My sister recently shared a photograph of a wood ruler I wrote my name on and dated Jan. 23, 1989, when I was in the seventh grade.
Somehow the ruler survived more than three decades of being packed around and used. My sister took the picture as my nephew, currently in the eighth grade, used the ruler to do his own math homework.
I remember hating the seventh grade. I was fitted for glasses and braces in the same year. I grew anxious and self-aware when it came to fitting in and having friends. I couldn’t figure out how or why the hierarchy of my social circles was changing. I started struggling with my weight and depression.
If I was confronted with my younger self today, I wish I could tell him all of those emotions and confusion went away as an adult, but they haven’t. I’ve found that life and feelings may ebb and flow, but who I am internally remains relatively consistent.
As an adult, I learned to name some things I experienced as an adolescent (hello, ADHD). And I learned to better manage others. Exercise does wonders for anxiety and depression — whenever I’m motivated enough to do it.
But yes, weight is still an issue, along with dark emotions and a struggle to fit into most social circles.
My younger self might be happy to know that he eventually marries someone he is over the moon in love with. I’d probably skip telling him about the journey along the bumpy road of dating to get there.
Mostly though, looking at that ruler, I think I find it harder to measure the strides and distance from childhood to adulthood today than what I thought when I was young and daydreamed about the future as a means of current escape.
While looking back, I know there’s been tremendous positive growth and change over the past 33 years of my life, but it’s not as if I entirely left the 12-year-old who wrote his name on that ruler back in 1989.
He’s still there, living inside of me, underneath all of the layers and years of experience.
When I was an adolescent, I thought my adult self would have life all figured out. I’d be wealthy and successful. I wasn’t clear on exactly what career I’d be working in, but I just assumed I’d be good at my chosen profession.
A lot of that thought was born out of the myth that every adult had their lives together. No adult ever admitted they, too, still struggled with insecurities, doubt and were “making it up” as they went along.
Perhaps it was better that way. I’m not sure my awkward, overweight self could have handled the truth.
All I had to do was make it until I was 20. Yes, 20. That is what being an “adult” looked like at a young age.
Little did I know that my 20s would be a tumultuous age full of fun and heartache, but nowhere near being an “adult.”
My 30s were good. I settled into doing adult things. I purchased a house, had a profession (though maybe not the one I intended), started running marathons and felt relatively at peace with myself.
I thought the final piece of that puzzle clicked into place when I met my now wife at age 40.
I turn 45 this year.
And I’m like, wait, what the fuck. Where did all the time go?
My parents are getting old(er). I’m not losing weight as fast as I once did. My knees feel stiff before and shortly after I finish a run.
After a year of working from home due to the pandemic, I’m also left thinking, “Is this it? Is this all life is? A continuous march of repeating the same day over-and-over again until death or retirement? Is there anything new to experience? Any new joys to find . . . or challenges?”
I mean, I’ve kind of gotten used to having some of the same old insecurities and doubts I had for as long as I remember. At least experience has helped me temper my response to them when they flare up . . . but come on.
I then get annoyed because I hate cliches and my current state feels like a cliche.
AM I EXPERIENCING A MID-LIFE CRISIS?
Looking back at my near past, I can state that instead of buying a high-end sports car, I purchased a mid-range priced camera to mix things up a bit.
I have regularly returned to creativity throughout my life, be that through writing my thoughts in a blog or taking pictures, to understand and/or reinvent myself.
That’s something right?
I never thought a mid-life crisis would feel monotonous, but it does. I believe it is because I still hold the bogus notion of a child . . . one that believes I should have everything and everything should be figured out by now.
I have a lot of experience and understanding, but that does not mean my story is done. My current mood indicates that I still have a lot to learn about being content.
I just have to be more willful and focus on the following chapters of my life.
I know those chapters will include plot twists outside of my control, loss, heartbreak, but I also hope fun and awe-inspiring discovery if I play my cards right.
It’s 9:51 a.m. Tuesday EST as I begin to write this blog post.
The thing is, I don’t know why I’m writing this blog post.
Perhaps because it is Tuesday again. Another Tuesday working from home in what seems like a never-ending string of work-from-home-Tuesdays.
The water in the fish tank I purchased back in August makes a soothing waterfall noise as the tank’s filter quietly hums.
My cat just walked and then back out of my makeshift office in a spare bedroom of my wife’s and my house’s second floor.
Unlike last Tuesday, this one is sunny outside. Sunny and cold, but still a Tuesday.
Last night after dinner and drinking a few beers, I became very contemplative about purpose.
My purpose. The purpose of my work. My lack of purpose. My need to have a purpose.
My desire for my wife and I to find purpose together. I mentioned children.
And then we went to bed.
I woke up this morning. It’s Tuesday again, but how is Tuesday different from Monday or Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday?
Occasionally on Saturday or Sunday, I’ll do something different. I recently began running with a small group of people again on Saturday mornings.
Last Saturday evening, my wife and I went to the zoo to see all of its twinkling lights. In little more than a week and a half, she and I will spend three nights in a cabin in a forest located about a two-hour drive from our home.
I texted my wife this morning and told her I loved her. (Her work demands she goes into the office each day.)
She immediately texts back. She said she loved me too and asked how I was doing.
I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t brimming with anxiety.
As a child the focus of that anxiety centered on crossing paths with the neighborhood bully. In high school it involved issues of acceptance. In college — fear of the future.
My anxiety as an adult mostly manifests itself around work. Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right thing with my life? Does what I do even matter?
I’ve tried different ways of dealing with anxiety throughout each phase of my life. When I was a child and young teenager that mostly involved getting lost in video games, online chat groups and books.
In high school I flirted with track. I also became super-obsessed with my weight. (Luckily, I also found a solid set of friends at the local swim club where I worked each summer.)
From college up until my early thirties (I’m now 43) I drank too much, ate too much and smoked cigarettes.
When I fully realized that the combination of those things wasn’t really helping me in any healthy or substantial way, I decided to try something different.
My motivation for the changes I’m about to share was not completely altruistic nor that radical. I was 31 when I bought my first house, overweight and very single.
I quit smoking because I was worried about new home expenses. I then started regularly running to lose the extra-extra weight that I gained after I kicked my smoking habit.
I started out by run-walking this little three-mile loop around my new neighborhood. Once I started seeing results (i.e. weight loss) I knew I needed a bigger goal if I wanted to keep this running thing going.
In the summer of 2010 I signed up for my first half marathon. For non-runners that’s 13.1 miles. I downloaded a training program I found online and never missed one of the proscribed workouts.
I shed pounds and felt great. I’m not sure when I learned about the “runner’s high” but at some point, I realized how centered I felt. Work interactions and esoteric questions of purpose became more manageable.
Please don’t misunderstand, anxiety was still there, just not as much as it once was.
That decision to run a half marathon led to running a full marathon the next spring. I have since run 15 full marathons and multiple shorter races.
I’ve made some great friends while training in various running groups too. I met my fiancee at a running event in 2018.
I also learned to love the occasional long bike ride. Friends also introduced me to yoga for stretching and meditation for mental dexterity.
So, why am I writing all of this? Because 2019 was the first year I didn’t train for or run a full marathon since 2011.
I popped the question to my fiancee at the beginning of 2019. I then got super-sick in the spring before she and I bought a house together.
My life got busy. That’s what I told myself anyway.
Truth is, I was getting burned out on running. I lost some of my passion for marathons in 2016 after putting my heart into four months of training hard, only to flame out around mile 18.
My growing apathy toward running became this gradual thing. I started skipping workouts, discovered phantom pains and kept promising myself that next race season I would mount my big return to marathons.
I slowly started stacking back on the weight as well. I began taking a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. I found it increasingly difficult to keep my stress at bay. My excuses for not running only fueled those feelings.
I finally hit a bottom of sorts in the fall. The grand total of miles I ran for the last month of 2019 equaled what I used to average in a normal week running solo.
I knew what I needed to do. It was just getting my ass out there and doing it that seemed so hard.
Then I listened to a podcast centered on cliched ideas and behaviors surrounding New Year resolution. The message was simple: Humans aren’t built to vaguely chase big, far off goals. What works is plans that create long term habits and some short term rewards.
I did not set grandiose goals for myself when the spring marathon training season began this January. Instead, I signed up to train for a half marathon with my regular running club and promised myself to at least try to run all of the prescribed miles.
So far so good, even if I did skip a Saturday morning group run because I didn’t want to run five miles outside in a steady rain at 39 degrees. I got in the miles later in the day by running on a treadmill.
I’m not actually 100 percent certain why I’m sharing this in a blog post. I think it is mostly for me. I write sometimes to articulate my motivations to myself sometimes. Weird right?
I also think that it is worth sharing with whoever might be reading this. We are not alone.
I wasn’t diagnosed with acute ADHD until I was 38 years old. What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.
That also means I spent most of my life frustrated with myself and belittled by others for not being able to focus or just . . .
I was only diagnosed after entering a new work environment that was loud and chaotic, which spiked my inability to stay focused for long periods of time.
I found myself with two choices at the time: Either figure out what was going on or lose my job.
Initially, I thought I might be dyslexic.
After taking a battery of tests, the psychologist who administered them looked at me and said, “Holy shit! I’ve worked with children and adults for 18 years and have never seen someone with as an acute a case of ADHD as you. How have you functioned this long?”
I’m pretty sure the comment was a mixture of truth and an attempt to disarm me with humor. Anyway, the diagnosis led to coping strategies and some medicine.
It helped. I never told my boss about the diagnosis. He just assumed I miraculously got my shit together.
Through the diagnosis I also learned I have a superpower. It’s called hyperfocus.
Here is what hyperfocus is, as explained in the ADD-centric publication “ADDitude”:
“Hyperfocus, a common — but confusing — symptom of ADHD, is the ability to zero in intensely on an interesting project or activity for hours at a time. It is the opposite of distractibility, and it is common among both children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
The best part about hyperfocus is my ability to spend hours fixated on a work task that I find completely engaging. The worst part about hyperfocus is my ability to spend hours fixated on a work task that I find completely engaging.
The truly funny part about sharing my ADHD diagnosis, work woes and hyperfocus superpower wasn’t even why I began writing this blog post.
I started out wanting to share the graphic below I created for work before Kings Island Amusement Park in Mason, Ohio announced its new 300-foot-tall giga-coaster, Orion on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (The coaster opens next spring.)
As I started to write this post though, I realized I probably spent way too much time creating the graphic, which reminded me of my ADHD and the pitfalls of hyperfocus.
And that’s what led me here – the end of this post, where I share another aspect of my ADHD – I ALWAYS underestimate how long it will take me to do something because I ALWAYS forget that I ALWAYS find myself meandering down a few side streets and tangents along the way.
I started calling her “Crazy Gracie” whenever my nephew visited my house as a toddler.
As soon as Xander came through the front door, Gracie would run up to him, sniff and then race through the house in excitement.
This made Xander giggle uncontrollably.
This game would continue until my nephew, dog or both tired of it.
When my niece Molly came along a few years later, the same thing would unfold.
And every time, visit-after-visit, year-after-year, I would sigh, shake my head and mutter.
Oh, Crazy Gracie
And Gracie was crazy.
I learned this shortly after bringing her home nearly two years before my nephew was born.
The last of her litter to be adopted, Gracie was nearly six months old when I got her.
I suspect the extended time she spent without her siblings, and quite likely much human interaction while living locked up in a barn on a farm deeply traumatized Gracie.
She never liked being left alone.
The first time I left Gracie to go to work, I kept her in the kitchen with water and a wee pad.
I imagined her crying, scared and alone while I worked.
I remember rushing home as quickly as possible and gasping when I got to the kitchen door.
The aftermath of Gracie’s first major freakout was epic.
She not only clawed up the linoleum flooring in front of the safety gate I used to keep her in the kitchen, she managed to shred a majority of the flooring by peeling it back and tearing it with her teeth.
I had lived in my house for less than a year by that point and had not planned on remodeling the kitchen any time soon.
Gracie taught me that plans can change in a minute.
After absorbing the shock of the scene, I noticed a rhythmic sound near my feet.
There sat Gracie, her dark eyes peering up at me from behind the gate and bushy tail thumping on a bare patch of kitchen floor she created.
I looked down and muttered . . .
Gracie . . . I’m going to kill you
Of course, I didn’t.
Instead, I learned how to remove the remaining linoleum and lay new flooring.
The incident also created an opportunity for me to bond with my dad. He helped me buy cheap faux-wood slats and then showed me how to install them.
And Gracie got her first crate to stay in whenever I wasn’t home. (Oddly enough, the confined space seemed to help calm Gracie too.)
This was not the last time I either learned a new skill, practiced creative problem solving or realized something new about myself and/or others thanks to Gracie.
As Gracie got older, I realized she could bark for hours at anything and everything outside of my fenced-in backyard.
I’d often watch as she waited for the chance to pounce.
I would then spritz Gracie with a hose, yell at her or sometimes chuck a shoe her way to try and get her to stop barking every time she saw a neighbor’s dog.
One Saturday afternoon I decided to see just how long Gracie would bark before stopping.
I quickly realized the experiment wasn’t the most considerate thing to do to the other people living on my street.
A red-faced neighbor eventually started pounding on my front door and threatened to call animal control if I didn’t . . .
Shut that effing dog up!
Gracie was still barking in the backyard.
Looking back, I can state the test of Gracie’s barking fortitude wasn’t a complete failure despite never learning what her threshold for yapping actually was.
The incident became the first piece of evidence that the neighbor raging at my door was a grade-A asshole and douche bag.
He’s never spoken to me since that incident, which took place nearly 13 years ago.
I tried to say hello and mend fences, so to speak, multiple times after pissing him off. He’s never even acknowledged me.
He also owned a dog for a time.
That dog was a very friendly golden retriever mix who would occasionally hop his own fence and stroll through the neighborhood.
The dog would greet people and shit in various yards as he went.
Most of the time someone, myself included, would coax the renegade pooch into its backyard.
No one ever yelled at the man nor threaten to call the dog warden.
Thanks to Gracie, I learned to judge someone by how much they identify with those in similar situations to their own, along with the level of empathy and support they offer.
The situation also led me to invest in a good leash and walk Gracie often. She always enjoyed our strolls through the neighborhood.
And whenever Gracie barked at a new dog while on those walks, most people would say . . .
She’s just being a good dog, saying hello and/or protecting her owner.
Those are good people.
Gracie settled down some as she grew older.
I eventually got a cat. After a short adjustment period, Gracie and Buds became best friends.
In some instances though, Gracie became a bit too chill.
Taking Gracie to dog parks was no fun after a while because Gracie would not play while there.
Instead, she would sit next to me until I was ready to go or bristle whenever an aggressive-looking dog approached me.
It’s okay, Gracie. Go play!
She’d look up at me, tail wagging, but not move from my side.
Gracie was loyal.
With age also came things I wished I had noted earlier.
I didn’t recognize at first when Gracie started losing some of her bladder control.
I thought she was just being lazy the first time she peed in her sleep while on the couch next to me.
Damn it, Gracie!
Gracie did this occasionally while awake as a pup.
The vet and I at the time determined young Gracie likely did this fearing that if she moved, she’d somehow lose me. That behavior only lasted for a brief period before I started crating Gracie.
It took a minute, but I finally realized how old Gracie was getting to be when the peeing started happening again.
Specifically, I realized it after coming home to let Gracie out of her crate and seeing her sitting in puddles of her own pee on two separate occasions.
Back to the vet we went and Gracie was prescribed some medicine to help with bladder control. It worked, mostly.
This marked the beginning of Gracie teaching me how to care for an elderly loved one.
First, the safety gate and wee pads came back out. I left the crate out and open but gave Gracie the option to decide what was most comfortable for her.
One day she simply drug her doggy bed out of the crate and put it near the safety gate so she could comfortably wait for me to come home.
After that day, I collapsed the crate and put it in the basement.
I then started noting other gradual changes in Gracie’s normal “crazy” behavior.
For instance, my 40-pound pup never realized she was too big to be a lap dog. She loved to leap up onto me whenever I was on the couch.
Gracie, you’re squishing me!
Then one day, Gracie started staring at me whenever I was on the couch instead of jumping on it with me like she normally did.
Gracie, stop staring at me! You’re creeping me out!
During the next vet visit I learned Gracie had arthritis. The pain in Gracie’s hips was too much for her to jump onto the couch anymore.
I’m sorry, Gracie.
I put a blanket on the floor close enough to the couch for her to comfortably sit on so I could scratch behind her ears as I watched TV.
Then came the hair and weight loss, along with more and more time Gracie spent snoozing in her doggy bed.
I tried to deny these symptoms when they first showed up a few months ago. Gracie still ate and drink plenty of food and water.
She’d also muster some excitement whenever she saw her leash or another dog as she stood in the backyard.
But finally, a couple of weeks ago, I could not deny that it was time to take Gracie to the vet again.
After three visits and two blood tests, the vet conducted an ultrasound.
The blood tests revealed a high enzyme count indicative of liver disease. The ultrasound showed the lesions on Gracie’s liver and gall bladder.
The vet offered more tests but said she felt certain Gracie had cancer and the disease was spreading.
I asked the vet if it would be worth putting a 13-year-old dog through more tests and possible treatment.
The vet gave me an honest answer.
She’s doesn’t appear to be in pain right now. I’d take her home and do the things she loves to do while she still can.
So, I took Gracie home that day. I sat in the backyard watching as she waited for a neighbor dog to come out. I let Gracie bark for as long as she liked.
Lucky for that neighbor, he didn’t come out to curse us.
Sadly though, Gracie wasn’t really up to staying outside too long.
Are you sure you’re ready to go inside, Grace?
When we did go in, I fed Gracie as many dog biscuits and piles of shredded cheese as she wanted.
(Gracie once ate a whole pecan pie I had left unguarded while rushing to get ready to go to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner.)
I then laid on the couch so Gracie could stare at me until she was ready to be scratched behind her ears.
I would have scratched until my hand locked up, but Gracie yawned after a few minutes and then went to her doggy bed in the kitchen to take a nap.
I cried, a lot.
I got up the next morning and fed Gracie one final meal.
We then drove the long way back to the vet’s office, Gracie’s nose poking out of an open window the entire time.
My fiancee, family and many good friends offered to meet me at the vet’s office.
Thank you, but I think this is something I need to do alone.
I held Gracie as the vet administered the initial sedative.
I was told Gracie would get woozy and then fall into a deep sleep within five minutes.
The vet left me alone with Gracie so I could comfort Gracie as the sedative took affect.
The stubborn old dog fought sleep. I put my forehead to her forehead.
It’s going to be okay, Gracie. It’s going to be okay.
She finally went under and began snoring in my lap . . . after the vet administered a second small dose of sedative.
I picked Gracie up as she slept and put her on the examination table.
I held her head as the vet injected Gracie with the euthanasia solution near her front left paw. I watched as Gracie let out her last breath in one big sigh.
I didn’t cry or breakdown in the moment. The vet left me alone with Gracie after Gracie passed.
Take however long you need. Just turn out the light and shut the exam room door when you leave.
I didn’t stay in the room for too long. Gracie had already taught me how to say goodbye. I had made my peace with her the night before.
Gracie also taught me what it meant to be a little less selfish.
She wasn’t in horrible pain when I let her go. But I knew it would have been wrong to have kept her alive until she truly hurt, just so I could avoid that moment for as long as possible.
After thinking Gracie was always getting on my nerves, I realized Gracie devoted a life time to loving me.
That was her greatest gift to me.
Letting her go in in peace when peace was still to be had was my gift to her.
To not only run my fiancée across the finish line of her first ultra marathon, but also cheer as she claimed second place female finisher for the 50K distance – all as she pumped her right fist clinching a dill pickle wrapped in a slice of deli turkey victoriously into the air.
A friend and former co-worker thoughtful enough to give me a boatload of Legos for my nephew and I to play right before my friend moves far away for a job in a new city. (James, you’re the best!)
That three-and-a-half-hour car ride filled with deep conversations on topics ranging from online gaming to politics and religion without any animosity.
For finding Chasing Sunsets, my official local craft beer for the summer of 2019 before summer has even officially begun.
Having an incredible run of listening to and sharing the stories of some pretty amazing people at work. The latest was a much-beloved master chef in Cincinnati reflecting on life a year after his sarcoma diagnosis and treatment.
For another moment while working: Within two minutes of getting out of a work van, a woman from a church destroyed by a tornado in Dayton, Ohio offering me a bottle of water followed by another woman making the same offer seconds later. Humbled. People can be truly inspiring and kind.
I’ve stated it before and will do so again and again and again – remembering most things in life are more about process, progression and effort than “end results.” Glad I’m once again attempting to write daily gratitude lists after a significant gap between this one and the last.