Here we are again with another check-in. How’s it going? Well, we’re still in a global pandemic but we’re still here. When will the world get back to normal? There are two answers to that question: 1. Never, probably; or 2. New day, new crisis. Hasn’t there always been a viable reason to be stressed out, burned out, or toughing it out?
There are two big things on my mind these days. The first is my heart problem. The second is that it’s closing in on time to submit applications for grad school. I am stuck at the crossroads of desiring two things: to pursue a major challenge, and to drop out completely and sleep twelve hours a day until I’m not tired anymore.
About the heart problem. Supraventricular ectopy with episodes of tachycardia throughout the day. Could be nothing, could be something. Either it’s no big deal and it will go away on its own, or… increased risk of atrial fibrillation, stroke, and sudden death.
Not much is known about this condition. Therefore my doctor didn’t give me any advice. He says I’m fine.
I could be having these episodes 5x as often and still be in the “normal” range. (I didn’t find that out from him - I had to look it up).
I don’t feel fine. My chest cavity feels like two otters wrestling in a tumble dryer. An eagle fighting a cobra. A blender making a margarita with a heavy pour. Sometimes the feeling of the erratic heartbeat just goes on for minutes at a time. It’s happening more and more often and lasting a little longer and a little longer.
COVID-19 did this to me. I was a perfectly fine multi-sport athlete, and then an acquaintance came to brunch with a sore throat, and then I got a contagious virus, and then tachycardia entered my life and I thought I would die. A year later, I started being distracted by a weird heartbeat, and now I have no idea if it will ever go away.
Until, eventually, it does.
I read up on supraventricular ectopy. What do I do? Maintain a healthy weight, increase exercise, and reduce stress. I like to go around saying “I have to quit smoking” because I have never smoked a cigarette and it makes me feel ahead of the game. The trouble is that cutting calories and working out both seem to make the heartbeat issue worse.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. When chased by the hounds of hell, keep running.
I’m down 11 pounds, almost back to where I was before I got sick. If I keep it up at this rate I’ll be done in a couple months, and then I can settle in at maintenance. I need to find out if being back at “healthy weight for my height” makes a difference. Nobody can answer that question for me but me. To my knowledge, nobody has ever suggested adding adipose tissue to treat heart disease.
I decided to put in the applications to grad school and see what happens. If I don’t get in, then it’s a moot point and I can apply again in another year. If I do, then the decision points change.
Sometimes something new enters your life and changes the strategic landscape. It’s still useful to look over your old goals and see if they still feel true and necessary for your life.
Personal: To expel my math anxiety. I’ve started tentatively going through math tutorials. Alas, I’m in the third grade, trying to understand this thing called the “number line” and how I have managed to forget how to multiply fractions. Nothing I have ever set out to do has been this depressing and demoralizing. At least I don’t have little children who rely on me for homework help.
Career: My career goal is to become a futurist. I am pleased to say that our quarterly futurist newsletter is coming out on Monday and it’s going to be public-facing. My new boss says I can spend a quarter of my time doing futurist work, which is incredible for an administrative assistant. I’m on my way.
Physical: Back to my goal weight. I am on track and feeling proud and optimistic.
Home: Probably move to a larger home. When the pandemic is over. Basically we’re waiting until it feels safe to hire movers.
Couples: Save for a house. Savings are doing great, real estate market is too hot for us to handle right now.
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material. I am doing very well on this goal, although it has been a hard fight. I found a combination of apps that will read my news queue aloud, and one of them goes to 4x. Then I found out that one of my lesser-used library apps also reads at 4x! Not only am I almost done with my perennial bookmark backlog, but my list of books to be read has quit expanding. This is probably the area of greatest excitement in my life right now.
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed. We were finally able to pull this off, although the mattress delivery guys showed up maskless and thus earned zero tip. We have an actual bed frame! I Googled “fancy a** sheets” and ordered what came up, and the mattress guy threw in new pillows, and now our bed is the nicest furniture either of us has ever owned. We would never have splurged like this before the pandemic. Now it feels like we’ll be at home forever so we might as well make it nice.
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of working from home. Yup. I’m officially categorized as remote through at least February 2022. I was wildly wrong with my Do the Obvious assumption for 2020, but achieved the appropriate level of pessimism for 2021.
Ultralearning: Data visualization. When I chose this goal I had no idea just how much of my time would be spent looking at various kinds of charts. This is going to wind up being the goal that wouldn’t leave.
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon. That means running a fifty-miler for my fiftieth birthday. I have no idea whether I will be able to do this. Right now I don’t even know if I will be alive for my fiftieth birthday. But I am doing my cardio every day and I’m committed. I can keep going until I barf or pass out. Where that will end, nobody knows.
Wish: My wish was to be able to visit my family safely, and that came true. Now I hope I can do it again.
How about you? How is your year going?
Personal: To expel my math anxiety - IN PROGRESS
Career: Become a futurist - IN PROGRESS
Physical: Back to my goal weight - IN PROGRESS
Home: Probably move to a larger home - PENDING
Couples: Save for a house - PENDING
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material - IN PROGRESS
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed - SUCCESS
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH - SUCCESS
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. - IN PROGRESS
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025) - PENDING
Wish: To visit my family safely - SUCCESS
I’m wearing a heart monitor. I had to wait a month for my turn, because demand has been so high this year.
The tech told me that a lot of people who had COVID have been reporting erratic heartbeats, just like me.
Whatever you may think of my personal experience, surely it is interesting that so many people have been waiting in line to get access to a Holter monitor. Lots of people probably need one who have never had the coronavirus.
While I was in the office, someone knocked on the door and asked if he could have six of the heart monitors. My technician opened a big file drawer that contained dozens of the zippered pouches and handed them out the door to him.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me yet, and I don’t know how long it will take to see any data. I don’t know what sorts of treatments might be recommended after this.
This is how it went down:
I called the nurse’s hotline to describe some symptoms I had been having and ask what to do. She said I should go to urgent care and get an EKG.
I did that the next day, and the cardiac doctor ordered a chest x-ray and a full panel of blood tests.
I had a phone appointment with my doctor later that week, and he ordered two days with the Holter monitor.
The heart clinic said they only issue them for 24 hours, or for a month. (It turns out they have two different types of equipment). I had to call back again and get him to say which direction he wanted to go. He said 24 hours would be fine.
Then I was able to schedule an appointment. The first available time slot was a month later.
A couple weeks after that, I finally got the test results of the EKG. It indicated that I might have one of a series of issues that were pretty concerning. It seemed like a good idea to keep the appointment for the application of the Holter monitor.
I had COVID throughout April of 2020. Here it is, August of 2021, and… I guess I don’t know how to phrase it. I am a heart patient? I am being tested for a variety of cardiac conditions?
I’m not better yet?
I am 46. I have never smoked and I don’t drink alcohol or coffee. I have no congenital heart conditions that I know of. My blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose levels, triglycerides, etc have all always been in the healthy range. As far as my lifestyle, this has come out of nowhere.
Is this just my new reality?
Or is there something very simple they can do for me?
I am very tired these days. So tired that I have totally cut off a lot of activities I used to do. The other night I went to bed at 9:00 because I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
I’m trying to move forward with the process of applying to grad school, at the same time wondering, how can I go back to school when I can barely find the energy to read through the application?
We don’t even watch TV on weeknights. I can’t focus.
Right now it feels like my life is on hold. I don’t know what is wrong with me, other than that I’m constantly exhausted and sometimes my heart starts pounding and lurching for no obvious reason. Usually when I’m trying to relax, most likely when I’m lying down.
The Holter monitor looks like a big pager, or a small Walkman. It has a bunch of black wires that connect to it, with sensors on each end. They are stuck on various parts of the torso with adhesive. Chest, ribcage. You aren’t supposed to take a shower with it on, or use an electric blanket. Otherwise they want you to behave normally so you can get readings of what you are usually doing on an ordinary day.
It has a button that reads ‘SYMPTOMS’ in blue letters. When you press it, it beeps, and then the device beeps a couple more times to indicate that it registered the event.
There’s also a paper log where you write down the times you felt anything unusual, what you were doing, and what it felt like.
I’m not sure my doctor totally believed that I’ve been having erratic heartbeats on a daily basis, but he did order this test of 24 hours with the heart monitor. And now I have had a couple of occasions to press the button.
More than I thought I would.
Now I’m going to go to bed, still wearing the monitor. As annoying as it is to have a device glued to your chest all day, I am looking forward to the night. My fitness tracker reports that I have been waking up several times a night, when my husband (a pretty accurate sensor) says that I barely move all night and that sometimes he has to check that I’m still in the bed.
It will be good to have some answers.
Tomorrow I will go in and return the equipment. Then I will turn around again and come home and log in to work, having lost half a day this week to these mysterious appointments. Whatever it is that is going on with me, it has not been great for my productivity.
UPDATE: I went in to get the Holter monitor removed, and I had a different tech. He said that Kaiser is actually building new heart clinics to handle the extra demand. Three weeks or more until I get my results - there is a backlog.
The upshot is, at least in my area, if you have problems with an erratic heartbeat, it may be two months before you work your way through the process to find out what is wrong and get some kind of diagnosis and treatment plan.
I need to take a break.
This is for both good and bad reasons.
The good reason is that I have a super cool project brewing at work, and it will most likely affect my public profile. It’s time for me to evaluate whether to continue this blog in its current format, and if so, what that will look like.
The bad news is that I have some health issues going on. This is resulting in extreme fatigue - and here I thought that was just my personality - and it doesn’t make much sense for me to flog myself for not getting content out on a regular basis.
Remember when I had to go to urgent care and get an EKG, and they said there was nothing wrong with me and sent me home?
Well, apparently two weeks later the test results have come back, and they’re… well, I have a bit of reading to do. Still two weeks to go until my 24-hour date with the heart monitor.
Possible left atrial enlargement
Low voltage QRS (aha, possible hypothyroid issue)
Consider pulmonary disease (*cough* coronavirus)
Consider pericardial effusion
Uh, none of these things are great. I have a list of possibilities to explain my persistent erratic heartbeat, almost all of which are associated with being an elderly obese alcoholic smoker.
Which I am not!
Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that it is just my naughty little thyroid gland up to its old tricks, a repeat of stuff that I put behind me twenty years ago,
My feeling right now is half nervous, half elated that there is finally something measurable that we can work with. I struggle with the belief that doctors never take me seriously. As though someone who hates hospitals as much as I do, and is as paranoid about being around sick people as I am, would ever voluntarily give up half a day and a bunch of money to… sit around in the hospital around a bunch of sick people.
Dude, believe me, I am only here because I have finally started to feel like there is no alternative. That something is seriously wrong and that I need to deal with it.
This is the advice that I would give to you, my readers:
Do what is obvious in your life.
If you need to step away from a commitment, don’t hesitate, do it.
If you need to talk to a health professional, do it. Don’t wait. If you are scared or procrastinating, you probably have a friend or someone who wouldn’t mind going with you.
If there are changes that you know you need to make, like getting more rest or lowering your stress level, take some time to do a strategic overview of yourself and figure out what you can change.
My feeling is always that I’m not working hard enough, that my problems are based in being lazy and feeling sorry for myself. That’s why I went for a run when I found out I was exposed to COVID, and it’s why I went out and bought myself roller skates after going to the hospital with an irregular heartbeat.
I can never do enough.
But you can!
I might not be enough, but you are. I promise. All you have to do is take care of yourself. Anyone who really loves you will understand and they will back you up.
Do what is obvious and take better care of yourself than I do, of myself.
I will make short updates as the whim takes me.
I decided that I wanted some roller skates.
Every year I try to get myself a birthday present, something frivolous that would normally never come up on my shopping list. One year it was the complete collection of a comic I like - although it wound up being another couple years before I actually read them.
I’m often just as bad at enjoying things as I am at choosing and purchasing them - underbuying is a pervasive attitude.
I kept seeing women on skates in the neighborhood, and it looked marvelous. Maybe this would be a way for me to start getting back in shape without feeling like I was working out? Just something fun and cute?
Finally I went online to find adult-size skates. I was not prepared in any way for the panoply of glorious roller skates. Sparkly skates, skates in every shade of ice cream and neon, space age skates, skates with light-up wheels. Holy moly, so much rolly!
I had to narrow it down from five contenders. Then I reminded myself that I am a satisficer by nature and that I can only wear one pair at a time. If I wear them out, I can always get a different set a year or two later.
If you want to buy roller skates, it’s impossible to avoid learning a bit about roller derby. That’s probably the market for older babes who want to skate. I know a few people who do it and love it. In spite of the time I spent in martial arts, this is not the game for me. I am uncomfortable hitting people or feeling like I might hurt them, and I also hate anything that goes at a high speed. I knew I could skip roller derby gear without any fear of missing out.
I settled on the rose gold skates. Every time I look at them, I feel the sort of swoon that I have not felt toward a material object since childhood. PRETTY!
As soon as the skates went into the shopping cart, the next level of marketing attempts began. If you bought that, maybe we can convince you to buy this!
Pads. Knee pads, elbow pads, wrist… braces? What even is all this stuff.
I remembered the last time I skinned my knee as an adult and what a giant biohazard that was. I bought the pads. Conveniently someone else had already matched up my pretty rose gold skates with somewhat color-coordinated pads in a kit. There’s a matching helmet, but my old bike helmet is good enough for now.
Meanwhile, my husband sat at my side, choosing his own skates.
It basically went like this: “It’s time to pick out skates. I’m ordering mine now.”
Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve only worn skates once in the past 25 years or so. My friend had a party at the skating rink.
My husband, on the other hand, is a hockey player. He started with roller hockey. Not only can he skate, he is quite fast and skilled on both roller and ice skates. For him to choose a pair of skates was only a marginally harder sell than, say, a pizza.
He was more worried about my choice of skates than his own.
Obviously he was going to get inline skates - rollerblades - because they are faster and feel similar to ice skates. He has been talking about playing hockey again, and this would be a good way to get his ankles conditioned.
Equally obviously, I was going to get 1970’s-style disco skates. I’ve never worn rollerblades and didn’t feel like they would be much help.
His arrived first. He brought the box upstairs, tore into it, and started lacing his skates. Two minutes later, he stood up in them and skated across the room. Pretty good for a guy in his fifties.
Mine came two days later, long after all the rest of the safety gear had arrived.
They are so much cooler in person!
Traffic-stopping, knockout, glamorous roller skates. It’s entirely possible that they have magical powers. People cannot take their eyes off these things.
Which is very good because otherwise they would be staring at me, flailing and windmilling my arms and wobbling everywhere at .5 mph.
We carried our gear down to the alley that runs along our building, the same alley where our neighbors go to cry on the phone and smoke and have long dramatic conversations at top volume. Surely this alley can handle a couple of middle-aged people on wheels.
There goes my husband, speed-skating, skating backward, practicing a variety of stops.
Keep watching, I’ll eventually enter the frame, clomping along like a child playing dress-up in wooden clogs.
We both realized something about ourselves in our first minutes on our new skates.
My husband realized that his ankles are no longer as strong as they were when he was on an ice hockey team, before we got married.
I realized that my core strength is basically gone and my balance isn’t so great either.
I also realized, after about twenty minutes, that as much time as I spent on skates as a child, nobody had ever taught me how to brake. It suddenly occurred to me that the only way I had ever stopped myself when I was in motion was to grab onto something or crash into a wall.
Traditional roller skates have a rubber stopper on each toe. Wait, you think I’m going to brake by tipping my foot forward until that thing touches the ground? Um, I think not.
We practiced together, which meant he would skate backward while holding my hands so that I could practice going one direction down the alley. Then I would practice skating by myself while he made a couple of trips back and forth.
It seemed like about time for us to pack it in. I had made a little progress and had an idea of what types of tutorial videos I might need to watch. Neither of us was bleeding or concussed. We changed back to regular shoes and headed upstairs.
“That was good for a first day,” he said, which I heard as “first date.”
It was! It was a pretty good date. A date on a skate with my mate.
The worst advice I ever got from a mentor was this: “Stop trading your hours for dollars.”
What he meant by that was that a traditional job does not scale, that the amount of money you can earn is limited by how many hours you can work. He was trying to encourage me to develop multiple streams of passive income so I could earn money while I sleep.
While I understand what that means, almost everything I learned from that relationship was a resounding What Not to Do. My first advice to other people would be: Make sure someone is actually living out whatever it is they are encouraging you to do, before you try to do it yourself.
My supposed mentor was trying to teach me to do something he had never figured out how to do himself. It was a mirage.
That was when I learned that trading hours for dollars is better than trading hours for NO dollars!
For every proven method of making money, there are more people failing at it and going broke than there are successful people making it work for them.
99% of people in MLMs lose money
80% of restaurants go out of business within five years
Only 25% of new businesses survive at least fifteen years
People love to talk about the rate of divorce, but even second marriages are statistically more likely to succeed than business ventures.
None of this is why I took a traditional day job, though.
It was mental bandwidth.
Before COVID, I was working on a book deal. I have an actual relationship with a publisher. It was going to happen in the near future - and then the world changed.
Two other things happened, all basically at the same time. My husband got sent to our living room on mandatory WFH, and I contracted coronavirus two days later.
Step 1: I realized my book had died, and could only be reborn in a radically different form
Step 2: I realized that I would not be able to write until my husband went back to the office
Step 3: I realized that the pandemic would most likely last three years* and that therefore I would need something to do.
Roughly a year and a half later, my assumptions have continued to bear out, which is about 10% reassuring and 90% disappointing.
Kismet applied, and my dream job opened up, and I got it, and it has been everything I wanted. It gave me something to do to distract me from the pandemic, gave me people to talk to, and I have been able to work from home. Perfection!
Of course there are drawbacks. I’m now on camera in meetings for hours every day, and there are few things I loathe more. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that my workstation is an arm’s length away from where I try to relax on my couch in the evenings.
These “issues” are, of course, nothing compared to the millions of people around the world who are forced to risk their lives working in physical proximity to other humans.
It is probably much more obvious now how much every job is a lifestyle business.
I chose being an employee and “trading hours for dollars” over being my own boss, because it doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s freeing.
I log in every morning, hang out and help my colleagues get stuff done, sign out every night, and that’s it. Pass Go, collect paycheck.
I don’t have to spend a single moment worrying about marketing, scheduling anything, making sure I am adequately insured, inventing new products, analyzing trends, networking, or anything else I don’t want to do.
I don’t work long hours, weekends, or holidays.
I don’t have to hire or fire anyone.
I don’t have to pollute my personal interests and hobbies with a profit motive.
I don’t have to toss and turn at night, worrying about whether I can maintain enough customers or contracts.
I happened to have the great good fortune of filling a role on a team that was a complete replacement for the previous team. Everyone had gone months with those roles unfilled. Thus I am greeted with gratitude and respect.
Running my own business would leave me the sole bulwark against customer complaints and criticism. No thanks.
I choose to be an employee rather than an owner/operator because it is a laid-back way to draw an income.
A person with a certain tolerance for risk will struggle to tolerate working for someone else. Makes sense. I am a low-risk, high-challenge person.
Some people will choose a business that allows them to do something they love to do all day. For instance, almost every hairdresser I have ever met will say, “I always wanted to cut hair.” They did it for free as kids or teenagers, and figured out how to get paid for it as adults. Dog groomers and dog walkers also seem to just want to be around dogs all day. Owning a restaurant or a bookstore or a clothing boutique are maybe also along those lines.
I dunno. There has never been a time when I wanted to run a shop or have my own restaurant.
“Office lady” is the life for me. I like corporate culture. I like having a formal code of conduct. I think business jargon is hilarious. I like the predictable hours. I like how many things are transferable from one industry to another.
If I ever tried to run my own business, I would probably just try to replicate as much of standard office culture as possible, and in that case, what’s the point?
Part of why I hung up my literary aspirations, at least temporarily, was that I could not disinterest myself completely from the business world. Might as well make the most of it.
The truth is that having nothing to do can start out relaxing, even healing, and then eventually it can become incredibly boring. If you need something to do with your time, might as well acknowledge that whatever you do, it is a lifestyle. It’s up to each of us to make it an interesting one.
It was hard not to notice. During the pandemic, we watched more TV and movies than the rest of our marriage put together. The only thing that really got obliterated was our watch lists.
There were so many shows on the theme of dystopia. So many apocalypses and post-apocalypses.
A lot of them revolved around a pandemic in some way. The important thing is that there is an apocalypse, right? It must have happened somehow?
Reading this stuff is probably good for us in some way; otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much demand for it. I know I’m not the only person who developed an understanding of basic epidemiology from Stephen King’s The Stand. I read it twice, first when I discovered it in middle school, and then again when the unabridged version was released. My husband and I referred to it a few times during the early days of the pandemic.
We thought we knew what to expect. The first couple of months, it looked like all our media consumption of apocalyptic narratives had prepared us well.
The virus spread from one country to another. It left death in its wake.
Grocery stores emptied out.
People started freaking out and attacking each other, fighting over basic supplies.
In our area at least, robberies went up.
Mentally and emotionally, a lot of us prepared ourselves for the avalanche. Here it comes. The moment our culture has been preparing us for since…
The disaster movies of the 1970s?
The Cold War?
Paul Revere’s ride?
What is it in our psyche that always makes us think the worst is about to happen? That the British are coming or that we’ll wake to a red dawn or that aliens will start blasting our national monuments?
The craziest thing about 2020 is how bad it was not.
How many terrifying outcomes did not come to pass.
I myself got the virus early on. That was never part of my imagination or my preparations, that the apocalypse would come and I’d be one of the earliest victims.
What dystopian literature taught me was that I would be one of the survivors! I would be scrappy and I would come out on top. Disaster would be good for me because it would give me a chance to develop more grit and determination.
Dystopian literature did not teach me how to loll around, trying not to move even a quarter-inch so I could avoid setting off the vertigo, too weak to hold my phone and too washed out to read.
Much less bash a zombie with a shovel or build a siege wall.
All that chaos and mayhem taught us to brace ourselves because the supply chain was going down. Therefore, our two most important skills would be One, foraging for material goods and Two, fighting or killing people who used to be our neighbors.
Those things certainly did happen during the great pandemic of 2020. People, including me and everyone I know, spent a lot of time hunting for supplies.
We did kill a lot of people who used to be our neighbors. We killed them with coronavirus.
At the time I write this, we’ve passed four million COVID deaths worldwide.
This is why I claim that the apocalypse failed. Because in spite of four million deaths, we’re still trucking along.
As far as I can tell, nothing will stop the supply chain of Planet Earth, nothing at all.
Not wildfires, not gas leaks, not volcanic eruptions or meteorites or tanks in the streets or plagues of insects or hurricanes or earthquakes or mudslides or collapsed buildings. Nada.
Wouldn’t you think, after that condo collapse, that everyone in Miami who lived in an older building would be fleeing for the hills?
I turned to my husband and pointed out that our building is around the same age as the Champlain Tower, we also live near the ocean, and that we also had dripping water in our parking area under the pool.
He waved me off - he’s an engineer and he says he checked it out - but I’ll feel happier at whatever point after we’ve loaded a moving van and gone to live somewhere else.
It’s going to take a lot more than a condo collapse to stop Florida real estate. It’s also going to take a lot more than four million people dying of a highly contagious respiratory virus to stop the global economy.
Something else happened in the news around the time I am writing this. The Haitian president was assassinated. This is extremely scary and awful! I can’t imagine how it must feel to live in a country with that kind of uncertainty. Yet at the same time, everything continues more or less as normal. For most of the world, the biggest noticeable difference is that you can’t book a flight to Haiti right now.
My guess is that will be restored before the end of the year, possibly before the end of the month.
One thing that we are easily able to do in our post-apocalyptic world - meaning a world that is basically past the concept of an apocalypse - is to section off any area that is struggling for any reason. Like a collapsed tunnel in an anthill. We all just scurry past and think “don’t go down that tunnel” and continue working and shopping.
The pandemic of 2020 is now also the pandemic of 2021. More people have died of COVID-19 this year than last year. Financial devastation has hit many families, but not others, and so we continue. The difference is that now we can buy everything again, toilet paper and bleach and Lysol wipes and probably even ventilators.
Now we can go everywhere again, concerts and movies and restaurants - everywhere except the Tokyo Olympics. And Haiti.
What all the apocalypse shows got wrong is that even a global crisis is not evenly distributed. Some areas will probably always be fine, while others will probably never really be okay. We’ve all learned to live that way without concern. It’s only really an apocalypse if it’s mine, if it hits me and my family. Right?
Maybe now that we’ve all lived through a global crisis and realized that the movies are wrong, maybe we can let go of the fever dream of imagined disaster. Maybe instead we can start imagining something better, something appealing. What would we actually want to happen to everyone in the world at the same time? What would be an outcome that we could all cheerfully work toward, something that we brought into being through conscious intention?
When I finally got a chance to visit my friend in the hospital, the first thing I thought was, Wow, he is in the exact reverse situation I was in last year. The more I thought about it, the more true it felt.
I got COVID-19. Nothing was visibly wrong with me, but I was having serious problems with my heart, lungs, and some neurological stuff.
My friend was hit by a car. He broke both legs (one in two places), fractured his hip, broke his arm, dislocated his shoulder, chipped his teeth, had facial fractures, and sustained nerve damage to one eye. He also has some large and very dramatic scars and a lot of road rash. Fortunately, he had no internal injuries or brain trauma.
We were both temporarily ruined. His brain and internal organs are fine, while almost the entire structure of his body is trashed. All my limbs are fine, while I’m still not sure if my internal organs will ever be the same. It’s like we had the exact opposite experience.
There are two things we have in common.
My friend was innocently using the crosswalk when he was hit by someone breaking the speed limit, running a red light, and who did not even have a driver’s license. It was a hit and run. It was caught on multiple cameras. The police know who did it but haven’t been able to arrest him yet because he’s on the lam.
I got COVID from someone who left the house with a sore throat, during a pandemic, at a time when that was one of the only confirmed symptoms of the emerging coronavirus.
In both cases, the “other guy” should have known better. Not “could have” but *should* have.
We both have reason to carry a grievance against someone who did us considerable harm when we were following all laws and social norms.
Can you see, though, that my friend has a lot more to complain about than I do?
If you were ever to go to another person and tell them, Hey, thanks, I am gaining personal growth from your tragedy. Thanks for going through all that, it definitely had a purpose because it is meaningful to me - I somehow think they wouldn’t find that very helpful. It probably wouldn’t cheer them up all that much.
My friend and I have other things in common. We both think of ourselves as runners, even though neither of us is going to be running very far in the near future. I told his wife, I’m probably the only person he knows who is slow enough to train with him when he’s ready in two years.
The other thing we have in common is that we are both optimists even under dire scenarios.
We both believe he’ll be running again in two years.
He’s been crushing it in rehab. Model patient in every respect. I doubt he’s complained even once. All his conversation is about going home again and processing paperwork, strictly business. The only things he wanted were some Swedish Fish and some new podcasts to listen to.
I thought about his recovery, recovery from multiple surgeries, the knitting of bones, removal of staples and sutures, healing skin. I guess it will probably take a year for him to recover back to a basic level of functioning, and then another year to rebuild his athletic abilities.
Probably the same for me, post-COVID.
Beginning my second year, I can climb flights of stairs and carry boxes and go on long walks. I don’t have to lie down and rest between putting on articles of clothing.
Hopefully by the end of Year Two I’ll once again be able to do a pull-up or run five miles or do fifty push-ups.
There really is something about comparing my situation to that of my friend that is helpful for me. At least I don’t have metal rods in my legs, I say to myself. At least I don’t have a broken arm. At least I can use both my hands.
At the same time, I wonder if it would help my friend to think of me while he does his physical therapy. At least my heart and lungs are still in good shape, he can think. At least I don’t need an inhaler. At least I’m not on a third course of antibiotics. At least I’m not having tachycardia.
This is the process of creating counterfactuals. Depending on how it’s done, it can either be helpful or it can be messy.
The messy way is along the lines of, Maybe I blew off my PT but at least I don’t smoke.
Is the counterfactual statement helping us find gratitude when it’s impossible, or is it more along the lines of soothing our fractured egos while we continue to annoy ourselves with our own problematic behavior?
In my own life, I have always found perspective in comparing my situation to someone else’s. This is why I like to read memoirs and true crime. No matter what has happened to me, there is always someone whose situation was so bad at some point that I would never want to trade places with them.
Gee, I guess I’m lucky to be me after all.
I know my friend in the hospital is the same stripe as me, because we’ve spent time together having philosophical conversations along these lines. It’s why we like each other.
You know what my friend thinks about being knocked into next week by a hit-and-run driver?
He feels lucky, so lucky.
If he had stepped off the curb a quarter-second earlier - this is a quote - he would have been under that car. There’s no way he would have lived.
I told him, you had a karma force field from all those times you donated blood. He laughed.
When serious bad luck has come your way, which it does sometimes, it’s your choice how to react to it. My friend and I both chose the same attitude, which was to be grateful it wasn’t worse. This is not a requirement, but it is an option.
We could have sat around bewailing our fate, and I can certainly be documented as having indulged in that quite a bit. It just isn’t all that satisfying and it doesn’t change anything. Complaining is often justified. There are, though, other options available to us if we choose to try.
This is the story of a day at the beach that was no picnic.
We’ve been living within a mile of the beach for a few years now. I pointed out that we haven’t used our beach umbrella, still new in the package after… four years? We used to do a day trip at least once a year and lay out in the sand. Wouldn’t it be a nice way to spend the holiday?
I woke up at 9:30 and immediately realized that the sun was out. Finally, a break in the “June gloom” that is a regular feature of coastal living. The previous day we’d been socked in with low, heavy clouds until nearly 5 pm.
We had what sounded like a simple, straightforward plan. Let’s walk down, grab a quick breakfast, hang out all day, and then we can grill hotdogs with our backpacking stove.
What will we need?
Now, in my mind all of this came together quickly. We live in a tiny apartment with minimal possessions, right?
That part is true. The trouble comes in when it’s time to access the stuff we only use on special occasions.
The other obvious problem is for me to try to do anything before I’ve had breakfast.
Here are the beach towels and the picnic blanket and the sunblock. Here are the hotdogs and buns and beverages. Now, what else do we need?
The folding chairs
And the backpacking stove
And the propane canister
And some matches - do they still work?
And some condiments
And some kind of skewer for the hotdogs
And a backup battery and connector cables for our phones
All of which exist in separate locations!
Where is the backpacking stove? Why, it’s
In the backpacking tub
In the bottom of the closet
Underneath the sleeping bags because they don’t fit anywhere else
Under the little folding chairs
And, in fact, underneath every single other item in the tub.
Wait, there are two of them, the one for Europe and the one for the US. Which one is which??
Now we have the stuff we need, except that the hallway is full of all the stuff that got pulled out of the gear closet, and we can’t leave until we put it away because we can’t physically open the front door.
Okay, about those skewers. Aren’t they in the utensil drawer?? No?
In the top of the kitchen cabinet with the extra cutlery and serving utensils. No?
In the top of the cabinet above the fridge, with the… baking supplies. Nope. I guess we must have gotten rid of them when we had that yard sale three moves ago.
Guess we’ll use a fork then.
By the time we were packed and ready to leave, we had been banging around for nearly an hour
Still no breakfast and not even any tea
So we went down to the basement with our three bags and retrieved the beach umbrella
And marched down the hill to the cafe
Where the line was very long
And the restroom was, of course, closed.
We had a perfectly fine breakfast and walked another five minutes to the beach
Which was already quite packed
But we found a nice spot and it was fine. What looks like mayhem in photos is really a bunch of people placed ten or twenty feet apart, facing into a bracing wind of 15-20 mph blowing perpendicular off the sea all day long.
What do you do when you go to the beach?
We people-watch and enjoy other people’s music and try to read and talk about random stuff.
There was a little girl digging a hole all day long, and finally she was shoulder-deep and I thought, she’ll run her own company one day, she’s just like me, even on a holiday she doesn’t know what “relax and enjoy yourself” means other than to come up with a really challenging project.
She got her little brother and made him stand in the hole, and she and her baby sister and their mother took turns kicking sand down in the hole to bury him. He wore a patient, somewhat dejected expression; he’d been here before.
Something similar was happening to my hubby
Because his chair legs kept punching down into the sand, forcing him to lean back like he was in a dental chair
And we understood that backpacking chairs are not the same as beach chairs, because those have horizontal rods for legs
So I added them to my checklist
Along with ‘hand soap’ and ‘extra TP’ because the public restrooms had run out by 3 pm.
After a few hours of hanging out on the beach, we decided it was time to grill our hotdogs
Making us the envy of everyone nearby, none of whom had thought of this, because they do not have our elite backpacking skills
And they didn’t notice how long it took us to remember how to snap together the cunning little imported Japanese folding table
Or light the stove in the bracing wind
Despite the folding metal windscreen
And they probably weren’t there for the part where we got an object lesson in heat transfer
And had to set the fork down for a while before roasting the last hotdog because ow
But the hotdogs were exactly what we were hoping for, and we felt really smart.
Finally it was time to head home
Packing up all our gear that was more or less covered in sand and mustard
And it turned out one of us had popped a hole in my nice picnic blanket from the inappropriate chair legs
And I got a pretty bad sunburn because I have never developed basic competency with sunblock.
We have another outing planned
Our first camping trip together in years
So it’s probably time to take some notes and write up a checklist
And maybe pack our gear the day before we’re supposed to leave
And take a photo of my sunburn to remind myself
Winging it is never quite as good as spending a little extra time preparing.
Half of 2021 is gone, and good riddance to it. This has not been a great year, and in fact I would even say my second quarter has been as bad as 2020.
My little parrot died, I had a major family crisis, our good friend got hit by a car and gravely injured, I spent last Sunday in urgent care, and right now half my face is numb because I was just at the periodontist again. The only things that are going well in my life are my marriage, my job, and my finances - which is more or less the opposite of where I was 20ish years ago, so at least that’s something.
I’m freaked out, grieving, worried about too many people with too much going on, and wandering through another medical labyrinth.
This makes it as good a time as any to think about goals and resolutions. At least it’s a distraction. When it’s raining bowling balls, the only things that are going to go our way are things that we have planned, researched, and put into motion ourselves. We certainly can’t wait around for destiny or luck.
Something I need to do - besides scheduling seemingly endless medical and dental appointments - is to figure out, what kind of fun things do I want to do for summer? Normally by this time of year, I already have plans for my birthday and our wedding anniversary. Right now I am wracking my brain trying to remember, what was fun?? Were there really things that used to be relaxing and enjoyable?
Imagine having three weeks of paid vacation time and no idea what to do with it.
It’s my feeling that a summer can disappear almost as quickly as a weekend. It’s not so much that we need Plans as that it can be diverting to make a list of summery things to do. Last year I illustrated a whole page in my bullet journal. One of my items was to taste-test every flavor of La Croix, and I’m happy to report that I managed to do this.
How busy are we if we need to remind ourselves to try to have a good time?
My goal for the third quarter of 2021 is to “do summertime things” such as sitting under a beach umbrella, eating an ice cream cone, and perhaps trying on some roller skates.
As for my yearly goals, how am I doing?
My personal goal was to expel my math anxiety. I probably won’t start working on this until September to be honest.
My career goal is to become a futurist. I sort of just realized that I can technically claim this as true. I am already on the strategic advisory council and the horizon scanning team, I put out a futurism newsletter five days a week, and I’ve been asked to do another quarterly company newsletter with, get this, a comic strip! Things are moving in the correct direction seemingly without effort. It’s true what they say, that if you do something you truly love, then it doesn’t really feel like work.
My physical goal was to get back to my goal weight. I have made zero progress in the past year and a half, and I think I finally know why. I had my TSH hormone levels checked this week, and it turns out I’m right back to where I was in my early 20s when I had a thyroid nodule and all sorts of other problems. Now my goal is just to get my TSH levels back up and see if it corrects the issues that I believe it will. Two of those are having difficulty losing weight, and constantly being freezing cold. I’ve worked out every day this week and I’m already feeling better.
My home goal was to “probably move to a larger home.” I am not sure whether this will happen this year. It appears that our dinky apartment may be one of the best options in our area. Where we live, there are a lot of units dedicated to summer rentals, so this is the worst time to try to move. Maybe we will start looking again in the fall. Otherwise, I think this goal depends on whether we are asked to relocate at some point, and there is no telling when that might or might not happen.
Our couples goal was to save for a house. We are crushing this, yet on the other hand, house prices are quite high and apparently the market is very hot. Maybe this will not be the year to buy. The great thing about savings is that it’s still there when you go back to check it again.
My stop goal was to stop hoarding reading material. I have successfully eliminated one entire reading queue and I am in good shape on another. As usual with my stop goals, it’s a bigger issue than I had fully grasped and it will probably take me all year to get there.
My lifestyle upgrade was to get a new bed. We have gotten as far as choosing three options for bed frames. That raised the issue that none of them matched any of the other furniture in our bedroom. Not that everything needs to “match” but at the moment, every single thing with a wood finish in our apartment is a different color. The plan is to order the bed frame first, before choosing a mattress, because rumor has it that new furniture can take months to ship.
My Do the Obvious was to assume another year of working from home. We are indeed still working from home. I went on a tour of my work site and got a badge - with a very terrible photo - but I do not have a desk and I have no idea where in the building I would sit. I have a strong suspicion that we will all still be working from home through the end of 2021. Solid prediction there.
My ultralearning goal was to learn data visualization. The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn. Right now I’m working on a graphics project that should be pretty awesome if I can get it done to my standards.
My quest is to run a 50-mile ultramarathon for my 50th birthday. Somehow I only have four years left to train, and how the heck did that happen?? I can share that I bought new running shoes and managed to run a quarter mile without stopping.
My wish was to visit my family safely. I DID IT! We all got our shots and I wore a space helmet on all my flights and nobody got sick.
We have been very lucky in that virtually everyone we know ran out and got their COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they could. Most of the people we know are essential workers, so we got in the front of the queue. We have tentatively started seeing vaccinated friends in small groups, and so far we have not had to give any slackers the bum’s rush.
We are all halfway through 2021, meaning there is still plenty of time to make things happen. Whether that is taking a nap, going to the dentist, walking in the park, or hanging up a bird feeder, only you will care enough to do things for yourself that make you smile.
Let’s all do what we can to make the back half of 2021 better than the front half.
Personal: To expel my math anxiety
Career: Become a futurist - IN PROGRESS
Physical: Back to my goal weight
Home: Probably move to a larger home
Couples: Save for a house - IN PROGRESS
Stop goal: Stop hoarding reading material - IN PROGRESS
Lifestyle upgrades: New bed - IN PROGRESS
Do the Obvious: Assume another year of WFH - IN PROGRESS
Ultralearning: Data visualization - Tableau, Excel, etc. - IN PROGRESS
Quest: 50 for 50 ultramarathon (2025) - IN PROGRESS
Wish: To visit my family safely - SUCCESS
You know how I’ve mentioned weird heartbeat issues off and on ever since I got COVID last year? Well, finally I had an episode strange enough that I wrote to my doctor about it.
I got an email asking if I was available for a phone appointment. They wanted to talk to me either that day or the next day.
I talked to a nurse practitioner on the phone. She said I should go to urgent care and tell them I needed an EKG.
I did as I was told. I described my symptoms and prepared to wait around for approximately five hours, like usual.
I had barely made it to the restroom before my phone pinged. They were ready to see me.
I went back and was taken to an examination room. A nurse wheeled in the EKG machine and had my results within minutes. The doctor came in almost immediately. He told me he was going to do a full cardiac work-up.
He asked me a series of questions and then sent me off for a chest x-ray and some labs.
This was more or less what happened when I had the secondary respiratory infection last year.
I couldn’t believe the rapid pace at which all this was happening. I barely had time to visit one part of the clinic before it was time to rush off to another.
I texted my husband and he said that if you complain about chest pain, you go right to the front of the line.
The test results had been reported within hours. EKG normal. Blood pressure normal.
Seven blood panels and the chest x-ray. All normal.
I got a voicemail from the cardiac doctor saying as much, and that he would forward the test results to my regular doctor.
Normal? Okay. Then what was going on with my heart??
Two interesting things happened at that point.
One, the heat was turned down. All the frenetic activity from urgent care came to a halt. We have examined you and determined that nothing is wrong with you, therefore please go away and be weird elsewhere.
Two, an eighth test result straggled in a few hours later. My TSH hormone levels.
Suddenly everything became clear to me.
My TSH levels are back to where they were in my early twenties, a sub-clinical low “normal” result that, in my body, causes me all sorts of problems.
I could have put together the clues for myself, having had the experience and the reading in my repertoire for well over twenty years. I missed what could have been obvious to me because I was busy blaming everything on COVID.
Constantly feeling cold, check.
Tired all the time, check.
Trouble dropping weight, check.
In fact, now that I thought about it, I had been noticing a visible ring around my throat and blaming it on excess body weight and/or bad posture. That same sign showed up when I developed a goiter at age 23.
Back at that age, I started having fainting spells. Vasovagal syncope. I had an ultrasound of my heart and an EEG. Both normal. They put me on beta blockers. I don’t remember whether I had weird heartbeat problems at that time, although I might have.
At other times in my life, I have felt dismissed and ignored by medical professionals. It has been terrifically motivating for me. Okay FINE, I’ll do my own research and heal myself then!
This time, a wave of optimism and joy overtook me. I have data! I have metrics! I have objective criteria to use for myself!
Also, I have been here before! I know what to do!
The best thing about this somewhat useless visit to urgent care is that I got information that my heart is normal and… MY LUNGS ARE CLEAR. No more scarring.
What all this meant to me is that I should be clear to commence running again.
The thing that healed my low functioning thyroid last time around was increasing the amount of very strenuous exercise I did. I stumbled across this by accident. This is good news for me, because emotionally I am well suited to endurance sports. It’s great for regulating my mood and dumping whatever toxic stress might be circulating in my system on any given day.
Such as: the ‘Why won’t doctors listen’ rant or the ‘Why is this still the “standard of care” when it doesn’t actually help people’ perseveration or the ‘Why isn’t more medical research based on female bodies’ query.
I can credit hundreds of miles on the trail to each of these, and thank you!
What I noticed about the weird heartbeat episodes I had been having was that they only came up when I was relaxing. I would be either sitting on the couch for at least an hour, or I would be lying down. It never seemed to happen when I was walking or climbing stairs or scrubbing the bathtub or folding laundry.
Obviously relaxation isn’t bad for me - or anyone. It just seemed that if this was when the weird heartbeat stuff was happening, then moving my body was presumably safe.
When I say “weird heartbeat,” I mean that sometimes it would beat very hard, sometimes it would beat faster, and sometimes it would seem to skip a beat. It wasn’t all that consistent. Only concerning.
A different person would probably campaign for a prescription medication at this point. That is good self-advocacy. For myself, I tend to be chary about taking prescriptions, feeling that I tend to be the side effects person. My test results would probably rule out thyroid hormone supplements, which is smart, because they can cause heart problems if they aren’t needed.
My goal from here on out is to increase my TSH levels. It will probably take me a few months.
What happened to me during the pandemic is probably similar to what happened to a lot of other people. I almost never leave my apartment to this day. I used to walk an average of 8 miles a day, three on an off day, and I was in motion almost all the time. Suddenly all that came to a halt, and I spend almost all my time now in a sitting position.
My body is like a rusted-out dusty old project car sitting in the driveway on four flat tires.
While I probably can’t do all that much to increase my background activity level, I can make sure I do at least an hour of cardio most days. I’ll know I am making progress when I quit shivering with cold when it’s 68F and when I quit noticing the weird heartbeat problem.
In a few months I will ask to have my TSH levels checked again, and then I can share a side-by-side comparison with my doctor. Maybe my experience can help inform his response, or Kaiser’s response, the next time a former thyroid patient calls in with a weird heartbeat mystery.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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