Anxiety Is A Bully

NewYears_LunarbaboonOn New Year’s Eve, we indulged in something that has become a tradition in our household: Junk Food Dinner.  We cook up some hors d’oeuvres and have chips and dip.  The boys love the chance to eat foods that we rarely otherwise eat as we ring in the new year.  NHL even made it to midnight for the first time.  (JSL fell asleep earlier but woke up 5 minutes after midnight.)  After the ball dropped and the boys were tucked into bed, we climbed into bed ourselves hoping for a good night’s sleep and the ability to sleep in the next day.

I woke up a couple of hours later, though, feeling off.  The first thing that I could tell was wrong was that my nose felt clogged up.  This began to make me anxious that I wouldn’t be able to breathe.  Ever since my surgery, I’ve found that a clogged nose is quickly followed by anxiety attacks of this nature.  During the day, I can stave them off by distracting myself with various activities.  During the night-time, though, there is less to do.  The house is quieter and the anxiety looms larger.  This also brought back memories of my post-surgery anxiety attack when I couldn’t fall asleep nearly the entire night.  Add in that I started to feel nauseous and my anxiety of not being able to breathe was joined by the anxiety of possibly throwing up and I was a nervous wreck.  Even my own skin seemed to feel wrong.

The next day, I was feeling better.  However, as nighttime got closer, I could feel my anxiety climbing.  The night before had had an anxiety attack that kept me awake.  Obviously, tonight was going to be no different.  Obviously, tonight I was going to lie awake, getting in and out of bed and pacing around with my mind racing with worst-case-scenarios.  Obviously, I was doomed to have anxiety attacks every night.  Right?

That’s when I realized that my anxiety was being a bully.

Years ago, when I was safely away from the bullying I suffered in high school, I realized that bullies try to dictate reality.  You’re not allowed to go to someone for help because the bully dictates that this conflict is between you and him.  He can gather his friends together to taunt you as well, though, because that’s allowed (by him).  Any attempt by you to seek assistance reduces your position – or so he says.

Similarly, this anxiety was framing the argument.  I was approaching the night when, during the previous night I had had an anxiety attack.  Therefore, my anxiety bully proclaimed, there was a 100% chance of an anxiety attack this night.  And the next night.  And the one after that.  The anxiety bully told me that I was incapable of going to sleep and staying asleep the entire night.

In truth, though, the bullies NEED to define the rules to protect themselves from behaviors that would stop them.  Seeking help doesn’t weaken the bullying victim.  It strengthens them.  Getting help when you need it can lead to the bully being forced to back off.  Similarly, the anxiety bully was purposefully focusing in on the nights when I had an anxiety attack and ignoring all of the nights when I went to sleep and slept fine.  It tried to keep my focus away from anything that might help me to increase its own power.

Thankfully, I was able to get to sleep just fine that night and proved my anxiety bully wrong.  Putting your anxieties in context can be tricky when in the midst of an anxiety attack.  It won’t help defeat every one you might have.  However, if you feel one coming on, remembering the times that everything went smoothly might aid in warding off anxiety’s bullying tactics.

NOTE: The image above is a portion of a web comic by Lunarbaboon.  He posted this comic the night I had an anxiety attack about fearing not being able to sleep due to an anxiety attack.  Besides drawing funny, insightful, and amazingly entertaining comics, he obviously has hidden a camera in my house somewhere to gather his material.  How else would his comics mirror my life so often?  In any event, he was gracious enough to grant me permission to use part of his comic in my post.  Go to his website and read a few dozen of his comics.  You won’t be disappointed.

The Importance of Playing

Platformer_Game"But we didn’t get time to play!!!"

Sadly, these words have been uttered often this week.  Thanks to various activities, the boys have had little time for playing in the afternoon after they return home, eat dinner, and finish their homework.  All too often, they’ll finish their last homework problem only to find that they have a mere ten minutes until they need to start getting ready for bed.

Obviously, play time is important for kids.  It lets them relax and get creative in a manner that they find enjoyable (versus in a manner that a teacher has assigned).  However, play time can be just as important for adults.

In a conversation with a friend if mine, he asked how many hours in a week I spent on social media, playing games, and other activities that did not directly put money in my bank account.  When I answered, he suggested that I use those hours to take on extra freelance work instead.

While I do freelance work, I try very hard not to be a workaholic.  Mainly, because I think that a life consisting of only work will quickly become a frustrating and boring life.  I would rather live a life with slightly less money but one filled with family, friends, and fun.

In addition, you can easily get burnt out by working too much.  When I’m faced with a frustrating task, the worst thing I can do is keep trying to tackle it for hours on end.  When faced with problems like this, I’ll put the problem down and either play a quick game, take a walk, or work on something else.  Doing this keeps my brain from going down the same failed path over and over again.  Oftentimes, my subconscious will figure out the solution for me while I’m pursuing other interests.

Finally, there’s the "death march fallacy.". Some employers try to get their employees to work 80+ hour weeks for weeks on end to finish projects on time.  (Usually in these cases, the deadline was set by managers who aren’t directly responsible for meeting said deadline.). The theory is that the employees will put in double the hours and get the work done in half as many days.  The reality is that employees wind up overworked, overtired, and burnt out.  The quality of their work declines fast and more time is spent fixing mistakes that they make than would have been spent with a slower development schedule.  Why would I subject myself to a" freelance death march" just to earn extra money?  All that would happen would be that I would be miserable, my quality of work would plummet, and my clients would be upset about the work I was doing for them.

No, my playing a game, watching TV, or reading a book doesn’t bring in money, but every activity we do doesn’t have to be monetized. A life focused solely on money sounds like a very boring and meaningless life to me.

How important is play/recreation to you? What is your favorite method of unwinding?

NOTE: The "Platformer Game" image above is by qubodup and is available from

The (Financial) Hits Keep Coming

house_dollars_dropdshadowThere are some days when being an adult really stinks.  Just when you think things are calming down, life throws another "fun surprise" your way.

A couple of months ago, my car had been making bad noises. I put off getting it checked out because I knew it would be expensive to fix. Sure enough, when it for so bad that I couldn’t ignore it anymore, it turned into a couple hundred dollar repair.  (Getting it fixed earlier wouldn’t have changed the price tag.)

A month later, we had to fix our chimney.  Ten years after having it repointed (the quality of which we question), the bricks were crumbling and letting water into our attic.  We needed the entire chimney removed and rebuilt at a cost of over a thousand dollars.

And then comes the day before Thanksgiving. While getting ready to cook dinner (after having baked a pumpkin chocolate chip cake for Thanksgiving dessert the next day), our oven died.  Specifically, it made a loud pop, sent out a bright spark towards our wood cabinets (which luckily didn’t catch fire), and stopped working.

I unplugged the oven, checked the circuit breaker (which was tripped), reset the breaker, plugged the oven back in, and tried it out.  The range top worked fine, but the clock and oven were completely dead.  We explored repairing it but it would have cost almost as much as a new oven.

We’ve already purchased a new oven.  Meanwhile, other costs loom ahead of us ready to drain the money from us the minute any money hits our bank account.

Considering that the new oven will take over a week to arrive, we’re going to need to be creative with microwave and slow cooker based recipes for dinners.

What slow cooker or microwave meals would you recommend? Remember, the meals shouldn’t require a stove or oven at all. (Vegetarian is also easier for us with kosher considerations.)

Note: The "home expense" image above is by scyg and is available via

Routine: The Enemy of Inspiration

InspirationOn Thursday night, I sat down to write my post.  I had a great idea and began to type.  A paragraph in, however, and I just didn’t know where to go with this concept.  No problems, though, unlike some other days when I struggled to come up with one idea, I had another idea at the ready.  So I saved my first idea as a draft (to be completed when I could) and began work on my second idea.  Unfortunately, this too quickly descended into a mire from which the post refused to budge.  So there I was two ideas down and no more topics were coming to mind.  The night began to drag on, I couldn’t come up with anything else, and my already blog-topic-empty brain began to fight drowsiness too.  At this point, I decided to just skip the blog post.  Sometimes it is better to not write anything at all when you don’t have anything to write.

Over the weekend, I began to think about why I couldn’t think of anything.  Why did those perfectly good topics lead to no words springing to mind?  Why could my brain not think of anything else.  In one word: Routine.

I’ve settled into a routine.  Nearly every day is the same.  I get up, go to work, come home, make dinner, clean up from dinner, get the boys ready for bed, get the boys in bed, write a blog post, and go to sleep.  Sure, the details might change from day to day, but the overall schedule is the same.  And if there’s one thing that kills off all inspiration, it’s going through the same routine day after day.

I’ve gone through similar slumps in the past.  In every case, I broke my slump by doing something outside of my normal routine.  Playing Munchkin with NHL, running alongside JSL as he bikes, taking the boys to a museum, going on a walk by myself.  As long as it varies from my usual, daily activities, it can help get the creative juices flowing.

What helps to inspire you when you get into a creative rut?

NOTE: The "light bulb off => on" image above is a combination of "Light Bulb Off" and "Light Bulb On" by palomaironique which is available via

Car Trouble Lessons

file54446e3d2935dFor awhile now, my car has been making noises.  When I drove, I’d hear a rumbling noise coming from the back of the car.  We figured that something was wrong with the muffler and I meant to get it looked at, but – life being what it is – other things kept coming up and delaying this getting fixed.  That all changed on Friday.

After picking NHL up from school, we started driving to get JSL.  Right away, we knew something was wrong.  The low rumbling noise – that usually was almost completely blocked by rolling the windows up – was replaced by a much louder noise.  It sounded like we were driving a motorboat down the street.  In addition to this, our car sounded like it was dragging something and there were occasional popping sounds.  Furthermore, the back of the car began to vibrate.  All of this noise was too much for sound-sensitive NHL and he began to have a panic attack.  (It didn’t help that B and I were freaking out over what was wrong.)

When we parked by JSL’s school, I had B keep the car on while I knelt down to take a look under the car.  I immediately saw what was wrong.  I saw the exhaust pipe vibrating freely, completely in time with the sounds we were hearing.

Noticing this was smart – what came next wasn’t.

For some reason, I got the idea to try to hold the pipe still to see if this stopped the noise.  Without thinking, I reached my hand under the car and touched the pipe.

Now, you might be thinking that the workings under a car can get hot.  If so, you’d be right.  Boy, are you right.  My fingers barely touched the pipe when I felt the burn and withdrew them quickly.  Still, three of my fingers hurt like crazy and I saw a big blister forming on one of them.  We picked the boys up and then, after dropping the kids and B at home, I took the car into a local service station to get it repaired.  I conveniently forgot to mention the part about me burning my hands under the hot, running car.

Sure enough, my diagnosis was correct.  The exhaust pipe had separated from the muffler.  Both needed to be replaced.  A few hours (and quite a few hundred dollars) later, and my car was all fixed.  Now we keep hearing weird noises, but I think we’re just a) used to weird sounds coming from my car and b) expecting something else to go wrong.  As for my fingers, they’ve healed pretty quickly.

In all my years of supporting computer systems, I’ve learned one valuable lesson: Never treat people like idiots for not knowing something or for doing something stupid.  After all, everyone starts out not knowing what you take to be basic knowledge and all it takes is one moment when your brain overlooks the obvious (car undercarriages are hot when they are running) for you to do something stupid.

NOTE: The "KwikFit" image above is by Jusben and is available via morgueFile.

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