Vacation time!

Hello!  I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know that I will be taking a little hiatus this week to enjoy a much-needed visit with my boyfriend.  I will be resuming my posting schedule next Tuesday (March 27, 2018).  I hope you all have a wonderful week and thank you for taking the time to read my blog when you can.  If you have a chance, please let me know what you think!  Your feedback means a lot to me!

Take care and see you next week!


Media Round-up for 18/03/2018

Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

the bell jarThe March theme for my ONTD reading challenge was to read a book by a female author who is considered to be influential and has had a significant influence in literature, culture and/or society.  Some of the other participants had been planning to read The Bell Jar and, since I had never read it, I thought it might be a good choice.  Unfortunately, due to the new puppy, I read the book over quite a long span of time, which I find often diminishes my enthusiasm a little bit.

I’ve always thought that The Bell Jar was a bit like The Catcher in the Rye: it’s a book that you should probably read before you reach a certain age or you won’t get the most out of it.  I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was 15 years old, which was perfect.  I was an angry, angsty little shit and all of the talk of phonies was something I could identify with.  Having read The Bell Jar now, at 37 years old, I’m glad I didn’t read it as a teenager: there’s no way I would have or could have understood it at that time.

The Bell Jar is generally regarded as a roman a clef (a novel that depicts real life events overlaid with the facade of fiction) and depicts the decline of the protagonist’s mental health.  The events in the book are said to be similar to events in the life of Plath.  At the beginning of the novel Esther Greenwood, a 19-year-old college student, is working on an internship at a famous women’s magazine based in New York city.  Once she returns home after the internship, she receives the news that she was not accepted to a famous writing seminar.  From there, Esther’s condition takes a downward turn and we see her experiences with electroshock therapy and institutionalization.

The Bell Jar is one of those great books where it’s possible to dislike the main character and still like the book.  Esther is difficult and not particularly likeable, but there’s a great deal to admire in her rejection of the men who try to oppress her.  The writing style is fantastic: raw, simple and easy to read.  The tone of The Bell Jar is definitely dark, particularly knowing how Plath ended her own life, but I found that it was easy to identify with Esther’s experiences, even though my own struggles with depression aren’t nearly as severe.  While I wish I had been able to finish it more quickly, as I feel that the emotional weight of the novel would have hit me a bit harder, I am glad to have read The Bell Jar.

Dirty Money

dirty money netflixNetflix original series have been a bit hit-or-miss for me.  Some I love and others I don’t and, in my opinion, their offerings aren’t consistent in terms of quality.  Where they seem to be hitting it out of the park recently for me is with documentaries.  I love The Chef’s Table, Strong Island, The Keepers, Joan Didion: the Center Will Not Hold, Audrie and Daisy, and Amanda Knox.  It wasn’t as exciting as I had imagined it would be, but I even enjoyed Lady Gaga: Five Foot TwoDirty Money continues this trend of quality Netflix documentaries: it’s well-produced and fascinating.

Dirty Money has six episodes (all the episodes are all a little over an hour long).  Each episode is a different story about corporate greed and corruption.  The featured corporations/phenomena are:

  • the Volkswagen emissions scandal
  • Scott Tucker and Payday loans
  • Valeant Pharmaceuticals
  • HSBC money laundering for drug cartels
  • the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers
  • Donald Trump

All of the episodes are great, but for me the Payday loans and Valeant Pharmaceuticals episodes were the most interesting.  I had always known that payday loan companies were sketchy, but I didn’t realize how many folks out there were relying on them for day-to-day survival and how easily the companies could take advantage of that.  The Valeant Pharmaceuticals episode also showed me how insane the market can be for prescription drugs.  I’m not sure how the actions of Valeant affected Canadian customers, but I was astonished at how easy it was for them to markedly increase drug prices for consumers with so little regulation and oversight.  This is doubly interesting when considering the recent Martin Shkreli conviction: he has gone to jail only because he pissed off a bunch of rich people and not because he cheated sick folks out of life-saving medication.

If you haven’t watched Dirty Money yet, you might want to check it out soon.  There’s a lot to learn and it’s very entertaining.  I loved it.

Me and Burning Out

I’m burning out. After months of propping myself up, telling myself that everything is going to be okay, and a few weeks of struggling with a new puppy, I’m starting to get exhausted in a way that I don’t know how to recover from. This is a dangerous place for me because it’s prime depression ground. I know that after I was first diagnosed with cancer I entered a kind of hyper-vigilant phase. This often happens to me during times of personal or family crisis. I step up, I do what needs to be done and I manage. I take care of whoever needs taking care of, I provide the shoulder to cry on, I neglect myself.

Generally speaking, this kind of behaviour isn’t particularly destructive. Most of us will have to step up and manage personal crises, care for loved ones etc… and there will always be some combination of adrenaline or sense of personal duty to keep us going. The problem is, eventually that runs out — or at least it does for me. In 2013-2014, when I had to act as a caregiver for my mother, I looked after everything. I did all the housework, cooking, driving to and from appointments, grocery shopping and ran all the errands. I also went back to school part time and managed my coursework. It was familiar territory for me in many ways, because I also had to care a great deal for two of my grandparents when I was in my 20s, but it was difficult. It’s never easy to see your parents suffering — it is the definitive indicator of your finally becoming an independent adult. I think, no matter how old we get, we tend to see our parents as people who should be looking after us and not the other way around.

My mother needed surgery and once she began to recover from that, I truly began to fall apart. I fell down into a deep, depressive pit and could not claw my way out: I spent about 18 months playing Final Fantasy XIV (the MMO sickness finally hit me) and taking one easy course in my certificate program at a time. I convinced myself that as long as I could complete the courses, I was totally fine.

I wasn’t totally fine. I was anything but totally fine. I needed help and (probably) medication. While depression is a consistent issue for me, I have had sustained periods where my depression worsens to the point of my not being able to function. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that significant burnout is one of my major triggers. A crisis occurs, I step up and go at it until I run out of steam, and then I fall apart.

So, right now, I’m a little terrified. My dog, Daisy, died on October 20, 2017. Two weeks later, during the first week of November 2017, I was hospitalized. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer. By the end of 2017, I had had a port installed and started chemotherapy. Despite some fairly minor fear and nervousness, I have stood up and faced these issues head on. I haven’t been on the floor crying, as some expected me to be. I’ve been productive and I’ve made an effort to enjoy myself, despite side effects that limit what I can do with my spare time.

But then we were stupid and we got a puppy. The greatest piece of advice I could ever offer someone right now is that you should not get a puppy when there are things going on in your life that are stressful and potentially life-changing. People will always tell you that puppies are hard, but reading/hearing that and then actually living it are two totally different things. Puppies are much more difficult than anyone will ever tell you and the fatigue from cancer treatment certainly doesn’t make things any easier and any other major stressors in your life won’t help you either.

When we first got Frankie, I went through another short phase of hyper-vigilance. My adrenaline got going and I was able to manage everything again. I trained her when I was able, became much more mobile, and generally felt physically stronger. A few bad days later, however, and I’m starting to feel all that strength leaving me. I just don’t have the energy right now to sustain the kind of consistency that Frankie needs. I’m tired and I’m sick and I get lazy sometimes.

I know that things will get better with Frankie and I know that, eventually, we will bond properly and I will love her more than anything, but I’m scared right now that all of this new stress might push me somewhere that I don’t want to go. I’m going to make an appointment with my social worker as soon as I can so that I can talk with her about how to avoid falling into another dark and awful pit. I’m hoping that talking about it with a professional will help me a great deal. I think also, a little vacation will help. Next week, my boyfriend is coming for a visit and, hopefully, that will be a nice break where I can be a little selfish for a few days and recharge my batteries.

Tips & Techniques for Self Improvement: Setting Goals

For me, setting my annual goals is the foundation of my self improvement regime: it’s tough to try to work on yourself and your life if you don’t know what you want to work on. I’m going to start with a more general discussion about goal setting and some different strategies that I’ve taken note of over the years, and then I’ll get in to my process in particular. Hopefully you’ll be able to find something in this post that will help you to set your goals for this year!

Recently I’ve noticed that there are at least two fundamentally different methodologies for self improvement. The first is introspective, which is what I feel works best for me. With a more introspective approach to goal setting, you would generally use a tool to evaluate both your previous year and your current circumstances and then set goals based on where you would like to make improvements. I will discuss how I do this in more detail below.

The second general methodology for self improvement that I have noticed recently has more to do with aspirations and, for lack of a better term, the “power of positive thinking.” For this methodology, you would review your previous year, think about what you want to achieve in the next year, and then write goals based on what you want to accomplish. When writing your goals down, you would write them in such a way that it seems like they have already been achieved. For example, if you wanted to save $5000 over the course of the year, you would write your goal out like this:

“I have saved $5000 in 2018.”

Based on the research and reading I’ve done so far, it is believed that writing your goals in such a way can essentially trick your mind into believing that they are more obtainable. I’m not sure how well this technique would work for me, but I’ve noticed that there are many writers out there advocating that this is an effective way to not only set goals, but also to use gratitude journals and affirmations. The gratitude journal that I initially tried out, for example, was formatted entirely on this methodology.

Being a fairly logical and realistic thinker, I tend to prefer an introspective approach to goal setting. My aim with goal setting is to make real and measurable improvements to my life and thus I have to carefully examine what isn’t working for me and then set goals that I feel will help me improve in those areas. I assess my current circumstances using a Wellness Wheel. I will be discussing wellness wheels in more detail in a later post, but essentially a wellness wheel divides your life into particular categories, and you assign a numerical score to those categories. I also write a narrative that accompanies each score, but this isn’t necessary unless you find it helpful.

Once I’ve completed and analyzed my wellness wheel, I think about ways that I might be able to improve in the categories where my scores are low. Because I want my goals to be specific and at least somewhat measurable, I tend to avoid setting goals like “improve my health score” or “improve my social score.” I try to think of smaller tasks that I can work on over the course of the year to slowly bring my scores up. I’m always looking for modest improvements that can be maintained over the long term. The whole point of using a wellness wheel is to gradually balance it out so that you have a decent score for all of the different aspects of your life.

After considering how I’d like to try to raise my lower scores and also how I’d like to work on balancing out my wheel over the course of the year, I then start formulating those ideas into goals. Generally speaking, I try to not make more than 10 main goals per year, because trying to change too much too quickly doesn’t work for me. Usually those 10 goals are a combination of elements in my life that I think are suffering and need improvement and new things that I’m interested in trying out.

The last step in my goal setting process that I’ll discuss today is writing everything down. In my opinion, writing down my goals is the most important part of the process for several reasons, but mostly because it allows me to efficiently review my progress on a regular basis and develop better strategies for staying on track. I use an inexpensive notebook and write one goal at the top of each page. On that page, I brainstorm strategies and ideas for how I can accomplish that goal and break the goal into smaller tasks if appropriate.

After recording all of my goals in the notebook, I use the rest of the pages to record my monthly review process. It’s important to set goals, but I’ve found that I often don’t stick with them particularly well unless I spend time reviewing them and tracking my progress on a regular basis. I will be discussing my review process in a later post, so I hope you might find that interesting as well.

Did you set any goals for 2018? How are you progressing? Message me or leave a comment below! I’d love to know how you’re doing!

Media Round-up for 11/03/2018

Altered Carbon

altered carbonAltered Carbon is a new Cyberpunk science fiction series on Netflix starring Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs, a former cop and rebel who has been in prison for over 200 years. In the world of Altered Carbon, human beings have become practically immortal: each person’s personality is stored in a disc in their neck (called a Stack) and that personality, unless killed in a particular way, can continue living as long as they can afford to purchase and maintain a body (sleeve). Sleeves are outrageously expensive, however, and lengthy lifespans are only really possible for the extraordinarily wealthy. Kovacs is freed from prison by one of the wealthiest people on earth in order to work on a murder case and we slowly learn his backstory as he is working to solve the mystery.

I wanted to like Altered Carbon, but I didn’t. Aesthetically, it’s incredible. The visual style of the world is gorgeous to look at but, in my opinion, it fails in most other aspects. I loved Joel Kinnanan in The Killing, but I found his accent work to be pretty bad in Altered Carbon and, while he’s been praised for his performance in the series, I thought it was mediocre at best. In fact, the quality of the acting in Altered Carbon was poor overall, though I think that Martha Higareda’s performance as Kristin Ortega was particularly egregious. Her line delivery is so consistently wooden that it’s a little embarrassing. Acting-wise, the best performances came from Will Yun Lee (as past Kovacs in a different sleeve) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (as Quillcrist Falconer and former love interest of Kovacs).

The story of Altered Carbon also failed to maintain my interest. I kept watching the show hoping for a real mystery plot to unfold, but I was ultimately disappointed. The development of the show’s main villain was handled particularly poorly as their motivations were so ridiculous and psychotic that I just couldn’t identify or sympathize with any of it.  If my boyfriend and I hadn’t been watching this show together, I would have scrubbed through at least half of it.

Jake Buvala – I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking

It’s no secret that my mother and I have been more than a little overwhelmed with our new puppy, Frankie. During out first week together, I had several ugly days where I hardly slept and my anxiety was getting the best of me.  I didn’t like Frankie, I wanted to send her back, and having her in the house was uncomfortable.  These negative feelings were making me feel horribly guilty.  I love dogs, I love animals and, right now, popular culture is telling me that Frankie and I should be having a magical relationship.

During that first week I spent a lot of time googling.  Unfortunately, a lot of the resources I found were just making me feel worse — like I wasn’t being consistent enough and generally like I was a jerk for having the negative feelings.  And then I found I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking.  Jake Buvala is a dog trainer and blogger over at 3LostDogs.  His e-book is an easy-to-read, quick and dirty guide to some of the more challenging aspects of bringing a new dog into your home, such as biting and chewing, crate training, potty training and other behavioural adjustments and issues.  The information in his book isn’t new and you can probably get it for free elsewhere, but the tone and attitude of the book were an enormous help to me and it’s probably the best $13 I’ve ever spent.

What Jake gets right is that he acknowledges that you and your new dog won’t be super best buddies immediately and that your relationship with your dog needs to be built over time.  It doesn’t make you feel guilty for making mistakes or for not loving your dog as soon as you bring them home and he provides a lot of useful information that has been terribly helpful to us.  If you find yourself in a difficult situation with a new dog, I’d recommend that you check it out!

February Goal Review

A new month means it’s time for goal review!

1. Survive Chemotherapy

I’m making decent progress on my goals which, as I said last month, are all really in service of my goal of surviving chemotherapy.  My third chemo cycle (treatments 5 and 6 of 12) were much easier than my second cycle and I have physically and mentally been feeling much better.  Of course, I have been a bit overwhelmed by caring for our new puppy, but that has had many positive effects on my life as well.

2. Write as much as possible

I’ve still been writing as much as I had planned to do at the beginning of the year and recently, due to the new puppy, I have been much more efficient in my writing process.  I spent some time researching topics, which I will definitely do at least once in March as well, and I found some that inspire me.  Because I’ve had less free time, I’ve worked writing into my new schedule as much as I can and I’ve been successfully managing everything as intended.  I haven’t quite been sticking to my schedule of writing one full week ahead, but I’ve been getting pretty close, which is fantastic.

I’m a little afraid that I will run out of content for my Media Round-up posts.  I don’t have a lot of time to read and watch things right now, but if I have to skip those every once in awhile, I’ll just write a regular post in their place.

3. Develop a healthy nighttime routine

Results for this have been mixed.  Since we brought Frankie home, I have adapted to a new sleep schedule and have been going to bed early and getting up early.  The routine I wanted to develop had to change drastically and has been simplified a great deal, but I have been doing a better job at a lot of the basics.  In order to decompress after managing Frankie, I’ve had to start listening to sleep meditations and that is helping me get to sleep a little easier than before.

4. Be financially responsible

My spending freeze was wildly successful all through February and continues to be going well as we move into March.  I did receive a gift card for my birthday and was able to buy a few books, but apart from that I spent very little money in February.  I did make a small clothing purchase at the beginning of March (a sweater that I had been eyeing for months), but I’m hoping to keep this going for as long as possible.  Right now it looks like I won’t have any further income until some time in April, if my long term disability application is approved.

5. Take care of myself physically

Since we brought Frankie home there has been a tremendous improvement in my physical health.  I’ve adopted a healthier sleeping schedule and I’ve been eating well and getting more physical activity.  I’m feeling physically stronger and more mobile.  The new schedule has also helped me to ensure that I’m keeping up with the personal hygiene habits and routines that can be a bit tricky for me when I’m not feeling well.  Huge wins here in February.

6. Take care of myself mentally

This has been a little tricky since the puppy forced me to rearrange my life.  I haven’t been using my journals at all, which is probably better for the neuropathy in my hands, but I would like to get back into gratitude journaling again, as I think it will help me when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.  Frankie has, essentially, served as a fantastic distraction.  I haven’t had much time to feel sorry for myself because I’ve had to worry about keeping her from peeing in the house and crying in her crate and training her to do things.  I’m not gonna lie, though, she’s been difficult and I’ve been struggling a bit.  There is no remedy for this other than time and patience, however, so I will stick with it and let her be what I need her to be in my life right now.

7. Learn something new

Success here has been mixed as well and my focus for this goal has, by necessity, had to shift a bit.  I was completely blindsided by how difficult Frankie was to manage.  We had been terribly spoiled by Daisy and how easy she was to house train and I thought I knew what I was doing.  It turns out, I had no idea.  I’ve had to do a lot of research and reading to help us get through some of the obstacles that have come our way.  As a result, I’ve learned a lot about dog training over the past few weeks, but I haven’t had the time to learn new skills that will help me move toward a new career path.

8. Keep things tidier and work on decluttering projects

My success here continued in February.  I purchased a basic printer/scanner, scanned my important documents, and put the originals away in a safe place.  I also sorted through my physical collection of books and donated all over half of them to a fundraiser at a local elementary school.  Since Frankie came along, I haven’t had time to make my office very messy and, since I’ve had to be more organized about laundry, I’ve been doing a great job of keeping my bedroom tidier.

9. Leave the house to work at least once per week

For now I am going to put a hold on this goal.  Unfortunately, one of the main side effects of many chemo protocols is gastrointestinal issues and those have been keeping me in the house a little more often than I would like.  I’ve been feeling a little cooped up over the past two weeks, but this is mostly due to self-imposed puppy isolation.  Prior to the arrival of Frankie, I was feeling okay about just working at home and my productivity hasn’t suffered.  I may revisit this if the issues clear up, but for now it’s just a little too uncomfortable for me to spend too many hours without convenient access to a bathroom.

Overall, I’m pleased with my progress.  Frankie has changed a few of my priorities, but I’m plugging away and doing the best that I can!  Are you making progress on your goals for the year?  Message me and tell me all about it!  I’d love to hear about how you’re doing!

4 things I love about blogging

As a follow-up to last week’s post on 4 reasons why I hate personal blogging, I wanted to spend some time discussing why I love personal blogging.  Just for fun, here’s another listicle where the items are much longer than they should be.

1. I love to write

I’ve always loved writing and, for the most part, I’ve always written.  As I said in last week’s post, I’ve kept some sort of personal blog for over 20 years now.  Aside from that, I have written in many other formats: research papers, school newspaper articles, legal reports for probate courts, archival finding aids, essays, literary criticism, short stories, tip sheets and training materials, marketing materials, project plans, correspondence, and policies and procedures.  There are probably a few more items in there, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Whether for personal, academic, or professional tasks, I have written a great deal over the course of my life.  Writing is, without doubt, my preferred means of communication.  Of course, some of that writing has been less fun to slog through, but if I’m working on a project that requires writing, that will probably be my favourite part.  Essay and report writing, in particular, have always been the most fun types of writing for me.  Though I have tried, I’ve never much liked writing fiction or poetry — I’ve never seen myself as a person with a great creative imagination.  I’m best at reporting what I know, whether it be through research or personal experience.

2. Blogging allows me to keep my skills fresh and make improvements in my style

To be good at writing, you need to practice.  My current job is quite writing heavy, as I need to produce some kind of reporting product for most of my research files; however, those reports are heavily templated and rigid in terms of language and formatting.  Keeping a personal blog allows me to continue writing in a way that helps me get out of the formats I need to stick with at work.  Personal blogging has also helped me to clean up some of my bad habits over the years.  For example, I will probably always be a rambler and I will always use too many adverbs, but proofreading my blogs over the years has stopped me from writing “really” every few sentences (or more).

3. It provides me with a place to express my views and opinions, while providing me with a record of myself and my feelings during a particular time.

Even if reading through old posts later on often makes me cringe.

4. Blogging has helped me to become a more adaptable writer

At my current job, I have seen firsthand that many smart university graduates can struggle with transitioning their writing from a style that works for academia into a style that works in a professional setting.  This has never been a problem for me, because I’ve always written outside of what was required of me at school.  Even if it was just to rant about hassles or drama in my personal life, being able to structure and write something informal that wasn’t a research paper has always been useful.

I also believe that the more often you write and the more different types of writing projects you take on, the less attached you are to one particular style.  Of course, all writers will have their own preferences in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure (hopefully they have a good grasp on both), but the best writers, in my opinion, are able to relax their own preferences and adapt to the task at hand.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this miniseries on what I love and hate about blogging.  Do you enjoy writing in your free time?  Is it one of your least favourite things to do?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing or blogging!