Roller Coaster Rides and Bending Trees: A retrospective look back at 2009
(My trip back to Normal?)
**This was way too big to post on my blog. If you would like to post Blog-style comments, please do it on the blog entry at right: http://sumoflamjournal.sumoflam.biz/2010/01/01/roller-coaster-rides-and-bending-trees-a-retrospective-look-at-2009.aspx
It is 5:30 AM on Dec. 31, 2009, the beginning of the end of a rather tumultuous year for me and probably thousands of others. But it is the end and I came out on top – a bit bruised and scarred, but alive and well and still enjoying the ride.
My close friend, singer and songwriter Antsy McClain, said it best in his song “Living in Aluminum” (Trailercana – 2008):
“There’s a lot to be said about acceptance, liking who you are and having peace of mind. The secret’s being happy with your lot in life, baby. And I’m pretty happy here in Lot #9.”
To some, the song is all about living in trailers, but the real meaning of the song is much deeper, being happy with our lot in life--and that has been hard this past year. Antsy later refers to “another code of living” called the “Aluminum Rule”: “Thou Shalt Enjoy the Ride”. And that what this essay is all about and that theme will show through many times.
You may be reading this because I sent you an invite or notification, or perhaps you just happened across this and do not know me. In either case, I am writing this for anyone who will read it – the following Blog Entry is long (indeed, it is more of an essay), but hopefully therapeutic. So, I hope you will bear with me and trudge through this.
I will start off by saying that throughout 2009 I referred to the year as “the year from hell”, “the worst year of my life” and many other unsavory references. It was truly an emotional, spiritual, economic and mental roller coaster ride for me. Indeed, one of the scariest rides of my life. But I have gotten off the coaster, recovered from the motion sickness and am back on the “ride of life”.
Back in November I got my copy of AARP Magazine (yes, I am over 50 and am a card-bearing member of AARP now!!). There was an article in it by Charlotte, NC based health writer and former Editor-at-Large for Self Magazine, Beth Howard (see full article at http://www.aarpmagazine.org/lifestyle/secrets_of_resilient_people.html). This article has run through my mind many times. The article, entitled “The Secrets of Resilient People”, was a breakthrough article for me. After such a rough roller coaster ride through the year, I realized that I was resilient and it has taken me until this week to really understand it all. She says “Resilient people are like trees bending in the wind. They bounce back.” My year was more like a tree bent by heavy ice. I will refer to her article a number of times throughout this essay.
I am now beyond the negativity of my hairy ride known as 2009. Like the tree, I have bounced back. But, I want to review briefly why it was so hard…if only in a few bullets.
Looking back, there were times I thought I would never get through it all. Then I read Ms. Howard’s article. By the time I saw this article, I realized that I was already bouncing back. I also realized how resilient I am to the depravities and hardships that life can throw at us. But the “bounce back” has not been easy. Just as I needed “physical therapy” after my knee operation in 2006, I have needed “emotional therapy” after the above bumps and bruises that were the result of that hellacious roller-coaster ride know as 2009. I am getting that and recovering just fine thank you.
So, the negative is behind me and now I reflect on how I got through it – the resiliency factors, if you will (and even if you won't!) – those things that I can see in my “rear-view mirror” as I now am back on the smoother roads and once again “enjoying the ride.”
I am grateful for family and friends. Without them, I would have never made it through the year. I am also thankful for “social networking” – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn contacts. These too helped me as I made new friends. Indeed, for a good part of the year I found that I had become a Twitterholic and a Facebook fanatic.
As I mentioned earlier, I spent most of the year working in what I considered a hell-hole job. A call center is not a fun place to work. It can be humiliating. I was treated like many of the immature 19 and 20 year olds working there. I suppose it was assumed that if I was working at the call center that I would be all-at-once irresponsible, unreliable and always in need of coaching. My life was dealing with thankless (and while at the Boost Mobile call center – repulsive and obscene) people. It was an absolute whirlpool of negativity swirling around me from 8 to 12 hours a day. Twitter became my escape. It was where I went after my dreams. I could “follow” the world-travelers, the photographers, the authors and others that were doing things I REALLY wanted to be doing. I could share my past experiences with them, share my travels, share my photos, share my dreams. I was, at times, caught up in a virtual Twitter universe. But it was an escape from the hopeless drudgery.
At home, I would turn to Facebook. I found many old friends…some from high school and others that had profound influences on my life but had been lost in the sands of time. I exchanged niceties, stories, etc. I also made new friends such as M.A. and D.H. (I am using only initials here – they know who they are)
Then there were my close friends – Antsy, J.H., J.J., G.K. and others – they were the devoted listeners, the hopeful caregivers. And despite their own challenges in life, which some really were going through, they were willing to stop and bend an ear and give of their time and provide glimmers of hope.
Of course, there was family as well. My poor dear Julianne…my sweet devoted wife…she too has suffered through all of this and, on top of all that, had to endure my complaints, tears and frustrations. I fear that some deep wedges were embedded into our “marital tree”, but I also believe that it too has been resilient and is slowing bending back into shape and recovering from wedge-induced wounds. My children also experienced hardships and difficulties and this pained me as well. But we shared with each other – we offered up hope and solace to each other.
In short, STAYING CONNECTED was a vital factor.
Now this was a tough one. It was so hard to remain optimistic through all of this. I had so many negative thoughts through the year that it became dark and gloomy and hopeless.
But looking back, I can see that I kept those last strands of optimism in me. Case in point: Julianne got hired at iHigh.com in May. When she told me about the place, the concept and all it had, I knew then that it was my DREAM JOB and that iHigh.com needed a guy like me. I kept hoping quietly that I too could get in on it. I remained alert to what was happening, but as the days ticked away, the hope got dimmer. Then, finally, in September – in the midst of deep depression and anger mind you – the opportunity arose. I begged Julianne, who was (and still is) the Executive Secretary and is, at times, responsible for finding candidates for certain positions there, to pass on my resume. She didn’t feel good about me at the time (and I can’t blame her – I was a mess!!).
End of story, she did pass the resume on, I did get an interview and I DID get hired at iHigh.com!! In the short term, I was out of the hell-hole, making quite a bit better money (but still a lot less than I had in the past). But, as I see it now, it truly has become my dream job and I do envision great things happening in the near future with the company and thus with myself!! (More on iHigh.com later).
Ms. Howard mentions in her resiliency article that being spiritual is one of the traits of resilient people. According to Al Siebert, Ph.D. founder of the Resiliency Center in Portland and author of the award-winning self-help book The Resiliency Advantage, “Generally people who are active in a religious faith tend to get through difficult times better.”
Well, as I noted above, throughout 2009 I feel that my spirituality waned (as a matter of fact, it probably started early on in mid-2008 when I was alone working in Canada all those months). I think that as I lost hope, I was also losing faith in my beliefs. But I never let go completely. I have too strong a testimony in my Latter-Day Saint beliefs. But I most certainly slipped a great deal.
I know that some of you reading this will have different beliefs than I. That is fine. The real crux of the issue here is having a belief and keeping hold of it through the difficult times.
Being a Mormon, we are told many times of the Book of Mormon story about the Iron Rod – “Hold to the Rod, the Iron Rod” . There is a good overview of this story here: http://www.whatdomormonsbelieve.com/2009/01/book-of-mormon-stories-the-iron-rod/
When I look back, I can see that I did hold to the rod. I was just barely clinging on to it at times, but ultimately, I did not let go. Various aspects of my faith suffered and for numerous reasons (or at least rationales). But, I did remain prayerful and expressed my challenges and fears to a loving Heavenly Father. Many times He heard and even answered my prayers, but I was, quite often, blinded by the mists of the challenges and did not see those answers clearly.
We are also taught to “count your many blessings, name them one by one. You will be surprised at what the Lord hath done.”
It is so difficult to “count your blessings” when you are being barraged by negativity. (This kind of shadows the previous Optimism factor here too!) As Ms. Howard notes in her article, “Observe the spin you put on your own experiences. When you catch yourself thinking negatively, challenge yourself to frame the situation in more positive terms.”
So, that said – I was not jobless. I was blessed with a job, poor paying and hellacious as it may have been, it was a job nonetheless. It did provide some income. It did provide insurance. It did provide something to keep me busy. It was a stop-gap between good jobs. I was alive and well. I was finding ways to thrive and excel, despite the obstacles. I was blessed to typically have a happy outlook. There were numerous blessings. God does listen. God does answer prayers. God does carry us through the rough times. We just need to rely on Him and hold to the rod.
Looking back – my faith, my church, my prayers and ultimately my belief in a loving Father in Heaven were a major factor in my getting through this.
Those that know me know that I am typically a jovial, gregarious and fun-loving individual. I love to laugh and love to make others laugh and smile. I tell jokes (though my kids say they are lame), I create puns, I try to be light-hearted.
I have noted above that my good friend Antsy McClain has helped me through this year (and others as well!). It was not just our conversations, some of which were truly dark and deep, but it was also through his uplifting music. Antsy released three CDs in 2009. They are full of optimism and hope. Writing the music is his therapy. Listening to it is mine. So many times throughout the year I turned to Antsy’s music for solace. Here are a few of my favorite lyrics (excerpts) from some of his humorous, yet uplifting, songs – these are truly my solace songs:
Singer/Songwriter/Solace Giver - Antsy McClain
From “Don’t Go Looking Back” (The Beige Album - 2009)
You’ve had a hard time
honey. Life’s been rough on you.
Sorrows way too many, pleasures far too few.
Don’t go looking back. Don’t go looking back that way.
Sit on my lotus petal. Soak
up the here and now.
Life’s little situations turn out okay somehow.
Don’t go looking back. Don’t go looking back that way.
Sure, you’d do things different. Some things you’d never do again.
Don’t beat yourself up, honey. Think of all the good you’ve done since then.
From “Let the Little Things Go” (The Beige Album – 2009)
I'll go my own way,
With my new lifestyle,
I'll greet each new day
With a confident smile.
And if they tell you that you’re losing your mind,
You tell 'em all you got to lose is what you're leaving behind.
You're taking a rain check on sorrow and stress,
And picking up the tab for overdue happiness.
A burden is small ‘til you feed it.
And carry it around on your back.
You'll convince yourself that you need it.
‘Til you see the ground you're standing on beginning to crack.
Let the little things go.
And let them drift away.
From “When We’re Laughing” (New Good Old Days – 2009)
The world’s a brighter place
when you’re laughing.
I love to see your face when you smile.
A stranger’s just a friend waiting to happen.
Inside us all, there’s a wide-eyed child.
It’s hard to start a war
when you’re laughing.
You’ll like your neighbors more if you share a joke.
A stranger’s just a friend waiting to happen.
Sharing the same big grin, we’re kinfolk.
No wonder I’m such a clown, it keeps you chuckling.
There ain’t a sweeter sound in the world to me
Than to hear that giggle and watch your knees buckling.
Laughter is a sweet symphony.
From: “All in the Trip” (New Good Old Days – 2009)
Gimme a hit of that golden
Gimme a hit of that morning air.
Lickety split, we’re all gonna go sometime.
It’s all in the trip that’s gets us there.
There’s a break in the weather, just looky at the sky,
The sun’s poking through, and there’s a twinkle in my eye today.
The earth stopped rocking and the wind quit blowing,
There’s a feeling in my bones, and the feeling ain’t going away.
Clouds come and go; it may be dark for awhile,
But how’s it gonna help you if you’re throwing that smile away?
Life’ll give ya kisses, then knock you on the chin,
The trick is in taking it all with a grin, and say...
It’s all good in its own way.
I’m living in the moment cuz it’s all we get.
And dreaming like the best hasn’t got here yet.
I got a burlap heart and a duct taped soul,
Holding me together should the good times roll away.
I also find humor and hope through author Steve Bhaerman, better known as “Swami Beyondanda”, the "Cosmic Comic” (see http://www.wakeuplaughing.com/about.html)
His writings are totally full of puns, but well thought out. Humorous self-help!! He is also founder of the "Right to Laugh Party".
As the Swami, Steve is the author of four books, “Driving Your Own Karma”, “When You See a Sacred Cow, Milk It For All It’s Worth”, “Duck Soup for the Soul”, and his latest “Swami for Precedent: A 7-Step Plan to Heal the Body Politic and Cure Electile Dysfunction”.
In my down times I have used his humor to lift me as well. Here are his tips at being a good FUN-da-mentalist:
"1.Be a fundamentalist, make sure fun always comes before the mental. Realize that life is a situation comedy that will never be cancelled. A laugh track has been provided and the reason why we are put in the material world is to get more material. Have a good laughsitive twice a day and that will insure regularhilarity.
2. Remember that each of us has been given a special gift - just for entering. So you are already a winner!
3. The most powerful tool on the planet today is Tell-A-Vision. That is where I tell a vision to you and you tell a vision to me.
4. Life is like photography. You use the negative to develop.
5. As we go through life thinking heavy thoughts, thought particles tend to get caught between our ears, causing a condition called truth decay. So be sure to use your truth brush and mental floss twice a day. And when you're tempted to practice tantrum yoga, remember what we teach in the Absurdiveness Training Class: "Don't get even, get odd."
6. If we want world peace, we must let go of our attachments and truly live like nomads. That's where I no mad at you, you no mad at me. That way, there will surely be nomadness on the planet. And peace begins with each of us. A little peace here, a little peace there, pretty soon all the peaces will fit together to make one big peace everywhere.
7. I know great earth changes have been predicted for the future, so if you're looking to avoid earthquakes, my advice is simple. When you find a fault, just don't dwell on it.
8. There's no need to change the world. All we have to do is toilet train the world, and we'll never have to change it again.
9. Everything I have told you is channeled. That way, if you don't like it, it's not my fault. And remember, enlightenment is not a bureaucracy. You don't have to go through channels.
10. Finally, if you're looking to find the key to the universe, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is - there is no key to the Universe. The good news is - it was never locked."
It is with “philosophical humor” that I try to be playful. That is how I can enjoy the ride as I drive my karma and curb my dogma (how’s that for mixing Antsy and Swami?).
Bottom line is that I love to be happy. I love to laugh. I love to make others laugh. Therefore, I seek after those things that keep me smiling and it is those things that really helped me through this past year.
Well, here is one area that was likely the biggest culprit for me in terms of getting out of the funk. Lack of exercise and poor eating habits. I got caught up in what I would call “the vicious whirlpool of depression”. As I got depressed I would try to eat my sorrows away. I would go home and just sleep. I gained lots of weight back again.
Perhaps had I exercised more and eaten better, I would have improved more quickly. But, Que Sera Sera, what’s done is done. My “burden” was small and I fed it. I carried it around on my back. I convinced myself that I needed it until I saw the world around me beginning to crack.
The Silver Linings
By late July 2009 I was really depressed and really angry. I really believed I was about to lose it. I sent an email to Antsy and then copied portions of it to a couple of other close friends. It was my final cry for help. I knew I needed help and so I sought after it. Much of what I wrote was very private and personal. But, I was on my last leg. I had tried to hide the pain and anger from my dear wife, who, earlier in the month “celebrated” (actually, it was more like “un-celebrated”) our 30th anniversary. But here are just a couple of lines from that note:
... I think I am starting to lose it...seriously. Since Saturday I have had deep seeded feelings of anger about almost everything. I try to hide it from my wife and my family and when I am on the phone at Crapple. But I really feel like I am spinning into some deep dark hole. The smallest things are angering me. I don't want talk to anyone because I fear this anger will overflow in my voice...I tried to post pictures of my grandkids to FB in hopes it would cheer me up. It didn't. The facade is there for most to see, but I wonder when it will crack. I awoke this morning with the same anger...a passionate vengeful anger. It pains because, as you know, I am NOT that way. I am always jovial. What's wrong with me?...I feel like I have nobody to turn to about this. I feel like nobody gives a damn. And "count your blessings" and "hang in there, its only temporary" seem so trite and patronizing to me….
Dr. Siebert (mentioned above earlier), noted in his book “The Resiliency Advantage” that “Resilient people convert misfortune into good luck and gain strength from adversity” A couple of authors from the University of North Carolina, Richard G. Tedeschi, Ph.D., and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D. , have written about this as well. They term it “Posttraumatic Growth Syndrome”. In their 2004 Psychiatric Times article entitled “Posttraumatic Growth: A New Perspective on Psychotraumatology” they write:
“These changes include improved relationships, new possibilities for one's life, a greater appreciation for life, a greater sense of personal strength and spiritual development. There appears to be a basic paradox apprehended by trauma survivors who report these aspects of posttraumatic growth: Their losses have produced valuable gains.”
So where is the Silver Lining? One of my close friends from church passed it on to the Bishop in church. We spoke and I am now going through what I am calling my “emotional therapy.” Seeing a therapist has been both enlightening and refreshing. Like many others, I had always thought that people allowed themselves to get depressed. It wasn’t an illness. But, it is. The trauma of all of the events of the last year emotionally hurt me in a bad way. I really needed help.
The silver lining came from there. Getting help was the last key to being resilient. I realized I needed the help and sought after it…at all costs, even at the risk of my 30 year marriage to the woman who I absolutely love and adore and had hurt deeply through all of this.
THE UNSEEN GOODNESS
Alas, through the darkness there was so much unseen, or at least forgotten, goodness. I think it was the “resilience factors” above in magnification. As I reflect on what all occurred over the year, I can see where I made attempt after attempt to stay resilient and “get over it” with the final culmination being the realization that I still needed help…not to get over it, but to heal from it after being a bent over tree and a dizzied and nauseated participant on a very hairy roller-coaster ride. My therapist has been the understanding and healing balm of Gilead.
The other real key was landing that “dream job” at iHigh.com. My confidence has mended, my creativity is flowing again, my self-worth has returned. I feel an excitement in this job more than I have of any other job I have had in the last 30 years (except for maybe my tour guide job in Arizona in the early 1980s) and I look forward to work everyday. My Twittering and Facebooking have dwindled to a negligible once or maybe twice a day. My complaining is gone.
Here is an overview (with pictures and links) of my “resilience factors” that got me through the “year from hell.” Maybe you could call this my “highlight film” from 2009
Grampz and Grandkidz - May 2009
Julianne (L) and an example of a Streetview Car like what Julianne was using in Kentucky
PROSPECTS AND GOALS FOR 2010
As 2010 rolls in I am in a position I haven’t been in for 2 years. I am gainfully (and happily) employed on January 1. In January 2008 I was looking for work due to my being let got from a 9 year stint at Lexmark in November 2007. Then, in January 2009 I was again looking for work due to cutbacks by Toyota and thus no translation/interpreting work for Consultant Solutions, the company for whom I worked as a contract interpreter/cultural specialist in Woodstock, Ontario through a good part of 2008.
My outlook on the coming year is so much brighter. Obviously, there are still some major challenges to tackle on the financial front and other areas of life. But these will be overcome as we strive to plan and cutback.
But, I also have other areas in my life I want to improve. I want to retake control of all aspects of my life and not let things get in the way. Since I will not have to utilize the emotional, mental and physical energies required to look for work, I can channel those energies on other things like exercise, weight loss, and increased spirituality. I also look forward to taking once-a-month planned roadtrips with my sweetheart Julianne. These will not be long trips and we will plan them out and make sure we have what we need. I want to renew my trip journal writing. That is one of my joyful escapes.
Julianne and David - 30 years of marriage in 2009
I have bounced back and feel renewed and ready to tackle 2010 with all of the gusto I am able. Great job, great wife, great family and great opportunity to start off a new decade.
David "Sumoflam" Kravetz - 2009