Sunday, September 7, 2014

Some Pennies For My Thoughts

Yesterday, as I picked up a penny in the grocery store parking lot, I had a thought: I wonder if a person kept track of all the pennies she picked up in a lifetime, how much money would that be? Although an interesting thought, it didn’t seem practical (a baby can’t pick up change) so then I wondered how much change a person finds in the course of a year. As I dropped my new penny into my purse, I decided that would be a fantastic project to start at the new year. I keep a notebook with me all the time anyway so I could easily jot it down each time I found a coin! I tucked the idea away to explore later. 

That same afternoon, I was riding my bike in my neighborhood when I  cruised over a shiny penny. I hit my brakes but second guessed myself and sped up to keep up with my boyfriend. I started telling him my idea and then interrupted myself, “I guess I wouldn’t have to wait til the new year, would I? I could start today!”

We turned around, so I could get my second cent of the day, but although we searched and searched, we couldn’t find that dang lone coin. So I decided I’ll have to start my project the next time I find one!

As I was circling around on my bike, staring down at the pavement looking for that penny, I remembered a comment I overheard recently. A woman was giving a couple pennies to someone who was lacking change for a purchase and she said “I don’t mind giving away pennies because they’re worthless.” I kept my mouth shut but I was flabbergasted. I was thinking Does she know that 100 pennies equal a dollar? I was so amused by the comment that I Tweeted about it (#DoYouUnderstandHowMoneyWorks?). A friend immediately responded that it was a coincidence he had just looked at his retirement account and it had gained one cent that day which would equate to a $300 increase over time!

Okay, so the pennies I pick up won’t earn interest (unless I put them in the bank-note to self!) but they will add up. My collection will not be limited to coins, but I expect that’s what I’ll find the most of. However, I once found a $20 bill blowing through a Wal-Mart parking lot! Another time, I picked up what I thought was a piece of paper but turned out to be a white enveloped containing $40 cash!

I guess I technically stole that money, but in each case there was no way to track down an owner. I have definitely lost money from being careless, like being out drinking at a bar with a $20 bill in my back pocket that’s gone when I go for it next, so I know it happens to the best of us.

I’ve written previously about my habits as a “picker upper” as I like to call myself. No matter if I’m walking or driving, I’m frequently noticing abandoned treasures “Ooooh a pen!” or “Hey look, a glove!” Each time, my boyfriend’s response is the same: “Gross” and he encourages me to leave the lonely object where it lies.

It’s funny that my youngest dog has turned out to be a treasure seeker as well. On our walks, he is continuously scanning the ground for something delicious and/or fun. The day he found unwrapped Rolos underneath our bank of mailboxes, I hated to make him spit them out because it was such a spectacular find! He’s found dog biscuits under there before, so I can’t blame him for looking, which he still does every time we check the mail! He’s found balls and bones and even tried to pick up a sock once (that one, I made him leave behind). My boyfriend finds if funny and revolting at the same time. “He’s definitely your dog”, he’ll chuckle and shake his head, while Tinsley trots along carrying a soggy tennis ball he rooted out of the gutter. 

Tinsley with one of his treasures

For now, I’m looking down as much as possible when I’m out of the house, waiting for my next find! I don’t know what I’ll do with the money I collect over the next year. It will probably depend on how much it is. Maybe I’ll donate it to a charity or maybe I’ll buy myself a treat! You’ll have to stay tuned to find out! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Another Season Of Change

September first always feels like the beginning of a new phase for me. My birthday was one week ago and school used to start shortly after Labor Day so this week has always been one of transition that I look forward to. The first of this month is the official start of fall in my mind. I like fall a lot. I like wearing more clothes than summer requires, I like the cool mornings and evenings and that certain slant the sunlight has now. I first noticed it a couple weeks ago, it always happens all of a sudden that I notice the afternoon shadows seem different and I sigh Ahh, it's almost fall.

I like when it gets dark at 8pm. That seems like a reasonable time for evening. I'm a big fan of going to bed "early" and I hate it when it's light until 10pm in the summer. That encourages people to be out doing stuff when I consider that "late at night" and want to be home in my pajamas!

I realize that 8pm darkness is a precursor to 5pm darkness and I do not like that, but I believe the cycle is important. We need to have a most favorite and least favorite of things to keep us moving forward.

The visible season change is a relief to me. (We saw our first snow, in the mountains, on August 24th!) Summer in Montana has a frantic energy because everyone is trying to squeeze in their activities and parties into the short window we have for nice weather. There's always an underlying pressure of I should be outside while I have the chance whenever I'm indoors during the summer. That's why the timing of my concussion has been particularly tough on me. I've had to turn down invitations and lay inside on beautiful days and it sucks!

 I'm still working on this whole "Surrender to what is" process and I'm making progress. I've been doing an unbelievable amount of reading and writing (which I'm grateful to have the ability to do) and I've been catching up on a long list of movies I want to see. I'm working four days a week, six hours a day and when I get home I'm usually worn out and I don't do a darn thing most days. At first that made me feel lazy and anxious. Like most women, I have a never ending list of things around the house that need my attention but I've tossed it aside for now. When I feel motivated, I do something. If not, I don't. Isn't that an amazing concept?! It seems so simple but until now I'd never been able to pull it off! I'd force myself to get one more chore done before calling it a day. The change certainly hasn't been easy. Sometimes I ask for the assistance of my other half, as in "Please tell me not to worry about vacuuming" and he'll always comply!

So as I welcome fall today, I welcome change. I have the windows open and I cleaned the carpets in my bedroom, because it was long overdue and I finally felt inspired to do it! Instead of moving down the list to the next task, I'm writing this. Later I might feel anxious about not getting more done but I might not...I'm trying to take in one moment at a time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Look Around

On a recent afternoon, I was waiting in line at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, standing behind the canvas rope at the placard on the floor that tells you where to wait to ensure the privacy of other customers ahead of you. I always want to stand directly on those footprints but I never do. In front of me at the counter, being helped by a pharmacy technician, were two Asian men, one in his 30’s and the other maybe a decade older. They wore colorful dress shirts with khaki shorts and carried messenger bags. In this small town, which houses the only airport in the area and is one of the last stops for provisions before Yellowstone National Park,  these gentlemen were obviously tourists.

As the cashier was tallying up their purchases, the younger man called out “Wait, wait!” as the older guy darted away from the register to grab two rather large boxes of condoms. Interesting choice while on vacation, I thought to myself. As the male cashier took the boxes he asked “Two more, huh?”. When he slid them into the partially translucent white paper bag, I could see it already held three such boxes of Trojans. The younger man appeared to be the only one of the two who was speaking English. He listened to his companion briefly and then before the second box was tucked away, he asked “Are these all one size?” The cashier turned the box every which way, closely examining the small print on each side and declared that they were in fact all the same size. That seemed to be acceptable to the older guy.

Once the purchase was complete, the cashier asked the men if they were headed to the larger town a few miles away and if they were driving. They said yes, but they were with a tour group so they had no need for the coupon for gasoline that came with their receipt.

I watched the entire interaction from my spot at the line marker, obviously that distance is not quite enough to provide the privacy it is intending, and I tried to imagine all the possible scenarios for which these two gentlemen from out of town would need approximately 120 condoms. Are they hoping to get extremely lucky on this vacation? Maybe they’re lovers on a rare getaway together? Maybe they don’t have easy access to prophylactics in their country of origin? Or perhaps they are leaders of the tour group simply thinking ahead and trying to provide their fellow group members with protection?

When it was finally my turn to approach the counter for my medication, I gave the cashier a smile but he was as expressionless as a brick wall. Then I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised by his stoicism. I would guess that selling large quantities of condoms to tourists is far from the strangest task his job requires of him. This got me to thinking about my role as a veterinary technician. I’ve always been proud of my ability to remain calm and professional when dealing with emergencies and oddities. I once had a client casually tell me that she examines her own stools each day. I’ve had owners confess to me that their ill pet has recently ingested pot or used condoms or thong underwear, and I’m always able to maintain a straight yet friendly face while I assure them that we will be able to treat their beloved pet properly. Years ago in an exam room, I asked a female client why she had brought her beagle in to be seen and she stated matter of factly “She has a filthy pussy.” I didn’t even pause before I replied, “Alrighty then, let’s see what we can do about that.” It was clear to me that these were simply the only words she had to describe her observations.

Working with the public can be challenging at times. Clients often expect their current problem to take priority over the other things I’m dealing with and that’s not always appropriate. I often have to do a lot of assessing in a short amount of time in order to respond properly. But my work can be incredibly rewarding. There’s no feeling that compares to helping save a family’s pet or providing a grieving owner with solace during euthanasia. My job can be fun, difficult, dirty, heartbreaking and it challenges me physically and emotionally; usually all in the same day. When I took a brief break from working in the veterinary field, I realized there is literally nothing else I would rather do as a job.

I don’t know how that pharmacy clerk feels about his job but I’m guessing there are rewarding parts to helping provide people with their medications as well as frustrating parts. I’ve found that to be true of all the jobs I’ve ever had. Those tourists were fortunate to have someone help them who took the task seriously, even as I observed in disbelief. I guess this all just proves my personal philosophy that everyone is good at something, has a purpose, and we’re all in a certain place at a certain time for a specific reason. What was probably a simple interaction to all parties involved was incredibly interesting to me and gave me a lot to think about.

This is why I enjoy writing non-fiction and why I carry a notebook everywhere I go. There’s always amazing things happening around us, sometimes funny things or examples of kindness or just something spectacular; a week later I pulled up to the same grocery store and saw a man getting arrested for fighting in the parking lot!

It’s a reminder to keep my eyes open all the time, to focus on the moment I’m in, instead of worrying about what I’m doing next. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Does It Matter What You Call It?

I knew I was going to leave roller derby the day I got injured. The moment I was injured, in fact. I recall quite clearly, stopping on the track (which is a no no), holding my hands to what I thought was my broken nose and having a feeling of finality wash over me, a voice that said "All done". I probably could have walked off the track at that exact moment and been satisfied. But that wouldn't be fair to my teammates or to myself. I  put over two years of my life into this sport, literal blood, sweat and tears. I can't just quit, right?  I've spent the last few weeks recovering and thinking about a potential future with derby, but I came to the conclusion that there isn't one for me.

Taken just seconds before the hit that caused my concussion

Friends have asked me how I made the decision but I didn't make a decision as much as it simply became clear to me. This is a time for transition for me. I've gotten a message from The Universe that I need to slow down and re-evaluate my priorities.

But just because the conclusion was clear cut for me didn't mean it was easy to follow through. I went to my life coach for guidance, "I know what I need to do, I just don't know how to go about doing it". I wrote about it, meditated about it and talked about it with my loved ones. I packed away all my gear and derby clothes, just to see what it felt like.

I'm not quitting, I'm retiring. I keep telling myself that, but does it make a difference? I turned to my dictionary for clarification:
          Quit: to stop doing something, to give up, to resign from, to stop trying, to go away from
          Retire: to give up one's work, to remove from a position or office, to go where it is quieter, to retreat from battle

Well, all of those sound accurate to me! Why is there such a negative connotation with quitting? I battled in that sport for two years and now I'm done. Sure there are women who play for a lot longer but I've known many who played for a shorter amount of time. That doesn't make any of us wrong.

I'm four weeks out from my concussion and I'm still not back to my old self. I'm driving and working and (knock on wood) this past weekend was my first one in a month that didn't include me getting injured or terribly ill. I even worked out on the elliptical yesterday for 15 minutes straight! I'm definitely making progress. But my memory sucks and I have a headache at some point every day. Externally I look like I've healed but I still don't feel like myself. I feel slow and foggy which is the opposite of me at my best. It's frustrating and depressing. But when I push myself (like trying to paint the living room or help my sister in law move), I get sick and I backslide three steps.

The words of wisdom from my life coach were: surrender to what is. I like the sound of that-very Zen. But how do I actually do that? I'm still figuring it out. For now it means eliminating as many distractions and obligations as possible and the biggest one was roller derby. I can't commit to calling my mom every Monday or showing up someplace at a specific time. I'm trying to change my thinking from "This isn't me" to "This is me now". I'm trying to read, rest, watch movies and just be who I am right now. Hopefully I won't be this me forever and I think I'll appreciate that I was kind to myself during this phase.

I always have faith that everything will work out. Sometimes it's just tough getting through that middle part. But for now this middle part is all I've got.

Resting on the couch with my dogs

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm Trying!

It has recently occurred to me what a peculiar phrase "Get Well" is. I'd never given it much thought until these past couple of weeks while I've been recovering from a roller derby injury, but when I think about it, it seems more of a command than an endearment.

A couple weekends ago, I whacked my face hard during a game (and then not realizing I had a concussion, I made some poor choices for activities and beverage consumption immediately following the incident) and I'm currently dealing with Post Concussion Syndrome. I've been reading everything I can on the subject of concussions (because that's what I do when I'm upset about something-I read about it-I'm a nerd like that) and while it makes me feel better to know that everything I'm experiencing is to be expected with this type of injury, it's frustrating to know that there's nothing I can do but rest and wait for my brain to heal.

"Rest your brain",  said the doctors and the handouts on Traumatic Brain Injuries. How in the hell do I do that? I wondered. I still haven't figured it out. Okay, no TV or video games or music, no loud noise or bright lights. Minimal stimulation, I get that. But I tried lying alone in a quiet room, and I think my brain rested for about ten seconds, until it started spiraling out of control thinking about what I did to get into this situation and will I ever get better or will I ever play derby again and if I don't then what about this and what about that?  I reached for my book on the nightstand to distract myself from my thoughts. The doctor said I could do anything that didn't aggravate my symptoms and I tentatively checked in with my body after a few minutes of reading to discover that I felt fairly calm so I kept reading. I read four books in a week, much to the dismay of my boyfriend, with whom I have a friendly competition each year to see who reads the most books (See? Nerds). "That was number thirty", I announced smugly one evening as I slapped closed a hard cover novel. "That's not fair", he pouted, but my raised eyebrows must have let him know it was probably a more than fair trade.

"Get better soon" say my teammates and my friends when they post on my Facebook wall and my mom on the cheerful card she mailed me. I know their well wishes are genuine and I truly appreciate knowing I'm being thought of but I just want to scream I CAN'T GET BETTER RIGHT NOW SO STOP SAYING THAT!

What else do I expect them to say? I don't know. There's not much else to say to someone who gave themselves a serious injury playing a contact sport. And it's not like it's their fault I'm frustrated. But there's only so many times I can hear "I hope you're healing up quick" without feeling like I'm somehow doing something wrong. I'm not healing quick and there's nothing I can do about it. All the literature says symptoms can last "weeks to months" and some may never go away completely. That's overwhelming.

For the first ten days, I could barely move. I lived in a constant state of motion sickness. I was physically and mentally slow. I couldn't work or drive. Then last week, at about 14 days in, I started to feel my personality peeking through the fog. I wrote in my journal, I sent some funny Tweets. Oh, what a relief!

All my pets in bed with me on a recent sick day. 

Just when I started to be able to leave the house with minimal side effects, I got food poisoning. That set me back about three steps in my recovery. Talk about frustrating. My mother asked "Well, what did you eat that would have caused that?" insinuating that once again my less than stellar decision making brought about my misfortune.

I do realize that I am fortunate in my situation. My injury could have been much worse. Initially I thought my nose was broken but it wasn't, thank goodness. I am extremely grateful for my family, friends and teammates who have checked in on me, sent flowers, driven me to and from doctors appointments and cooked me meals, among other acts of kindness.

Get Well flowers from my team mates
Outwardly I appear to be in decent shape. I've returned to work, I've started driving short distances and my headache is no longer constant, but I still don't feel like myself and that's the worst part. I worry that I never will, but thankfully I know that this anxiety is also common in concussion patients. The fact that I have the capacity to work on this post is solid proof that I'm returning to myself.

The subject of roller derby hangs over me like a dark cloud. I know that's cliche but it's the best I can do right now! My doctors, my family, my co-workers, they all want to know if I plan return to the sport. The only people who aren't asking me this are my team mates and I think it's because they understand the need for a break and reassessment after an injury. When it comes to big issues, I'm a decisive person. I like to know what's going to happen and when. Am I going to play again or not? Yes or no, make a decision and move on. Right now, that's impossible for me. Roller derby is a part of my identity. There's a part of me that can't imagine my life without it. However, as much as I love playing derby there are other things I love more like reading, writing and my work as a veterinary technician. If I were to injure myself to the point where I couldn't recover to do these other things, well, I can't even think about that.

This series of events has been a clear message to me from The Universe that I need to slow down an bit and take some things off my plate for a while. I need a lot of sleep, I can't multi-task, I can't drink alcohol. Those aren't necessarily bad things. Once my new helmet arrives that I ordered from Amazon, I'll be able to start riding my bike to work again! In the mean time, you'll find me lying down reading a book!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For

I've been absent from the blogosphere for a while, which is frustrating because I've actually been doing a ton of writing.

A while back, I clicked on an obviously targeted Facebook ad stating that a news site was looking for writers. One of my biggest hang ups as a writer is that because I've never gotten paid to write I've had a hard time considering myself a "real" writer (whatever that means). So I jumped at the chance to apply for a paid position. It was a fairly involved application process and long story short I'm about half way through an internship that only one out of every ten applicants gets accepted for and I'm getting paid to write. The ironic thing is it turns out I'm not enjoying it much.

Because the site is geared towards trending news, that what everything I've been writing (about 5 pieces a week) is about. It's not something I've ever had any training in or interest in doing. The cool thing is it turns out I'm not bad at it so I'm putting out articles each week and getting clicks. The down side is I feel my creativity is squashed and I'm dying to write something that reflects my personality and opinions.

Between my job at the veterinary clinic, my roller derby team and my personal life, I often struggle to find uninterrupted time to write. Now the majority of the time I have for that is spent doing these articles. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the opportunity! I'm also proud of myself for trying something new and recognizing that it's not a match for me. There was a time in my life where I wouldn't have tried at all or I would have signed on and felt unable to change my mind for fear it would reflect poorly on me as a person.

I'm going to finish the internship because I take my commitments seriously and it's been a positive experience. I've learned a lot and gone outside my comfort zone, which is exciting and fairly new for me.

It's also been beneficial to me because it's reinforced what my passion truly is, which is writing personal essays and sharing my experiences.

My posts may continue to be sparse over the next couple of weeks but hopefully after that I can turn my attention back to doing what I love for no pay!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

One Trip Around The Sun

This past Saturday marked the one year anniversary of the day I lost my sweet dog Ritz. The month of May had been plodding along under a gray cloud as the date drew nearer. I kept thinking One year ago today, I had no idea what was going to happen. One year ago today he was with me and things were fine. 

A few months back, when I realized I would have a roller derby bout on May 24th, my first reaction was that I didn't want to play on that day. I thought I'd be too sad, too distracted, too whatever to be able to focus and enjoy myself. As the event got closer, though, I realized there wasn't anything else that would be better for me than playing that day.

May 22nd was the date that Ritz was suddenly ill and had emergency surgery. On that date this year, I was incredibly sad. And the next day. And then next morning, when I woke up on the 24th knowing that a year ago my life changed so drastically, I knew I needed to do something to acknowledge what I was feeling so I could move forward into my busy day. FaceBook can be a strange beast sometimes but I like to use it to put things out into The Universe for myself. I wrote this brief post and added this photo of him:
                  One year ago today I lost my best buddy. Not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about him. His passing was a catalyst for some very big, necessary changes in my life and I believe that was his final gift to me. Today, I am truly grateful to have a roller derby bout to turn my focus and energy to. The number of people who are going to watch me play and support me makes my heart sing. I could not have made it through this year without the love from my friends, family and teammates. This is a beautiful day!

Sharing that released the majority of my sadness. I knew my friends would acknowledge what I was feeling and send me loving vibes! This first year without Ritz (after almost eight years with him) was difficult but it was a transformative time for me. I lost my companion, I left my job and I learned that I am capable of much more than I had been giving myself credit for. I had experiences and met people that I would have missed out on had I stayed at that old work place, feeling my soul be crushed every moment I was there. I look back on it now and I truly can't believe I tolerated it as long as I did. 

Next, I took my dogs for a nice long walk and listened to Dave Matthews Band, to find my center. Then I went to play some roller derby! My journey with this sport is its own story, which I'll tell some other day. For now I'll just say that to be playing in a home bout took a huge amount of hard work and perseverance on my part, both physical and emotional. Joining my team has been one of the best things I've done for myself and definitely the most challenging. I play with an incredible group of women and together we work extremely hard to put the events together. To stand on that floor with them, all painted up in my uniform, and seeing my friends and family in the cheering crowd fills my heart with so much joy and pride. I have friends that traveled over 90 miles to watch me play. One of the clients from my previous job was there along with my new boss and co-workers, people I'd met through my temp jobs and my life coaching. Having all these people who love and support me, who want to come watch me play a sport that I love and train hard for is overwhelming. I couldn't have made it through this last year without this support system and it's an awesome feeling to know I created this for myself by making decisions that serve me well. 

One year is a long time, yet it isn't. I can't say I'm less sad about Ritz than I was prior to this anniversary but it is different now. My life coach says there's something to be said for making one trip around the sun when it comes to grief. I think it takes all those little "firsts" to come together and bring some closure, to make the loss less surreal. It's almost as if I've finally proved to myself that I can survive without Ritz, because there was certainly a point in my life a few years ago where I wondered if I could. Right now I'm look forward to this coming summer, to enjoying it with my puppy who is nearing his first birthday. I refer to last summer as The Summer of Sadness and one of my dear friends gracefully pointed out that perhaps we all need a season of sadness occasionally to be able to appreciate the ones that are joyful. I think she's right.