Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Unplugging Experiment

So, it's been awhile. By which I mean several weeks. Sorry about that. I will say, though, that last week's hiatus was intentional. I took a family vacation to Cape Cod and made a decision to unplug as much as possible. All of my travel this year has had some business component to it and I wanted to spend time with the family without the constant urge to check my email and social media outlets every five minutes. If you don't know me well enough to know how difficult a challenge this was, let me give you a few examples - I've actually emailed from a game park in Botswana, posted on Facebook from the rainforest, and tweeted from Macchu Picchu. Plain and simple, I like to be connected and my job very often requires it - even at odd hours of the day and night, since my clients aren't always on the same time zone.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that by unplugging I mean that I brought my phones (yes, plural - business and personal), ipad and laptop but was attempting not to use them, at least for the purpose of work or "keeping up on everything" hourly.  I'll be the first to admit, I somewhat failed this experiment at the beginning of the trip. When my computer refused to connect to the house wifi even when everyone else's did, I felt a twinge of anxiety rise up (thank goodness for 3G ipad!). I definitely went through my email once a day just to clear out all of the junk - I hate coming back to 2000 emails, 3/4 of which mean nothing to me -  and I did answer a few quick emails for clients who are traveling soon, even if just to let them know that I would work on the items needed the following week. I know, this doesn't sound much like unplugging, but it's about as disconnected as I get. 

As the week went on, I got more used to my version of unplugging. It was nice to not have ten different types of stimuli coming at me at once, many of which revolve around work. I noticed that with less going on, my cyclothymia was quite at ease. I was able to relax, go with the flow and just enjoy. I didn't get anxious when plans changed. I spent at least an hour each day relaxing in a big easy chair with a book and didn't feel an ounce of guilt. Truly, it was marvelous. I allowed myself time to enjoy those around me, and time to connect with myself. 

My unplugging experiment taught me a few lessons. The most notable being that, as with most things, there's a happy medium. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I'm not good with gray areas. Part of this is a symptom of the cyclothymia, and part of this is just my personality. The ability to let my "out of office" notifications answer my calls and emails, while not forcing myself to unplug completely, struck a healthy balance for me. I learned that I honestly don't want to unplug completely - at least not for a week. I went on my ipad to get ideas for day excursions, and my phone gps helped to get us around on those day trips. I eased some anxiety about work that might have permeated throughout my trip by doing a quick email check to make sure there were no emergencies and handling one or two things that required a quick response, yet I didn't feel the need to answer every single email. It seems that at least in certain circumstances, I'm becoming capable of gray areas.

In striking this balance, I also came to understand the effect of the constant go-go-go on my condition. It seems obvious, but I guess I didn't see that the constant "needs" coming at me from all directions seem to aggravate my cycling. Looking at it now, that makes total sense. For someone whose brain reacts dramatically to changes, requires routine, and jumps around quite often, I have been making it tougher on myself than it already was by being continually "plugged in".

Since coming back, I've decided to try another experiment. I discovered an online timer that allows me to put in tasks and time goals for each task. There's something about being on a timer that forces me to focus only on that item at hand - don't want to waste part of the hour I've allotted for email by checking my Facebook! It seems to be streamlining my brain a bit. I'm allowing myself to focus on one thing at a time - save emergencies from clients - with the knowledge that it's only a finite amount of time, and I'll soon have time for other tasks. We'll see how it goes.

In the long run, I don't plan to unplug too much overall. It's part of my job, and quite frankly I enjoy being connected to people. But I'm hoping to control the stimuli more, and in turn, settle down my brain a bit - at least as much as it can be settled. I'll keep you posted. For now, my blogging time goal is coming to an end. Time to move on to the next task at hand! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Right Stuff

This weekend, I had some really good, deep talk with a couple of friends. One was a friend that, despite a long history and being quite close, we haven't gotten to talk as much lately. It was nice to be reminded that in a pinch, we are there for each other. An added bonus to the conversations.

During these talks, I revealed quite a bit about myself, to myself. I know it seems like I'm constantly discovering more about myself - I must seem like I was one confused individual before! Well, in part, that's accurate. In part, I think we're all a little confused. We all things that we do that we don't fully understand. It might be a pet peeve, or something that makes us smile or a fear or any other feeling that we can't quite place. Truthfully, I love learning about myself. It's like unwrapping a gift that's covered with fifteen layers of wrapping paper. The closer you get to the actual present, the more excited you get, and if you're like me, the unwrapping process is part of the fun - it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if you just walked in the house and it was sitting unwrapped on the kitchen table, right? Part of the excitement is that you know there's something great waiting for you underneath the layers of wrapping, and that's how I feel about discovering myself. And yes, I realize to some people I sound like I'm writing a hallmark made for TV movie, but it's how I feel - I can't change that, and quite frankly, I don't want to.

Throughout the conversations this week, the overriding theme was happiness and more specifically, attaining and maintaining it. I told my friend that ultimately, my goal in life is simply to be happy. She responded "yes, but what is it that makes you happy?" What a wonderful response and incredibly important question. So, I started making a list of the things that would make me happy in the long run, and I came to a fascinating conclusion. In the end, they all boil down to two things: to be loved and accepted by myself, and that my loved ones are happy. I always understood, but never really understood, when people would say things like "to love someone else, you have to love yourself first" or "no one else can make you happy, it comes from inside".  That changed when I started making this list and realized that, other than my loved ones' happiness, everything tied back to loving myself. Let me demonstrate. Below are a points that were originally on my list as things that makes me happy. Next to each is how it ties back to being loved and accepted by myself.

1. Being loved and accepted by others: this makes me happy because it boosts my self confidence and self esteem. When these are high, it's easier to love and accept myself. It verifies my positive thoughts about myself and in turn, helps me interact with others.

2. Being successful in my career: I love what I do for a living. However, if I break it down, once again, having a successful career, especially in something in which you help others, helps increase your self confidence. That probably rises exponentially when you own your own business, because you've not only managed a successful career, you've managed to run a company too. That makes me feel pretty damn good about myself.

3. Working on mood disorder awareness: I think this is a tricky one to relate and I want to be very clear on one point - I in no way do the mood disorder awareness work as a self serving measure. I truly love help people and raise awareness. I think though, that this is linked in that I want to help others with the same self love and acceptance that I'm seeking. So while it's not necessarily my own self love, it is self love none the less. In addition, one of the reasons I was so excited to start this, was that it made me realize a positive "purpose" for my condition, and that was to help others. That part of it certainly relates to self acceptance and love - it helps me accept my cyclothymia and even give a positive spin to it.

4.  Being physically health and fit: I think this is kind of a no-brainer in the linkage department. It makes me feel better about myself and boosts my confidence.

I could keep going. The point is, that in the end, what I need to strive for is self love and acceptance. That ultimately makes me happy. These items that I used to think made me happy are really part of that process. Of course, these aren't black and white. There are pieces along each path that help me reach the end result. For instance, I like being social - it's fun to be out doing fun activities with others. I don't solely hang out with people to work on my ultimate goal of self-love, I truly enjoy their company. Same thing with running my business. Unlike many people, I like the day to day work of my job. I like interacting with others about their mood disorders and discuss the successes and struggles along the way. I like learning from them as much as helping. I sometimes like to go to the gym. I can't add an "every day" to that statements - sometimes that one truly is a means to an end.

My point in this blog, which might not be super clear at the moment, is that there is an ultimate goal but it's often not what we focus on. When you get caught up in the details, ask yourself - how will this affect my happiness in the long run. I have had to do this even with big things, like relationship breakups. I've had to say to myself - what I want, in the end, is to be happy. If this person is not going to make me happy, or is not happy with me, why am I fighting so hard for this? What I tend to forget is that my goal shouldn't "to be in a relationship with 'Bob Smith' (I know no one named Bob Smith and if you are, this wasn't aimed at you, you may be a lovely gentleman, but it's a generic choice of name).  Same for every day things. Instead of getting bogged down in minute details, I need to look at how it will affect my overall goal of happiness.

What it boils down to is that I need to focus on the right things. That's it. I just took a page and a half blog to say that, I realize. Sometimes though, things seem so simple that you have to write them out a bit, explain, give them context. So there you have it. Ask yourself - am I focusing on the right things. Make a list, like I did, if you have to. Your "right things" may well not be the same as mine. But whatever they are, keep them in your sights, every day.