10 things that made my 2016 (a little) better

For most people, 2016 was a fucked up, miserable, factually terrible dumpster fire of a year. Icons died, racists thrived, and everywhere you looked, someone else was telling you not to be so upset, not to take it all personally, and not to worry because they were still getting what they wanted out of life, so that must mean you’re overreacting…

No, you’re not.

Icons matter because they tell us we live in a world where our aspirations are possible, and politics matter because the choices politicians make affects every bit of our existence, and racists matter because their willingness to be vocal and noticed in major ways means that a) racism never really left*, and b) they think society is swinging back to the old, oppressive, whites-first, straight people first, ablebodied people first, and especially, aggressively, men first, ways.

* I know it never left. That’s obvious to anyone who isn’t white, and to anyone who spends any time with and caring about people who aren’t white, or even actually listening to the white racist folks all around us. But a lot of well-meaning people convinced themselves that we were living post-racially, and need the reminder that the fight for equality, in this way especially, is not nearly over.

We need to see the awful, horrible, bits of 2016 so we can fight against them. Dismissing the people who are upset about this year because it’s not been horrible to you, yet, just means you have enough privilege to have avoided what a lot of other people are going through, and you’re a selfish jackass.

But.

Recognizing that the world has been on fire doesn’t mean you can’t also appreciate the cool sips of water you manage to find in between the flames. Seeing and holding on to the good makes it possible to survive the bad, and maybe even fuel the fight against it. My 2016 has been hard not just for the larger, global reasons, but for very personal ones that mainly affect… just me. I struggled. I hurt. I was afraid, and I still am.

But… I found good in the year, too. In no particular order, here’s 10 things that got me through:

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1. Arrival. I’d read the Ted Chiang story several times before, and the movie is not quite the story — which was itself, brilliant  — but in its own way, as a translation of Chiang’s story (which is about, in part, translation)… it’s beautiful. It said things to me that I needed to hear. I got to see it just a few weeks ago, in a mostly-empty theater, at a Sunday matinee, with the love of my life, and it was a perfect couple of hours. It was a moment I needed very badly just then, and I’m so grateful I got it in exactly that way, with that person.

2. Destiny. Yes, the video game. I stumbled on the free trial at the beginning of December, found out a couple of writer/agent friends were also playing, and jumped in. I love it enough that I was given the full copy as a gift a week later, just because my happiness was obvious. The game is gorgeous, the voice actors are recognizable in a way that adds to the game (rather than distracting too much from it) and I’m good at it. When I do well, I get prizes. Yay!

I also like that it’s very mission oriented, which for me means that I can play through a mission or strike in about 20 minutes, and then I have to pause. I might have to go talk to someone to get the next mission, or turn in my engrams (they’re like… virtual carnival tickets) to get my loot, or dump stuff I’ve got too much of, but it’s a moment for my brain to think, “Ok, that’s done.” I play one mission, and then I go do other things. I’ve had favorite games before that easily lent themselves to day- or week-long binges, and if I did that with Destiny, I’d feel so guilty that it’d ruin the game for me. This is a self-indulgent fun that doesn’t interfere with me actually accomplishing things, and that’s exactly what I needed from it.

I need fun. Plus, the game devs have a lot of fun with the game. This trailer, for a new racing bike option in the latest update, is exactly what I mean.

3. The support of people I mostly know online. Other writers, fans of my fiction, students of my workshop, clients, and people who just like what I have to say have been a constant source of happiness this year. From virtual hugs to holiday cards to emails and tweets — it’s all a reminder that I am part of a larger community that cares about my well being and wants me to write more, to succeed in life. Even though I didn’t get out to any conventions this year, and won’t for at least part of next year; even though I don’t live in a big city, and often feel cut off from the writers I’ve gotten to know… I’m not entirely absent from their thoughts.

I appreciate you all, so much.

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4. My son. I rarely post about him publicly because I generally think that’s a very bad idea, but I will say that he’s doing well. He’s taller than me now, which is something we’re both getting used to, and he’s trying to find his way through those awkward teen years that’d have been difficult even if he didn’t have a serious speech disorder and an an absent father and a mother who doesn’t make enough money to do much with him. He could be an angry, selfish, terrible kid… and he’s not. He struggles, but he learns, and he is kind when I need him to be, and he loves me without reservation. As hard as it has been to figure out what he needs and how to give it to him, and as much as I sometimes resent people who have it so much easier, I’m very lucky to have this particular child. He’s a good person, and I don’t ever want to let him down.

5. The Affordable Care Act. It saved my life.

6. My bullet journal. My person has been using this system for a couple of years. He would show it to me when I asked, but never pushed it on me. Never insisted it would change my life, or anything like that. It just worked for him, and he, quietly, like he does, went on using it. Earlier this year, I finally said, “I think this might work for me, too. Can you explain it to me?” Right after work, he came over with a new Leuchtturm 1917 journal book, and walked me through exactly how to make bullet journaling fit what I needed it to do. I’ve been using it ever since as a combination diary/to do list, and it’s helped me keep days sorted from each other, plus let me look back and see how much I really am getting done, on days where I feel like I’m slacking. I feel more organized and I’ve kept on top of things I know I’d otherwise have forgotten.

(Want to try it? Start here.)

7. Deciding on life plans for the next couple of years. We sat down  a couple of times this year, and talked through what we all needed (he, and I, and us together, and us with my son) and outlined the future. I’m making some big changes, and following through on some old plans. Right now, life is still hard, especially financially, but if everything goes according to plan, that’s going to change soon enough. Where I am in a couple of years should be dramatically different from where I am now, and I can’t wait.

8. My ADHD medication. If you need help to keep your brain, or body, functioning, there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is different, and while celebrating our differences is important and good, it’s also okay to realize that some differences might be keeping us from living — or thinking — the way we want to. As much as it’s acceptable to get a cast put on a broken leg, it should also be acceptable to seek medication for a disorder like ADHD, if it’s serious enough to impact your daily life. In my case, having ADHD is like trying to juggle a dozen different thoughts at any given moment, and forgetting half of them when I try to focus on any one. With the medication, I can hold on to a train of thought for long enough to act on it, and I stop doing things like burning food I suddenly forgot I was cooking. It doesn’t give me super powers, but it makes a big liability into a small one, so rather than trying to run a marathon while also being chained to an anchor, I’m trying to run a marathon while also feeling a bit lazy and wearing uncomfortable shoes. Things become possible, but I still have to do the work. Which, I think, is fair.

9. My midnight trip to Columbus, OH. I snuck away to join my person in Columbus, OH, for a day of touristy reminiscing about where and how he lived when he was younger. It was my only real adventure this year, a sudden, spontaneous, whirlwind of travel that involved more time on a bus (there and back) than we were actually in Columbus, but it was totally worth it.

10. My partner, my buddy, my love, my person. He knows why.

I hope you had people and moments in 2016 that were worth remembering, even as we celebrate this year finally coming to an end.

 

The Quest For Sleep

Since leaving my day job, I’ve had severe insomnia. I assumed it was stress related, and worked on reducing my stress, but also cut down on caffeinated sodas (which has other health benefits as well).

But I’m still not sleeping. I have good days, a couple of good nights of sleep, and then I lose control of it again. I either am “awake” during the day, but too tired to do anything useful, or I sleep poorly during the day and am up late, exhausted and useless. Finally, I talked to my doctor, and we did a bunch of tests.

He thinks there are two main culprits: my ADHD, and a couple of decades of bad habits with caffeine. I have had insomnia my whole life… (Ironically, several months ago I gave up the medication I was taking for my ADHD, because it was too expensive, and kept me up at night.) Most likely, my current bout of insomnia isn’t actually new.

My doctor said that my day job helped mask the serious sleep deprivation by giving me structure. I had to get up at the same time each day, without the option of going back to sleep during the day, so I compensated by consuming several caffeinated drinks each day. And, in the evening I was pretty much useless. But at least I was going to work. Once that was gone, I lost my anchor. And giving up soda cut down on how much caffeine I was drinking, which made me more tired —

Why didn’t that help me settle into a good night’s sleep? Because I push myself too hard. I forced myself to be awake to get things done, and compensated in unhealthy ways: more coffee, and overeating. Both of which interfere with sleeping, too. See, caffeine stays in your body up to 24 hours, and when not keeping you awake, it can still keep you from resting, by making you wake up more often during the night.

The solution is to make a big change, and then give it time to work. (It’s the being patient part I usually have trouble with.) The plan?

1) Get up at the same time every day, even when I’m tired.

2) Go to bed at least 7 hours before the alarm is set to go off. (8 is better.)

3) Start the day with one caffeinated drink. And that’s all. No more! Not at all, not the rest of the day. None.

4) Resist the urge to nap, eat too much, or caffeinate during the day.

5) Whenever possible, if I feel sleepy during the day: exercise.

6) Accept that I am going to be tired for a week, maybe a couple of weeks, until I get settled and my sleep cycle resets.

Now that I’m going back to freelancing, that last one is the hardest. At a day job, if I struggled through sleepily and was a zombie at night, okay, I’m still getting paid. When I work for myself, if I take time off to be a slug, not only do I feel lazy and useless, but I’m not making any money. I can’t afford to take time off.

But I’m going to be 42 this year. I’d like to be just hitting the halfway point of my life, instead of nearing the end — and if I don’t stop the “quick fixes”, who knows how badly that’s affecting my health? I have a chance to turn my life around now that I may not get again any time soon. In that case, it’s an easy choice.

I’m setting my alarm, going to bed early tonight, and getting up on time tomorrow. I’ve got a caramel dessert-like coffee drink waiting in the fridge. I’m giving myself permission to take it easy this weekend, and next week too. Maybe next month, if I have to.

They say you can’t put a price on your health. I’m about to trade my income for my self, and find out.