Three little words

I’m clear about who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I’m doing. What I realized this week, though, is that isn’t the whole story, especially at work. What matters in that arena is how others perceive me – correctly or incorrectly – and to a large degree, that isn’t up to me. I suppose that’s true in all areas of life, but to me it matters less in those other areas. I can do without friends; I can’t do without a job. Not now, anyway.

Acme Health Services hired a new Public Relations person, or in our industry-speak, a Public Information Officer, a couple of months ago. She’s really fabulous and enthusiastic and young. She’s brimming with great ideas and on fire with the desire to succeed in this job and spread the great news about AHS. I’m excited to work with her. She is not my boss, but I take direction from her regarding many of my job responsibilities, as I do the website and social media and all the promotional publications.

We went to a class together on Thursday to learn about using Instagram for business. I’ve wanted to add an Instagram account for a long time, but couldn’t really wrap my head around how our business would translate to that platform, but our new PIO has a great idea about how to go about it and she got admin staff approval and so we’re full speed ahead! The class was in a town nearby, and lunch was provided. I was looking forward to learning something new, and also the chance to get to know my new co-worker a little better outside the office.

So, the first thing I noticed when I got there was that I was by far the oldest person in the room – by at least 20 years. Whatever, right? Being older doesn’t make a difference in my mind, except I’m more experienced in business than any of these other people. A positive, as I see it. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, I’m thinking, cuz were all just trying to navigate this new way of marketing, so what does age or experience have to do with any of it? We’re all beginners.

And the fact that my new co-worker is at least 20 years younger than me? Why should that matter? We’re just people working for the same company, wanting to do the best job we can. We want the same thing, so we’ll work together! It’ll be great! I’m great! She’s great! We’re going to be GREAT!

Yeah, so I can be pretty naive.

First, before the class started and we’re eating our lunches, the two young women at my table, my co-worker and someone who had taken the third chair, knew each other, and are talking, talking, talking, about their kids and all the people they know in common and blah blah blah blah blah. I smile and eat my lunch, pretending that I’m listening and that I care and that it doesn’t bother me at all that they are completely ignoring me.

Then class started and it’s okay, though I actually knew most of the information the “social media expert” was giving us. Still nice to be out of the office for a while and to have lunch out, not something I get to do very often anymore. And then two things happened simultaneously:

  1. I felt sick. Really sick. Did I mention the name of the restaurant is the Cheese House? Cool! Did I mention I’m lactose-intolerant? Yeah, you can guess where this is going, right? It wasn’t pretty.
  2. When I excused myself, with a smile on my face, and absolutely no indication of why I had to leave, my co-worker looked at me in a way that let me see exactly how she sees me: old and irrelevant. See ya.

And so began one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in my life, and I had to get out of there FAST. Fortunately, the class had run over the scheduled time at this point, so other people were leaving, too, and I scurried out of the room and straight to the bathroom. I was in there for about 20 minutes, trying to get my breath and waiting for the dizziness to pass, and when it did finally, I slunk out of the restaurant and out to my car, which was not very far away, fortunately, and collapsed in the driver’s seat. I sat there for another 20 minutes or so, and when I felt like I could drive, I headed out toward my town. As I passed a hospital on the way, though, I started to feel dizzy again, so I pulled into the ER parking lot and contemplated going in.

Not my first panic attack though, fortunately, so I knew I probably wasn’t dying, and I sat in the car for another 10 minutes or so. Finally the pain in my chest, the tingling in my limbs, the sweating and the dizziness passed and I put the car in gear and headed back out again.

One of my favorite old songs came on the radio and I was singing along, trying to feel better, until all of a sudden I was overcome with memories of when that song was popular, when I was young, and pretty quickly I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe and I had to pull over again, and wait until the worst of it passed. I started out again finally, cried all the way to my office parking lot, pulled myself together, walked in and continued my day.

Exhausted. Bone weary. But I was there. Damn it. Because that’s who I am. That’s age and experience. I’m committed and loyal and I see things through. I had work to do and even though I felt like crap, I went back and did what needed to be done.

As the afternoon went on, I kept thinking of all I wanted to say to that super fantastic clever and bright young woman:

I WAS YOU.

25 years ago, I was you. I was the super fantastic clever and bright young woman ready to set the world on fire and LIVE A FABULOUS LIFE! Despite years of depression, despite utter fall-on-my-face disasters in other areas of my life, I was always good at my work and for the 5 years I had my business, I was golden. I was smart and innovative and creative and soaked up information like a sponge and turned it into Wonderful! Brilliant! Amazing! projects for my clients. And when I came to Acme Health Services 20 years ago they were thrilled to have me, and I was amazing, and wonderful, and brilliant then, too, until…well, I don’t know.

When did I get old? When did I become irrelevant?

I didn’t imagine it. It was there. It was in her eyes and in the eyes of all the other 15 year-olds in the class. I said something I felt was relevant to what was being discussed, and they all turned around and looked at me like they were amazed I could speak, including the teeny-bopper conducting the class.

So, I’m comfortable in my skin, and I’m confident in my abilities and ready to go everyday. What worries me, is that it may not be enough. As someone pointed out to me the other day, I’m almost 60 (sounds so much older than 57, doesn’t it – gave me chills) and I guess there is probably a lot I don’t know about the generations behind me and how they think.

They’re running the show now, and that is as it should be, I guess, but they don’t appear to be interested AT ALL in what went on before they came along, or how much experience someone older has; in fact, I think most of them think there must be something wrong with someone who stayed in a job for 20 years. An eternity! My god, how could you stand it?

So there were other factors in the panic attack (one being the never-ending plumbing issue we’ve been dealing with at home that FINALLY was resolved yesterday after much stress and aggravation all week), and I’m going to address the 24/7 care-giving stress issue with my doctor in May. I’m thinking some good drugs, but I’m open to whatever she suggests. I’ve had my fill of ill-timed panic attacks and almost constant anxiety.

I have no idea what to do about work, though, and I’m really afraid at some point the bean counters are going to look at me and look at her and think, why do we need both of them? This is not the first time I’ve experienced the age handicap at work, and I know a lot of people have gone through the same thing. I get that my experience is not unique.

Somehow, I just never thought it would happen to me. Naive, I know. But that’s who I am – ever the optimist, ever the idealist, wanting always to believe the best about people and hoping that things will work out if I just work hard enough and try as hard as I can.

So, back to be here now, and one day at a time, and just doing the best I can. Whatever is going to happen will happen and I’ll deal with whatever it is.

Ultimately that’s all there is, isn’t it? Dealing with whatever is. Doing the best we can. Hoping for the best.

Life goes on.

 

Elemental force

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This weekend we had another house-falling-down-around-us event. I kept my cool and did what needed to be done and mom and I got through the day just fine. The plumber is coming on Wednesday and I’ll hemorrhage some more money and then we’ll keep going on as before until the next house event or health event or whatever.

I feel like something deep within me changed, though. Something shifted, and the death grip I’ve had on the future and my belief that I will survive this experience with my mother and go on has loosened. I think in order to keep going now I have to let go of any idea of a positive outcome, including emerging at the end with my health intact – mental, physical, emotional and financial – or even of surviving at all.

Hope has gotten me this far – the hope that this too shall pass and I’ll go on – but I have to let go of that hope and just do what needs to be done, with no thought beyond today and today’s needs. This has been a long journey, but the end is no where in sight, and I have to marshal my remaining resources, few though I feel they are, and just keep going, one foot in front of the other. It’s a waste of energy to keep looking ahead, to hope that things will change, that I’ll be free to go on with my life.

I may never get there and thinking about it, hoping for it, and planning for it is simply counter-productive now. It saps vital resources from the limited supply available, and compromises my ability to take care of my mother’s needs. Also, my near constant pre-occupation and exhaustion puts us both in danger.

Before the water event Sunday I had a go at trying to burn the house down completely. I boiled water in the tea kettle for breakfast and after I poured the water, I put the kettle back on the (electric) burner and forgot to turn it off. I went upstairs to eat my breakfast and answer an email and it wasn’t long before the smell of something burning wafted up the stairs and into my awareness. I ran downstairs, plucked the kettle off the burner and turned it off.

The kettle was ruined and the kitchen smelled horrible, but beyond that, everything was okay. A bullet dodged. When my mother got up I debated whether to even tell her about it, but I did finally, and she razzed me a bit, and we went on with the day, both feeling grateful that it hadn’t been worse. Then the water thing happened and that was not so easily remedied and that’s when I could feel something in me shift.

Fire and water.

Elemental forces are working against me now, and this whole thing is starting to take on a fateful tone. I was already stressed to the max from a really crappy week, and had hoped the weekend would provide a chance to recover a bit, but nothing less than FIRE and WATER said no. No rest for you. 

Okay, so I’m not really so paranoid as to think that anything is out to get me. But I do believe in karma and I do believe in fate – in the role it plays in karma. For the last seven years I’ve seen myself as the hero on this journey and assumed that I would complete the quest and go on. Karma would be exhausted and I would live out my (many) remaining days enjoying life. Tra la la.

In seven years, I have never even entertained the idea of any other outcome.

Sunday night I realized that other outcomes are not only possible, but as time goes on, they become more likely. There is no guarantee that I will complete the quest or go on, and so my only recourse is to just let go and let whatever is going to happen, happen. It is the need to believe in a certain outcome that is sapping my strength, making me constantly stressed and on alert for trouble, and so completely pre-occupied all the time.

This change doesn’t make me sad or happy, or anything. I feel nothing about it in particular, I’ve just noted that it happened, and I’m not really sure what it’s going to mean going forward. I hope it makes me feel less desperate and stressed and I hope it makes me feel clearer and present in each moment. My mother deserves that and so do I.

Whatever happens it’ll just be what it is. I’m done papering over things to make them prettier or more comfortable. Whatever happens happens. I don’t know if what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but I suppose that’s as likely to happen as anything else. We’ll see, won’t we?

All of us, trying to navigate our difficult lives and just trying to figure out a way to be okay; to not feel so bad and unwelcome and unworthy when we’re not at our best.

Somehow, we go on.

 

 

 

Of snakes and worms and an ill wind

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I used to work with a woman whose favorite expression of stress and anger was, “I could bite the heads off snakes.”

Yep. That’s just how I feel. Bring it. Cuz I’M READY TO GO. This has been an off-the-charts CRAPPY week.

Work is hectic cuz everyone’s on Spring Break, and we are getting ready for a company-wide event of some consequence in a couple of weeks here at Acme Health Services. Those of us who DID NOT go on vacation to some warm sunny locale are stuck here doing extra work for those who did, and there’s a certain level of feeling and attitude in the building which has been rising all week, and is now at a rather uncomfortable pitch.

Good times.

Evenings are not much better cuz of having WAY too much to do and not enough time to do it, and I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope of improvement for the weekend in that regard, either. Trying to fit in ALL the needs – my mother, the cats, the incredibly-old-and-falling-down-around-us house, the daily/weekly chores, bills, etc. – and tacking on the end getting to the gym and trying to spend time with friends and have some semblance of a life that I might actually enjoy is just fecking impossible.

And sleep? Yeah…not so much.

It’s wearing on me. It’ll be seven years in November since I moved in with mom. Seven years. 12% of my life. It’s not that I regret the time I’ve spent as caregiver to her – I don’t. It’s the right thing to do, and I’ve learned a lot in that time. It’s been a good thing in many ways. This is what I signed up for. I didn’t read the fine print, though, about duration and wear and tear, and that’s where the trouble is.

What I’ve been wrestling with this week is all that this endeavor has cost me – what I’ve lost in those seven years, including my health to some degree – and wondering how much more I can take. I’m ready to move on, but I’m not finished here yet, and that’s disheartening. I alternate between feeling sorry for myself (unhelpful), and feeling like the lowest wretch on earth for essentially wanting my mother to die, which is the only way to gain my freedom and regain my life as I would like to live it for whatever time I have left on this planet (even more unhelpful).

Really good times.

Then there’s the advice from well-meaning folks, that doesn’t have anything to do with anything even remotely resembling the reality of my life. Trust me, the last thing I need to hear right now is “You’re doing it wrong.” That’s where the snakes come in, and I’m ready to just take a chunk right out of anybody who wants to get in my face right now, cuz I’m SICK TO DEATH of people thinking they know me or what’s going on in my life BETTER THAN I DO.

But then I have to step back and take a deep breath and think about all the people I’ve alienated over the years with unsolicited advice, and remember that these well-meaning co-workers and friends are trying to help, and that I left myself open to it by telling anyone anything about any of it in the first place.

Alex Dumas said: Sell your confidence at a high price, if at all; to be strong, keep your own counsel.

Smart guy, our Al. Too late for me and my big mouth, though, so I just smile and say “yes, for sure, oh really? okay” and then I go somewhere and eat worms. Now, if worms were good for high blood pressure, I’d be all set! Alas, not so, though, and neither is alcohol or ANY of the things I really like to eat and in the past soothed my ruffled feathers, so I’m left gnawing on carrot sticks feeling ornery and put out and just generally like I wish I had some snakes, cuz I would tear those babies RIGHT. UP.

Did I mention the weather and the wind and the lingering cold and general cloudiness and ickiness of early Spring in Michigan? No?

Well, such good times! And don’t even get me started about Mercury Retrograde…

So, anyhoo, that’s my week. How was yours?

The real deal

I’m tired. My heart hurts all the time lately, and I don’t know whether that’s anxiety or something more deadly, and it scares me, but I don’t know what to do about it. Most days my stress level is through the roof, and I’m sure my blood pressure is higher than my doctor would like it to be, but I don’t know what to do about that, either. I go to the gym, I get plenty of exercise, I watch what I eat, I do all I can to take care of myself. There just isn’t much time and there’s so much to do and to worry about. There is so much that is just not the way I would like it to be.

Stress at work, stress at home. Even the weather is stressful. Winter just won’t quit, and I’m worried about the snow on the roof, keeping the driveways at both houses open, and about possibly losing power this weekend in the predicted ice storm and what I’m going to do with my mom if that happens.

There is no time at which I feel on top of things; no time that I can take a deep breath and just be. I try so hard to embrace it all, to let it all be what it is and be okay with what it is; to keep my mind and my heart open and present in each moment. Sometimes, though, even that is stressful. I find myself thinking ahead or worrying about something in the future and I think Damn! I blew it!

Lately, it’s when I start feeling sorry for myself, and/or beating myself up for not being who I want to be in every moment, that the alarms start to go off. Thank goodness. I didn’t have those limits when I was younger; those red flags that tell me now that I’m headed for trouble, that I’m overwhelmed and sliding down the slope straight into the abysss.

Yesterday I heard the alarms, saw the red flags, and instead of ignoring it all and trying to soldier on, I said wait a minute. What do I need? I sat still and listened, and the answer was: TIME. So I took the afternoon off from work, and got a couple of big things done at home, and I felt better about the weekend and the resulting shorter list of things to do, and less overwhelmed in general, thanks to my decision to take a few hours’ vacation time.

I was not a wife or a mother when I was younger, so I get that I’ve been lucky that my time was mine mostly for the largest part of my adult life. I really try to avoid feeling sorry for myself or heeding the siren call of resentment telling me that it’s not fair that this is the way my life is now.

Of course it’s fair, and more than that, it simply is what is. Never in my life have I been clearer about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Living with and caring for my mother at the end of her life has been the hardest, but best part of my life in many ways. Despite the fact that much of the time lately it feels like it might be the end of my life, too, I know that it is the right thing to do, and the best use of my time and energy right now.

hope it’s not the end of my life, but if it is, at least I know my life will not have been wasted. Major karma between me and my mom, and I feel confident that we’ve cleared that up, and beyond that, honestly, what else do I have to show for 57 years on this planet? Nada, zip, zilch, zero. I was too caught up in faulty brain chemistry to contribute much for most of my adult life. I was becoming who I needed to be now, I guess, and I take comfort in knowing that I made it. If nothing else I was able to take care of myself and stay alive long enough to be able to take care of someone else and for me, that’s enough.

So my challenge is just to maintain my health; manage the stress as best I can, continue to do the things I know I need to do – the gym, eating properly, getting as much sleep as possible – and just keep going. Keep listening for the alarms, and watch for the red flags. Put my needs first when I need to. Meditate. Practice mindfulness as much as I can remember to. Acknowledge my gratitude as often as I can remember to.

I’ve come across several articles and blogs this week about self-care. It’s on all of our minds, whatever path we’re currently on. But writing about it, reading about it, or talking about it is not the same as doing it. Taking the afternoon off yesterday was the real thing, and it made all the difference.

What do you need right now? Listen to your heart. What is it telling you?

Give me a break

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I haven’t had a vacation since December and the last 6 months have been very stressful. So I think this is a great idea. I need a break. I’m taking the 2 days prior to the 4th of July off next week, which  means I have a 5-day weekend coming up. It won’t be a complete break as I will still have all my mom/household chores, but 5 days of sleeping in and leisurely afternoon bike rides will be fabulous, and I’m really looking forward to it. The weather is forecasted to be really warm and sunny, so reading on the patio might be on the schedule, as well.

Really, though, I’m not making plans for those 5 days beyond the appointment I just made to have my hair trimmed on Tuesday. I’m giving myself permission to do only the necessary daily chores for those 5 days, and the rest of the time to just do what seems fun and/or relaxing. For me that means riding my bike for as long as I wish to in the sunshine and warmth of a summer afternoon, and then sitting in a comfortable chair reading. I don’t have nearly enough time in my “regular” schedule to do either of those things as much as I’d like to, so this will be my chance.

So – two breaks in one – I’m giving myself  some time away from work and I’m giving myself permission to do nothing “useful” for those 5 days if I don’t feel like it.

It’s probably going to eat at me a little that I’m not cleaning out the garage or weeding the flowerbeds, but I will persevere. My mother will probably make a few “suggestions” of constructive uses of my time, but I will tune her out. These are my 5 days. I’ve earned them, and I’m going to enjoy them.

I used to be really great at “wasting” time, but I used to have a lot more of it, too. There was time enough when I lived alone to get everything done AND do the fun things. That’s not true anymore. Stuff has to get done for life to be pleasant for the most part – cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, cat care – I feel better about life and about myself when those basic things are taken care of. Ditto mowing the lawn, feeding the birds and watering the flowers.

Over the Memorial Day holiday I had a list of 10 “big” things to do to get ready for summer and I got them all done. I felt good about that, and I didn’t regret spending that time that way. I like to be productive, mostly. It’s possible to do too much, though, and to get burned out, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid.

The older I get the more I understand the value in pacing myself. There is always going to be a TO-DO list. There is never a point at which everything that can be done is done. My mother’s needs alone are like a giant swirling abyss I can get lost in if I’m not careful.

So I’m tired and I’m giving myself a break. Before I break.

And I’m going to enjoy every lovely minute of it.

 

 

Living accordingly

“Maybe the reason nothing seems to be ‘fixing you’ is because you’re not broken. Let today be the day you stop living within the confines of how others define or judge you. You have a unique beauty and purpose; live accordingly.” ~Steve Maraboli

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I’ve been beating myself up pretty good the past couple of days, feeling like a failure, abnormal, an alien. Feeling like an idiot for getting myself in such a desperate place again. Thinking about how hard I’ve worked to get well, to accept myself as I am, to have compassion for the trials I’ve faced and the ways in which they have shaped my journey. Berating myself for throwing all that away by willingly putting myself in a situation that has brought me to my knees once again.

What was I thinking?

Well, I thought for once I could do something meaningful for someone else. I wasn’t thinking of myself, necessarily. I was challenging myself to feel compassion for the one person in my life I felt least deserved it, but probably needed it the most. I knew I would be challenged, but I felt like I was up to the challenge and that it was almost pre-ordained by the universe. Major karma between me and my mother all these years, and I felt this would be the end.

I had no idea it would take this long. Honestly, if I had known I would still be here 6 years later with no end in sight, I might have run away screaming when she asked me to move in with her. Really, though, there was no other choice. She couldn’t live alone. What else could I have done? Looked my then 80 year-old mother, recently widowed after 60 years with the same man, living on meager Social Security and in poor health as always, in the eye and said, “no?”

Well, yes, in theory I could have. She would have died in a short time, probably, and I would have gone on with my life. I wouldn’t have felt good about that, though, and in some ways that might have been more challenging anyway. I’d still be around, and she would have called on me constantly no matter where I was.

Ultimately I would have felt like there was something more I could have done. So instead of feeling bad, I did that something more. I wasn’t being true to her so much as I was being true to myself. This is who I am, who I always have been – loyal to a fault. Like a dog. To my detriment, almost always, especially where my family is concerned.

So now I’m a better, if not happier person. I have never believed that the purpose of life is to be happy. I believe the purpose of life is to be of use. I believe in the Golden Rule. I think if there is a god, that’s really all the bible needs to say: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat others with love, acceptance and understanding. Even your worst enemy is a human being worthy of respect and kindness. Everyone is deserving of forgiveness, love and care.

Even my mother. I forgave her a long time ago, and now I’m working on the “love and care” part. Everyday. Mostly it’s on-the-job training, but I’m getting through. It’s so hard, especially the last few months when she has been so ill and my life has been turned upside down again, much as it was over and over as a kid by her poor health, and then later by depression. I’m tempted over and over again to question my decision to be here, and the life that led me here.

Over and over, however, I find that the answer to those questions is simply that “this is who I am.” This is who I’ve always been. I believe I have lived my life according to my purpose, even when I wasn’t really sure what that was. This is the family I got, and they are and have been my path to enlightenment. The path has been arduous – strewn with rocks and pits, over mountains and deep valleys – just like everyone else’s. I’ve been tempted to lay down my pack and stop so many times.

But I haven’t yet, and I hope I won’t. As I have gone on I’ve become stronger, better equipped, and better at seeing the way ahead. I can’t see where the path ends, but the next step is clear, and maybe the next step after that. I try to stay in the moment, and I find I’m happier if I don’t think about what’s ahead. I’m tired, but I focus on putting one foot in front of the other and that’s all. Just keep moving I tell myself every morning when the alarm goes off.

Get up, and just keep moving. I’ll be where I need to go soon enough.

Looking back, looking ahead

When I was younger I lost huge blocks of time – days, sometimes weeks – lost in the fog of depression. Everything just stopped for a while and then when the depression lifted, I went back to doing the things I liked to do – the things that made life worth living. My life.

I couldn’t lose my job, so I put every bit of what little energy I had into getting there most days during those times. Some days I did nothing but sit in my office and stare at the wall for 8 hours, but I was there, and I stayed employed.

That’s what life during those times boiled down to: focus on that one thing – the thing that had to happen so I could go back to my life when I was well again. Most days when I got home from work I went to bed. The next day I would do it again, and the next, and the next, until slowly, as the depression lifted, I could begin living fully again.

This time I’m spending caring for my mother feels like that time again, and it scares me. I find myself using some of the same techniques I used in those days to maintain my life so I can go back to it when things get better. I don’t have time, opportunity, or energy to do any of the things I enjoy; the things that keep me healthy. I have to postpone appointments, get togethers with friends, daily walks, posting on this blog – the list is long.

My focus this time is trying to eat properly and working as much as I can. This last week 1/2 days, next week, hopefully 6 hours per day. I keep telling myself I survived all those years with the depression, and I will survive this. I will survive this, and then I will have to rebuild my life just as I did before.

What’s different this time is that I don’t have to hide what’s going on. There is nothing shameful about caring for a family member, and everyone has been very supportive, and for that I’m grateful, especially at work. There was nothing shameful about the depression, either, but I didn’t know that then, and I had no support.

There weren’t drugs then like there are now, and I didn’t know anyone else who struggled as I did. I felt broken and different, and I did everything I could to conceal what I was going through from everyone I knew. Sooner or later that deception ended most of my relationships, so I was even more isolated, but that actually made it all easier.

I don’t have to do any of that now, and I’m very grateful for that difference. This is hard, but it isn’t as hard as that was, and I’m so much better-equipped to deal with the disruption now. I’m ready to get back to my life, but it’s not time yet, so I’m just hanging on. I know someday I’ll get back to it all and then I will be able to enjoy it all the more knowing that’s it all for a reason, and that I’ve spent the time away doing something worthwhile. My mother will be better (I hope), and I will be better for the experience.

So it’s the same in some ways, but very different also, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. I’m going forward, not backward, and it’s okay.

This too shall pass.