Chaos ListTue, 21st Aug '18, 12:30 am::
One late night a few years ago, overcome with stress and anxiety from all facets of life, I decided to blog about everything that was bothering me, hoping for some sort of catharsis. But a funny thing happened when I wrote them all out, even before I posted anything online. I felt better. Just writing down a list of things that were causing chaos in my life made me feel better. So instead of posting it for the world to see, I just copied them to my todos under the heading: Chaos List.
The Chaos List isn't a list of chores I hate doing or bills I'd rather not pay. It is for the big problems in life, things that utterly bring me down, sometimes literally like the neurosurgery I needed on my C6-7 discs. I can control a lot of things in my life, from work schedule to eating healthy. But for the things I cannot control, there's the Chaos List.
I recently added "C5-6 discs" to the list because my neurosurgeon said it looks like I will need another surgery, right above the previous one. My pain level was down to 1/10 by mid-July but it is back to 6/10 now. I'm getting headaches, neck pain, and back pain because even though my doctor wanted to operate on both my C5-6 and C6-7 in March, the insurance company would not cover the cost of C5-6, only C6-7. So now I have to go under the knife again, the doctor has to re-operate on a recovering patient, and the insurance company has to pay 100% of the cost instead of just 15% additional. If this isn't chaos beyond my control, I don't know what is.
Another item on the list is "Old house sale." Today the buyer for my old house canceled the sale after being under contract for 90 days! The sale was supposed to complete tomorrow but the buyer got fired from his job on Friday. And since the lender denied the loan due to buyer's unemployment, I don't even get to keep the escrow. Now we start the whole process again and the earliest we can find a buyer and complete the sale is October or most likely November. This means 3-4 months of mortgage, electricity, water, and lawn mowing bills for an empty house. Argh!
There are a few more items on the list, most of them too personal and honestly too boring to share. Nobody cares about these issues other than me or my family but they definitely ruin my mood every time I let my mind wander. So I put them on the Chaos List. If it is on the list, I do not allow myself to think about it. No point in wallowing in self-pity over things already on the list. That's why they are on the list. I have already admitted that they are self-pity worthy! I don't need to keep wasting my time thinking about them.
Of course I cannot always consciously stop my anxious mind from running wild. So when I am absolutely past my ability to function or think straight due to the stress of everything, I stare at this list. Not just one item in the list but the whole list, because it is never a single issue that weighs me down, but the burden of the entire pile! And so I stare at this list.
I think of all the qualities that define me, that constitute my personality, my being. Nothing on this list has anything to do with my true nature. I am who I am, good and bad. But I am definitely not an unsold house. I am not a denied insurance claim. I am not a rejected application. Things that happen to me are not things that are me.
I don't stare at the list hoping all of these will be fixed or go away. They may not. They might get worse. The list could double in size overnight. But I will still be me. Even when I change, from experience, wisdom, or life just knocking me around, I am still never going to be a list of out-of-control events and situations. I am always going to be a real person, experiencing life, sometimes in control, sometimes out of.
Earlier today after I signed the cancellation agreement, I felt a cloud of uneasiness slowly coming over me. So I did what I've been doing for the past few years and stared at my Chaos List. It takes a bit of effort to detach myself from the events in my own life but it helps me focus on what matters without losing myself.
Tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary. We officially got married on 23rd but we celebrate our Yellowstone Wedding on 27th each year because that's when we shared our vows and had a little ceremony in front of Undine Falls. My parents celebrate June 2nd because that's when we had our traditional Indian wedding.
Re-reading my vows to Juliet after ten years, I don't think I would change anything. I don't think I would change anything about our life together over the past decade. There is a lot, lot more I want to write but right now I have to get ready for a long weekend full of fun family activities. Couldn't be more excited!
I used to take a lot of pride in my work when I was younger. I prided myself on producing the best quality work I could and rarely gave in to laziness or cut-corners at the expense of quality. I was unabashedly proud of it. Unfortunately for a long time, I equated pride in my work with pride in the product of my work.
When you take pride in your work, you do your best. When you take pride in the product of your work, you reject all criticism. Constructive criticism is how you improve and rejecting that means stagnation. It took some time for me to learn this but once I did, I noticed how little pride in anything mattered.
Now I rarely care about anything I've made, written, or designed. I don't care if it is endearing or embarrassing. I care that I did it, for the reasons I did it, and with the effort that I did it with. But I don't care that *I* did it. This mindset has led to continuous improvement in everything I do. So criticize away. If I have the time and resources, I will incorporate your suggestions with an open mind.
True storyMon, 14th May '18, 10:40 pm::
This happened earlier today with Naveen when I was trying to convince him to take a nap.
Me: Napping is great. Bears love napping so much, they go into hibernation and sleep through all of winter.
Naveen: But I want to be a frog, not a bear.
Me: Being a bear is great! If you were a bear, you would be big and tall. You could eat honey and berries all day. And you could even eat salmon fresh from the river.
Naveen: What's salmon?
Me: It's a type of fish.
Naveen: Mommy eats fish... (15 seconds of contemplation later). Is mommy a bear?
Opting for a surgeryWed, 4th Apr '18, 11:30 pm::
I've been recovering from my ACDF surgery gradually and feeling better by the week. I am glad I went under the knife even though I was quite apprehensive initially. What helped me come to terms with my decision was a conversation with a neurosurgeon who told me the three reasons people usually opt for surgeries:
1) Get the surgery if you are in severe pain or extremely debilitated and cannot tolerate the physical trauma.
2) Get the surgery if you cannot afford to miss your home/work/academic obligations.
3) Get the surgery if your quality-of-life has deteriorated to the point where you can't imagine living like this forever.
In my case, honestly all the three reasons applied. It hasn't even been three weeks since the operations and reason #2 is already resolved for me. I am still in a lot of pain and cannot be physically active like I was prior to January but that is just a matter of time. Hopefully in a few months, I will be back to normal as if nothing happened, well, except having a few pieces of metal embedded in my neck.
My surgery went well and I am resting in the hospital right now. Hopefully I will be discharged later today. I am experiencing some pain but my left hand already feels amazingly better!
I am scheduled for a cervical disk fusion surgery tomorrow morning. My parents arrived yesterday from India to help take care of Naveen while I recover. Going to bed now so I can wake up early and get to the hospital with Juliet.
When it comes to language and word usage, I am what is often called, a descriptivist instead of a prescriptivist. Words and their meanings evolve over time and arguing that a word or phrase should mean today exactly what it meant years or centuries ago is futile. When it comes to grammar though, I am more of a prescriptivist, though not strictly. The point of writing is to communicate your thoughts and ideas clearly to the reader. As long as the words or phrases used by a writer convey the indented meaning clearly to the reader, there is no point in being pedantic about the etymological origin. However, using non-standard grammar, especially in written form, could confuse the reader so it is best to use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Let me explain with examples. It used to be that the word 'literally' meant 'in the strictest sense or manner'. However, overuse of the word in the past decade has now rendered it to mean 'figuratively'. Nobody literally dies when they run into a celebrity and then post about it on social media. They mean 'figuratively'. I am ok with this, prescriptivists aren't. The word 'computer' used to refer to women who performed mathematical operations manually on paper; now it means the device you are reading this text on.
But why should we care about this? Because there are many more words whose meanings are changing before our eyes and people are fighting all over the world to keep or revert these changes. Political and social disagreements very often boil down to arguing over the intended meaning of words. New words and phrases pop up every day and people get used to them. What was called yellow journalism in the 19th century is now called 'fake news' and 'click-bait'. The word 'organic' has been around for centuries but only recently has it been used to refer to foods cultivated without the use of chemical additives or artificial pesticides.
There is disagreement in word usage in almost every hot-button political issue. The disagreement about the word 'marriage' is pretty commonplace. Should 'marriage' mean a socially and/or legally recognized union between a man and a woman or should it mean between any two adults, regardless of gender? Some argue that 'marriage' should only refer to the union between a man and a woman and if two men or two women want the same union, it should be called 'civil union' instead, since the traditional definition of marriage didn't include same-gendered couples. If a 'civil union' works in the exact same way as 'marriage' and offers the same rights and legal claims, then why not just use or refine the word 'marriage'? The word 'dinner' used to mean lunch and was eaten around 1pm but now we're perfectly ok with making dinner and movie plans that start at 8pm.
Another phrase in the news now is 'assault rifles'. In the strictest terms, an 'assault rifle' must be "capable of selective fire, have an intermediate-power cartridge, have ammunition that is supplied from a detachable box magazine, and have an effective range of at least 300 meters." The AR-15 gun used in the recent Parkland school shooting as well as the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Orlando Nightclub, Sandy Hook, and Sutherland Springs Texas church, is technically not an assault rifle. So passing laws that specifically prohibit the sale or ban the possession of 'assault rifles' would not affect this specific gun or its variants. In this instance, people are trying to generalize the meaning of 'assault rifles' to include guns like AR-15. Generalization has happened many times in many disciplines and industries. Brand names become generic terms (e.g. Chapstick, Jacuzzi, Jet Ski), trademarks become verbs (Google this, Xerox that), and technical definitions get commercialized (e.g. real-time, cloud).
In the end, people will redefine, expand, and refine the meaning of words like they always have as long as others can understand them. Long ago, 'nice' used to mean silly, 'awful' meant awesome, and 'meat' meant any solid food including vegetables and fruits. If the definition and usage of these core words can change, then the redefinition of words like 'woke', 'salty', 'thirsty', 'lit', and 'basic' is just natural progression. Some of these will stick and become part of the vernacular, some will return to their original meaning, and some will continue to change.
I choose to accept these changes because they tell the story of our time.
Deriving wisdomFri, 23rd Feb '18, 10:35 pm::
Researcher Carolyn Aldwin, co-author of a recent study of 50 senior citizens published in the Journals of Gerontology concluded that "Difficult times are a way people define themselves." In short, the study confirms that we derive wisdom from how we relate to life events and how much we question our beliefs and our values for growth. Importantly, though, the type and quality of the social contact that we experience during hard times also play a role in determining whether we stagnate or become wiser.
Let's just say that for some time now, Juliet and I have been unexpectedly defining ourselves and unwittingly deriving wisdom. Leaving aside a long list of stressors that has stirred our life over the past year, from my wrist surgery and hurricane evacuation to Naveen's rustication from preschool, this last week has shaken things up a bit more than usual. I was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc impinging the nerves going to my left shoulder and arm causing intense pain, burning sensation, numbing, and electric-shock like symptoms constantly for the past month. I've spent the past few days setting up appointments for second opinion, painfully filling out medical forms, and learning as much as I can about my condition before I pick a method of treatment. However, based on everything I've learned so far, people with my specific conditions generally undergo neurosurgery soon after diagnosis.
Since I haven't had any accidents or impact injuries, the cause for the disc herniation remains uncertain. The primary suspect is my years and years of severe dry cough which causes intense pain in my neck and head for months on end. A few months ago my pulmonologist suggested that I try taking Sucralfate every time I start to experience dry cough to see if it helps. Fortunately for me, even though sucralfate is not a cough medicine, it is helping tremendously in suppressing bouts of coughing. Unfortunately for me, the damage to my cervical discs is already done. The good news is that if I get a neurosurgical disc implant properly, it will alleviate my pain and give me back my mobility, strength, and energy. The scary part is of course undergoing neurosurgery at age 37.
Usually when not-so-happy things happen to me, I keep the exhausting details to myself and only share the highlights with close friends and family. But I've started to open up a bit more about this because I'm finding out that almost everyone has or knows someone who has spine or neck problems and each person deals with it differently. The more common I find my condition to be, the less alone I feel going into it. Even though I'd rather learn more about neural networks than neurosurgery, if you know anything about C6-7 herniated discs, I am all ears and ready to take notes!
SerenityThu, 16th Nov '17, 12:20 am::
I woke up this morning to find Naveen had opened multiple bags of dried fruits, chips, and candy and was arranging them on his little plastic table. I asked him why he was emptying entire bags on to the table instead of just eating a few pieces from a bag and he said because he wanted to put them on the table. He knows I won't buy his circular reasoning but he still leads with it. After a few minutes of prodding, he reasoned that once all the food was on his table, it was his and he could eat as much or as little of it as he wants. I assured him that he could do the same even if it was in the bags and he seemed to accept that at face value. I will find out tomorrow if he believed me or not.
I've noticed he is doing more and more things to assert some form of control over his surroundings. Whether it is the arrangement of pillows before bedtime or which books he wants us to read in which order, he is constantly trying to govern his world. Initially I thought it was just random choices or him being fussy but now I can definitely spot a pattern in his requests. He wants a big pillow on the edge to prevent him from falling off the bed and he wants picture stories first and books with songs later on because the latter make him sleepy.
It was during one of his bedtime routines a few nights ago that I realized how important it was for him to feel like he was in control. The more he was in charge the more he behaved well and took responsibility for his actions. Frankly, that's pretty much all we want as adults too. Being in control of your own life and fate is one of the key ingredients to happiness.
My dry cough is back once again and disrupting my home and work life as always. Involuntary coughing is literally the opposite of control and barely an hour goes by without me hacking my lungs out at full volume. Obviously I am going to get the proper treatment but it is a painful, protracted process. Add to this some expensive medical issues, unexpected travel, and arbitrary work hours and you arrive at my complete lack of jurisdiction over my own life.
Just like my son, I grew up learning how to take charge of my life, from asserting control over my routines to fighting for command in school and work environments. And now I find myself at an unexpected juncture - reciting the Serenity Prayer to myself 5x a day because accepting that there are things I cannot control is surprisingly more difficult for me than chanting the try-try-till-you-succeed mantra that has fueled me all my life.
- "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."
I don't know how long things will be tough and seemingly out of control but it helps to have a loving family and tons of cuddly pets. I may not be able to direct this season of life but I can sure teach Naveen the words to The Lion Sleeps Tonight and for the moment, that's good enough.