Snow and lights

For the first time ever in my life, I watched a real live snowstorm last week.

When I moved to Seattle, I surely expected rain. I’d be an idiot not to. When I was looking for homes to buy in the Seattle area, I researched transportation routes for each option, and as a result, intimately got to know the King County transportation websites. This includes the snow schedule/routes. I knew that Snow Days happened, but from discussions with people from the area, or who’d lived there, snow was not the norm. In fact, Seattle when it snows equated to LA when it rains. Shit shuts down. People lose their shit, and suddenly can’t drive anymore. Luckily for LA and Seattle, rain and snow, respectively, don’t happen that frequently.

Yet, it snowed twice last week, on December 5 and 8, 2016, after I’d already commuted into work. Thank goodness, or I may not have made it in. Having 5+ knee surgeries under my belt, and a propensity for klutziness, I try to avoid snow at all costs. It’s not even winter yet, so snow within my first autumn in Seattle was wholly unexpected.

After obsessively checking weather apps, which kept altering their predictions for snow at 6pm, 7pm, then 8pm… I made it to and subsequently left my physical therapy appointment to head home via bus, praying to a God I may or may not believe in that the buses hadn’t already shut down. After the 12-year-old chiropractor rubbed out my knees, neck, back and tender feet, I shuffled to a CVS for some last minute decorations once the bus dropped me off closer to home.

Suddenly, around 9pm, the snow came. As a Californian, it was never a way of life. It was a commercial. It was on TV. It was the east coast, middle America, Mount Everest, Austria, everywhere and everyone but who I am. And yet, when the uniquely individual snowflakes congregated on the balcony handrail, on the patio furniture covers, as the snow flurried in the light from the street lamps, clung to windshields of parked cars, I felt oddly, and amazingly, at home. I missed my dad, who is no longer of this earth. I hugged my cat tight for at least 30 seconds, every one of those seconds he vacillated between despondent defeat and fervently trying to escape my cuddles. As he tried to break free, like any prisoner in the show Orange is the New Black who fled for a swim in the lake when the officers were nowhere to be found, I felt more… more. That’s all I can explain it as: more. I teared up. I cried for seemingly no reason and all the reasons, at once. I watched the trash pandas (raccoons) that I didn’t even know existed in my neighborhood frolic with a pit bull, ruining the blanket of fresh, white snow.

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I felt myself heavy, perhaps from all the lives I’m not living, yet content with the one I was. Scared about the future of my home and life under the regime of a man who has time for SNL and Twitter but not the President’s Daily Briefing. Most strongly of all, I missed my Dad, and just knowing he was a phone call away, should I pick up the phone. My heart broke and rebuilt, all in the same moment. It wasn’t my first Christmas spent away from California, but it was my first being back in the USA, but not as a California resident. I felt like a stranger to this city, and at the same time, someone who now knew it during the rare occasion of a snowstorm.

Music always makes me feel better, so I airplay mirrored my holiday playlist on my Apple TV (feeling very technologically proficient since my friends showed me how to do so at Thanksgiving,) and began decorating my tree I’d acquired earlier in the week. I bought it at a lot in Capitol Hill, the gayborhood of Seattle. The lot was run by Seattle Area Support Groups, who donates to various charities after they cover costs, including providing direct support to Washington gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and minority communities, as well as toward fighting HIV/AIDS and other STDs. I basically picked the first tree I saw, because every tree is lovely if you have enough alcohol and low standards (and a time limit to your Zipcar reservation.)

My dad and I always used to go cut down our Christmas tree together from a tree farm when I was growing up. I didn’t cut this one myself, but I think the missing him hit me like a tsunami because I was attempting a modified form of getting a live tree without him for the first time since he passed. I had a fake tree my first Christmas back in San Francisco after repatriating from Australia. I hadn’t crossed that bridge until last week.

I also had electricians by today to finally complete a much-anticipated project of mine on the condo: a halogen-to-LED fixture conversion project for a majority of the in-unit lighting. The bathrooms already have somewhat more modern fixtures, and they have smaller, more manageable halogen lights. However, all non-bathroom lights were halogen. They threw off a lot of heat, not appreciated at all in the summer months. Not only am I more energy efficient as a result of this project, but I’ll begin to (hopefully) see real savings in my electricity bills. It was a relatively inexpensive way to add value to my home, and a way to see instant savings in my own use and enjoyment of the lights.

As a side note to any of my friends considering a similar project at their home – let me know if you’ve any questions. I asked a lot of stupid questions of my electricity company, and they helped educate me quite a lot. In the end, I went with 3000K fixtures (that speaks to color temperature along a daylight/bright light/soft light/candle spectrum – here, if you’re curious, is more info on the spectrum. Some folks are leery of LED lighting because it can come off as too bright, even bluish in hue. LED lights have come a long way, and don’t have to look like bug lights anymore. So if you’re thinking about it, do it!

Now that I’ve decorated for the holiday, and added more fairy lights than I previously had year-round, home is quite homey, and ready for my mother and aunt to visit. It’ll be the closest to Christmases I used to have growing up I’ll have since my father passed away. My aunt would usually fly in and it would be just the four of us nearly every year.

It’s a new city for me this year, a new condo, the same cat with new asthma, and the nearly the same but never quite the same again family. It’s been a big year for me, in many positive ways. But I lost my cousin to aggressive brain cancer, and that loss reverberates this time of year. That’s partially why I invited family to visit me here. If I’m being honest, to go back east and face my broader family without him might just be too hard for me right now. But baby steps. We all have projects that need tackling, in our homes, and in our hearts/minds. All in good time.

Jingle bell blues

I’ve been quiet when it comes to writing blog posts this last week. No excuses. I just haven’t written. I’ve been pretty busy with work, and the people on my teams seem to be dropping like flies, so the ability to delegate and get some help has dwindled to the point of nonexistence, for which I find myself picking up the slack.

I just learned someone on one of my teams quit over Thanksgiving, and he didn’t bother to say goodbye or let me know he was leaving. I had spent a lot of personal time coaching him, and getting to know him. Another guy has been split between two intense clients, including one going IPO and ours with a restatement (which in audit circles is a dirty, dirty, horrible word) and has no more candle left to burn at either end. Yet another guy is so sleep-deprived, he lied to a partner’s face on Friday about a trivial detail, really without thinking, and without intention to deceive, yet the lie had no real consequence. It just rolled out. He spent two days beating himself up over it over the weekend, thinking he’d be fired by Monday. He wasn’t. But I can relate – for the years of successes in my industry and chosen profession, I still focus on my fuck-ups a hell of a lot more than I should. I tried to share with him over two home-made cookies in my office yesterday, the things I tell myself once 20/20 hindsight kicks in and I’ve moved on past beating myself up over a fuck-up. I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up which also means I have a lot of experience in pulling myself up by my bootstraps to get over it, too.

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The stress in my line of work is a clear and present danger every single day. I had active stress management techniques while I lived in Sydney that worked. Yet, I somehow find myself more stressed these days back in the US. I’ve somehow let those techniques slide, and my health is being affected. I haven’t had that regular daily gym routine for a long time now. When I could, I would get back into it, but in Sydney it was much easier to manage my workload to make it to the gym every single day. More and more gets piled on me at work these days, and that workload is getting a bit out of control. Thing is, I’ve resisted for long enough and other people have absorbed it before me, that it’s sort of my turn. In a shitstorm, no one stays clean. Or in baseball, if you don’t get your uniform dirty, you’re not playing the game.

It’s not even our busy season. But that seems to be the problem. When the weather channel has predicted that the storm is trekking its course directly on its way to you, you’re forced to batten down the hatches to weather it out, or get the hell out of dodge. People are still trying to quit before we enter busy season, which leaves many of us in the lurch to pick things up when they leave, and board up more abandoned places.

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Not that I blame the quitters. I know this job has a high turnover rate, and busy seasons are not for the faint of heart. In my post The audit lyfe chose me, I’d probably otherwise be one of those quitters in another lifetime, too. I could use this post to vent my frustrations, and there are many, but I’d rather not. I shall use my voice for good, not evil. No one wants to read me whining and I’d rather get that energy out at the gym, than furiously punching unresponsive and complacent laptop keys.

On top of my day job, there are social interactions – oh so many of them, this time of year. I can be social, but being an introvert, those social interactions zap my energy. I don’t harness my chi talking to others; I spend it. I harness it alone, comfortable in my own silence and company, while I recharge doing what I like when I like. It’s just how I am. This time of year, so many holiday parties pepper the calendar. There are also more family obligations – shopping, spending quality time, enduring the 30th time your relative shares *that* story with a smile on your face. For some people, there are financial pressures, about the one-off spending to give someone gifts in the true meaning of Christmas. I’m not saying I’m worried about money myself, but a lot of people are.

The holidays exacerbate (I cannot tell you enough how much I truly LOVE that word) that “normal” daily stress for me. Stress is simply the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. Situations, events or pressures, whether real or imagined, can trigger stress responses. Or said best another way from that lovely LGBT romantic comedy “Imagine Me and You”, what happens when an unstoppable force hits an immovable object?

I’ll tell you what happens for me: extreme fatigue, headaches, back spasms, digestive issues, decreased ability to concentrate/focus, forgetfulness, anxiety, and depression. It’s not pretty. It’s always a balance, my job and my health. Who knew being an accountant was so dramatic? And why are there no TV shows humorously depicting this???

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So, dear reader, if I can be of any help this holiday season, I’d like to help you recognize your own personal stressors (those things that give you heart palpitations and such). I received an email today from my firm’s preventative health care provider of health exams indicating that common holiday stressors are as follows (my commentary in italics):

  • Traveling: Long lines at airports, delayed flights, crowded airports, heavy traffic, and wintry weather conditions can all contribute to stressful travel. No shit, Sherlock, add to this screaming babies, sneezing/coughing passengers, and of course, perpetual battles for the armrest without making a scene. This year, I avoided this stressor by visiting family in early November, rather than now. *pats self on back and exudes annoying smugness*
  • Finances: Expenses for gifts, parties, and traveling can all add up quickly and result in significant debt that causes stress long after the holidays are over. I luckily do not experience significant financial stress at the holidays, mostly stemming from my life choices of having a salaried job and not procreating up until now.
  • Expectations: Having unrealistic expectations almost always leads to stress and disappointment. Expecting perfection is not practical or possible and can only lead to increased stress. My expectations are already pretty low for most things, so this is not a stressor for me. However, that is not the case for everyone.
  • Over–committing: Attending many activities and events, even if they are fun and enjoyable, can cause individuals to become stressed. It is not practical to attend every holiday event and to also do all the necessary shopping, baking, party planning, gift–wrapping, and card writing. See my post on Joy of Missing Out. Undercommitting, in my opinion, is always en vogue.
  • Family: Every family has internal dynamics and personality conflicts that can lead to tension at any time of the year. This tension may be heightened during the holidays when family members are together for several days and expectations are high. Ok, I’ll openly admit to this one affecting me, mostly via feelers of missing my dad. Refer to my post here for more elaboration on that.
  • Loneliness: Sometimes it is impossible to travel home to be with family and friends over the holidays, and this can lead to feelings of sadness and loneliness. Individuals facing the holidays without a loved for the first time may also experience these feelings. Bon Jovi said it best, “Tonight I won’t be alone, but you know that don’t mean I’m not lonely.” I’m an only child, and an introvert, and I’m totally okay with being alone. Even when I’m not alone though, I feel lonely. I think it comes from not having a significant other on which to dote and focus. No cat to hug out my feelers on. When it gets to this time of year, I want to have a family of my own to spend time with, my chosen family. But it doesn’t exist right now. No life partner, no pets, no accidental kids (that I know of.)

So, as an out person with depression, and knowing that a lot of suicides happen around the holidays (note: do not infer that I am suicidal as I am in fact NOT at the moment), I hope you can learn to identify your stressors, and work to avoid or manage them in coming weeks so you can maximize your holiday enjoyment.

It’s ok to say no, and you have to prioritize your precious time and energy at all times, so doing it at the holidays is no different. This is the time of year when you reflect on what is meaningful to you, so whatever you commit to, do it with purpose and intent. Mean it. Be there.

Don’t underestimate the power of your support system – family, friends, and “other.” The Christmas-time film classic for me, Mixed Nuts, taught me about this. Even if you have to call a hotline for suicide prevention on Christmas Eve – do it if you must. Reach out when you feel yourself drifting or falling. Someone who loves you will catch you – I promise. Ask for help if you need it – you might just be surprised at the overwhelming response you get.

Exercise – even if you can’t manage your daily routine, move your body somehow. Try to eat nutritiously in between the chocolate binges and champagne flutes. Get good sleep, and watch out for your health. Seriously. This can even mean cutting back on coffee and caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, other recreational drugs, and the like. Be kind to yourself. You leave treats out for Santa, so why not make some healthy treats to put in your own stocking?

When you feel yourself getting stressed, just stop for a moment. Have a silent night. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with emotion, responsibility, pressure to get the best gift, or have a perfect holiday experience. It’s also Murphy ’s Law that something will inevitably not go according to plan. That’s ok. Keep your perspective, and remember to enjoy your time, no matter how you spend it. Take time at the holidays to relax, and slow down. The hustle and bustle gets to everyone, and if you don’t stop to rest a bit, it’s easy to get sick at this time of year. Make sure you get enough sleep, too.

This holiday season, I have to work at being more like this:
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and less like this:
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So maybe, like me, you may have to work a little harder than most people right now to manage ever-increasing stress levels. I’ve been neglecting taking care of myself in that way, as exhibited by my literary silence the last week on my blog. I, like you, like everyone, deserve peace and joy during the holidays. I just have to go and seek it, since it doesn’t come straight to me quite so easily as it does for others. I know which panda I want to be – how about you?

To you and yours: a festive and happy.