wellness


I woke up this morning like I did on Christmas morning when I was a child – early, excited, full of anticipation, yet having to wait for Mom and Dad to wake up to start ripping open the goodies under the tree.

Christmas morning came with a massive excitement hangover at about 11 AM, though, when all of the presents were open, torn wrapping paper filled the space around the tree, and reality set in.  The long 365-day wait for Christmas morning next year had just begun.

As I aged, Christmas became less and less important and the possibilities of New Year’s Eve and Day held more magic.  The idea that, as the calendar year flipped, we could each resolve to start over in some way – to change the way we have acted, or thought, or treated others, or treated ourselves.  As we know, most resolutions end up losing steam and falling by the wayside.  But the high is still there, the excitement and anticipation are still there, and the hangover takes much longer to realize.

This morning is not Christmas morning, or even New Year’s morning.  No, it’s Inauguration Day.  And it’s better than Christmas or New Years.  Today is my new New Year’s Eve 2009.  Midnight is 10 AM EST (8 AM MST), and the countdown has begun.  In place of drunken champagne toasts and Dick Clark New York countdowns, I and my loved one will be curled up on the couch, likely drinking herbal tea and eating Cheerios, watching the MSNBC feed of Barack Obama’s swearing in as the new President of the United States of America.  Ahhh.  Just writing that gives me butterflies.  Get the tissues ready.

I know so many people in this country are excited that we are electing the first African-American President, and so many people are filling Capitol Mall to watch history in the making.  I am also proud of that.  Moreover, though, I am excited that we have elected an intellectual and a visionary.  Someone that I actually trust will keep the promise to America that started over 200 years ago — that the leader of this country be a servant to the people.

Americans chose hope and optimism over fear and xenophobia.  We chose measured intelligence over folksy charm.  We chose to act and be treated like adults rather than petulant children who needed a temporary pacifier shoved in our mouths to shut us up.  We chose to choose over having the choice made for us.  Our collective consciousness has been awakened — maybe there is hope for us yet. . .

I wish, this new New Year’s Day, peace, happiness, patience, tolerance, and hope for you, your’s, and our global community.  For me, I feel one step closer to breathing more freely and sleeping more soundly for the next 4 years.

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Ever since I left California, I’ve been trying to figure out how to move back.  But over the course of the last 10 years, the state I love has endured some hard times.  With the astronomical growth in the cost of living, industry moving out of the state to places that are more hospitable to business (and the desert Southwest being a great recipient of that movement), high taxes, high energy costs, high crime rates, and high commute times, there are many reasons why it is foolish to move back.

When you are homesick, though, none of that stuff matters.  I miss the land, the rolling green hills that turn gold in early summer, the Live Oak and Eucalyptus trees, the rows of freshly growing produce and orchards that go on for miles.  I miss the water – the sounds and smell of the ocean, the rivers and streams that run through nearly every town, the morning and afternoon fog that envelops you like a cozy blanket, the rain that lasts for 3 days at a time and leaves everything fresh and clean when it moves out.  And I miss the way that I could take a weekend trip, never leave the state, and go to a completely different place than where I came from.  Sun/Snow, ocean/mountains, desert/forest, liberal/conservative, planned and manufactured/free spirited and natural.  Something for everyone.  Everything to keep your mind stimulated.  Everything for me.

In many ways, with its monotonous colors, monotonous landscape, monotonous weather, monotonous thought, I feel like New Mexico has made me lazy – zapped me of all of my creative energy and motivation to achieve that which is important to me.  Many people find inspiration and “enchantment” in the high desert landscape of Santa Fe.  I find the opposite – a Dead Zone.  Everything is the same, top to bottom, left to right, up and down.  48 shades of brown, incessant sun shining through 19 degree days, nothing to take your mind off of the bleakness of the place.  Boring.  Conformist.  Draining.

So on this very cold, very sunny, very oppressive Southwestern day, I eat grapefruit and oranges picked fresh from my mother’s Arizona trees and I dream of the day that I move back home.

Jan. 2007, I made the New Year’s Resolution to be brave.  For 34ish years, my nature and nurture conspired together to help me live in a life where my decisions were made because they were safe, but not exactly soul-satisfying.  So I compiled a list in my head of all of the things that I caught myself saying “I could never do that” to, and I started doing them.  Many of the items were so benign that I have basically forgotten them, but two that stick in my mind are “get a massage” and “sing in public.”

The massage thing had to do with strange people touching my naked body (body issues). It turns out, though, that not only was getting a naked massage not a big deal (there is draping involved), but I found out that I really don’t like massages – too much pushing and kneading on my muscles hurt, and not in a good way.  I’ll take a facial any day.  But, I got to check it off of the list and move on with life afraid of one less thing.

Also borne from this list was my decision to go to law school.  History will be the judge of whether that was ultimately a good move or not, but all in all, 2007 was a year for growth and stepping out.

Still, 2008 came and I felt that I needed to renew my resolution.  “Be Brave” became “Be Fearless”.  I don’t know if there is a real difference between these two, but it feels like there is a difference.  Bravery, to me, is standing up to demons that scare you.  Fearlessness is actively looking for those demons and confronting them, whether they want to be confronted or not.  My new commitment made me a Bounty Hunter of my fear, but also left me wandering the woods like Harry Potter in Book 7 – searching for what to do next. Like a huge tsunami crashing into a beachside resort, my date with destiny came in the form of the month of September.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I write from a place of anxiety.  When I am angry or worried, I write to sort things out and help me bring order and reason to the unexplainable.  Writing is my catharsis.  The problem with this, however, is that I fail to write when things are going really well.  If I’m not feeling anxious, or more than that – I actually feel good, then I like to bask in the moments and lock them away as memories rather than as words on a page.  The problem is that when I later get worried about decisions that I have made that came from a place of strength and power, I have nothing to go back to that reminds me that I really did think all this through before I jumped off of the ledge.  Ultimately, I end up second-guessing all of these “reckless” decisions and end up right back in my anxious place again.

So, I am making it up to September.  We must capture these feelings of bravery and bravado before the demons eat me whole.

September 8: I Let Go

After months of knowing but hesitating to pull the plug, I officially submitted my resignation to law school.  I thought it would feel liberating or a little scary, but it ended up being a “check the box” move.  I felt completely neutral afterward, which means that I waited too long to do it.  Still, the process of coming to terms with my experiences with law school was not an easy one.  Soon, I will write a series of posts explaining my thought process and research which hopefully will help others with their decisions to stay or go as others in the blogosphere have helped me.

Never underestimate the power of letting go, however.  Once I hit Send on the letter, I felt like I was clearing out some clutter that was keeping me from moving on, and new possibilities made themselves known.

September 11: I Faced Fear in Knee-High Stiletto Boots

One of the things that bugged me is that I never completed Item #1 on my Chicken Shit List — to sing in public.  So, what started out as a plan to practice a song I was comfortable with and sing it in some karaoke bar turned into fronting four hours of music in a band of Brent’s making and performing live at Evangelo’s on Thursday, September 11th.  An ominous date, to be sure.  All my day-of preparation was wrong.  I went to work all day which made me tired for a 9PM – 1AM gig.  I skipped dinner.  I wore my stiletto boots which made me feel like a rock star, but which nearly hobbled me after 2 hours.  I went into “dancer mode” and held my nerves in my core, which is bad for a singer who needs to take deeps breaths all night.  I only realized on Sunday that I hadn’t taken a deep breath since Wednesday (no wonder my voice was completely shot at the end of the night).

For all the bad that happened, apparently we were good enough for the crowd of friends to stay and to drag in about 25 people from the street – a feat for a Thursday night in Santa Fe.  I wouldn’t say I’m any less scared of singing in public, but I feel proud that I had the ovaries to get up on stage and play American Idol for a night.  Plus, I’m still in the band.  I think being fearless takes practice.

September 19: I Asked for What I Wanted

For two years-minus-law school, I have been searching for a new job.  And on September 16th, I was extended an offer from a group at the Lab that I had interviewed with twice.  Government jobs are predictable – there is no guessing on what the position should be paid because they advertise a Minimum-Median-Maximum range for every job they publish.  I was expecting the job offer, and I was expecting it to come in low.  What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be insultingly low.  $10K lower than Median.  85% of Median.    It wasn’t the manager’s fault, really.  The Human Resources department is its own rogue agency.  They put all of my information into a super-secret formula that spits out what I should be offered based on my years of experience, education, previous salary history, etc.  It’s not personal, it’s just business.

The problem for me, though, is that it is personal.  I work very hard for the people that I work for, and no matter what the job is, I give it my all, including my loyalty.  It is who I am.  Extending a fair offer says to me that you have faith in my ability to perform.  A low offer says that you aren’t quite sure, so you don’t want to stick your neck out too far. Plus, there are limitations with working for the government, which include not being able to ask for interim pay raises based on performance and not being able to get a new job in your same pay grade with a raise.  You must maximize your starting salary for greater success down the line – that’s the game.

Therefore, I take being low-balled very personally, and this wasn’t right.  So I called the person who would be my manager.  I explained to her that the offer came in much lower that I expected and asked if we could do better.  After much discussion, she asked how much I wanted.  I said, “Well, I want six-figures, of course.  But I’m a bargain at Median.”

I recently read that one of the problems with the salary inequity between men and women is that men ask for more.  Women don’t.  So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I asked.

September 22: I Said No

The manager came back from HR with $2K more. I knew that she wanted me over the others that she interviewed (for various reasons I won’t go into here), but I got the impression that she had never had anyone ask for more money before.  $8K below Median was not much of an improvement.  It didn’t even break the 90% of Median threshold.

So I sat with it for awhile.  I thought about how I would feel on the first day on the job, knowing that I was doing work that I was underpaid for.  I thought about the interviews and how the interviewers impressed upon me that this job was not for wusses – “There is not a week that goes by that Debi isn’t insulted by one of the guys on the crew” and “You will be forcing people to comply with policies that are not always in their best interest to follow.”  The job is thankless in many ways.  I calculated how many years it would take (given averages raises) to get to today’s Median mark – 4.2 years.  Then I thought about my Plan B – starting my own business – and how that felt empowering.  Destructive work vs. Constructive work.  The more I thought about it, the bigger the pit in my stomach grew at the prospect of taking the offer.  So I declined it.  And it felt good.  I felt strong and I had no regrets.

Flash Forward to Today

My contract at the Lab ran out, so as of Oct. 29th, I have officially been “self-employed.”  And I am freaking out.  No paycheck, paying for my own health insurance, and being a kept woman.  In a crumbling economy.  None of it feels very good.  These are the times I look back on September and think “Where in the hell did I get all of the optimism and guts to turn down a job offer?” and “Maybe I should have taken that offer and just sucked it up?”  The reality is, though, that I would have hated that job and it would have kept me small.  Better paid, but small.  And somewhere, at some point in the not-so-distant past and for the briefest of moments, I felt like I was better than that.  For a girl who is admittedly glass-half-empty, that is what Fearless looks like.

Before July 4th, 2002, I bought a very cool, artsy shirt online that has an image of the Statute of Liberty superimposed with the Preamble to the Constitution, and “We the People” prominantly repeated in down the sleeves, back, etc. Sounds gawdy, but it’s perfect for 4th of July.

I bought it at a time when I was rebounding from 9/11, in the midst of a strongly nationalistic streak, and I wanted to believe that this country’s people were bigger than the politicians who rumbled about a war with Iraq. Americans keep their eyes on the ball. We wouldn’t let our politicians run roughshod all over the world.

On February 5, 2003, I put that shirt in the back of my closet. I felt angry and defeated and not at all proud to be an American. Every July 4th since then, I’ve looked at the stupid thing, sneered, then chosen something else to wear to the fireworks.

This year, though, I wore it — my un/conscious recognition that this 8-year long, oppressive tunnel is finally showing signs of daylight . . .

The shocking news about the passing of Tim Russert was made all the worse by the realization that he could have had a chance of survival had an AED been present and used after his collapse.ABCNews.com posted a video clip of GMA’s Diane Sawyer and Dr. Memhet Oz explaining the sudden cardiac arrest that Tim suffered and how an AED could have jumpstarted his heart.

Automated External Defibrillators do not help with heart attacks – the slower death of heart tissue, where the victim often feels terrible but is usually awake and conscious.AEDs were designed for specific incidences of sudden cardiac arrest, where the electrical pulses that run the heart get all out of sorts and the heart just starts vibrating in place, otherwise known as ventricular fibrillation. AEDs recognize the fibrillation patterns and recommends shock only in those cases.

Do You Know Where Your AED Is?

Maybe it is the safety culture here at the Lab, but I was completely shocked when I watched the video clip from above. They wandered around the halls and asked ABC staffers if they knew if an AED was on the property, where it was located, and if they knew how to use it.The answer, in a nutshell, was a resounding No to all questions.

LANL got AEDs beginning in 2000. The Wellness Center was one of two sites to pilot the Lab’s AED program, so I have been trained and kept up my AED certification since 2000. Today, my 7 story building has a total of 14 AEDs – 2 on each floor next to the stairwells and close to the break rooms.So to imagine that an organization the size of the ABC studios in New York, with all of the people that work there and the type of equipment they work with, wouldn’t have people trained in the use of AEDs or even people who know if an AED was on the premises is irresponsible at best.

Not Just for Fat, Old Guys

I heard that the Lab was introducing AEDs because The Mucky-Mucks were concerned about the aging population – some guys have been here since the late 1950s-early 1960s. But these have been used 3 times in the last 8 years that I know of, two of which I was generally involved in.

  1. A 50+ year old user at the Wellness Center was on a diet that he read about in Playboy magazine (low calorie, high exercise).After his workout, he went into the shower and promptly passed out. CPR was started, the AED was at the scene, pads applied, shock not administered.
  2. A marathon runner in his early 40’s came back to the Wellness Center after his afternoon 15-mile run, went into the weight room, sat in the chest press machine, inhaled deeply, and pushed on the bars while holding his breath (the classic valsalva maneuver). His heart stopped. CPR was started and AED pads were applied when the paramedics arrived (luckily they were on their way to the WC to workout). I had the distinct pleasure of tracking down the man’s wife in an executive meeting to tell her that her husband was about to be taken away in an ambulance.
  3. An electrician in his mid-30’s performing work on a ladder and was electrocuted. An AED was on the scene, a shock was administered successfully.

In each of these incidents, the people survived, even if the AED wasn’t “used.” It was a help to the first responders, however, knowing that there was a machine at the ready, monitoring the situation, and giving some feedback of whether or not they were on the right track. And notice, save for the first guy, we aren’t talking about overweight, middle-aged people that suffered sudden cardiac arrest. It can happen to otherwise perfectly healthy people, too.

My Recommendation: Get Training First

Even though AEDs are made to be completely dummy-proof, I would recommend training beforehand. For non-gadget people, they can be intimidating and confusing – especially in a panic situation. For non-medical people, the idea of stripping off someone’s shirt, applying sticky pads to their chest and pushing the ON/OFF button is really intimidating, much less push the SHOCK button. With this, practice and preparation helps.

Also, there are situations that you might run into that you don’t think about – what if a guy has a really hairy chest and the pads aren’t adhering right (the packs come with a disposable razor, gotta shave him)? Can they go over bras (sort of, push the straps out of the way, put the other pad lower on the ribcage – clear of the underwire)? What if someone has a pacemaker (use the AED anyway – if the person has no pulse, the pacemaker is broken so the AED shock won’t hurt)?

CPR/AED – Not Just for Strangers Anymore

I heard in one of my trainings (though I can’t find the statistics to back it up) that people perform CPR on others they know more often that the “stranger/bystander” CPR – likely because people often go into cardiac arrest when they are in familiar places (dining with friends, at a family member’s home, at work, in the gym, etc.). Take Tim Russert – he passed out surrounded by colleagues who loved and respected him, but could not save him through CPR alone.

So I encourage you to find a local chapter of the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association and sign up for CPR/AED class. Take a group of friends and make an afternoon of it.