52Frames – 2021-36 – Woman

The theme for this week’s 52Frames is “Woman”, with an extra-credit of “Environmental Portrait”. So…. here, you see a Balise in her natural habitat – that’s my home office desk, with a tiny bit of clearing up/staging ๐Ÿ˜‰ but otherwise reasonably realistic! It probably lacks a mug of coffee, but I wasn’t about to make myself coffee at the time I took this picture ๐Ÿ™‚

And the advantage of working in a free software context is that I don’t have much to hide on my monitors – not that anything is actually much visible either, but eh ๐Ÿ™‚

In praise of โ€œI donโ€™t knowโ€

“I don’t know” is often hard to admit, and even harder to say. Professional or personal circumstances may make that even more difficult.

You may be arriving in a new environment, and be tired that “I don’t know” is every second sentence you want to say.

You may be an expert on a subject, and feel like “I don’t know” undermines your expertise.

You may worry that your “I don’t know” might be used against a larger group of people you belong to.

XKCD – How It Works

You may be afraid of repercussions of your “I don’t know” if you feel this is something that you should know.

You may have issues with imposter syndrome, and fear that “I don’t know” brings you that much closer to being exposed as a fraud (to be clear: that you are not!).

Your personal history may cause “I don’t know” to give rise to fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, or other difficult emotions in you.


But “I don’t know” is a powerful sentence, and the louder it gets, the more powerful it becomes.

Admitting “I don’t know” to yourself unlocks the possibility of learning.

Admitting “I don’t know” to select others unlocks the possibility of getting taught – and to be part of “today’s 10’000”!

XKCD – 10 Thousands

Admitting “I don’t know” to a larger audience unlocks the possibility of fostering a culture of continuous learning, where future “I don’t know”s become all the easier for everyone.

When it stems from a genuine desire to learn, “I don’t know” should be celebrated, and being the recipient of that vulnerability and trust is a privilege, regardless of one’s readiness to teach. Let’s be inspired, and celebrate that learning often starts with “I don’t know”!

Some thyroid stories

CW: medicine, hospital, surgery, needles, anxiety. But it ends well ๐Ÿ˜‰

A few weeks ago, I had a hemithyroidectomy (removal of half the thyroid gland) and, since there’s… mostly horror stories on the Internet, and mine went very well, I thought I’d take a moment to add a positive story out there for the anxious people like me trying to reassure themselves. And, since I had to manage my own anxieties the best I could during that time, I thought it might help others to see my path there.

First diagnostic

It all started back in June. I went in for a regular checkup, and my gynecologist looked at me and said “hrmm, your thyroid feels fairly large, and I think I want to send you to my endocrinologist colleague”. Now, for the context: I’m almost 40, and I’ve had doctors look at my thyroid with skepticism for roughly 20 of these years. Usually, they order a blood test, they say “all good” and leave me be. But it didn’t hurt to have it checked, so I took her advice and an appointment.

Said appointment happened a week later. The endocrinologist first gave me explanations about what the thyroid was doing, how it was working, what an enlarged thyroid could mean when it came to nodules and possibility of cancer and all of that. Function-wise, my thyroid was working exactly as it should, according to the blood tests; but its volume was a problem. He asked me if anyone had ever done an ultrasound (I said no) and suggested we did one (I said OK). The ultrasound is really nothing bad, there’s a bit of pressure, but that’s it. Since I was still expecting at that point to be let go with a clean bill of health, it was a bit of a shock to hear a/ there’s multiple nodules, on both sides of the thyroid, and at least one of these nodules is large enough to be an indication for surgery b/ he advised for a complete removal of the thyroid. His rationale was that I wouldn’t have to come back every year to have it checked. The other option was to do a fine needle biopsy to check that nothing bad was happening there and if not, check periodically that it doesn’t grow too much. In any case, the decision was not urgent (but for sure something needed to be done).

My endocrinologist and I exchanged a few emails and phone calls: I had a fair amount of questions, which he answered. But I was not any close to any kind of decision of what I wanted to do. I concluded that I wanted a second opinion. I tried to get that on my own, but cold-calling endocrinologists to get an appointment didn’t seem to work out. I finally asked my endocrinologist to refer me to a colleague. I was a bit nervous asking for that (it did feel awkward), but he was very enthusiastic at the idea, and he made me a referral letter for the “thyroid consultation” of the local hospital.

Now I must say that I’m kind of proud of myself. Historically, asserting myself has never been a strong point of mine; asking questions that I was afraid would seem “basic” and asking for a referral for a second opinion is NOT something that comes naturally to me. I ping-pong’d options with my husband and with a few friends (“does it make sense, can i actually do that?”), which helped. And I somehow managed to think of myself as a “project manager getting expert advice on something I can understand, but I’m not familiar with”. That mindset helped me gain enough confidence to ask the questions I had and get the answers I needed.

Second opinion

The delays for the hospital were a bit longer and my appointment there was set to the end of August. The couple of months in the meantime were not particularly fun for me. I went back and forth between the two options that were given to me, with the additional anxiety of “there’s a low, but significant probability, that there’s a cancer in there, and even if prognosis would be good if it were there, that’s still super scary”. It was, however, much better than it could have been. The anxiety was there, but the perspective of waiting for more information/opinions before I could make a (hopefully) more informed decision – and not being able to speed anything up – helped.

However, the question of the biopsy was very much on my mind. I didn’t have much information about it; it felt like a Big Thing. In particular, when it came to the invasive character of it, on a scale from ultrasound to surgery, I was not sure that it wasn’t closest from the second end of the interval. The internets were not very reassuring with the whole procedure, which was quite scary, and the words “well if I’m going for a biopsy anyway I may as well go for the surgery!” probably have been uttered.

Finally came the day of the consultation at the hospital. The appointment started in pretty much the same way as the first endocrinologist appointment – some explanations, some questions, an ultrasound. And then the doctor suggested to do the fine needle biopsy in any case… “actually, we can do that now if you wish”.

Considering the previous trains of thoughts, being given the option of going through with it on the spot was probably the best thing for me, because I didn’t have time to second-guess, wonder and worry. It also put the procedure clearly on the “less invasive” side of the scale if they were willing to do that without any advance notice. Plus, my husband was with me so he could hold my hand too ๐Ÿ˜‰ Off to the biopsy room we go!

The person doing the procedure was very friendly and spoke a fair amount of French – we had a few laughs, which helped during the whole thing. He started saying that it was essentially the same kind and amount of pain as a blood draw – except somewhat longer, ultrasound-guided, and moving around a bit. The ultrasound had identified three nodules, and these three nodules needed to be poked at, so that’s what he did. After the first two I was getting visibly anxious, he went “you know, from what I see on the ultrasound, the nodules are very probably benign, so don’t worry too much”, to which I answered, MOSTLY jokingly, “you’re stabbing me in the neck, I HAVE REASONS TO WORRY” ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, the procedure was quite unpleasant, and significantly more painful than a blood draw, but still completely manageable, and nothing I’d be afraid to repeat if necessary. And all in all, kudos for the hospital efficiency: between the hour of my appointment and being on the tram back home, including a surprise biopsy, less than an hour and half had elapsed.

A few days later, I got the hospital doctor on the phone, who told me that the biopsy was indeed clear (there was one nodule for which the results were not conclusive, but other factors on that nodule made it apparently very, very probable that it was not a problem). My whole medical record was then to be presented in front of the hospital “thyroid commission” later that week so that they could make recommendations. Said recommendations came a few days later, both as a phone call and as a copy of the letter the hospital sent back to my referring doctor. I appreciated getting the copy of that letter: it made me less anxious about something being forgotten or omitted. I also got numerical values (“standard value is 18mL, we measured that one at 55mL”), which I found interesting.

Recommendations and decisions

The recommendation of the hospital thyroid commission was to remove not all the thyroid, but only the right half of it. While there’s still a significant nodule on the left side (that would require yearly monitoring), there’s some probability that it doesn’t grow too much anymore, and there’s (more importantly) a large probability that half the thyroid is enough to keep a full thyroid function, and that I wouldn’t need to be supplemented in thyroid hormones.

My referring endocrinologist called me back when he got the letter; he explained that he agreed that this was a perfectly valid approach (but that removing the whole thyroid and be done with it was also reasonable); at this point, there seemed to be a consensus that the right part was definitely large enough to warrant surgery anyway. The major question was “why operate at all since this is actually not bothering me?” The answer I was given was two-fold: a/ there’s a significant probability that it continues growing (it may not, it might even shrink) and that it will eventually be a problem for breathing and/or for eating; and b/ the larger it grows, the riskier the surgery becomes (especially since there’s a fair amount of STUFF going on in the neck!)

I was consequently left with a choice:

  • removing the whole thyroid, which had the main advantage of not having to worry about it anymore, but the main disadvantage of being guaranteed lifelong hormone supplementation and probably a few months to find the right hormone balance (and the associated symptoms of hypo/hyperthyroidism when trying to reach that equilibrium)
  • removing half of the thyroid, which had the main advantage of having a significant chance of having ~0 impact on my daily life after the surgery recovery, but the main disadvantage of a significant probability of having to go through the surgery again in a few years if the left half grows beyond what’s advised to remove.

In any case, it became time to talk with a surgeon. My endocrinologist gave me a few options for the referral, both inside and outside of the city; I also had an insurance policy that opened a few private options that would have been more complicated otherwise. Both him and the doctor at the hospital emphasized that it was important to get a surgeon that was doing that operation routinely and “not, like, once a month”. While this bothered me a bit (“Isn’t it true for all surgeries? And how, as a surgeon, can you get to do these surgeries routinely if you don’t get referred the patients to achieve that goal?”), I followed that advice, and opted for a highly recommended surgeon in a private clinic in the city. (I am, incidentally, very grateful that it was at all an option!)

Before surgery

My endocrinologist sent a referral, and I saw the surgeon a week later. The clinic felt weird: the entrance looked much more like a high-end hotel than a hospital… But the surgeon made me a very good impression. One of his first questions was “so, what do you know about your situation?”: I thought it was a smart way to have an idea of the person in front of him, about what they knew, and about the appropriate level of explanations. And, of course, it tickled my “good student” sense when he approved of what I was saying ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Also, he had a neat collection of minerals in his office ๐Ÿ™‚ )

He went through the whole thing himself, presented the total and hemi- options again, explained the pros and cons, made very clear that both options were medically valid and essentially a matter of preference for the patient. Some would prefer to get rid of the whole thing to be sure to avoid the monitoring and a second surgery, some would prefer a more conservative approach in the hope that everything would work out that way. We had discussed both options with my husband before the appointment, and we were both preferring the “conservative” approach; nothing the surgeon said clashed with the arguments we had made ourselves, so I decided for the hemithyroidectomy. At the end of the appointment, I signed the preliminary paperwork for the surgery (after having been told that these were not binding and that I could change my mind at any point), we planned the surgery for the end of November, and we made an appointment for an extra ultrasound and a pre-operative consult a week before the planned surgery.

In the meantime, I got some paperwork from the hospital – questionnaires to fill in, information sheets about anesthesia and so on and so forth. That was not entirely devoid of anxiety – “yes, I can walk up two flights of stairs, but I’d be a bit out of breath, what should I put there?” and “okay, I’ve been told repeatedly that my blood pressure numbers where on the wrong side of borderline, does that count as having high blood pressure?” – which I solved by adding a couple of notes next to the corresponding questions. Yes, I second-guess and I overthink, but for once I let other people deal with my overthinking and ask me questions if they deemed it necessary.

During the pre-operative consultation, I got yet another ultrasound – but for which I got a card with a link to my imagery! So I could look at the images on my computer! I’m definitely nerdy enough to appreciate that. We confirmed options with the surgeon and gave the final “okay, let’s ship it” for the hemithyroidectomy. That week, I also had a phone call with the anesthesiologist to double check that everything looked good and that there was no particular precaution to take with me.

Still, the perspective of surgery was very scary. Yes, I was in a good position for a good outcome. But still: accidents happen, and, well, they were going to literally cut my throat :p The whole “but what if things go wrong” was definitely keeping me awake at night. I eventually realized that the anxiety was less about the bad outcomes and more about not having planned for them. So, as overreacting and overly dramatic that it may seem for such a “routine” surgery, I made plans. I created a document for what I wanted to happen in case I died. It mostly had to do with “who should be contacted and how / in which order”; a few administrative details; and accesses to various digital accounts (because let’s face it, a significant portion of my life is linked to these.) I also prepared documents/directives for “what should happen if I’m alive, but not in a state to make decisions myself” – I was happy to see that Switzerland has standard forms for this (Patientenverfรผgung, in German, French and English, both in a short version and in an “extended” version.) This was not fun, but it felt surprisingly peaceful. Thinking about what I wanted, and writing these things down, gave me some peace of mind; it was not without tears, but it actually never felt dark or depressing. I shared all of these documents with my husband, we talked about them, and it was a good conversation to have had. (And, to be honest, it IS getting more and more probable with age that a bad thing happens, and having these “ready” is probably a good thing anyway.)

I also prepared for the “everything is all right” case. The surgeon had told me he’d call my husband as soon as he was out of surgery to tell him how it went; I told my husband to send these news to a few people early. I also expected my cognitive abilities would be fairly reduced after surgery, so I prepared a list of people I wanted to contact myself as soon as I felt up to it.

Hospital stay

Finally, the dreaded surgery day. I was supposed to be at the clinic at 6.30 (ow) and I was still allowed to drink water until 5, so I set the alarm clock at 4.45 to avoid the grumpiness of being thirsty on top of being stressed out. We arrived at the clinic, filled in the admission form. There was a first moment of panic when the person handling the admission told me “so you’re staying three nights” and I went “BUT BUT BUT I’VE BEEN TOLD ONLY ONE NIGHT”, and I kind of lost it. They kind of backpedaled (“well you know they put 3 nights by default but of course if the doctor thinks you’re good to go tomorrow you’ll go tomorrow”), which ended up being… “good enough” to calm me down a bit. Other than that, I answered probably five times that I had no allergy that I was aware of, I dressed in a hospital gown and hospital underwear (first time I saw that one, and that’s definitely a welcome change) and ended up fairly quickly on my way to the operating theater.

I don’t remember much then. I remember that there was a lot of people around me for preparing the anesthesia; I remember being very afraid (because anesthesia is super-scary); I remember they had heating covers that were nice; I remember someone trying to soothe me (and actually being pretty good at it, and I think it was before they plugged anything in the IV)… and I remember waking up. As far as I remember, my first sentence was “Hey, I’m not dead!”, to which the person next to me answered “Nope, all good, you’re not dead.”

Then came the waking up in the recovery room – I spent a couple of hours there, everything was okay. I remember seeing the surgeon coming to me, telling me “well it was a good thing we did the surgery, I removed a mass like THAT, and it went well”. And after that couple of hours, I was back in my hospital room, reasonably alert and okay. And it was even early enough that I could get some lunch! I was surprised (in a good way) that they’d allow me to get “normal food, but on the soft side” that early. I didn’t eat much of that first meal, because I still felt quite groggy, but I felt well enough after that to send a bit of news to the people on my list… and even to post a post-op, masked, selfie on Facebook ๐Ÿ˜‰ I was also allowed to get up very early – they told me to ask for help for the first time, but then they let me be after that since I was apparently able to handle it. Which was good, because it sure felt like there was diuretics in the cocktail they injected during anesthesia ๐Ÿ˜€

The doctors and nurses also told me explicitly “if you have pain, please let us know early: it will NOT get better on its own right now, and painkillers do need some time to act; do not wait, tell us”. I liked that approach, it removed a lot of second-guessing and of “will I look like a wimp if I say I’m in pain?”: it was clearly a “tell us, and we’ll handle it as we see fit, don’t solve issues for us” kind of deal, and that helped. So I did, they handled it, and generally speaking it went well.

I don’t have much memories of that first afternoon either. I know Pierre was there. I know he went to fetch me earplugs for the night: I had as a roommate an older lady who had difficulties to breathe, which was tough to hear… I know I talked to people on various digital channels, and I’m almost sure I didn’t say anything I’d regret, but I also know that I felt more alert and coherent than I actually was. I also got dinner, normal-food-no-restriction, and there I ate everything (it was tasty ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

The night was not very pleasant. I was warm, and then cold, and then warm, and trying to switch between covers that were not super accessible, especially considering the lack of mobility of my upper body (that’s where you’re happy with the little abs you have, because they ARE better than nothing.) There’s been a couple of controls of my blood pressure and temperature during the night, it seemed okay. My roommate switching on the light at 3AM to (as far as I could gather) eat some fruit salad was not pleasant either, but I managed to gather enough compassion (and probably fatigue) to not care that much. The earplugs were definitely appreciated, though.

On the next morning, I got breakfast (which was good – there was a lot of options!), as well the menus for lunch, dinner, and next morning’s breakfast. Since all the information I had by then were that the surgeon would see me at noon and that, if everything was okay, I’d be out after that, I didn’t fill in the dinner and breakfast part. That generated a lot of questions from the food service people: obviously they wanted me to make choices early if I was going to have my meals, but it felt wrong to commit to something I was expecting not to happen! The surgeon ended up coming to see me around 2PM, and he indeed told me I seemed to be well enough to go home. I gathered my stuff and got out of the hospital… quickly ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice touch: I went through the reception to officially check out, and I got a tin of chocolate biscuits (which were actually very nice!)

All in all, the whole stay at the clinic went as well as can be expected: the people were very nice and attentive, and the communication was generally good, in that I mostly knew what to expect, which alleviated a lot of anxiety.

Recovery

Brain and energy

As well as the hospital stay went, I was very relieved to be home (because there’s no place like it ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Pain-management-wise, I went home with a few grams of paracetamol per day for a few days, which both necessary and sufficient, so that was not an issue. However, the first few days were a bit tough on my morale: I felt mostly okay, but I had a tendency to fall asleep very quickly at random times. I could feel good one minute and fall asleep on my chair the next minute. It was also tough to realize a posteriori that states where I felt in full possession of my mental faculties were actually… not. That was somewhat scary because it made me realize how bad a brain can be at evaluating its own state (or, at least, mine can be, obviously ๐Ÿ™‚ ), but it is valuable information backed by experience, which is worth having. My energy levels went better and better as days went, though. They kept being “hard to manage” for a bit less than two weeks, because I had no “girl, you’re overexerting yourself right now” signal that I could detect anymore, which meant that I kept going over my limits without really realizing it before it was too late.

A week after the surgery, I had an appointment with the surgeon to remove the stitches. When I mentioned that I did have a hard time handling the changes in energy levels, he added a week to my sick leave and, while I was a bit skeptical at the beginning (“I could… probably… work? I think?”), I was very grateful on the next Monday that he had done so, because I was definitely not in a state to be productive.

I usually have a hard time with taking the necessary recovery time when I’m sick or when something bad happens (and I have a hard time disconnecting from work in general). But I’m happy to report that I did manage to get through two weeks of sick leave without too much guilt and pressure to “be recovered already”. Managing to give myself some slack during that time is something I’m actually proud of ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Little victories!) In the end, it was a major surgery, and my body did need time to heal, and energy cannot be spent everywhere at once, and I was actually mostly okay with that. There has been times of “I’m never going to be better” and times of “I should be better already”, but they felt very limited compared to what they would have been a few years ago.

Once the bulk of what I identified as “surgery recovery” (which lasted for roughly a week, by my estimations), I believe that I went through a short bout of hypothyroidism (although I don’t have the labs to back it). Brain fog, super-check, fatigue, check, apathy, check, cold sensitivity, check, constipation, check, dry skin, check, lack of appetite, check. That was not pleasant, and that was actually a question I had not asked (and information that was not provided unprompted). I have a check of my thyroid function planned for mid-January, which makes me think that it can take up to six weeks or so for things to come back to “normal”, but I had no idea about timelines of “what is normal, what is not”. I ended up doing a tiny bit of Internet research (instead of pinging my doctor, which may have been the smart move…) and came to the conclusion that “okay, there’s a post-op hypothyroidism for a bit more than 50% of the people, and it seems to have at least a decent probability to come back within a couple of months”, which reassured me a bit.

And, lo and behold, two weeks to the day after the surgery, it felt as if the brain fog lifted at once, and everything felt normal again. I don’t have the labs yet, but I’m actually not worried anymore, and I do believe that my half-thyroid woke up and picked up the slack of the half that has been removed ๐Ÿ™‚

Interestingly enough, the first “symptom” of everything being back to “normal” was spending a “normally shitty night”: waking up around 4, and having a very hard time falling back to sleep because brain decides to latch onto something and then something else instead of, well, sleeping – but that felt… normal. (Yes, it sucks, but it’s normal-suck.) And, essentially, since then, I feel like myself again, and that’s nice.

Physical recovery

On the strictly “physical” side, not much to be said. My surgeon had told me that I should start stretching my neck the day after surgery (and showed me how), so that’s what I did… not very thoroughly, I must admit, but thoroughly enough that it doesn’t bother me in the course of a day (there’s still some very light stiffness if I look for it and if I’m being completely honest).

My throat has been itching/painful for a bit more than a week, I think; at first I was kind of worried that it was a bit long, until I realized that my hand had not yet fully recovered from simply having had an IV stuck in there for 24 hours. Still: being significantly aware of one’s throat during an epidemic that has “sore throat” as one of its symptoms, do not recommend. In the first few days, I also noticed that I… couldn’t hold a note while singing in the shower: that was weird, but it’s now fixed too ๐Ÿ™‚

The whole energy levels thing, aggravated by my usual lack of motivation on the topic, has been my current “excuse” to not really restart any kind of physical activity yet (well, I’ve been for a couple of walks, and I assembled a couple of IKEA armchairs); that’s the last step I see right now, and I’m going to try to do that before Christmas (hey, I have a full two days left!).

And as for the scar, I’m super happy. Yes, it’s visible, obviously; but it’s very, very thin, it’s low enough that it does get at least partly hidden by the t-shirts I usually wear, it’s in a fold of my neck so it’s not shocking, and I expect that when it will have faded away it won’t be very noticeable. I am a bit self-conscious about it right now (more than I thought I would be, to be honest), but mostly on a “social conventions” point of view! (I kind of want to show it off because hey, it’s a fairly large scar, and it’s… cool in a weird way? but I can also definitely understand people being made uncomfortable? So I don’t say anything.)

Conclusion

Well, this was a very long post, and if you read all of it, congratulations (and thank you for bearing with me ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I think this was a fairly exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) depiction of everything that happened with me and my thyroid in the past half-year or so. These were weird times, these were scary times, but I feel they went as well as they could. There was obviously some luck and a significant amount of privilege involved (I have health insurance, access to great doctors and medical facilities, the possibility to take sick leave off work, supportive husband and friends – all of that helps a lot!!) I still hope that my anecdotal recount may have been interesting to people who know me and are curious but afraid to pry (don’t be ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), or to people who don’t but stumble here trying to find a bit of reassurance: yes, it can go well ๐Ÿ™‚

The State of the Balise in times of The Virusโ„ข

This is going to be a very personal post – and I’m not sure it’s going to be of much interest to people essentially going through the same things as I am or, most probably, worse – on the other hand, this is the kind of things I’d like to read from the people I care about, so… let’s work with that assumption.

I was tempted to go for a “what’s good, what’s bad, what’s super bad” (or the other way around) structure, but instead I’ll talk around themes – seems easier to organize my thoughts this way.

The situation around here

In Switzerland, we do not have a strict lock-down: it’s strongly advised to stay home as much as possible, but nothing is legally enforced there. Restaurants, non-essential shops and leisure facilities (sports and culture) are closed (some shops are starting to reopen); gatherings of more than 5 people are forbidden. Working from home is encouraged if at all possible. Standard recommendations about keeping your distances and washing your hands are obviously repeated at every occasion. The Swiss Federal Council holds a press conference once to twice a week, they talk about the evolution of the situation and the measures in place.

We’ve been following the recommendations pretty strictly: we’re both working from home, and we stay home. We’re going out once a week for grocery shopping; we wear (homemade) masks when we do. Pierre has been to the dentist this week, but other than that… we have basically only seen each other for the past month and a half.

Work

Work is mostly good. We’re lucky that a/ we can both work from home without large hassle b/ we have enough space in our apartment that we’re able to have two separate home office spaces. This is one of the things I’m most grateful for, because it allows me to keep some sense of normality… and sanity.

I normally work 60%; I started tracking my time because I had a feeling I was working way more than that, and even with tracking, I… do work more than that. Granted, it’s a period of the cycle at work where we’d all tend to work more, so it’s hard to tell if I’m working more because of that or because of working from home and not being constrained by “shit, I need to leave now if I want to catch my train”. In any case, I think it helps with feeling useful and with having something to do that doesn’t leave much space for significant worry. It’s sometimes a source of stress too, but it’s “normal stress” (as opposed to “Virusโ„ข-related stress”).

We have daily calls with a few colleagues – some status report, and one explicitly “social” call where we try to re-create the mood of our office kitchen during coffee breaks. This helps a lot in not feeling isolated, and keeping in touch with lighter topics.

Still, it starts to weigh on me. I miss seeing my colleagues. The other day I got all teary-eyed at hearing the laugh of a colleague during the weekly status meeting – good thing I didn’t actually have to talk during that meeting… From a professional standpoint, I also miss being able to clear misunderstanding quickly, and to be able to call out to someone as they’re passing when I have a question or something they can help me with. We make do, but it’s definitely less comfortable (and it typically takes more time too).

Keeping busy on my own

I’m lucky there as well: I’m definitely on the “introvert” end of the spectrum, and my usual ways of keeping busy haven’t been impacted much by the current situation. I read, I play video games, I watch TV, I code, I practice calligraphy… all these are definitely on. I miss going out with my camera, but I’ve still been able to make a few images around the apartment. I’ve been keeping up with 52Frames, and there’s a Scavenger Hunt running – so I have some creative prompts to get stuff done.

I had started going on walks around Zรผrich at the end of winter – I miss doing that. I have a strong inkling that one of the first places I’ll go back to when I feel comfortable doing that is the lake – go see “my” tree, probably sit on a bench nearby with a book. I’m probably going to miss the full flower season of Seleger Moor – they MIGHT be able to re-open earlier than expected, but I don’t expect to be able to go there by then, because it’s pretty far away by bus.

I continue playing Slay the Spire and World of Warcraft, as well as Wizards Unite (who did a kick-ass job at making things work without going out); I started playing Deponia, Cook Serve Delicious 3, Islanders. I’m resisting the urge of re-joining EVE Online. And I reaaaally want a Switch to play Animal Crossing, but that’s probably not coming back in stock anytime soon.

The issue there may be general apathy: I do have a ton of things I can do, but there is a distinct lack of energy and motivation to do everything I could do. I’m not exactly bored, more… numb, I guess. This is not pleasant, but it’s not exactly unpleasant either. I’m sometimes annoyed by it, but it doesn’t last long – it is what it is.

Being social

See what I was saying in the previous point about being an introvert? Weeeell, turns out, I may be less of an introvert than I thought I was. Because fuck, I miss everyone – I miss everyone so much it hurts. I do manage to stay in touch with some people – but not nearly as much as I’d like to. And at the same time, I’m actually “socially tired” at the end of the week, and I do realize that I need to pace myself, and I hate that.

I miss game night, I miss casual gathering with friends around a meal and/or a drink, I miss… people. I miss hugs. And I feel terrible for the fact that my keeping in touch with people sucks as much as it always did – a mix of “not having enough energy” and “being afraid to be a bother” and “being afraid of being clingy”. I’m even hesitant to say here “if you feel like reaching out, please do” – because I don’t want to put that kind of expectation/pressure on anyone either. Constant second-guessing of social interactions is exhausting.

Fitness

Anyone who knows me may be very surprised to see that title in this blog post ๐Ÿ˜‰ One of the first things I ordered when we started staying at home was a pair of 2 kg dumbbells. I felt terrible ordering them, because it felt like the epitome of superficial non-essential buys.

I am, in short, SUPER HAPPY I bought these weights. Before all this, I’ve been going back to Jazzercise at least semi-regularly; and right now, I’m relying heavily on the Zoom classes from my studio and on Jazzercise-on-Demand. I intend to write a longer post about that – stay tuned.

Generally speaking: it’s been a life line. Since I’m not even walking outside, I actually get an itch to move – so I do that. It helps. I might end up doing more exercise now than I used to. In parallel, sticking to “regular food plan” with little to no extra (no “oooh, this cake looks delicious” in the office kitchen ๐Ÿ˜‰ )…. well, I seem to be one of these people who actually lose weight during these times. Well, I’m definitely not complaining about that.

Mood

Now… this whole blog post was much more upbeat than I am feeling. I am profoundly grateful that I’ve seen a therapist for a while now, because it would be so much worse otherwise, but it’s still tough.

On a day-to-day basis, I am much closer to tears, all the time, than I usually am. Which says something, because I already tend to cry more than many people (I… think.) Anything has the potential of setting me off, which is exhausting (because… emotions are exhausting).

There’s also far more full meltdowns. I haven’t kept count, but there’s been more than a few in the past 6 weeks, which would have been the norm at some points in the past, but hadn’t been the norm lately. It’s a bit disheartening to find myself sobbing uncontrollably again – but then, well… I guess emotions have to get out somehow, and right now… there’s a lot of emotions going on.

I was concerned about anxiety, but that one has been surprisingly quiet. It’s not absent, but it’s mostly okay. It does spike from time to time. The major circumstances where it spikes is when going out. Grocery shopping is hit and miss, and generally a large source of stress – panic triggering either because of “I fucked up the social distancing and I’m a terrible person” or because of “I’m in the way and I shouldn’t be where I am and I’m a terrible person”. Fun times. I’ve had more than a few very shitty nights because of anxiety, and it IS keeping me awake around 4AM way more than I’d like. Still, I was expecting it to be much worse than it is, so… not great, but could be much worse.

Worry is another beast though. I always felt like I had a strong disconnect between worry (the things that are crawling ’round my brain) and anxiety (the thing that make my stomach and gut twist and wring). In “regular” times I tended to have strong anxiety, but low worry; these days I have low-to-moderate anxiety, but high worry. I worry both about the situation and how “going back to a less isolated situation” is going to look like. At the very beginning, there was definitely a worry of “collapse of the civilization” and “we do not have enough food in the apartment to last for any extended stay”. These worries did subside, thankfully – the food one comes back again from time to time, but more on a “global” basis. Other than that, I worry for myself (“getting sick”, “getting sick to the point of needing ICU care”, “dying”) and for my loved ones (same worries). I worry about seeing friends again and not knowing how to interact with them again. I worry about not being able to set boundaries that match what I’m comfortable with. I worry about not knowing what I’m comfortable with. I worry about going back to work by train and the logistics involved (handling of masks in particular). I worry for the scary economical situation in which some people currently are. I worry for the scary economical situation in which some people may end up. I worry about how long it’s going to take before things feel normal again – whatever “normal” may mean by then. I worry about the fact that things may never feel “normal” again. I worry for my mental health, too. I worry about the numbness and the tears – and I worry that when things feel “normal” again for most people, it won’t for me – or that my new “normal” may be significantly worse than my pre-Virusโ„ข normal. I worry for other people’s mental health – I worry that this whole situation is going to end up literally traumatic for a large number of people.

So, yeah, I have enough worries to fuel some high-quality brain-churning here ๐Ÿ˜› I am, however, grateful that there’s a number of things that I’m not worried about – including my own economical safety (as long as not EVERYTHING goes to shit, but then…) and the fact that the number of people that I know are in higher-risk groups is actually fairly small.

Meditation helps. I had been lacking some consistency in my practice lately, but I found myself going back on the cushion way more regularly – maybe not every day, but close. And again – I’m grateful that I had started working on that way before things started – I don’t think it would be nearly as useful if I didn’t have a somewhat significant number of hours of practice already.

People help too, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I have a lot of people I can count on – and I don’t think I thank them nearly enough for supporting me. Things are a bit bittersweet sometimes, because I absolutely miss seeing them in person, and sometimes it’s too much – but I’d much rather have them in my life, even by videoconference, than not. As I mentioned earlier, I do have a significant amount of guilt about “not reaching out to some friends enough”, combined with “not daring to do so and feeling clingy”. That one is annoying, and it’s probable that I’m erring too much on the “being afraid of being clingy” side of things, at the cost of my guilt… and possibly hurting people by not reaching out. And even with the people with whom I am more or less constantly in contact, I’m scared of complaining too much, of needing too much support, of being needy. Social anxiety in times of isolation, check.

Apart from all that, the “background” mood is pretty numb and apathetic. Motivation and energy levels are occasionally there, but definitely less often than not. I often lose hope, not necessarily in the fact that it’s going to be okay eventually, but in the fact that it’s going to be okay within a time frame that I can grasp.

But – to end this on a slightly positive note, still… I’m mostly okay with not being okay, and that’s HUGE progress compared to the situation where all this would happen, and on top of that I’d hate myself for feeling that way. And while I’m kind of lacking hope about the current situation, I do have hope that hope will be back. So… let’s wait until hope is back ๐Ÿ™‚

TGSMU#3, or The Great Scavenger Meet-Up in Orlando

(Cover image by Patt Dickson)

My main reason to go to the US last month was to attend the Great Scavenger Meet-Up in Orlando. The Scavengers are a group of photographers that I’ve been interacting with for a few years – responsible in particular for that sort of things: Scavenger Hunt 24, Scavenger Hunt 25 Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

For those who know me, it may seem wildly out of character for me to go meet a large group of people that I don’t really know. And I’d tend to agree – I would lie if I said I didn’t have any reservations before actually making the trip. But still, it went very well, better than my wildest hopes, so… let’s talk a bit about that! Beware, this may be a slightly more personal blog post than usual ๐Ÿ˜‰

Planting the seed

The Scavengers is a community I thoroughly enjoy being a part of. The group is made of people of all levels of skill (which helps not feeling too much of an imposteur) (not TOO MUCH, I said) and of general positivity and enthusiasm. Before the meet-up, I had met with two of them (and one of them twice ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), who had happened to pass through my corner of the world, and I had a brilliant time every time.

I first met Sivani – and I believe she actually planted the seed of “you know, this may not be that crazy”. She told me about the first Vegas meet-up, I remember babbling something along the lines of “oh, I could never do that, because, you know, PEOPLE” – and she pointed out that a/ most of the people in the community are introverts and I wasn’t the only one there b/ actually seeing people with familiar name tags (because I’ve interacted with them, or at least seen their names before) actually helps a lot. And I guess that it stayed with me – along with her stories and enthusiasm.

Somewhat more recently, but before I made any kind of plan (possibly even before any kind of plan was made at all), I met Dave – we walked a bit with our cameras in the city, and we went for dinner, and everything went well. It also happens that I have the deepest fascination for Dave’s work, because I’m in awe of his toy universe and imagination, and I’m amazed (and possibly slightly jealous) with what he manages to pull off.

And then, I remember a couple of coincidences, but not their order. I remember wondering if there was a meet-up at some point in the plans, and seeing that indeed things were getting into motion there. I also remember having a fairly vivid dream that I was at a meet-up, I was having a pretty bad meltdown, but that someone was actually taking care of me. Now, I don’t believe in dreams being meaningful or predictive or anything, but it made me consider the situation and deem that it was actually plausible that, if something like a meltdown happened, someone would indeed take care of me. (I remember talking about it on the Scavenger community at that time, and that people confirmed ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Making the plan

At that point, it felt like it was something I was considering, but not too sure about. One of the things that I was very hesitant about was the fact that the meet-up was in the US, which means a long flight, and more painfully… jet lag. And since my major concern was social-anxiety-related, and since fatigue (and ergo jet lag) really does not help with that, I was very hesitant. The flights to Orlando were also a fairly large pain from Zรผrich, which made me hesitate all the more.

When I talked to Pierre about that, he mentioned that the meet-up was roughly at a time where it would be good if he traveled to Boston, and so he suggested that I come with him to Boston, recover from jet lag, and fly to Orlando from there. I think that’s when things started to really click – that it was actually something that COULD happen.

Shortly afterwards, I told the Scavenger community “I’m in!”, and I booked the hotel in Orlando for the meet-up. It took us a little while to finish planning the rest of the trip (mostly because of procrastination), and at some point I said “folks, I do have plane tickets, I’m coming for sure, unless something super bad happens in the meantime.”

Uh-oh…

Well, the “something super-bad” was not that far. Two weeks before flying to Boston, I fell walking on a hiking path, and I sprained my ankle pretty badly. The following weeks were very stressful: I was in pain, I was super tired from walking with crutches, and it was generally speaking not fun. I had gone to the doctor and explained that I was hoping to fly; she gave me a prescription for blood thinners for the plane, which alleviated a very large fear of mine. I’d like to say that I didn’t waver, but it was a tough couple of weeks; just before leaving I told someone “well, see you in three weeks… assuming I’m actually making it to the flight, which I’m kind of doubting right now”. But in the end, I looked into “how do I fly with a crutch” (both in terms of security and luggage allowance), concluded it was not an issue, and off we went. I spent the first week in Boston, working a bit, getting over the jetlag, and getting slightly better every day; and when the time came to fly to Orlando, I was confident enough that I didn’t need my crutch and that I could walk enough… as long as there were not too many stairs going down on the way. Phew!

First evening in Orlando

I landed in Orlando around 3PM – Dave and Debbie had synchronized with me to pick me up at the airport (thanks again ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and the adventure started for real! Most of us were staying at the Embassy Suites on International Drive – Angela had organized a group discount, and many people were sharing rooms – I had made the choice to not get any roommate because I knew I would probably need my space at one point or another, and I didn’t regret that choice. A bit of time to get acquainted with my surroundings, and I found a group of Scavengers around the hotel bar ๐Ÿ˜‰ I admit I have a fairly fuzzy recollection of the events and of the people at this point. I was still very flustered, probably terribly awkward, and a tiny part of me was going “oh God why am I here already?”. I’m happy I was happy to keep that part reasonably quiet ๐Ÿ™‚ I found something to eat at some point, probably; but then one of the major event of my stay was happening at 10.30PM: SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 on that day. Since I was not driving, and since I was not comfortable enough trying to organize SOMETHING to get closer from the launchpad, I didn’t have a plan for that. I had, however, looked outside of the hotel, looked at a compass, looked at a map, and secured what I deemed a “reasonable” point for seeing things, if things were to be seen. I had had the impression that I had been either annoying or super repetitive with my “and tonight there’s the rocket launch!” – but… I left the table where I was talking at around 10.25, announcing “okay, rocket launch time”… and I was outside of the hotel, in the fairly warm weather, hoping to see anything.

There was enough time between 10.30 and “something happening” that my heart sank a bit – “I should have tried harder to get closer” – but finally, a small bright dot appeared above the trees. The bright dot eventually grew a tail, making it really unmistakable, even at that distance. I was adamant I didn’t want to take any picture, so I didn’t have my camera with me, but I still had my phone – so there, I have a few pixels of rocket on a picture.

And even at that distance, it was still a profoundly emotional experience and, for what it’s worth, I’m still happy I didn’t have my camera with me. I fully intend to go and see a launch from closer up at some point in the future, and I also fully intend to not have a camera with me at that time.

I came back to the table with a very, very large grin, “I saw the rocket!” and that’s when I understood that nobody had actually understood/realized what I was talking about before ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve then been told “okay, from now on, we’re following you, because you OBVIOUSLY have awesome plans”. So all in all – despite my initial wariness and awkwardness, it felt like I was starting to warm to the people around me, and to start to include myself in the group instead of staying on its outskirts. And since this was technically happening before the start of the meet-up, let’s call it a win!

Also: I SAW A FUCKING ROCKET LAUNCH. That counts.

Friday: workshop day!

On Friday, we mostly stayed at the hotel, in one of the conference rooms, where we had a fairly packed day! But, first of all, group picture! Scavengers are easier to herd than cats, but barely – in the end, it did work out, and we have a group picture or 15.

Back in the conference room, Lauri started with the welcome speech; we were also treated with a few videos from people who couldn’t make it to Orlando but still wanted to say hi. These are people that I had never met, but I was still moved by their messages, and it was still fun to see these people whose name and sometimes profile picture I knew come to life on the screen.

Then, we had a talk by Dave, who had a talk with the subtitle “A rambling discussion of photography, toys, and toy photography”. And it was basically that, except that my own ramblings are usually far less structured ๐Ÿ˜‰ He talked about how he came to the Scavenger Hunt and to toy photography, and he explained the process around a few pictures, including his Acorn for the latest Hunt. It was quite eye-opening for me – I really (really) like what Dave does, and I kind of “knew” that there was quite a lot of effort in his images, but it’s one thing to have SOME idea, and even to read about it, and one thing to actually see it explained. It made me feel both a bit better about my own efforts (there IS a huuuge gap in our level of post-processing skill, but I have some hope that the gap is far less than I thought on the “images straight out of the camera” level), and a bit worse (thinking that maybe I don’t put enough effort in this). But all in all, an inspiring talk – made me want to try some more stuff (and to up my post-processing game ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). I also learnt about PixelSquid, and I’m definitely keeping that in a corner of my mind, it might become handy if I just need a 3D model of an Atari 2600 joystick or of a Piรฑa Colada. You never know.

The second talk was Gilmar – whose work is also very recognizable, and very inspiring too – at the risk of sounding very obvious, I really like her handling of colors, that make her pictures really stand out. She first talked about creativity and getting ideas, as well as about her own journey and inspiration, with a few examples. Then she dug a bit more into the technical specificity of building composites, and I learnt a ton of stuff, even though I’m not using the same tools as she is – many things are transposable, and these were not things I was even aware of asking about (the unknown unknowns!), so this was brilliant!

We then split in groups for lunch – I ended up at the Bahama Breeze with a group that got split over two tables – I was a bit nervous during lunch, because the planned lunch break was an hour, and we for sure went over that ๐Ÿ˜‰ but since one of the presenters for the afternoon was with us, well – I tried to relax and enjoy my food still ๐Ÿ˜‰

In the afternoon, we split into groups. I first saw Mark‘s presentation about how he created his Fire entry for the Hunt – he released a speed edit video since then. This was also super interesting – I learnt about a number of tools and “but how do I do that”, and mostly, I learnt about the quantity of work that goes into that sort of things. One of the things that struck me is that I usually consider that if a given “final image” requires me to take, say, 60 shots, it’s… a lot of shots. Mark was showing his Lightroom catalog, and he literally had hundreds of shots… only for the “body” part of his picture. I also found very interesting when he was talking about his light setup and how he adjusted it and so on. Those are not processes that are even remotely on my radar, and that’s definitely something I want to explore more.

In the second part of the afternoon, I joined the toy photography part, provided by Dave again. He had setup a light box, and provided a LOT of toys and figures, as well as Lume cubes to play with, and a fair amount of advise about posing the figures and lighting them. This was a ton of fun – I did fall in love with the Lume cubes (I just ordered a couple yesterday), and I’ll probably splurge on a decent light box at some point (for now, my ad hoc tinkering with a box and a bunch of tracing paper to soften daylight is good enough for me… especially in the summer). And I do have a few shots with which I might make images at some point – we’ll see how that goes ๐Ÿ™‚ Dave wrote something about the whole experience too: A Toy Photography Workshop.

There was also a third group doing portraits with Gilmar and her awesome-looking lights, but I got hit by a case of the shys and didn’t approach that group from less than a few meters away.

In the evening, we had dinner at Olive Garden (incidentally, we had one of the best waiters I’ve ever seen) and, as we came back to the hotel, I declared that I was going to go for a walk in the direction of the Ferris wheel that was visible from the hotel, because Ferris wheels are pretty cool picture topics ๐Ÿ˜‰ We made way with a few other Scavengers, met another group on the way, and generally speaking had fun. And so, I have a first set of pictures here: Orlando – Icon Park. (Yeah, there was more than just a Ferris wheel there.)

At the end of the day, I was bubbling with ideas and motivation and all this sort of things; I believe that Friday was the day that made the most contribution to the motivation that I still have today, and gave me the most ideas of things to explore. It’s also the direct cause the my “Spiderman” image that I built a couple of weeks ago when coming home (more details in Spiderman visited Zรผrich!)

Saturday – Bok Tower Gardens

On Saturday, we went for a field trip at the Bok Tower Gardens. The garden has a very pretty tower (the Bok Tower in question):

There was a Game of Thrones event in the garden that day, with a lot of cosplayers! It took me a while to connect the dots between “wait, this guy is REALLY reminding me of someone” and “ooooh, he’s cosplaying as George R.R. Martin! Well done!” before I had seen the rest of the people. I know that many Scavengers took the opportunity for some great shots, but I was, at that moment, both too shy and too flustered to even try to interact with them ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It’s a bit sad, it would have been cool – they were really looking fantastic! It must have been quite difficult, though, because they had a lot of layers on, and it was probably around 33-35ยฐC at that time… The tower is also hosting a carillon, and it’s been playing for a long while – including, at some point, the GoT theme, which I found very cool ๐Ÿ™‚

The garden also encloses the Pinewood Estate, which I could visit. It has, in particular, fantastic tile work and light fixtures ๐Ÿ™‚ And a very cool sink.

And that yields a second album: Bok Tower Gardens. I kind of regret not having more pictures of the gardens themselves – it was very nice, but it was also very warm (limited me-compatibility) and sunny (limited photo-compatibility).

We were also very lucky to have Tatjana Andrรฉ with us, thanks to Angela and Jim – she modeled for us under the heat with a lot of patience and grace, and was generally speaking amazing ๐Ÿ™‚ It was the first time ever that I worked with a model, and it was a very interesting experience, although not necessarily one that I would repeat any time soon. I do have a hard time taking pictures of people in general, and I have an ever harder time editing/processing pictures of people in general – and that’s something that came very clear during this session and its edition. It didn’t help that I made Bad Choices with camera settings, and that my pictures were often either unfocused or annoyingly noisy, and it didn’t help that my focal length was not nearly long enough. Despite all the awkwardness, I did get a few decent shots.

And that album is here: Tatjana.

In the evening, we had pizza in the hotel lobby, and some toy photography shenanigans happened, lit with a mix of lume cubes and cellphone lamps ๐Ÿ™‚

Later, we went for drinks to Lafayette’s – there was a cool band, Ancient Sun, and I enjoyed that a lot. I don’t know much about saxophones, but I particularly enjoyed the saxophonist’s performance ๐Ÿ™‚ And I may have ended on the dance floor for a couple of songs – proof that my ankle was definitely getting better (A couple of songs was all that was reasonable, though!) And at the same time, there was more toy photography shenanigans happening ๐Ÿ˜‰

Unfortunately, I had to bail pretty fast, because for all the fun that it was, it was also very loud. But as I walked back to the hotel, I felt an amount of joy I have only rarely experienced in the past few years. I think it was a mix of “everything is going great despite my initial fears”, “I’m learning a ton of stuff and I’m super motivated right now”, “I like literally everyone I talked with” and “I’m actually glad I bailed and kept the good memories instead of pushing through and ending up in a worse mood”. I arrived at the hotel, dropped a few lines of apologies on Facebook (which has been our major communication channel during the meet-up), and spent an hour or so editing some pictures from Boston. Someone nudged me to come back down in the lobby, which was much quieter, and after asking myself whether I was okay to do that and whether I wanted to do that, I spent a bit of time in the lobby, chatting and laughing, before eventually going to bed.

Sunday – last day! And after…

My Sunday was pretty quiet. I went to breakfast quite early, because I wanted the opportunity to see everyone who’d be there and to hopefully say goodbye to everyone – I don’t think I managed, but I still saw a lot of people. It was a bit sad, of course, but I think there’s still some certainty that we’ll see each other again, at least on the Hunt, and hopefully in a future meet-up.

I had arranged a ride to the airport with Gary and Wade, who had planes around the same time as mine (thanks Gary ๐Ÿ™‚ ), which made me somewhat nervous (timing-wise) about joining other people’s activities (on top of being somewhat weary in general), so I stayed in the hotel lobby in the morning with my laptop, and continued my photo processing.

I posted my last “25th Scavenger Hunt” post from the airport in Orlando, which I thought was quite fun.

The whole thing ended three weeks ago, but there’s still pictures and memories trickling on the Facebook group, which makes the whole experience last just a little bit longer – which is amazing.

Since the meet-up, I’ve done the Spiderman thing, I started learning how to use GIMP for real (I’m watching videos and everything!), and I do have a concept for a couple of images that I want to make – and I typically don’t have images in my head before I start shooting, so I’m super curious about how this is going to turn out.

And, hopefully, for the next Scavenger meet-up, I’ll be less nervous beforehand ๐Ÿ˜‰

Another one with meditation

About a year ago, I wrote a post called “The one with the meditation“. It’s on my French blog, because at that time I had written it in French first, and thought it was worth it to translate it in English there. I considered moving it here, but decided against it – instead, I’m going to write an update ๐Ÿ™‚ And write it as Q&A again, because that worked reasonably well for the first post, even if it’s pretty contrived ๐Ÿ™‚

So, you’re still meditating every day?

I’m going to say “yes, but there are days where I don’t”. My intent is to meditate every day. Sometimes I fail at it. I started journaling at the end of November, and I do have a “Meditation” tracker on it, and that’s what it looked like for “end of November / December”:

That’s probably the worst month that I’ve had in a while – but there have definitely been more lapses in the past few months than in the first six months of my practice.

All in all, I’d say it’s most definitely a part of my “self-care” routine. I haven’t been that diligent at self-care in the past few months; hence, some slippage. My new year’s resolution, by the way, is the umbrella “be better at self-care”, so maybe that will help ๐Ÿ˜‰

Did your practice change in any way?

A bit. The general gist of it – sitting with a guided meditation – didn’t change much. But I’m now typically sitting cross-legged on the couch or the bed instead of sitting on a chair; and I changed my “guided meditation” habits a bit. I used to use only Headspace – I’ve been experimenting with other apps. That’s what the colors in the tracker above are: “what app did I use that day”. I gave a try to Calm: I don’t think it’s a fit for me right now, I find it too corny for my taste. I still like Headspace for the “straightforwardness” of it. I do like 10% Happier a lot because it’s more fun and there’s an instructor there (Jeff Warren) that I particularly like.

I also started training towards unguided meditation (with the Headspace Pro packs that do… just that), and that’s something I want to explore a bit more soon. In particular, I heard about Yet Another App, Insight Timer, that allows to define timers, including a few (or a lot of) intermediary sounds as a “safety net” on the whole “getting lost in thought” and/or “falling asleep” that may be helpful. We’ll see how that goes.

Also, while Headspace is pretty “focus-oriented”, there’s a bit more variety in 10% Happier, including along the topics of loving-kindness and compassion. Those are still very new to me. I used to reject the concept as “corny” and “not for me” and so on, but after a tiny bit of practice in that area, I find myself liking it way more than I thought I would, and to find the whole concept helpful as well.

Finally, there’s a meditation studio that opened almost literally next door to where I live; I’ve been trying to gather some courage to visit it, but so far the “fear of new stuff especially when it involves me being alone with a bunch of new people” has won.

Did your perspective about what it brings you change?

Not much. I still do enjoy the “getting a break from the chatter” part of it, and the brief moment of quiet that I usually (but not always) get. I also do think that when Brain is Acting Up – getting into an anxiety attack, or a self-hate spiral, or that sort of unpleasant things – I now generally have a tiiiiiny bit of distance from it, in that I see what is happening, and there is now a tiny place in my head that’s reassuring me that yup, the spiral sucks, but it will eventually be over. That seems to helps me getting out of that kind of states slightly faster – and, more importantly, to not chew on “the fact that this happened” for hours or days afterwards. (Not sure if that one is meditation-related, therapy-related, or a bit of both, but I’ll take it either way ๐Ÿ™‚ )

The other main point is that I now do identify “meditation” as a large part of what I put into “self-care” – that also includes things like getting enough sleep, exercising, getting enough recovery time, and eating properly. And, like any other element in that category: the better I am at sticking to the routine that works, the better I feel – even if it’s sometimes super annoying that it’s necessary. So, in a way, it’s “it’s not that it brings me things that I can actually pinpoint, it’s more that if I stop doing it, Brain is usually Acting Up more”.

Any new resources to recommend?

I did mention two apps:

  • Calm – as I mentioned, I don’t think it works for me right now, but the app itself is well-made and has a fair amount of content. And there’s a lot of people who are happy with it, so you might be one of them as well.
  • Insight Timer – I have actually not used this one yet, but I’ve heard good things. They advertise that they have a lot more free content than the other meditation apps; I haven’t checked that statement but it seems plausible.

Book-wise, in the past year, I read two meditation-related books:

  • Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. That one is a fairly heavy book about meditation and mindfulness. It’s essentially a “MBSR HowTo”, where MBSR stands for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a program developed by Kabat-Zinn that seems to be in large part used for people suffering from chronic pain. There was a lot of very interesting things and insights in this book (I do, in particular, remember about a part where he talks about the mechanics of breathing and the diaphragm and felt slightly mind-blown because I had never asked myself how it worked). At first, I was quite irritated by the amount of “Mr X. with this and that symptom came to a MBSR workshop and after 8 weeks was so much better”, but once I reframed my “okay, we get it, your thing is cool” into “let me give a lot of examples so that the reader has a chance to relate to one” it was better.
  • Altered Traits, by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson. Goleman and Davidson look at academic research on meditation, and it’s fascinating. Their interest is mostly about how long meditation practice (we’re talking tens of thousands of hours over a life time, compared to my paltry 90 hours over a couple of years) have an influence on the brain itself – what they called permanent “altered traits”, as opposed (by them) to the transient “altered states” than can sometimes be experienced during meditation. The book is a bit meandering and a bit self-serving at times, but I still found it very interesting.