Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Looking Back, It All Seems So Clear Now (2)

What I did was get angry enough to take Step One.

Step One: Admitted I was powerless over feeling like shit all the time, that our my life was unmanageable. I came into work one day at the start of July, and within five minutes of arriving had a yet another violent coughing fit. That was enough. I took a meeting with my manager, then told him that I was taking the next couple of days off because I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than myself could help me get better. I thought I needed to see a doctor about this, and went across to my gym, which has a couple of GP's available every day. Not cheap, but you get a fifteen-minute or half-hour consultation. Yes, they could get me in a couple of hours later. Fine. I'll take it.

Step Three: Turned my life and my will over to the care of people with good advice. The doctor did various tests and established there was something wrong, but nothing life-threatening. He suggested I take my Lanzoprosole daily and prescribed a steroid inhaler as a preventative and see him in a week. I did as I was told and took the next two days off. My breathing improved and my coughing went away within the week. I felt better, and people even told me I was looking more cheerful. However, that wasn't enough. 

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless inventory of the exact ways my life has turned to shit over the last six months. Now it's time to make some changes and get out of whatever bad habits I may have picked up. This inventory has to be done carefully. The original phrasing is "a searching a fearless moral inventory". If I'm not careful, this is where the 3rd/5th Shame Regiment come charging down my Valley. They say things like how I'm not "in control of my life" or "present in your life" or tell me to "just be a grown-up" or "behave like an adult" or "pay attention to the details", or to "get a grip", "stop whining and do something" or even "man up". Following them are the 11th Pet Theories Regiment, who suggest changes in diet, exercise regime, taking vitamins, taking food supplements with weird names and fancy prices, taking a holiday, taking a spa weekend, enrolling on an evening course, "getting out more", "staying in more and just chilling" getting a hobby, and of course, everyone's favourite, "getting laid".

These guys are not my friends. They are either selling something, saying it for their own benefit, like the kick they get from making me feel bad. The inventory I needed compared my life to a well-managed one.

What does a well-managed life look like? Your living quarters are clean and orderly; you eat nutritious, tasty food in the appropriate quantities; you are fit, right-weight, have good muscle and skin tone, and effective cardiovascular functioning; you recognise when you are ill or injured and take effective action to get better; your work clothes are clean, in good repair and modestly stylish if you can choose what to wear; your casual clothes present you to advantage; you are clean; your bills are paid on time, you use credit cards as a method of payment, not as a means of financing, and if you take loans, it's for something that will benefit you for longer than the repayment plan. You have the insurance you need, and none you don't; you review your savings and investments at least once a year to make sure you're getting as good a return as the market will offer, and take action if you're not; you earn sufficient money in a legal manner, working for customers or managers who don't make you crazy; you have a professional development programme, even if it's of your making because the company doesn't; you meet your legal obligations, such as MoT tests and TV licenses; and finally, you are not a slave to booze, drugs, football, junk food, TV soap operas, Star Trek, MMORPGs or computer games, nor are you at the beck and call of your wife, husband, crazy needy manipulative girlfriend, ex-wife, ex-husband, chaotic children or other relatives, and nor do the neighbours drive you crazy.

A well-managed life is not normal - it doesn't leave enough room for any of the good stuff. A normal life has a certain amount of chaos and mess in it, usually caused by children, employment, sickness and relationships. What makes a life "normal" is that it lacks what we might call "malignant chaos". Having a bully for a boss or a partner with Borderline Personality Disorder is malignant chaos; a pile of ironing because you spent the weekend gliding, which is your favourite thing to do, is entirely acceptable chaos. You can have a light dusting of chaos over a manageable life - as when you blow off the housework for a weekend of mountain-climbing - or you can have a light dusting of order over an unmanageable life - as when a drunk manages to show up at work in clean clothes. I had a lot of order in my life, which is quite easy because I'm single and childless (thank the Lord, yes, thank the Lord!) - just not over anything that made my life richer and more pleasant. 

One reason I had slumped was that I was trying to "make my life better". Now since clearing the garden, sorting out insurances and the like won't make my life any more worth living than it already is, it follows that I would let all that sort of maintenance-y stuff slide. "Making your life better" doesn't work as a motive because it isn't functional: "getting a better salary" is, "clearing the garden of the junk" is, "touching up the paint around the house" is, but not "making my life better". A million things can do that, or nothing can. 

And here's where the damage shows. Boozing didn't leave much of a mark on my life: I was, by and large, a well-behaved drunk. What left the scars was the ACoA stuff. It's mundane and whiny and "can't you get over it?" and I will if you can get over your lack of mathematical ability and come back in a year and prove the modern statement of Riemann-Roch in your own terms. Yeah. Thought so. And no, it's not different.

I can have moments of pleasure, calm and very, very occasionally, of rest, but never that immanent feeling you have, of diffused wellness and feel-good-ness. Don't be smug about that: it's hormonal. If you had my oxytocin / endorphin re-uptake, you would feel as I do, and you wouldn't survive a month of it. But when "everything" slides, the weather is grey and cold and damp, I'm feeling down, my body is a mass of tense and knotted muscles, then it's tempting to imagine that I need something to put "it" all right all at once, or why bother? Getting angry and focussed on getting rid of the cough gave me something specific to focus on and broke that mind-set.

Right now, I'm writing down every little task I need to do - I can't remember what day it is, let alone that I need to get some chromium tablets at lunchtime. I have a Little Black Book Of Things To Do And Sundry Notes, I write everything in that. I look at it frequently - because I've gone days without taking it from my courier bag and consequently done nothing for weeks - and figure out what I'm going to do in my next free period (lunch, after work, weekend) or even during working hours (making dental appointments, calls about finances and household stuff). Part of the trick is to write it as soon as it has occurred to me, not leave it to get forgotten or filtered: I can always strike it out later.  

This sounds like the usual descent into bathos: start with a huge life-problem signifying existential distress and economic disaster and end with... candles? a to-do list? affirmations? Huh? You're saved the New Age stuff because I don't do it, but you shouldn't be surprised that big problems have small solutions. "One day at a time" is a small solution to a big problem. "One task at a time" will get me closer to managing my life well - until the next slump.

So what do I need here? A different approach to the work I do in the gym; some tweaks to the diet; a change of employer for a minimum fifteen per cent pay increase; a re-think about the way I dress... It's Review Time. There are some thing's I've been doing over and over that aren't getting me any results, while some of the things I do, do get results. Any time you can spot which one is which, let me know? Until then, I will need to experiment.

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