Battling back from setbacks

Today was actually fine. I am tired from the unanticipated stress yesterday and limited sleep last night, but things are fine, I am fine. Work went well – my crew is very caring and solicitous of me, which I appreciate – and we are going out for kava tonight after work. Almost all of the staff are curious enough to want to try it, but these are lawyers and there is always something to debate and even something as simple as where to go for drinks after work evolves into a ridiculous discussion. As is the custom, we settled it via coin toss, and kava won 3 out of 5.

Was it just yesterday I was thinking that the negative voices have been strangely silent for several days? That may have been true, or they have been working on different approaches to make themselves heard. The fear, that old, familiar, paralyzing fear came over me and had me rooted in place. And every time I closed my eyes and felt like sleep was within my grasp I would start hearing the whispers again. The vicious, vile, terrible whispers about bad things happen because I deserve it, that I am not good enough, smart enough, nice enough, etc., etc., etc.

When I am tired, I seem to require all my energy to get through the real-life, real-time problems and issues right in front of me. I have no energy to spare to do battle with myself, and if I cannot shut negative girl up from the get go, she grows stronger and gets louder and louder until I wave the white flag of surrender or start screaming like a madwoman inside my head, which only encourages the crazy to gleefully pump up the volume.

TM was kind enough to call and check in with me this morning, which resulted in a 10 minute phone consult after yesterday’s adventures. He was aware that I was going, of course, and no one could have really anticipated that I would cross paths with the actual victim in this whole mess. That I would react so strongly is a given for anyone who knows me, but had I known it was even a remote possibility M would have accompanied me and kept me from falling off the edge. Captain Hindsight was definitely in residence today.

But chatting with him by phone, he reminded me of this week’s exercise to compile at least one success item (past or present) every day AND I only get to use one exercise-related or health-based accomplishment. I can list an exercise-related or health-based accomplishment every single day, but they only get counted once and I also have to come up with 5 other examples for next week. His experience with me is that I either forget, go to sleep, or minimize accomplishments and obsess, worry about, or inflate the importance of failings, both the real and the imagined.

Ugh. This positivity thing is a lot harder than it looks. But now he has challenged me by limiting the types of accomplishments I get to choose from, so I am now trying to come up with something every day that is not exercise-related or health-based. Competitive much? Only sometimes and for good reasons. And it’s really hard! At least it has had the effect of getting my thinking churning in the right direction, toward what I am good at, where I have succeeded at rather than failed or whether or not I am deserving of unpleasantness.

We are currently shorthanded work. There are normally 12 lawyers, 4 paralegals, the receptionist/admin, and me. Right now we are down 2 paralegals – one left on her dream vacation 2 weeks ago and broke her back in a fall last Friday, the second to the last day of her vacation and  her planned return on Monday. She is now going to be out for at least the next 6 weeks. The other gal got called away unexpectedly with a family emergency on Monday and currently has no idea when she might be able to return. There is a definite, powerful team spirit around the office and we have decided to all pitch in where we can and push through without any temporary assistance. Usually there is no issue managing workload down a single paralegal, but down 2 puts us everyone on high alert because the work does not ever seem to stop.

In a prior phase of my career I was a word processing technician and trained as a paralegal, although I never pursued that particular line of work. Because of that experience and training, I used to be am skilled with proofreading and editing other people’s copy. That may surprise readers, because here on the blog I do very little editing and frequently miss typos, but oh well; I am definitely not looking to monetize this blog or start writing as a potential money-making opportunity. But this week I have stepped up and been working at helping with the billable work paper chase wherever I am able to help rather than hinder. I am reading and editing correspondence and documents in order to keep paperwork moving, finalized, and out the door. Apparently it surprised the attorneys and staff that I am really good at this aspect of the work and am not a snob with regard to what I can or will do based on my title and job description. I speculate that they figured being their numbers person I was not as well versed in the reading and writing as I am in the arithmetic. Either way, I have been able to help out and make a difference with the workload and that makes me happy. I also don’t mind doing the more administrative oriented tasks because it all pays the same, whether I am filing or copying or editing documents or working on the finance and business planning aspects of my job.

One of the paralegals told me my attitude seems so unusual, that their prior guy was very into delegation of authority and would not even make his own copies, instead would walk clear across the office and ask the receptionist to do it for him. *eye roll* Please. I have been spotted loading and unloading the dishwasher in the breakroom without a frown in sight just because I was in there and it needed to be done. But as for the other guy … we have a big, fancy-smancy copier/printer/scanner here; maybe it was too complicated for him to figure out? Because he was way older than all of us and even the combined ages of a few of the younger stuff put together. I was trying to give the benefit of the doubt, but truthfully he was probably as old school in his hierarchal org chart of duties as he was in his accounting practices. In this particular case “old soul” means as rigid and inflexible as a dinosaur bone.

At my former full-time job, the staff are very nice and very bright for the most part; the owners, particularly the local owner being the exception to the “smart” generalization. Because of his leadership, presence in the office, limited social skills and interests, the primary topics of conversation were dumbed down to sports, cars, television and movies, cooking, and families. And work of course. It possibly did not help there were 3 women (out of a high of 24 souls in our office). When the owner was out of the office or we get out as a group, conversation was always a lot more lively and interesting to me, if only because it was not quite so limited or stifled.

Contrast that with this firm and office populated primarily by very sharp lawyers with a lot of interests ranging from politics and philosophy to the science of weather and climate change and just about everything else in between. Discussions are just so much more lively and interesting, although being lawyers there is this great love for debate about everything. They talk sports – I guess there was a big game recently? – and cars and families and relationships (Monday was fascinating for me!), but they also talk about books they are reading and other things going on in the world. And of course work … The Law talk seems never ending. Perhaps because it is still so new to me, but it makes for much more interesting lunches and breaks and hanging out after work. The partners are very open and inclusive, creative in the ways they motivate the staff and clear and direct in their communications. Plus it is so refreshing to not have to always be the bearer of bad news and to have regular meetings where we actually talk about planning and utilization of resources to cover workload. Imagine that – a firm actually run like a business by mature grown-ups. I am definitely moving up in the world without having to return to a big, impersonal, sterile, and boring corporate environment.

Since I made the decision last summer to strike out on my own it has felt like I needed to step up my game and unearth my original thought and independent thinking skills. Being here as much as I have been since the beginning of the year makes me recognize that I need and want to sharpen my brain to keep up with all sorts of new and intriguing information being tossed about all around me. There are so many books to read, topics to research, books or articles I read in years past that I feel a desire to go back and revisit.

It feels as if I am now swimming in a faster tide and do not have time to be tired because I lost sleep over things I cannot control. The Very Bad Incident is a real thing and will take time to completely overcome, but the list of things I worry about, obsess about, let fester and rot inside my head and that leave me vulnerable to the negative girl and her cast of characters is truly a waste of time and energy. That becomes clearer to me each and every day that passes.

And thinking about it from that perspective, I can truly see why my practices feel more energetic and vital. I am thinking about conversations and things I want to read, questions I want to ask, discussions I maybe did not quite follow as closely the first time through. My mind is not stuck in “this is hard, I can’t do this” weeping and wailing mode. It’s listening to the cueing soundtrack and watching the shoulders and stomach and ribs and hips and glutes to ensure everything is where it is supposed to be and doing what it should be doing, but not obsessing or beating the crap out of me for failing or forgetting.

My mind is getting in better shape along with my limbs. A surprise training bonus? Why are the marketing folks not pushing that aspect? Never mind … I do not want to step backwards into that big steaming pile of poo. Today has been far too pleasant.

The difference I noticed this morning was (1) I was tired, and (2) I was not having any fun. No smile. No happy. No eager anticipation. It was bland, colorless, dour. It was slog, a word I typically only use when it comes to the dreaded core work, and even they are not that bad all of the time. My head was stuck in fear, anxiety, anger, but mostly fear and anxiety. And I could not shut the voices up or turn down the volume.

It was pretty awful and such a contrast with my new normal. I am going to have days like this, where something or someone completely harshes my buzz, but I am going to develop more strategies to battle back.

So now I have this fresh comparison of what normal happy life is like with the color turned on and burning my eyes out (in the best possible manner) versus the former normal happy enough with its soft pastels and grays. I was not unhappy before I began this new quest, but I like these new shades of living so much better. Happy and relaxed versus happy and vaguely on edge much of the time? I will take the former, please, for the win.

The weird part to me is the negative soundtrack is so ingrained I did not really notice its absence or muffled mumbling until it faded into the background for awhile. The occasions when I have lost my grip or my focus on the road in front of me and allowed them to take hold they seem so much louder, more persistent, and so destructive.

I am encouraged, though. I am starting to believe I have more control over this stuff, that there is a way past my personal history and its buttons and triggers and ingrained beliefs about me and my place in the wide world of life. Change, positive change, was a painful hope better to be left outside my view and never, ever mentioned as a possibility. Maybe Definitely not so much now.

Looking at my history of going from denial to coping to managing one issue at a time I see an undeniable pattern of improvement and change. Even reading back through some of my blog posts where I say nice things about myself or repeat compliments I have received I feel that old stab of shame for my conceit and vanity, which I am presently ruthlessly stomping and compacting to something small enough to be rightly pitched from my consciousness. Truth is I am a nice enough person; I am not routinely unkind to others or to animals. Usually only when provoked beyond reasonable tolerances.

I think I am improving in accepting compliments graciously. At least I do not automatically deny or twist myself into a pretzel trying to minimize the kindness. Progress.

Probably there will be a lot more strikeouts of qualifiers as we move along.

Commenter SAK noted that I underestimate my abilities, being mired for so long in the negative. It is beyond possible and into very likely territory that she is correct, and it is also possible to very likely I may agree with her. Either way, I am hugely flattered she thinks that is the case. But I also know that my goal is sustainability, and I have to work the process to make sustainability happen. In a week, a month, a year my outlook will be different. Perhaps my ego will be completely unbound and Hell-bent on world domination and I will be truly insufferable, but that is not something to concern myself about this particular Wednesday – ego still very much in check as of this moment. (*smile*) If and when it happens it  will be an issue to be wrangled and subdued. For now, I will just continue my tiny little baby steps forward and celebrate each and every success as it happens.

The day has turned into a good one, especially considering the dust-up of fear and anxiety from the Very Bad Incident; all that has calmed considerably. The day began weakly and has built up my strength and resilience as the hours have passed. I expect it will wind down quite powerfully. Progress marches on.

And tomorrow is Thursday, training day. It will be fun no matter what J is contemplating, and I am looking forward to being back in the gym and in a better, more present and focused frame of mind. I have stopped listening to the gym’s marketing machine – headphones are a great thing – and am back to deleting any and all email or articles in my reader related to fitness and health and instant results and cautionary tales. For a little while I will retreat and depend on gatekeeper J to fill in the blanks with stuff I should know about. Left to my own devices I get overwhelmed and aggravated with all the crap.

And soon it’s off for kava. With this crew, that should prove interesting to watch.

3 thoughts on “Battling back from setbacks

  1. “world domination” – when do we begin planning this? ’cause I am totally in! 😉

    BTW – goal is sustainability – I’m totally stealing that as my goal too!

    Glad you have found a team that doesn’t embrace the “it isn’t my job” attitude.

    The prior guy at your firm reminds me of a guy years ago – we were both economists – he had a PHD and I had a BA and I was both the youngest and only woman in the group. So one day he comes to my office and asks me for help in the copy room (passing the offices of about a dozen men). I follow him the room and he points to the copier and says it is out of paper and he needs x copies asap. He went to leave and I said – ok let me show you how to load the paper and program the machine. He was so shocked he just stood there while I put in paper and walked through the steps (w/o actually programming the machine). Then I left him to it. Hmm…when I think about it..he never did ask for admin help from me again.

    • Yes, M thinks that my megalomania could manifest any minute now, especially since I am in throes of decluttering madness.
      I was an admin for a number of years and mostly enjoyed it, because I was superior and excelled at my job. However, you always run into those weirdos who think of admins with the same mindset as office furniture – it looks different but is all basically interchangeable. Or that would ask me to get them coffee or personal errands. Unless you’re at or near the top of the food chain, no way am I picking up your dry cleaning or a bottle of wine for dinner (actually happened at my first job for a lobbyist; I was only 19 at the time and not old enough to buy wine). I think every woman of a certain age has at least one story like that.
      What kills me – truly kills me – was at a firm 15 years ago, when I was still a young woman in of 40. I had some fresh faced biologist just out of college and only with the firm a few months ask me if I could order and serve refreshments to a meeting he was hosting – of new short-term interns we were hiring for a single project. I sweetly suggested he learn how to walk across the parking lot to the bakery we used to acquire whatever snacks he wanted and that I would personally show him how to use the coffee pot and where we kept the cups. He argued with me about how it was “my job” to do that for him, so I pulled out the org chart and showed him where I was and where he was … and I don’t think he ever spoke to me again unless absolutely necessary for the next 2 years I worked there.

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