Stress: My surefire cure for anxiety

You might have noticed the absence of posts the past couple of weeks.  There are two reasons for this.  Reason #1 is that I have been rethinking FFFF and formulating Plan B, since Plan A has not been a huge success.  Or even close.  Like not even in the same county.   Or hemisphere.  It’s all good, however,  because I have successfully fooled myself into having high hopes for Plan B.  More on that tomorrow, which just so happens to be April Fool’s Day.   What better cosmic timing for launching a fresh start?

Reason #2 is that I have a day job that requires me to work hard and a lot.  Inconceivable as it might be, writing does not earn me any money.  Yet.  Until it does, I get jobs to earn money.  In the past couple of weeks, my current engagement has gone from a really-busy-but-mostly-normal day job to a day-nite-wee hours-early morning-lather-rinse-repeat  job.

This is okay with me.   I love-love-love my job.   If I have to work and earn a living to be able to afford my lifestyle and The Horse and the Internet satellite dish on my roof that allows me to blog and toy with fiction and buy handbags on-line and, come to think of it, do my day job nights and weekends from ranch, then I might as well be enjoying it.

I love my job even more that it has been a wee bit crazy lately, roughly equivalent to the wee bit crazy that is the resident population of Napa State (Mental) Hospital.   Crazy amount of work, crazy fast-paced environment.   But not criminally insane.  I don’t think.  Yet.   So yes, stress.  But that kind of stress that comes with riding the rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.  Exhilarating, terrifying, screaming fun.  What’s not to love?

My career orientation has been project management, since 1986 or so.   Mostly systems engineering and IT projects, with a few others sprinkled in here and there.   Federal, State, County and commercial projects, small, medium and large.  I have been a contract consultant “hired gun” in this for about ten years, prior to that an employee of a large beltway bandit for most of the time.

A Project Manager is something like the Ringmaster of a three-ring circus.   (Remember, you are on my planet now.  So bear with me.)   The Ringmaster’s goal is to deliver the Greatest Show On Earth, or whatever the audience of customers is paying for.  A talented Ringmaster not only delivers the show, but creates and maintains non-stop delight, amusement and awe  in the customers so they want to come back again and again and tell all of their friends and co-workers about it.

The show has to start and finish on time.    Performances need to be going in all three rings simultaneously.   For each ring, the schedule of acts is performed in sequence, with careful timing of the finish of one act to the start of the next.  Each act needs to be performed with experience and precision and showmanship, and without injury or death.

The circus environment, the Big Top, must be constructed for efficient, repeatable set up, maintenance  and disassembly.  There are the logistics of finding performers and putting them in costumes and scheduling their acts in the show.    There are risks and costs to be managed to ensure the Circus makes a profit and gets good reviews from Circus critics and doesn’t have lawsuits from the dancing elephants getting loose and trampling the audience.

There is sawdust and popcorn and hot dogs and cotton candy and clowns and acrobats and heavy labor and quick thinking when something unexpected happens.  Like when one of the tamed  lions temporarily forgets it is tamed and eats the lion tamer.

This job requires spinning a lot of plates, and knowing which ones to let fall, and how to let them fall  gently with forethought, without breaking them,  so they can be picked up and set spinning again later.  It requires juggling, swinging on a trapeze without a net, and careening around the ring in a teeny tiny toy car with 13 other clowns squished inside with you.    All at the same time.  It requires energy, cheerful enthusiasm,  the ability to make order, or the appearance of order, out of chaos.  A healthy sense of humor.   Calm in the midst of frenzy.  Friendly co-existence of humility and arrogance … enough humility to make the success of the Circus the most important thing, enough arrogance to inspire energy, confidence and a vision for a better Circus with more and happier customers next season.

Stress, yes.  But perhaps you can see now how anxiety,  the disordered sort that I suffer,  has not even been a twinkle in my bloodshot eye the past few weeks.  Except maybe for a touch of claustrophobia that struck after one  too many hours in back-to-back meetings in a conference room in San Francisco’s Financial District.  But even I can do claustrophobia if it’s in a San Francisco high-rise.  And my boss, who is a Grand Master Ringmaster and someone who I want to be like when I grow up, was very understanding.

So, it should go without writing that I have been living, thanks to God’s grace and provision,  fully and full-time in my top train the past few weeks.   Hoping it lasts!

P.S.  Stay tuned for FFFF Plan B.

Oh Lord, It’s Hard to Be Humble*

I love it when I’m right.  Here are some things I have been right about the past week or two:

1.  Winter starts in March.  Snow predicted for my farm and surrounding area tonight, first of this winter.

2.  Vitamin D works.  I am almost free of back and leg soreness.

3.  My current plan does not work.  I pretty much knew it wouldn’t back in February.

4.  It would take 11 hours to get my home office set up with a second computer monitor.    Proof:  I started yesterday.  And as of a few minutes ago, I have two working monitors attached to my computer.  Now I can double my work output.  Or I can keep doing the  single work output  on one screen and write for fun on the other.  Or I can write for fun on one and buy handbags on the other.  Or have the same Youtube videos going simultaneously in stereo.    An endless number of fun scenarios to keep me at the computer and away from the rest of the house, which is scaring me right now.

*(When You’re Perfect In Every Way) … Mac Davis

Fun ways to get exercise with animals in a storm

We had a pretty big storm last night.   A California-style storm, which is strong winds and heavy rain.   I had seen the weather reports that said the storm would last until early morning, so naturally I had to go out in the middle of it to get Chinese food.    Mostly because of the soup.   I always need a healthy dose of wor-won-ton soup to weather an all-nighter of bad weather.

Later, after the restaurant, loaded with the next day’s breakfast of leftover won tons and chow fun, I slogged it back home from the restaurant, down dark, curvy country roads, slammed by the wind, windshield wipers on crack, through small floods and around downed tree limbs and over a few downed skunks.

As soon as I get home, I begin the evening workout:

1.  Round up the horses and get them into the barn.

2.  First, put on muck boots and oiler.  But before that, put on 3 pairs of socks and sweatpants over leggings.   All of this clothes-putting-on is enough to get me into a good sweat.

3.  Don’t let the dogs out before you get the horses into the barn.  Or, if you forget and let the dogs out first, make some popcorn before you head out to round up the horses.  You will enjoy the popcorn while you are watching the rodeo.

4.  After the rodeoing has ceased, catch the horses one by one and lead them through the storm into the barn.  For horses that want to be caught, this is easy.  Just fill a bucket with some grain, or rocks that sound like grain when you shake the bucket, shake the bucket and a couple of the lazier horses will walk right up to you.    Throw a rope around their neck before they figure out you tricked them with rocks.    For the other horses, who think letting the Human catch them means certain death, or worse, having to go to work, you will need more ingenuity and courage:   Just take a leisurely stroll around the farm, meandering just close enough to the horses so they can see you, and then start walking away in the opposite direction.  Every few moments stoop over and pretend to pick up something off the ground.  The horses will think you have found something good to eat, and they will start following you.  Just keep doing this until you make your way into the barn, then close them inside.

5.  Make sure you put hay inside the barn before you close the horses in.  Or you will have several pissed off horses confined in a small space in the middle of a storm.   This is where the courage part comes in.   You don’t want this.

6.  If you didn’t let the dogs out before, let them out now.  Then spend another 20 minutes slogging around the farm in the storm trying to entice Lulu the bloodhound away from her overpowering olfactory focus on dead rodents, manure and whatever other yummy smells she is chasing at top speed.   Lily the Golden Retriever is much easier.  She will just glue herself to your thigh no matter what direction or speed it needs to travel to catch up with Lulu.  She knows that there will be a cookie in the vicinity of that thigh eventually.

7.  Dogs inside, now herd the cats indoors.  This requires that you create the desire for them to come inside in spite of the dogs being there.  To create this desire, I open a few cans of tuna and place them strategically throughout the kitchen, and then open my kitchen door.  Voila.  Cats.

8.  Finally, to cool down, a few elbow lifts with a five-pound weight in one hand and a one-liter bottle of Bailey’s in the other.    Then relax and enjoy the endolphins.

Weird Science #5: So explain this week to me

So check this out.   I am stunned.  And so pissed off I could slap myself silly.

I run down my checklist.  Yes, I have not been keeping up with my food and activity tracker.  But my food intake has been behaving itself nicely.

Yes, my activity level was almost nothing.  The blame goes mostly to Mo the Horse, who had an injury and was off work for two weeks.  Shoot.  That’s two weeks of no riding for me, which means virtually no real physical activity.  Because while Mo was out of commission, I wouldn’t think of adding insult to injury and riding my recumbent bike behind his back.

I’m pretty sure now that whatever activity I have been getting has been just slowing the gain, not keeping it from happening or reversing it.   I don’t think menopause is the real culprit, either … I just have never been all that affected by hormones — in fact, in the olden days my body was very good at just ignoring them.

So I turn back to the SSRI thing — my flavor is Paxil, remember — and I have been on a mad hunt for solid scientific information about Paxil and weight gain.  Of course, from the med and psycho communities, there isn’t much information on that front.  This is, after all, a darling of the Rx world.  And honestly, it did give me my life back.

But from the many message boards, blogs, web sites, etc., I have come across on the topic of Paxil and its many evils, I’m reading posts by countless Paxil patients who have gained considerable amounts of weight in very short periods of time.  Weight gain seems to be a common side affect of many of the SSRIs, but Paxil has the rep of being the worst.  I reckon since 1997 when I was first prescribed Paxil, I have gained 50 pounds.  That is 50 pounds in 15 years.  Not a short amount of time — but  I have had my farm and horses for nearly all of that time.  Thank God for a lifestyle that demands some daily amount of physical effort, for what it has been worth.  That bit of grace has perhaps kept me mostly, barely, in sizes ending in ‘teen, at least up to now.

Not all of it do I attribute to the drug, of course.  There is age and menopause.  And left-handedness.   But there is a pattern emerging here and now in my FFFF experiment that is troubling.  If this drug does make weight loss that much more difficult because of whatever it does to serotonin and uptakes and all that, I either have to figure out how to get around it or I have to figure out how to get off it.    Just reading about withdrawal side effects is enough to toss me headfirst into my bottom train.      Hell of a ride I’m in for, either way.

Weird Science #4 – Vitameatavegamin

I was going to write about the glorious arrival of Spring to my farm, but I am too exhausted.    I got exhausted from the effort of trying to unearth my landscape maintenance dude Sergio’s phone number buried somewhere in my home, which has not yet seen the effects of spring cleaning, which last happened during a brief period of unemployment in the summer of 2009.   Tomorrow we gain an hour of sun to exhaust me even more, adding more daylight time to expose even more of the farm maintenance chores that require Sergio’s attention.

If you are old enough to remember Lucy Ricardo, you will remember Vitameatavegamin.   I think if I were to mix up my vitamins and supplements, chop up some liver and okra, add in my anxiety meds and a cup or so of Bailey’s Irish Cream and puree it in a blender, Vitameatavegamin is what my daily intake would be.

The last couple weeks or so I have been more than usually interested in vitamins and supplements because of aches I feel in my legs and lower back  nearly constantly.  This has been going on for months, since I sprained my ankle last year and started walking like a penguin.  Penguin walking, as it turns out, has all sorts of ramifications and is not meant for humans.   Unless you are Danny Devito and you are Batman’s nemesis when Batman is Michael Keaton.

You might ask “Carol, why don’t you stop walking like a penguin?”  The answer is there is a torn tendon that is taking its sweet time healing, which causes my left foot to roll under, much like it did when the ankle sprains initially occurred.  I stop the rolling by walking like a penguin.

I suspect it will never heal and, My Dear Podiatrists and you know who you are,  I will, as I keep saying, need an orthopod to fix the problem and stop treating the symptoms.  But without medical insurance, the orthopod, who is reasonably handsome in a rugged outdoorsy sort of way, mid-50s, single, good with power tools, and a horseman, is just a twinkle, probably the genesis of a future cataract, in my uninsured eye.

So this week I bit the not-medically-insured bullet and picked up the custom orthotics that I ordered last fall when I was insured.   My nicer Podiatrist, who reminds me of Ernest Borgnine,  wholly ineffective at curing stuff but good-intentioned and graciously sensitive to my exam-room claustrophobia, is letting me pay for them on time, which to me means when I feel like it.   I figure if I have orthotics I will stop walking like a penguin, and then my back won’t hurt so much.

Until then I decided to start taking some extra Vitamin D.  Last summer, when I was medically insured, I was diagnosed as Vitamin D deficient and given a weekly dose of 50,000 EUs ? Euros?  IUs?  IOUS?  whatever Us,  for four weeks.  I figure the 200,000 whatevers have long since worn off.  In lieu of an actual diagnosis from a medical professional, I consult Dr.  Internet.  It says that Vitamin D deficiency can have the symptoms of muscle aches and pains, and depression and fatigue, both of which also can figure into my routine from time to time.   I easily conclude that Vitamin D deficiency must be my problem, since I am too tired to Google for other possibilities.

So today I went to the store and picked up some Vitamin D on my way to cheer up the bitchy Pharmacy Tech at the Sanity Shop cash register.    I got a new bottle to fill the empty corner of my almost-but-not-quite-OCD-neat drug drawer, and I got refills for my Carol’s Little Helper bottles besides.  I feel better already.

Exercise is better when it involves muck

I have been AWOL from here for the better part of two weeks, which also means AWOL from FFFF for the most part.   But I’m back now, with a new batch of groceries and the renewed spirit that goes with having fresh, non-fuzzy food in the fridge.

I took a short vacation from blogging to work more than usual.   I have to figure out how to work in a fairly demanding job and still do everything else I am supposed to do, like ride, knit and write blog posts.  I pause to consider working parents and then I pause to thank God that all I have to take care is a brood consisting of the rough equivalent of 13 three year old children (6 horses, 5 cats, 2 dogs) who do not need much except space, food, water, cookies, belly rubs, and the occasional field rodent, reptile or skunk to kill or play with.

Oh, and the horses get something else … pedicures every 7 weeks or so.  That is, they get their hooves trimmed and some horses get shoes if they aren’t being kept barefoot.    Someday I will blog on the heady politics vs. science of the Horse World’s barefoot vs. shoes thing if you’re up for some controversy and general nonsense.

I use the horses’ spa time with our farrier to do some catching up on barn chores, since I need to be nearby while he works on the horses.  It is usual and customary for there to be a “handler” standing by for the farrier.   Just in case Something Happens.  Like if someone gets kicked.  More than likely at my farm, the someone getting kicked would be a horse, by the farrier.  But only for potentially or actually dangerous misbehavior.

Our farrier, Glen, with Tatiana supervising

What I do as the handler is hand the horses cookies while they balance on three feet instead of the usual and customary four.  This in my mind keeps the whole pedicure experience a pleasant one for the horse so they won’t misbehave and get kicked.  It also keeps me from annoying the farrier which I try not to do.  Having a good farrier is like having a good hair stylist.  You don’t want to piss them off and have them fire you as a client, and then have to test drive a bunch of new ones.

The other thing I do as the handler is walk away from the horse I am supposed to be handling and go do something else.  Like one of my favorite forms of exercise — cleaning the barn stalls.  It involves a wheelbarrow, manure fork, and of course manure, aka muck.  The only fashion statements you might want to make here are muck boots and gloves, but only if you’re fussy about getting muck on your feet or hands.  The exercise part is shoveling and lifting and dumping.  All the better for strength training if it has rained recently and the manure is soggy and ultra heavy.  Not to mention especially stinky.

Exercise room, with equipment

I don’t know what it is, but there is something about shoveling manure that I like.  It is so much more enjoyable than, say, mopping my kitchen floor or vacuuming the carpet.  It might be because I have poor eyesight.  I can see manure because it is big, and I can see the difference when it’s gone.  When I mop or vacuum, I can’t really see much of a difference from the before state.   The particles getting cleaned up are just too small to get much enjoyment out of the cleaning up of them.

Or, more likely, I can’t see the difference because I didn’t really actually do the mopping or vacuuming.  I just thought about it.  And then decided to go hang out in the barn.

Spring, is that you lurking just around the corner?

No.  It is March after all, which means winter is coming.  The best storms and the most snow I have had in the almost 16 years I have been enduring  enjoying wannabe-farm life in the Sierra Nevada foothills have happened in March.

The other night I was up into the wee hours stormsitting.   Stormsitting is patrolling the farm outside, in the howling wind and pounding rain, with my 2 million mega-mega watt laser-powered flashlight searing holes in the dark for me to walk through, fashionably dressed for the occasion in my authentic Australian oiler coat and hat and tall rubber muck boots.  Storms are both fun and scary out here on the farm.

A fun part is bedding down the horses in the barn late at night and then sitting there listening to them eat contentedly while the rain pounds on the metal roof and the wind whips up a symphony in the pines and oaks on the hill behind.  Somehow getting the horses inside and quietly munching calms my nerves.  A lot can go wrong on the farm if the wind gets too strong.  But because horses are prey animals, they know when there is really something to be afraid of, and they let you know in no uncertain terms.  So as long as they feel safe enough to eat, I can feel safe.   And I can sit there with them and read my Kindle, since it has this cool thingamajig that lights the reading panel without needing external power.  Which by now has more than likely already gone out anyway.

Another fun part is being inside the house with a fire blazing in the woodstove, dogs and cats setting up their various homesteads on couches, the floor, window seat, inside the clothes dryer, and inside the kitchen cupboard where the baking pans live.  It is good to have something purring or snoring nearby when there is a storm.   Of course if you happen to go into the kitchen, the cat that is dozing on the cookie sheets inside the cupboard will make noises and you will think the skunk has returned.  Or the bats.  Or the ghost.     And then that becomes a scary part.

Scary is when the power goes out.  Not because I am afraid of the dark, I am not.  But because when there is no power, there is no water.  So when a storm threatens, I fill up every possible item that can hold water — pots, pans, bathtubs, washing machine, outside garbage cans.  With horses, there has to be a decent amount of water available at all times.    With me, there has to be a decent amount of coffee available at all times.  With dogs and cats, there has to be a toilet.  As long as I am on Restroom Plan B, they are fine.

Scary is when there is too much rain and the clay soil gets saturated and the barn floods.   I hate that.  But to make myself feel better I remind myself that there will be a lot of good exercise re-digging out the trenches around the barn, and that will be Good For Me.   It does make me feel better.  It also pisses me off.

Or when tree limbs from the couple of acres that are nothing but trees start flying around in the wind and who knows where or on what they are going to land.    Like on Stupidest Horse Rainy who won’t stay inside the barn during the storm.  Probably because of her name.  But then again her mother mare’s name is Stormy, and Stormy knows to stay inside the barn during a storm.   So, theory debunked.

The absolute scariest?  When the weather is angry enough to take out my Internet satellite dish.  Since then I would have to face housework or some other productive use of my storm time. Please, not that.