Optimisim, You Say?

"Optimism? It's a mania for insisting everything is great when, really, we're all wretched." - Candide

Friday, May 28, 2010

Confession: I Try to Understand Everything

I’ve had a difficult week struggling with my demons. They’re things I’m not really proud of, but they’re on my mind and I have to get them off my chest. One of them is that I cling to the past. (That’s a demon to battle another day.) I also realized I’m sometimes defensively judgmental – on other words, I subconsciously judge because I think I’m being judged. (Also a demon to battle another day). The one that keeps rearing its ugly head, though, is that I’m frustrated about my condition. Since that’s directly tied to another demon, it makes the most sense to mention it right now.

See, it’s often hard to make other people understand that my fatigue is different than being tired or sleepy. Even when I’m so tired that my muscles ache from exhaustion, and I’ve explained the situation over and over, the compassion of those around me is limited.

In part, I can’t blame them. First of all, no one can be compassionate all the time. Second, the compassion or pity of others isn’t a necessity – it’s a luxury. Third, I’m not even sure I WANT pity or compassion. And finally, no one really understands, and I can’t even expect them to remember that I’m ill. I mean, even El Senor (who lives with me) will say things like, “Why are you so tired? You slept 11 hours last night.” Also, I work with a pretty . . . . shall we say . . . unique group of people – as I’ve mentioned before, I’d love to blog about my job. One of my issues with them is their misplaced (or lack of) concern for other human beings. I’ve seen them take bets against someone’s sales efforts succeeding and call a hospital when they think someone is staying there (because they all agree that no, there is no way this person could be telling the truth about being sick.) It’s just how they are.

But there are still times when I just wish I could make people around me understand.

I realized this morning that my frustration is as much with myself as it is with them. Even I don’t understand my cancer, my hypothyroidism, my other health issues. This has been a great source of recent anger and bitterness; as I mentioned before, I’ll often blame myself for being lazy when I’m sick. I have an issue with being over-analytical; I’m a bit anal-retentive and I’m calmer when I’m well-organized. I know even my health is better when my life is neater and simpler. So, I like to understand everything, compartmentalize it all, give it all a nice little label.

It hit me today that, not only is it impossible for me (or anyone else) to understand everything, it’s also unnecessary. Some things happen that we’ll never understand, and wasting time trying to figure them out could rob us of the experience and/or lesson. And, when I think about it, the mystery of some memories and occasions only makes them more beautiful and remarkable.

For me, trying to understand everything is often a barrier to progress, as well - because it sometimes prevents me from just accepting things as they are. It also leads me down the dark road of being judgmental. This usually stems from my need to identify, understand, and label all of the things and people I encounter.

Seems like I am spending an awful lot of energy doing this for things and people I’ll never be able to, or truly need to, fully understand.

So my goal, even if it’s just for today, instead of trying to analyze, understand, or force things into a category or compartment – is to try to accept all things as they are.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Distance, Ups, and Downs

Being without a thyroid is a pain in the ass. 


One reason?  It’s the major gland that controls a lot of the hormones that regulate emotions.  Right now, my body doesn’t realize I’m on synthetic hormone, so I have periods where I’m not only extra tired but also extra  . . . . everything.  Sad, frustrated, depressed, struggling – everything. 

The thing is, none of this is NEW for me; I’ve been handling it for over 7 years.  (So that means I should be an expert at dealing with it, right?)  But there are days when I just can’t get the pieces to fit.  My poor boyfriend and friends get to hear me whine a lot about how upset I am.  El Senor (literally translated, The Mister) will sometimes ask me, “Why so many ups and downs?”


Good things have been happening the past few days.  I’ve gotten very far into my workout schedule, and I’m training again for a mini-triathlon.  It started with a 1km openwater swim on Saturday that took me back to the very first place I ever did an openwater swim.  It was a spiritually cleansing and revitalizing experience.  I made huge progress moving things into my boyfriend’s house.  I went to watch him play paintball for the first time, since he came to watch me swim for the first time.  I got on the trainer for almost 40 minutes last night and did a hill workout, then did strength for another 20 minutes.  Last night I did a stride run.  I shouldn’t mention that I then sat around and beat myself up for 30 minutes about why I was so stiff and it only lasted 1.3 miles.  I’ll be joining a Master’s swim group again when I can.


There is so much that’s not under my control.  I am aware that I should not try to control all things, as I will never be able.  But it’s hard to see one’s progress when one is standing in the midst of it.  Sometimes, what is required is distance.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Confession: I Used to Have More Attitude Than Gratitude

When I first started doing triathlon, including OW swimming, everything else in my life was the best it had ever been. Then my marriage fell apart and I started getting sicker. I used to feel like I had everything in my life except my health, so when I was sick I would feel as though it was all being taken away from me. Sometimes I wondered, as things started going downhill, if it could possibly get any worse.

Now things are kind of the opposite: I had nothing I wanted, and so many tough lessons hit me, and so much bad luck just happened (all while I was sicker than I'd ever been), that I wondered if it could possibly get any better. In fact, I prayed every day for just a tiny bit of the betterness I used to know.

I'm pleased to say that, aside from my health, things are now better than they've been in ages, if ever. I'm on the verge of an exciting career change; I have an excellent education, I have a stable, dependable man in my life who's turned out to be an excellent influence and support system. After years of praying for a life where I could just "go to work and come home," my BA is done and I'm planning for my Master's. And, because of all I've been through, I refuse to let any bad luck or news take it away this time.

I used to have a theory that only people who were truly grateful for what they had received more, and that those who weren't truly grateful got it taken away.

I'll be honest: I wasn't nearly grateful enough.

I don't intend to make that mistake again.

So, while cancer is generally considered a negative, I'm sharing with you some of the random positive things it has taught me.

1. Patience. I used to have a REALLY hard time with this one. I wanted it all. Now. Delivered. And now I'm learning that there’s no use getting fired up about things because they usually work themselves out. Do what you can and relax. Sometimes, doing nothing and waiting a bit reveals more than getting fired up and demanding something immediately.

2. Priorities. These have been out of whack quite a few times. See patience. Conversely, if something is important (getting my full-body scan, for example) – sometimes you do need to get a little wound up, but don’t complain about it or worry about it. Just do everything you can. Like call the doctor two days in a row to schedule the appointment. Like tell work to f- off if you’re super-sick.

3. Karma. I used to waste time worrying about what other people were doing to piss me off. Now I've learned that energy is limited, so it's unwise to waste it on other people. They’ll get theirs. See:Ex Whose Name I Shan't Mention. I used to be jealous of his successes until he ended up with a crazy ass b’tch and he ended up having his own work problems, etc. without me. So everything didn’t magically work for him post-divorce anymore than it did for me.

4. Control. I have control issues. I want everything to fall into my neat little plans. Yet now I'm seeing that there is nothing – LITERALLY, NOTHING – that you can control except yourself, and sometimes you can’t even control that. See Karma.

5. Finally, as a combination of all the above: I used to get pissed about things that aren’t fair. If you look at my family, you would think me the last one to end up so sick. I eat good and work out. My blood pressure is low/normal, my cholesterol is borderline. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink a WHOLE lot, I wear sunscreen, I wear a bicycle helmet - and I still have cancer and all kinds of crap I couldn’t control. Some people, like my older brother, have frighteningly high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eat whatever doesn’t eat them first, drink way more than me, don’t exercise, don’t wear sunscreen, rarely wear any kind of helmet, and smoke – and don’t have shit wrong with them. It ain't fair, but that don't matter.

The diamond earring I lost? Not only did B help me find it, the other jewelry I lost appeared - buried in some of his paintball crap. I firmly believe we found it all because he never stopped believing for a minute that we'd find them.

On that note, I'm going to do some openwater swimming in the morning. I agreed with the B that I'd join him to watch him play paintball if he'd come watch me OW swim. I don't know if I still have the juevos to make it 1000m, but I know I can do at least half and turn around.

That's all I got for today.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Today's Confession: I Don't Know the Difference Between Being Lazy and Being Sick

It’s been a few days of relatively serious confessions, but I shan't spare you without mentioning last night, which included such momentous events as: curling up into a ball on the bed, unsuccessfully trying to find a diamond earring, and spilling a cup of near-boiling tea on my lap and our gorgeous hardwood floors. (To make matters worse, it was Marco Polo from the renowned Mariage Freres tea company.)

(Really Big, Mr.-Movie-Announcer Voice): It was the night FROM HELL.

Cancer is exhausting. I know what you’re thinking – thank you, Captain Obvious – but I have what I refer to as “the wimp of all cancers.” I’m not diminishing the difficulty of cancer or thyroid disease, but ThyCans (thyroid cancer patients) don’t have to undergo the extensive treatments endured by patients of other cancers. It doesn’t typically metastasize (spread far), the survival rate is high, and doctors will tell you, “If you’re going to have cancer, this is the best one to have.” (Har, har.)

However, it is still tremendously difficult; partly because it’s cancer, and partly because you have to deal with surgery, radioactive iodine therapy, AND being completely hypothyroid. I‘ve been sub-clinically hypothyroid for over 7 years, so I’ve dealt with fatigue. Through it, I worked while going to school, doing triathlons and marathons, etc. But nothing I’ve experienced before compares to this. Cancer (and having no thyroid at all) have officially promoted me to the upper echelon of exhaustion. Just call me the Senior Vice President of Drag-Ass.

I guess I should be pleased about where I am. Some ThyCans with my hormone level are not even working full time, yet I'm working, dog-sitting, trying to work out, entertaining out-of-towners, looking for new jobs, going to 4-hour graduation ceremonies, cleaning the house for 4 hours and planning for another race. (You get the picture.) I, however, am ROYALLY PISSED. My exercise for the week was a mini-weight-workout (1 set each of about 4 exercises) and an hour of golf.

That’s it.

To me, that’s NOTHING.

And I realized, after several hours of berating myself and wallowing in guilt, that I don’t know the difference between being sick and being lazy. In fact, I never I have.

Looking back on my training logs from the past few years, you see semi-legitimate excuses (couldn’t swim because of lightning), but you also see a lot of illness. The problem is, I lump it all together with laziness (and, ultimately, failure). Instead of looking back and thinking, “I did all this with cancer and asthma,” [which I’ve tried to tell myself, (I’ve even tried publicly declaring it)], I look back and think, “wow, I was a total slacker.” And people I respected and admired didn’t know how sick I really was, so they were constantly reinforcing this dysfunctional belief by saying things like, “If only you had half the fitness that you have determination,” or, "I really don't know if you can accomplish all that. Are you sure you want to try that? Are you really able?"

Now, to be fair, almost all my friends are my friends because they challenge me to consider things I would never consider on my own. And none of them are scared to say what's on their mind. Which leads me to what another friend asked me last night during my meltdown: “Don’t you realize that you pick all the biggest goals? PhD, Ironman, etc.”

She was kind of right. I mean, I DO have lofty goals. Part of this is because I’ve developed this semi-conscious belief that the two worst things in the world are failure and mediocrity. I want to be the best of everything, at the top of everything. That isn’t to say I haven’t re-evaluated my goals along the way (if I can teach with a Master’s, cool; I liked Half Ironman and don’t care to shoot for 140.6 anymore, etc.) But she made a good point – if I’m constantly reaching for something that is BETTER, how can I ever be happy with ANYTHING I have/achieve/etc.? Is it possible that I'm constantly thinking I (and nothing I do) is ever quite good enough, and thus I need to reach for the next/bigger/better thing?

It hit me on the way home today, and not just because this blog is about finding the strong, positive side of even the darkest, most bitter moment: it's not that I think I need to prove that I'm better that I reach for the highest thing I can achieve. It's because I know I can.

And then an even more important revelaton hit me: just because I know I can doesn't mean I always have to.

That's today's confession. Stay tuned for such side-splitters as Exercise Makes Me Feel Fat and I Lose Jewelry.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Confession #3: I Have a Hard Time Paying Attention

One of my favorite expressions from the internets is the term “Attention Whore.” It means exactly what it sounds like– someone who’ll do anything for attention.

Occasionally, I like attention. I may even be an Attention Whore at times. (And anyone who says they don’t like at least a little attention is full of shit.) But there are varying levels of attention: I like it when people laugh at my jokes, flatter my intelligence or looks, and invite me places; on the other hand, you’ll never catch me wearing Coke-can-rollers in my hair a’la Lady Gaga. (Horrified stares from complete strangers? Not my bag.)

This whole entry was about how attention and drama are not one and the same. About how some people spend an awful lot of time creating drama. And then I remembered that I’m trying to find something positive to say, here – or, if not something positive to say, then a way to take something positive from what is going on around me.

Whining about drama-mongers is a waste of positive energy. They suck. We don’t like them. ‘Nuff said.

The conundrum I face on a regular basis: I care so much about what other people think about me that I focus on myself until I can’t see the big picture. Then I get so annoyed at the details of other people’s drama that I forget to pay attention to myself.

One thing I do every day is read my horoscope and some news in Spanish. (Spanish is my second language, and God knows my communication skills could always use some polish.) One of my favorite horoscopes from Walter Mercado, Latin astrologer to the stars, told me (translated) “Don’t give anyone the permission to offend or humiliate you. Repeat a thousand and one times to yourself that no one in the world is better than you. Develop a second skin where everything negative bounces off you.” I’m trying to tell myself, every time people get to me, to worry more about myself than I worry about them.

Which leads me to today’s confession: that doesn’t always work. I get so overwhelemed by the big picture that, by the time I reach my goals (if I do), I just loose sight along the way. Life overwhelms me.

It seems contradictory, but if I could stay in the moment, I know I could see that the steps I'm taking toward the big picture are paying off.

I don't have a lot of followers, but if you'd like to comment, I'd appreciate tips or antecdotes on staying realistic and in the moment.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Confession #2: I'd Really REALLY Love to Blog About My Job

Let’s be honest – who hasn’t had one of those days where work makes them want to pull their hair out? There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t wish I could have an anonymous forum for screaming, venting, bitching, etc. I mean, virtually no one reads my blogs, anyway – so it’s not like I could do a lot of harm.

But let’s also be realistic. These days, employers troll the internet. And they don’t do it because they’re bored – they do it because they want to see what you’re doing. Not just at work, when you’re supposed to be working, but before and after work, in your personal time. Electronic communication and accessibility have virtually erased the line between personal and professional life. It used to be the case that only high-profile employees, like Vice Presidents and CEO’s, would be scrutinized for their personal activities – and, if they were, it was only because they made the local news with their hijinks. But now you can be a sub-middle-class, paper-pushing schlub and be unknowingly “followed” on the internet for virtually anything from not wearing panties to voting Democrat. I personally have been Facebook-stalked by a company’s wannabe P.I.’s for everything from my drinking habits to the scoop on who I’m dating, which prompted me to adopt my current internet policies: private profile, semi-anonymous blog, no current coworkers or bosses on Facebook, no Tweeting, and keep work business on LinkedIn.

And even anonymous blogging isn’t safe. On a national level, more than one employee has been fired for airing the company laundry in the blogosphere, and those employees didn’t even use their real names, locations, or company names. The problem is, no matter how well-disguised it is, if you share enough detail – and, to really expose a situation’s humor/ridculousness/sordiness/etc., you usually have to – someone can put two and two together, combined with the length and time of your post, and expose you. Then your funny/cute/cathartic rant becomes slander.

So, I will NOT blog about my job, even though I’d love to do it, because the details would surely entertain and horrify.

Instead, I will leave you with the following thought, largely lifted from McGregor and Maslow’s research in Organizational Psychology. According to McGregor’s X/Y theory about managers, what you can expect out of employees is, inevitably, what you put in. (I also apply this to workout/school/life/diet). The theory states that employers who are constantly suspicious of employees or expect the worst from them will, indeed, receive the worst – whether it’s because they were coincidentally right or because the spirit of suspicion, fear, and intimidation they’ve fostered encourages the exact behavior with which they are concerned. Saying or believing statements like “she’s off 10 miles on her mileage log, she must be trying to cheat the company out of $.40 a mile,” or “he’s clearly late because he doesn’t like his job,” or “you used too much vacation time – it’s not possible that you misunderstood how your time accrues, you were clearly just being careless,” can eventually turn the most dedicated employee into the dishonest, disgruntled, disobedient type. Conversely, expecting and encouraging the best in employees has exactly the opposite effect.

Think of it this way: if you expect to lose weight on a diet, you usually do – whether it’s because the diet works, you try harder, or the placebo effect just makes you feel better – expecting the best usually yields better results. Why do you think successful athletes visualize their perfect win before every event? Because that increases their chance of achieving it.

I’m now going to visualize my perfect job. Granted, I’m going to do it while I’m working on this one – but, I still have to pay the bills in the meantime.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Confession #1: How I Got Here

You may recognize me from somewhere.

And then again, you may not.

This will actually be my third attempt at setting up a blog. Different though they were, both blogs presented me with the same three dilemmas. The first: neither of them were about my entire life. (One was about my life as an amateur athlete; the other, about my life outside sports.) I was either one thing or the other. I could never write about being both. I could never be comfortable with both.

The second was that I had to filter myself too much. I liked to curse. I can be opinionated. I liked to share sordid details from time to time. In periods of high drama, I was forced to censor my story so much to tell the truth while not offending that I just as well have lied about it all. And, let's not forget - the internet used to offer a certain amount of anonymity; but now, thanks to Facebook and smartphones, that is no longer the case. Employers, boyfriends, parents and baby cousins can (and will) find your blogs, social networking sites, etc., leaving no real outlet for uncensored expression.

The third and final problem with both blogs is that I got sick of hearing myself talk. Every time I’d read an entry, I’d look back and roll my eyes, embarrassed - or close my web browser muttering “bitter, party of one, your table is now available.”

So, this blog is about solving all of those problems.

But that's just a small part of it.

Voltaire’s famous satire, Candide, chronicles the adventures of a paranoid pessimist, Candide, and a persistent Pollyanna, Pangloss. Not less than 7 years ago, I was a Pangloss: everything in my life was going good, so I had no reason to be anything but optimistic. In fact, everything had gone good for me my entire life. As far back as I can remember, my grades were great, boyfriends were plentiful, jobs got consecutively more challenging and lucrative - you get the picture.

And then everything just . . . went wrong. Through a serious of events both in and out of my control, my life and my health spiraled downward. Everything from divorce to illness to joblessness to homelessness to financial ruin to cancer - basically, everyone's worst nightmares - happened to me . . . all at once. I suddenly found myself broke, sick, struggling, and incapable of maintaining any of the elements that once made my life so amazing and adventurous and positive. I became petty and sad and tired.

I became a Candide. In fact, my motto was, as Candide once told Pangloss, "Optimism is a mania for insisting everything is good when we're wretched."

The truth lies somewhere in between.

This part of my life is about trying to reconcile that dichotomy. The optimist and the pessimist; the athlete and the party girl; the responsible adult and the petty brat. I've written too many blog entries about this to count. But it's also about trying to get back that positivity, openness, sense of adventure. It's about getting healthy again, being happy again, and learning how to like myself and my life, no matter what choices or circumstances affect me.

To that end, the ultimate, absolute, final goal of this blog is to take every experience, every feeling about which I blog and make something constructive and positive of it - no matter how bleak, bitter, or dark it may seem.

Confession #1: this is not going to be easy. It's going to be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.