Brave enough, after all

Prologue: I am no longer on partial sick leave. I am considered well and am back to work 100%! I have new tasks but am the master of my day, even though my work calendar has never been as full as it is now! 

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Now: I was tasked with teaching some part-time workers about what a beta tester does at work, the temporary position I was in for over 18 months while on partial sick leave. And having not ever done this before, I was easily driving myself crazy. Eventually, after trying to plan the lesson and more or less succeeding, I got to a point where I started to settle down. Where I realized that it was hard to know if I was doing this right because it had never been done before. There is no measure for success for this yet.  

It started with a couple of things: A visit to my doctor's where I realized that "Trust, not doubt" (in Norwegian: "Tillit, ikke tvil") was my new mantra or motto. That was followed by an instruction from an online course that read, "Breathe in the words 'I choose ease'; breathe out 'I release.'" 

I tried. I tried to calm the monkey brain, the atoms of fear that insist on making up my molecules. I ended up bringing the one anti-anxiety "drug" I have to work: A Bach flower remedy (Aspen).  

 At some point, a part of me realized that I had done enough. Still, I had almost too many butterflies leading up to the day I was supposed to have the actual class. Today was the day for the class. 

 A friend on Facebook posted this: 

—Jon Acuff on Twitter

—Jon Acuff on Twitter

 

What a wonderful message on today of all days! 

During a morning team meeting another inspiring and apropos thing happened: We were discussing how to handle changes and new technology, when a co-worker quoted Pippi Longstocking, a character from Astrid Lindgren's children book: "I've never done that before so I'm sure I'll be able to do it." 

What totally different approaches to the new and unknown! Instead of fearing failure, why not either embrace it or just assume it won't even happen? 

This afternoon I found my two students and started our two-hour lesson with "Be brave enough to be bad at something new"—a message they needed, too, since what I was about to teach them was totally unknown to them. It lightened the mood and gave us a good start. 

We ended up having a good session, and I have two co-workers who are eager to try out their new skills.  

Epilogue: As I sum up my day, which ended on a wonderful high note—no failures!—I have to take a moment to be grateful for the guidance I got. Thank you, Universe!  

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Five year journey, part 1

I’m thinking about the last five years, because the blog I started in 2014 went poof as I switched providers. (Always read the instructions thoroughly before switching website hosts, kids.) Then a bit of magic happened and I could save my texts and restore posts; the photos were already saved. 

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As I went through and relinked photos, I saw that I’d been talking about stress and things bothering me on and off. It isn’t just a process to heal; it can also be a process getting sick. (These posts now have the tag “personal” for my own purposes, but they may serve you, too.)

The communists of the Cold War era would make five year plans. Life coaches and career advisers often ask you where you see yourself in five years’ time. That’s a question I’ve never been able to answer. In 2014, I was on a healing path, having explored A Course in Miracles and finding ho’oponopono since 2009. A big rift in my family relations had been healed at this point. I was feeling pretty darned good in 2014. 

I remember I found myself in a situation a couple of years earlier, where I had to learn a lot of new things. Nothing like doing that to confirm that an old dog can indeed learn new tricks. And a good thing that was, because in 2014, I lost my job in one department due to downsizing, but got another job in another department, requiring me to learn entirely new things. And I did. 

I was still riding high on whatever wave this was through 2015. Slowly, in 2016, something was catching up to me. Not the age of my bathroom (a museum piece at this point, and finally renovated in 2016), but something else. We were downsized again; everybody in my (new) department had to reapply for their jobs. I got lucky, once again, and got my job back, but it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had at work because of what it did to all of us. So the winter of 2016/2017 sucked. Easter week of 2017 came and sucked with only one day of warmth and sunshine; the rest was chilly, cloudy and wet.

Summer of 2017 as seen from inside a boat

Summer of 2017 as seen from inside a boat

I had family visiting that Easter and the visit became rather challenging and disappointing. It did feed the thing catching up to me. By the fall of 2017, I was not doing well, calling in sick to work after a panic attack. I basically stood at my own front door in tears because I couldn’t bear the thought of walking through and going to work. That’s  a pretty strong message! I’m sure that a rainy, cool summer with no trip abroad hadn’t helped my spirits, either. My boss thought transfering me to a temporary position as a beta tester for IT would be a good fit. And for a while it was.

In the midst of all this, I was taking evening classes, dealing with a frozen shoulder, catching up on US tax filing in order to renounce my US citizenship, getting a Norwegian citizenship, and finally severing one of the last ties to my country of birth on January 30, 2018. (Still have final tax return to go as of this writing.)

The summer of 2018 the thing catching up to me finally introduced itself. “Hi, my full name is Depression Anxiety Panic-Attack. I’m moving in. I’m going to terrify you and make you feel useless and helpless and keep you from going on vacation. For starters.”

Well, this was unfamiliar territory. I’ve always been a worry-wort but I’ve also been able to think it away. But this time, two things happened: This new feeling was stronger than anything I’d experienced before—and I seemed to be locked into it, not thinking about my spiritual toolbox and how it could help. The library was open but I didn’t think to go in. 

But, even when shit happens, I’m a lucky girl. A friend had been through the same thing and was ready to spend time with me and let me talk. I got a full refund on the vacation trip I had to cancel. I had the satisfaction of knowing that canceling had been the right thing. I enjoyed a relaxing “staycation” with a few museum visits and lots of sunshine and heat. (2018 was a record-breaking hot and dry summer.) Back at work after my summer vacation was over, I seemed to be all right—until I wasn’t. 

On August 30 2018, I went on partial sick leave. It’s almost 6 months later, and I’m still on partial sick leave. 

I talked to the company psychologist back in September/October. That handful of meetings did me a lot of good, and helped me be gentle with myself. I identified the triggers and the latent self-talk I didn’t know I had. Childhood stuff, of course. A whole story of good and bad, of guilt, loss and confusion. Of me trying to be a Good Girl so the family will start being loving and supportive again like it used to be. I didn’t know I was still trying to be a Good Girl 40-50 years later.

My insurance through my employer then got me another therapist for 10 more sessions. As I built myself back up with her help, I stretched the sessions out more. I have two left. Here too was some lovely synchronicity: I’d discovered yoga mantras and my therapist practiced yoga and gave me some tips.

My GP, who is fresh out of med school, also turned out to be a fantastic listener and the one who reminded me that no matter what I learned in therapy, that was just the start, getting the necessary tools. All the healing and work was going to come after and take time. Bless him for reminding me that this stuff takes time! And for a constant diet of partial sick leave.

So here I am. Feeling a lot better than in a long while. So good, in fact, that I feel like applying for work. I realize now that the job that saved me in 2014 is not a good fit in the long run. 2019 will be the year I figure out where to go next. I’m too old to leave my employer, but changing departments is no problem. I’ve just got to make myself ready.

But baby steps. Bit by bit.

A version of the Gayatri mantra that I learned by heart to help myself. More about that in part 2.

/ / marks the spot

I have seen the plans for the light rail station coming to my bit of the 'burbs. I know that the footbridge I have crossed to and from work since 1986 will become history and I'll get a new bridge about 50 meters to the west. 

"My" footbridge as seen on the way home

"My" footbridge as seen on the way home

It may happen sooner rather than later. At some point, the slope this bridge connects me to, where the trees are, is going to be dug into and reshaped. A new path to a new bridge will appear, forever changing my walk to work.

It may happen sooner than I realize. Barely two weeks ago, I noticed neon streaks on the pavement. I'd seen them before and knew the construction crew had left them. Today I saw why:

Aha! A hole!

Aha! A hole!

They're still moving pipes and stuff around underground.

But I see more paint streaks. I wonder how much longer I'll get to enjoy the sight of this tree:

More digging to come!

More digging to come!

Too much, too soon

Yesterday's grouchiness was a warning. My body and my moods are basically klaxons trying to get my attention. This morning I had no energy, no desire, no absent Grumpy. He was still with me. He had a message.

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I hate when I'm like this. I hate that my emotions so easily rise to the surface and I have neither the inclination nor the ability to force them back down, not even when the situation demands that I do. (Blowing up at work is a really bad idea.)

I got a reminder today that dealing with mental exhaustion, with panic attacks and its attendant issues, takes time. I was feeling too good Tuesday. I know now that I was not on the way up, but out of balance. Yesterday that lack of balance made itself known. I thought I'd headed it off at the pass, armed with hugs, but nope. On a good day I can wrestle with my feelings, but on a good day I'm not even in this battle. So I'm trying to face a dragon and all I can muster is a "whatever". It takes energy to battle with feelings, and in this case, it is a better strategy to just not bother.

Low on energy this morning, I got myself ready for work, only to be hit by full-blown lethargy. And so I played the waiting game. Maybe I'll feel like going in half an hour… which came and went and so I thought maybe in another half hour… But that's when my body decided to wield a clue-by-four with force: The very thought of going to work started to make me cry.

So I called in sick. And I'm not playing hooky. I have to get this through my head: I am sick, just not physically. I am not the definition of a well person at this time. So once again: I need to learn to give myself some slack, to figure out how to care for myself mentally.

So I've surfed YouTube today and appreciated the fact that last night I made dinner with lots of leftovers. 

I subscribe to Tom Scott's channel. Here's how my words actually get to you: 

Grumpy got hugs

Grumpy

Grumpy

So, as usual, I am Mercurial and go up and down more than a rollercoaster. After a great day yesterday—which I realize now may have taken more out of me than I thought, with all that talking to the psychologist—I ended up grumpy today. Total raincloud-right-over-my-head grumpy.

At the end of the day, a co-worker caught up with me and I admitted I was frustrated, annoyed, and feeling grouchy. Whereupon she gave me a proper, squishy, ribcage-melding bear hug. In fact, such a good and helpful hug we both started to tear up. 

Now, that is some serious hugging!

And yes, it did chase the proverbial raincloud away.

PS: My favorite dwarf was Grumpy because I related best to him. Still do.

PPS: WordPress is rolling out a new blog editor called Gutenberg and it's, uhm, well, at times raincloud-inducing. :-D

May is for strikes

I remember strikes used to terrify me. I was so brain-washed by the American view of unions that I quit mine here in Norway once in a panic. I rejoined quickly and have a gold pin for 25 years' membership and first-hand knowledge of what it's like to be on a proper strike.

As April rolls around, unions start negotiations. It's a bi-annual thing. My union (the union of financial and insurance employees) does its thing in even-numbered years. This year it's a tad more interesting than usual. We've broken off negotiations. There are three main points of contention that my union won't agree to. If we don't get anywhere, even with mandatory negotiations, there will be a strike.

This whole process will take at least a month. So I lied when I said May is for strikes. It can just as well be June, or April, or September. Or whenever. But Norway revolves around May 1, and most unions release their new wage scales on that date, and the government sets the value for G on that same date.

G is short for "grunnbeløp" or base amount, from which things like social security payments, group life insurance payouts, and other benefits are calculated. I have a life insurance policy through my employer that pays out 5 G should I leave the planet before retirement. Minimum pension through social security in Norway is 2 G. I expect they'll announce what G for 2018 is later this week. For 2017, it's NOK 93.634. (That's not much what with our cost of living.)

I rejoined the union. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there's power, too. That's the point: A single voice doesn't carry the way a group of voices does. I've participated in political strikes (usually two hours of not working by leaving a couple of hours early) and an outright strike with standing in front of our employer's building holding signs and spending two weeks waiting to be told to go back to work.

Norwegian employers like unions. It's easier to talk sense to one party rather than hundreds. And often that's how it works out: Union reps get to participate in (some) management decisions and then turn around and explain the decisions to us workers. For the most part, it all goes smoothly. I think Norwegian management enjoys a high level of trust and loyalty. But union membership is going down. Many things unions had to fight for are now labor law so union membership isn't seen as a vital part of work life.

I think it is. I see (and feel) changes in the work place and government that are eroding workers' rights and we need watchdogs as well as understanding of what the changes are and why. Some are inevitable; some are just because someone's greedy (or stupid).

When I lost my job in 2014 due to downsizing, I had a lovely union rep who made sure all the legalities were in order as well as being great to talk to. So I had more than HR's equally lovely employee helping me out, which I really appreciated. So I'm staying a union member.

By the way, my union strikes so rarely that when we had our big two-week strike in 2006, many of us had never done that before. It wasn't just me who was clueless. We also didn't win.

I hope we do this year. Enough erosion!

Happy International Labor Day!

Misguided versus misogynistic

Yesterday’s post about a badly behaving co-worker, reminds me of another time a male co-worker behaved badly. In that second incident, a good man made a mistake. I did go to HR this time. I felt he needed to know that he had been terrifying.

Norwegian men can get so tall. The guy in this incident also towered over me, as well as being in a position of authority.

At a company picnic, with free booze, taking place after work at a rented boathouse in a secluded inlet, Tall Guy tried to get me alone. After a weird conversation where he asked me if I was lesbian (huh?), he convinced me to dance with him on the pier. I wasn't too bothered by him at this point, since we had cubicles across from each other, and got along at work. We were alone, then, far enough away from the lights from the boathouse to not be easily seen.

Then he started talking about something he needed to tell me. I was expecting another awkward Q&A about personal stuff and tried to get out of his arms (we'd been dancing) and go back to the rest of the party.

That's when he grabbed my forearms. I tried to break free, but he just held on tighter, constantly saying he wanted to tell me something.

I asked him to let go of me, but he either didn't hear me or didn't care. I was was starting to feel fear.

There was nothing else to do but to stop struggling and hope he would release his grip. He wasn't terribly coherent (we'd both been drinking), but he kept holding onto my arms, moving them as he tried to make his point. I was too focused on finding a way to break free to pay attention to what he was saying.

At some point, he seemed to finish, and let go of me. I dashed away immediately, back into the boathouse. He followed a few minutes later, but left me alone.

This was a Friday.

On the Monday, I talked to a contact at HR, a female psychologist who had been helping me with some personal stuff. I told her what had happened, and my reason for telling was that he needed to know that what he did was Absolutely Not Cool. She totally agreed.

She, him and I ended up in a meeting together. He was quite chagrined. I took his apology to be sincere. I could go back to trusting him.

Some men seem to be afraid of what #metoo will mean in interacting with women. That we won't know if the man is flirting, or joking, or whatever. Trust me, we know the difference. And we are able to also know when we're dealing with a misogynistic fellow or a misguided one. We can be quite patient with the latter. We have been too patient with the former.

Threat or warning?

I always joke about how I don't make threats; I warn. That's because I don't believe in idle threats. I think if you threaten somebody, you should also mean to carry the threat out. So I may as well warn. It's a bit weird to write the above, because I'm a relatively harmless person. But let me give you my own little contribution to #metoo and the time when I had to issue a threat-warning.

Folks think Norway does things so much better when it comes to sexual equality, but there have been and are jerks and abusers here, too. And a lively debate about it, complete with derailing and strawmen. The men I know are good men, men I can trust. I have not attracted the worst of them, and I consider myself extremely lucky.

Then there's the co-worker who one day put his hand solidly on my rump as I was passing by his cubicle. I cannot remember how I reacted. I have a temper and I may well have given him a death-glare. Or just kept moving. Not that he cared. His had a big, self-satisfied grin.

A couple of weeks later, he did it again. This time, I whirled around on him. I know I used my death-glare and matching tone of voice, too. To his self-satisfied grinning face I told him that if he ever did that again, I'd go straight to HR.

To my surprise, his smiling face collapsed in shock, then fear, and he backed away, back into his cubicle.

I was surprised, because I didn't know if HR could help, and I wasn't expecting 161 cm me to intimidate all of 188 cm of him (he was more than a head taller than me, for you non-metric folk).

But I would have done it. I would have gone to HR, and maybe my conviction was what sold it. I still felt safe at work, I still felt I would be heard. I would carry out my threat.

He never touched me again.

With the #metoo movement and the discussion about sexual harassment, I have often wondered why my co-worker backed down instantly. My theory is, he wasn't expecting me to get angry. Because when I read about how women react, they typically have my first reaction. The one where we aren't sure what happened, and we don't want to provoke a larger, stronger man further. We try to defuse rather than defend. But getting angry is a natural and justified reaction. And so we have #metoo.

To my fellow sisters out there: I wish you empowerment, I wish you faith in yourself, and I wish you a death-glare that will serve as an excellent warning.

 

Daily prompt: Warning

Since last we spoke 5 months ago and what's next

So, I dropped off the face of the Earth—no, I didn't, just dropped off my blogging. The autumn got rough. Maybe a lot of bad weather during the summer was a part of it. Maybe it was astrological.

I had a stressful fall. Maybe I gave myself a stressful fall. Seriously, I drive myself nuts sometimes. I had a trip to Oslo in October, to attend some lectures for a college course (studying insurance), and instead of enjoying traveling (because I do), I gave myself three nights of sleepnessness and "stage-fright" bowels and why did I do that to myself? I know how to travel alone. I know how to be in a hotel room. I know how to take public transportation. But I found myself totally fixated on that last, as if I would miss my train/bus/metro whatever even though the stop was around the corner from the hotel and the metro ran all the time. Sheesh.

I did have nice weather, had some great meals out (a waiter at Bacchus by the cathedral conspiratorialy told me the day's specials in my ear and I was rather charmed by that; also fell in love with Max, a Swedish chain of healthy burger joints, also right around the corner from my hotel) and enjoyed the huge, modern buildings that make up the business school campus I visited each day.

But I think I have to see my anxiety (?—not really familiar with that sort of thing) in October as related to my stress levels in September, where some aspects of work had me, after the wonderful slowness of summer where we got all caught up and lived stress-free, feeling like nothing I did was good enough. One morning, as I went to open my front door to go to work, I started to cry.

Huge warning signal. So I called in sick, I called my boss, and she was absolutely lovely and supportive. She let me do other things in September and in October sent me to an IT department to help do beta testing.

So that's what I've been doing for the past nearly 4 months. Helping my company troubleshoot changes in our systems to accommodate new legal requirements.

The days and weeks have flown by. That's the good part about it. My energy and desire for working overtime a lot has not been so good. So I don't know if this is something I'd want on a permanent basis but it has made me realize that I have to start making changes. I need to find a better way to handle my stress and I need to find a different way to approach my job—or even get another job.

I am feeling more energized again. More willing and able to actually give all this some thought, to start to put together some future plans. I could feel a definite psychological change when Saturn moved from Sagittarius (where it does not feel at home, at all) into its own sign of Capricorn. And for me, personally, that meant it finally left the part of my horoscope where it was creating all kinds of hidden stressors, and internal conflicts. I remember 29 years ago, the last time, and it wasn't that bad this time, but it was there. Oh, yes. Saturn speaks loudly to me.

Weirdly, I took an exam (in said insurance course) and felt so on top of things that day. I was actually proud of myself. I did things I don't normally do, like read all the questions first, to see if any were the kind I knew I'd need time for, then started. I felt really grown-up right then.

I also attended a ceremony for new Norwegian citizens. The county I live in hosts these ceremonies in beautiful Håkonshallen twice a year. I was moved by the occasion—and proud.

Now I'm in for a lot of Capricorn but out in the open. About me, myself and I but consciously, rather than subconsciously. Saturn will be joining Pluto as they both travel through the sign, hitting my own planets in Capricorn.

So far, it's all good. I've started doing a wee more exercise (working on Sagittarian things like butt and muscles, using Capricorn things like knees and bones), and I've started doing a wee more housekeeping. I finally found someone (else) who speaks my language, even though Capricornian FlyLady also helped. So combining that with an app that simply lets me mark of an X each day, Seinfeld-don't-break-the-chain style, and my home is tidier and more under control, but it still needs a good spring cleaning. Later.

Next on my agenda is a day off from work, in spite of a looming deadline with the beta testing, to renunciate my US citizenship. I am required to show up in person and the US embassy gave me an appointment for this Tuesday. There will be butterflies, since I'm going to a US embassy I have never been to before (partly because they built a new one a couple of years ago, and partly because I've never needed to go). It'll take all day because that's just the nature of things: Getting to and from airports, to and from the embassy, and allowing time for a one-hour appointment that might be two.

And that will be another blog post, I'm sure.