for an interview of any kind – the longest period between interviews since I started working 15 years ago. In the past, even when I was working full-time for an extended period, I had temporary second jobs that I interviewed for that helped keep me sharp and ready for the next time I needed to meet with a prospective employer. I realize that saying I’ve interviewed a LOT may sound as if I have had lots of interviews and not been awarded the position. Au contraire, my friend, I have a pretty decent interview-turns-into-job-offer success rate. I’m sort of banking on that right now, to be honest. ;) Besides, you generally don’t get a call to interview if they aren’t pretty interested. Of course, interviews are a little like a first date. You go in dressed to kill, give your best impression and when the chemistry isn’t right, they figure out that they just aren’t that into you after all.

And thank goodness for that; who wants to spend most of their waking hours every week in the wrong relationship…uh, job?

Last week, when I knew I had two interviews coming up, I wanted to do something, anything to help myself prepare for the process and think through possible answers in advance. So, I found a Web site that listed 50 interview questions and I copied the list and its advice into Word and went to work answering all the questions. I spent HOURS and I think I got about halfway through the list. It was a good exercise and definitely helped with the first interview this week. The questions asked were very much in the traditional vein and even started out (same as the list) with the universally dreaded “tell me about yourself”. I’ve had that one in the past and flubbed it royally by saying, “What do you want to know?” This time, I knew how I would answer and was confident that it would be, at the very least, an acceptable and relevant answer.

My second interview was a bit easier, most likely because I felt warmed up for it. I’d already had one and I made an effort not to make the same mistakes in the second interview that I made in the first. It’s fair to say that I succeeded in that goal, but not that I didn’t flub up some of my answers. I’m still trying to stop cringing over my answer to one question in particular. It’s not worth stressing over, though. I was honest and straightforward and if that, combined with my mad administrative skills, isn’t enough then it’s not the right job for me and I’m fine with that. I must say, though, that I found the interview questions far easier to answer. They were behavior-based, so I was able to give specific examples from past experiences of how I have handled various types of situations. In every case, other than the cringe-inducing question, I was able to think of a valid example pretty quickly…whew!

I’ve always heard that panel interviews are the kiss of death for a candidate – nothing is guaranteed to induce more nerves than having to field questions from a group of people versus just one. My second interview was with two people, and though I wouldn’t categorize it as a panel interview, I did find it to be more informative about the company because the two individuals played off of each other well, giving me more insight than you typically get with only one interviewer. I also found that with two individuals, they hear answers from a different perspective and that seemed to generate more follow-up questions. The dynamic was totally different and may have been due to gender differences as well.

Now I’m just waiting to hear back from each of the organizations to see if my interview blunders were deal-breakers or not! Actually, I honestly don’t think my poor answers will prevent me from getting either job. However, another candidate with better qualifications would. Let’s just hope they didn’t apply or don’t get called for an interview.

I'm going public

 

Usually the phrase “going public” is used in terms of some famous celebrity who has a big scandal, serious illness or some other *very important* piece of information they feel the world needs to know about. Or, in business, it refers to a company that is ready to hit the market and make everyone a ton of money. As I’m not famous and no one really cares about my personal issues, and I don’t own a company that will have me rolling in it for the rest of my life through an IPO, all I’ve got is my struggle with my health.

Right this minute, it’s 9:59am on September 20, 2009 and I’ve been in pain since Friday evening. Prior to Friday, I have had this pain off and on for a couple of months. I know exactly what it is: it’s my gallbladder. I had my first gallbladder attack last Halloween. Instead of showing off my little 7 month old in his first costume, we spent that night in the ER. Prior to the nurse asking me if I still had my gallbladder, I was trying my best not to panic with the fear that I was dying. When she asked that question, I was immediately able to calm down and stop assuming that I had a spontaneously punctured lung or a terminal heart problem.

I didn’t take that gallbladder attack seriously and that is why I’m in pain this weekend. When I saw my GP after my ER visit, she said that I should go about eating normally and that it was probably due to my recent pregnancy - gallbladder attacks are fairly common during and post-pregnancy. (Hormones are so annoying, eh?) I was already seeing a dietitian to help me balance my diet for the treatment of my Polycycstic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), so there wasn’t any need to worry about the gallbladder issue, since it would respond well to the PCOS treatment anyway.

I was seeing the dietitian from November 2008 until March 2009. I had to cancel one appointment and before I called to reschedule, I got laid off from my job. That effectively ended the possibility of further appointments since the expense of a dietitian really isn’t an absolute essential. While I was seeing her, though, I’d had both extreme success - losing 8 pounds in one month - and unfortunate setbacks. The setback was minor - only a 1lb. weight loss the month after losing 8. However, it was due to having to discontinue taking Meridia, which was an extremely helpful aid to me. Because it was preventing me from sleeping, I had to stop taking it and that discouraged me a great deal. I tried to think about it positively by telling myself that it’s better not to be dependent on pills or other weight loss “shortcuts”.

Something that I realized today - yeah, it takes me a while - is that I’ve been stressed almost constantly for the last three years or so. The list of reasons starts with my mom’s very sudden and unexpected death, having to put a cat down, buying/building a house, buying a new car, moving into a new house, getting pregnant, getting a promotion, having a baby, working while on maternity leave, going back to work (and optimistic about it), getting back to work and realizing my optimism was misplaced, trying to improve my overall health (and expecting too much too soon), getting laid off in a down economy - and during the summer when no one hires anyway, fearing losing my house, pressures from neighbors to build fences we can’t afford, etc., etc. I tend to “take things in stride” and not get panicked about them, even though that isn’t how my body responds. I was reading this morning about the signs of chronic stress and realized that I have almost all of them:

  • Headaches…check (almost daily and often migraines)!
  • Frequent upset stomach, indigestion, gas pain, diarrhea, or appetite changes…check!
  • Feeling as though you might cry…check (I sometimes do)!
  • Muscular tension…check (especially in my neck and shoulders, which causes headaches, too)!
  • Tightness in your chest and a feeling that you can’t catch your breath…check!
  • Feeling nervous or sad…check!
  • Feeling irritable and angry…check! (Even if I am only upset about being laid off.)
  • Having problems at work or in your normal relationships…check! Matt and I are happy together, but I think we’ve had more instances of strain this summer than just about any other time in our relationship.
  • Sleep disturbance: either insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)…check!
  • Apathy (lack of interest, motivation or energy)…check! (Fortunately, it’s not constant, but comes and goes, so I do get stuff done.)
  • Mental or physical fatigue…check! Matt told me I needed to get a job soon because my brain was turning to mush. It’s a little joke we’ve had for months, but apparently it’s no joke.
  • Frequent illness…check! Though, surprisingly, this did ease up not long after my layoff…interesting. And Brandon was ill for most of the time I was as well - my poor, stressed baby…haha!
  • Hives or skin rashes…thank goodness, I’ve avoided this one. :)
  • Tooth grinding…check! Mind you, I’m a tooth grinder and have been all my life. I think my personality is one that bottles up stress internally and it comes out in “little” ways like this.
  • Feeling faint or dizzy…check! Fortunately infrequently and I’d like to keep it that way.
  • Ringing in the ears…check! Who knew? I’ve always wondered why that happened.
  • Disruptions/skips in menstrual cycle; unusually severe PMS or menopausal symptoms - AND that’s not one I’m going to address, because I’m just not willing to publish that kind of information in a public forum!

I got this list from The Flat Belly Diet, which I am about to implement as a diet regime to help me get in shape. Sure, there are faddy promises made in the book, but it appeals to me because I like having certain things laid out really clearly rather than obscure directives that I have to interpret for myself. This book lays it all out and that is what works for me. It’s also a well-balanced and not excessively restrictive diet to follow.

Here’s the kicker for me. When I got pregnant, I weighed approximately 220-225 pounds. (In case you hadn’t guessed, we’re at the “going public” part of this post now - who puts THAT number out on the Web for the world to see? Apparently me, if you’re reading this.) I gained somewhere between 35-40 pounds throughout. I tried to keep it down to about 25, and even got in trouble in my first trimester because I didn’t gain so much as an ounce over a month between two appointments. For someone like me, who gains weight looking at food, it was pretty astonishing when that happened. I thought I was eating a lot, but clearly I wasn’t eating more than I was burning.

My third trimester was rough - not in terms of being pregnant; that part I loved - but for weight gain, that’s when most of it happened. I actually gained 5 pounds in two weeks, which was my highest (and most embarrassing) gain. I was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GD), which didn’t come as a huge surprise since I already knew I had PCOS. Most women with GD aren’t treated with insulin shots anymore; it’s controlled with diet. The biggest risk with GD is that the baby can grow to be quite large. The average size for a newborn baby is somewhere between 6-8lbs. My son was 10.5lbs. He was also born by Caesarean section, though I’d wanted to have a natural (minimal intervention) birth. I am terrified of needles and pain and having to have my first surgery in order to have my first child was incredibly stressful and, to a certain extent, disappointing for me.

The combination of having PCOS and a C-section left me pretty much unable to produce enough milk for Brandon, yet another disappointment. Between that and the GD, I knew I needed to get my health in order before I tried having another child. This year was supposed to be all about the goal of good health. As I’ve written before, it didn’t work out. Whose fault was that? Mine. Have I kept up my half-year resolution? No. Why is it important now? Because I know if something doesn’t change I’m going to create severe and long-lasting health problems for myself. I’m quite literally in a do-or-die situation.

It’s now 10:53am and it’s been almost exactly an hour since I went down to the basement to jump on the Wii Fit to weigh myself. I was convinced that I would be hovering around 235lbs. To my incredible surprise, I weighed in at 229.4lbs. On August 12th - the last time I weighed myself - I was 232 - my highest non-pregnancy, non-still-trying-to-lose-pregnancy weight ever. So, despite the odds, I’ve actually lost a couple of pounds and while I’m not proud of my eating habits of the last month, I am certainly grateful that they haven’t been entirely detrimental.

My ideal weight is something around the 150-160 range. BMI calculators say 120-130, but I have big bones (yes, for real) and only anorexia would get me down to 120. My original goal at the beginning of this year was to lose a respectable and realistic 40lbs, with the plan of losing another 40 in 2010. At not even a pound a week, that should be EASY to do. Instead, I’ve been yo-yo’ing my way from 236, down to 220 and now back up to 230 again. So, I’ve set a new goal for myself: to focus on eating healthy and avoid the foods that harm me. If I do that, I am sure I can lose 4lbs. by October 20th…that’s including my favorite eating holiday of the year - Thanksgiving (for Canada). Thank goodness so much of what I do for Thanksgiving can easily be made really healthy.

So, I’ve done it…I’ve put one of those numbers that you never reveal - age, weight, salary - out there for the world to see. Oh, here’s another: I’m 32 and I’ve been told I’ll have diabetes by 40 if I don’t do something about it now. See? Do or die. I’m 32 and I am about 80lbs. overweight and this is about making some major changes to my life that are long overdue.