When things go the wrong way
Have you ever choked? Accidentally, I mean. Really choked not just coughed and spluttered on a drink or bit of food that went the wrong way. Especially when alone at home at some random moment of inattentiveness.
It is a scary thing. First you ‘take charge’ as you try to breathe and dislodge the obstacle. Only to find it’s not working and then the mind races and panics as no air comes. There are reflexes that kick in, the bodies automatic defenses that seem stronger even than our own desire to live. Muscles spasm, we may get a little hiccup of air. The obstruction moves, in or out, and for a few minutes your eyes water, you gulp in the air in great juddering gasps and wait for your body to stop shaking and the adrenaline to pass on through.
It’s only happened a few times and, as I’m still here, I obviously survived. And among the many thoughts exploding in my brain will always be “Good grief, wouldn’t this be a really stupid and pointless way to die?”. A sort of black comedy of embarrassment at ones owns passing in ignominy. And one of the risks that living by yourself throws up that explains the slightly higher mortality rate of the singletons I guess. Unless of course your partner really, really hates you.
Now I admit this might seem like an odd topic to write about. Apart from chewing your food well, being vigilant for chicken and fish bones and learning how to perform a version of the Heimlich maneuver on yourself ( How to Give Yourself Heimlich Maneuver | First Aid Training ), I’m not suggesting you find a partner just to avoid choking. However, I am raising how there can be more mundane, simple challenges to our mortality than asteroids hitting the earth, pandemic diseases, and GMO foods.
The reason I’m writing about this is simple. Choking is sometimes not a random act. Sometimes it is a chronic defect. An invisible threat in the dark of the night. Literally! It is called Sleep Apnea. And I’ve recently discovered, while on holiday, that I very likely have it. This comes from a friend who is also a retired GP. And here was I thinking snoring was bad enough.
To literally stop breathing for 20-30 seconds while unconscious and then have my body gasp in a huge gulp of air over and over again must be disturbing, to say the least. But, just like snoring, it goes unseen and unheard by the sleeper. Being told about it is a bit like finding out your neighbor who say hello to every morning on the way to work is a sadistic thug with a bad temper. The pervasive tiredness, the lack of energy and, often times, a feeling you’ve hardly slept at all. These are all linked to this unconscious battle.
I’m no medical expert. Today, at the first opportunity, I will make an appointment with my GP and see what the next step is. That is in some ways the easy part. The obvious thing to do.
Lies & Hope
So that explains the lethargy in the title of this post. What about the lies? Well, frankly I feel I have been lying to myself for a long time in a way. I don’t always wake up tired. It seems to come and go but maybe, being honest, it sometimes goes less and stays more. The lack of drive, the inability to concentrate for long periods and physical aches and pains. And it is no wonder if I’m literally fighting for breath every night when I should be resting fully.
My hope is that it doesn’t have to be like this. That whatever the physical cause of this is, it can be fixed or treated. There are probably many factors, as I discussed with my friend the GP, but I know one will be obesity. My hope is, at it seems, possibly the two are linked. Probably in a vicious circle. I don’t sleep well >>> then habitually overeat to compensate for resulting fatigue/low energy >>> gain more excess weight >>> this inhibits airway a bit more >>> resulting in disturbed sleep >>> So I don’t sleep well… Ad nauseum.
I was proud of myself for getting by on sometimes on as little as 4 or 5 hours sleep. In fact, most times if I ‘slept in’ I’d feel worse. So I’d meditate for a while (good), and/or read maybe (okay), or have an early breakfast (not okay), check emails (okay I guess), check and maybe post on Facebook (mostly bad sometimes good).
All of this activity to paper over the cracks in my sleep and justify my later fatigue and lack of motivation after lunch. My bad eating habits due to being ‘too busy’ to choose correctly while procrastinating chronically too. To the point where, some days, I don’t work at all, I just mooch about feeling bored and listless.
Stress & Meditation
Thank God I know how to meditate. I see now that my sleep and eating patterns have inflicted a lot of physical stress on my body and contributed to my mental and emotional stress too. Without the ability to go inward, rest and allow stress to move, to leave I know I’d have been overwhelmed a long time ago. This was my original motivation to learn in the first place.
Yet, despite knowing there is ultimately an end to stress if I just keep going. Using my practice eyes open and eyes closed daily as much as I can. Especially in a retreat environment when there is time to dive in and explore the still, silent cosmos within. I get glimpses and often long periods of peace. A deep rest at the heart of everything.
So in a few hours, I’ll make an appointment, in a few days I’ll see my GP and begin another chapter in my life. If, as I suspect, there maybe light at the end of the tunnel all I can say is “Watch out world. Or just Wow.
Well not one, but two gut punches today. Or at least that how it feels to me physically. And the old habits, still very strong, are to curl up and feel very sorry for me. Reject the message the universe is sending me and try to ignore it. At least until I feel better and feel like doing something about it.
However, I did something against that flow today. First I didn’t respond in kind to an inflammatory email even though I was sorely tempted. I simply dealt with the issue and though it pains me to say it cost me, or rather my company a 4-figure sum. That was step one. Ignore the smoke and fumes and put the damn fire out. Then worry about cleaning up the mess, metaphorically speaking.
Finally gave up on waiting for the guy who lit the fire to do anything about it. I’m not a manager, I’ve never been interested in cajoling, nursing or haranguing anyone to do their damned job. The funny part is I’m now seeing that even by ignoring the parasitic nature of the relationship it has infected my own efforts.
It’s kinda like that lump or blemish that seems to have been there forever and you secretly keep hoping it’ll clear itself up. Finally, you admit it’s getting worse or rather than worry and fret about it go and seek some advice. Ignoring it won’t make it go away.
In this case, I’m just having to face up to facts that after two years the relationship is getting worse and it’s dragging me down.
The second kick is sort of related and was conveyed to me by the same person. A client has appraently been trying to coantct me. Not via phone or email as far as I can see. And my intuition obviously failed. My suspicion is that root casue is the same. Lack of communication by the fire starter.
Again, my own fault. My drive has been low and I’ve been way less proactive than usual lately. So now I am told that a rival has now been given a project that I had been lead to believe was lined up for me. And I’m sure they’ll do a sterling job because they’ll have an opportunity to prove themselves and get more work from it. Or not.
So it feels like a bad day so far. Yet, who knows. On the one level, my body has reacted and some old habits have leapt out at me and on the other hand, I know what I need to do and will do it. Have the conversation and do the damned work even if I don’t feel like it.
The weird part is I definitely don’t feel like writing at the moment. And guess what. I did it anyway. Sometimes I think that the biggest pitfall or danger in being self-employed is that you are both boss and worker and if neither of you feels like doing anything then nothing happens. Kind of like arguing with your reflection in a mirror.
As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Hopefully, I learn this lesson and move onwards and upwards. Now I have to decide if I can afford both the time and the money for a trip or not.
Well, only one week in and I missed my first self-imposed blog deadline. Not surprising really as I often don’t write things down. I just assume I’ll remember. Or I put it somewhere I intend to check but then forget that too. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a disaster. Far from it. It’s just one more lesson.
I have to be vigilant at times. My uber-procrastination habit will convince me that I’ll do a better job when I feel more energetic. But that leads to the inevitable delay. Like now, I don’t feel I’ve got a lot to say right now and maybe I should stop writing…
Nah! Not every blog will perfect and not every day will be the sunshine and blue skies. Someday you just have to turn up your collar and lower your head and walk into the driving rain. There is a power in keeping a commitment to yourself no matter how small. Because if I can’t keep one for myself how can I keep them for anyone else?
There are few certainties in life (death and taxes) but I’m pretty certain that I’ll keep learning and explore. It is the expression of that inner learning playful creature that shines back at you from anyone who is following this passion. And yes sometimes the flame dwindles. But like any fire that is when it requires your attention most to fan the embers back to life.
And here is the beauty of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a few twigs you add, a few paragraphs or ideas to the story, the thumbnail sketch or the new ingredient. It is taking you in the direction of your passion and goal. Today it might be a small shuffling tired or timid step but tomorrow it might be a leap.
More and more I’m discovering that there is no pace to one’s inner journey. Sometimes we fly, sometimes we hop and skip, sometimes we pause to admire the view. Sometimes we crawl on hands and knees. So what. Change changes things. Fast or slow. Nothing remains the same forever.
It metaphorically smacked me in the face one day when I, or maybe someone else said “I can’t change. I’ve been like this for years…”. Really? So in the last five or six years (or however long this limitation has been in play) nothing around you has changed? Petrol prices, wages, the cost of bread, the books you read, the movie you watch, the music you listen to, the people you talk to or work with. These things change, and many, many others too.
So in fact, for you to remain where you are, you’ve had to change and adapt to these external changes to remain where you are. You are walking backwards on a treadmill saying “I’m not doing anything…I’m not progressing…I’ll never change”. Accept that you have changed, maybe subconsciously you’ve been holding your position. And then change direction and see what happens.
That’s right t-o-o-l. Not cool or fool. Just a tool. Or an instrument if the four letter word makes you giggle or offends.
I used to be an electrician and the one thing you learn quite early on is, good tools can make your job easier but the right tools for the job often make the whole simpler, easier and better all round. And so you quickly learn to invest in your tools, look after them, put them back and soon you find there is a pleasure in doing a job.
You only need to experience the frustration of using pliers to tighten a nut because you’ve forgotten to bring the right sized spanner or use lump hammer on a nail when you need a claw hammer (often a memorable but painful lesson). Or put it another way. Ever tried to wipe up a spill with toilet roll rather than kitchen towel or eat jelly with a fork?
My wish is simple. I wish to be the best tool for the job that creation, the universe (or Tooniverse as I know it) has in store for me. I don’t want to be a swiss army knife. Don’t get me wrong in an emergency an all-purpose tool or even the wrong can be better than nothing but if you want the best job, the best expression of the creator then you want the right tools.
I’m not saying I will or can be a one trick pony but sometimes a tool has only one use. sometimes it has a few. So it appears one of my skills is writing but I also feel an urge to work with more than words. I’m still exploring and learning what my purpose is. After half a century you’d think I’d have figured it out.
However, that is slightly the wrong approach (for me anyway) in the same way that it is hard to choose a good pair of wire cutters, or a pen or shoes or a saddle just by looking at it or reading reviews. There comes a point when you have to feel it. Hold it in your hand or use it to know if it works.
And so, as you can see, I’m writing and doing a bit of graphic design because it comes to me to do it. The same as the inspriation for this peice came to me out of the blue. Including the ‘spanner head’ image. So I’ll leave you with a question;
“What sort of tool are you?”
Recently I lost a friend. It was unexpected and if it has brought one thing home to me it was this. WE DO NOT HAVE FOREVER.
Yes, I know that it can be uncomfortable to face your own mortality but it can also be empowering. My friend made an impact wherever he went, without a doubt. Although I will miss him and I am confident we will meet again some other where or life, I am grateful for the reminder too.
So what are you waiting for? Seriously! Is there something you keep putting off, you really want to do it but ‘things’ keep getting in the way? For me, that question has lit the blue touch paper. The rocket may fizz or fail, or it may rise into a spectacular fireball turning night to day for a few moments. Who knows? I don’t.
The best part is I don’t care. Really. I write. I share it. My job is done. I no longer agonise over is it right, is it clever or witty. Am I saying anything meaningful? The sneaky thing is the words are worthless if they come from a space of thinking and not the heart. You’ve all read or heard insincere apologies, the outright lies and half-truths that, like the emperor’s new clothes, we chose to ignore for the sake of comfort.
Then you have also seen or heard the heartfelt, sincere and earnest voices too. The ones that touch you deeply be it a childs innocent “Who is that man? The Emperor? Why isn’t he wearing any clothes?” or a heartfelt “I miss you”, ” I love you”. You feel them and recognise where they are coming from.
And the simple truth is, none of us knows how long we’ve got. The sooner we stop delaying our peace, our real desire or passion and act, the more chances we have to do something great or good for others. It may not be easy, it may not be comfortable, and it might not even be quick but it can never happen unless you begin.
Now imagine that dream you hold so dearly were to unfold more easily, simply and quickly than you think possible. Be it a book, a new life or healing others. You won’t ever know, the world will never know, how great you could have been and how much you could do for others until you start. Death is coming. Sooner or later the curtains close and the house lights come on and the performance ends.
Will you be the headline act in your own life or a footnote?
I am one of the worlds worst procrastinators. Or so I feel. I was going to research exactly how bad I am when compared to others but I’ve just not gotten round to it. Yet.
And here is the thing. If you wait for the perfect time or day to start something, say your Tax Return, or book your flights for your trip in two weeks time, it will only arrive when you have no other choice. When the pain of the Late Return penalty or risk having to cancel your holiday because there are no seats available on your flight. Or they’ll cost more than your two weeks at the hotel and eat out every day.
When the perceived pain exceeds the perceived effort, that is when I myself used to sit down and force myself to do the dreaded task. And yes, sometimes it was as painful and annoying as I had imagined. But here is the magical thing that I am learning. If I make a start, even if I can’t complete the task right away I’ve magically transformed the uncertainty into something positive.
If I can just do even one thing to bring me closer to completion, it works. There is a kind of momentum that works to take you forward after overcoming the initial inertia. Suddenly the mountain has become a molehill or a series of molehills really. I like to walk, often along the coast or hills near me, and it always amazes me at some point on the journey if I look back and see how far I’ve come from where I started.
I believe there is a reason for this. Once you start, the big scary task-thing becomes a series of smaller steps that are almost too small & simple to start with. But they accumulate, like a snowball rolling down a slope gaining speed and weight as you fill in boxes and make a list of things you need to find out. That is how you eat an elephant, one mouthful at a time.
I’m also finding this is true for my work, my personal goals and every other aspect of my life. Start, even if you know you can’t finish yet, and suddenly the huge fuzzy scary shadow thing that your mind has created starts to shrink into a recognizable if unpleasant looking rodent. Occasionally it might even be a cute kitten. (Definition of a kitten: Cute, inquisitive and helpless little fuzzballs with razors attached to their feet.)
Well, that was easy! Literally, ten minutes online and I have a blog up and running. I thought there would be some sort of delay or maybe even a test of some sort. (Funny how we create obstacles in our head that never even arise). This brings back memories of my first time driving alone in a beat up old Vauxhall Astra I had bought off my boss.
Sitting there at 7:30 am, I wanted the roads in town to be quiet as possible for this, trying to figure out how to get the courtesy light on. Then trying to figure out how the heater worked to de-mist the screen. I was only moving it 500 yards, because of parking restrictions, but I still remember the fear and excitement as being intense.
I still blush now to think how bad that first trip was. Crunch, chug, lurch, and stall. (Sounds like a partnership of dwarf solicitors). Yet, as with all things, you have to start somewhere. I did leave out one detail. I was 30 at the time! Somehow, magically, I had gotten away for 3 decades without a car. But no longer. Not if I wanted to keep my job that was.
This came back to me the other day when my driving license renewal form came through and I realised I have now been driving over 20 years. I wouldn’t say I love driving in the sense I’d just go for a drive but I love the freedom and independence it affords me.
Yet more than that have been the times I’ve been able to help others. Take my parents out, pick up or drop off friends at the airport or ferry & road trips to meetings and retreats in the UK and best of all is being able to show visiting friends some of the sights and sites around the beautiful Isle of Man.
And while it’s not as intense as that, firing up this blog today feels the same. There is a little nervousness when we start our journey, maybe a sense we would avoid it if we could, but in time you will look back and smile. And I find life is like that. If you are willing to try new things, explore, play and give it a go.
Because, even after five decades on this rock with few billion other souls, I am still learning.