Just Jacki

If you understand what you're doing, you're not learning anything.

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A little bit about intuition

I used to be a lot more of a gamer than I am now. I always enjoyed games, especially video, board and card games. I think somewhere around 2005 I started hosting board game nights with a group of guys I worked with a couple times a month. I only owned a few games, but I lived in a big house with a nice place to play, so the guys would bring their duffel bags full of games and 6-packs of good beer and some energy drinks. We’d play for hours and practice the fine art of trash-talk.

A few years ago, I was hosting a game night and I won at Alhambra again after having my ass handed to me in some other games. I was wondering aloud why I usually won certain kinds of games like Alhambra (some strategy, but lots of variables left to chance). My die-hard gamer friend turned to me and said “It’s because you play intuitively rather than strategically.” Huh. I must’ve looked confused, because he then offered further “It’s why you rock at Alhambra, but you suck at chess.” OH!

That applies to a lot more than gaming in my life. In fact, I think it applies to every aspect of my life. I feel like I’ve always been that way, but it’s only been in recent years that I started to accept and understand that about myself. Before that, I feel like my intuition was always there, but it was crushed beneath my mountains of logic, rationalization and justification. “This and this, therefore that.” In thinking and acting along those lines, while largely ignoring my intuition, I put myself through a vast world of pain.

You're entering a world of pain!

If only my intuition was as clear…

Back up there for a moment. Re-read that last sentence a time or two. The key phrase there is “while largely ignoring my intuition.” I am NOT saying that rational thinking is bad. Rational thinking is great! I have tremendous love and respect for amazing people like Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The problem comes in when that rationality is divorced from intuition. They should be dancing together. Daaaahnnnssiing, dahlingk!

In recent years as I’ve opened back up to my intuition, things have gotten infinitely more interesting, weird, bizarre, embarrassing, and awesome. [random: I say “Oxford comma” in my head whenever I decide to use one, which kind of answers that song by Vampire Weekend.] I’ve made some big life changes and pulled 180’s with eye poppin‘ G-force. This is not for the faint of heart and comes with all sorts of warning labels. But as with most warning labels, I peel them off and stick them somewhere inappropriate that makes me giggle, and then I do my thing anyway.

I watched the movie, Jeff, Who Lives at Home when it came out in the theater last year, and really identified with it. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer. Jeff has all these random coincidences and sees signs everywhere. But which ones should he pay attention to or act on? Well, pretty much all of them. Doing that takes him on this crazy journey. He gets hurt a lot along the way, and at best people think he’s a lovably kooky slacker. At best. But people also think he’s straight up nuts, incredibly lazy, gullible, [Oxford comma] and useless. He doesn’t know why he’s being prompted to do these things. But he is and so he does them (often against his judgment and the judgment of those around him). He doesn’t have any real clue what it’s leading up to. There’s no goal he’s working toward or something he’s trying to attain or acheive. He’s just doing what feels like the thing to do in that moment and going with it.

And more and more, that is how I’m operating in my life. I’m currently unemployed with no clear idea of what I’ll be doing next for a living (well, I’d like to do UX and user research work, but it’s not like I know where, when, how or if it will happen). I know many people who would be terrified in my position. The uncertainty, instability, etc… But I’m not. I feel pretty good, actually. I have a robust support network of friends and family right now, and I’m just doing what feels right in each moment as it presents itself. I’m figuring it out as I go and playing it all by ear. And I feel like everything is working out just fine.



If you’re reading this, I love you

If you’re reading this, I love you. It’s that simple.

If you know me and we’re friends and enjoy each other, of course I love you.

If you know me and you’ve hurt me in some way that you’re ashamed of or feel guilty about, I hope you can forgive yourself and let that go. Because I love you and forgave you for it already.

There are no caveats or conditions. Nothing you need to do to earn it. No flaming hoops to jump through. I just love you.

All of us are flawed. All of us are doing the best we can with what we’ve got at any given time. That thing you did that you look back on and cringe… You did your best at the time. Try to feel what you would feel if it happened to your best friend or partner instead. What advice would you give them? Forgive yourself, love yourself and let it go.

And if you’re not ready to do that yet and it just seems too hard, be kind to yourself and understand that it will come in time when you’re ready for it.

Thank you for being part of the world and adding your unique perspective and experience to it.

I love you. ❤ ❤ ❤

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“I was looking for a job and then I found a job,

and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” ~The Smiths

I’m generally a pretty happy person for somebody whose life is often narrated by old Morrissey and The Smiths songs. But this one has played in my head a lot this year. And it was exactly what happened in my most recent foray in the land of the gainfully employed. But more than that, it’s also a form of “Wherever you go, there you are.”

As a people, we focus on problems. We obsess and crank away on them during sleepless nights when we just can’t get a handle on the stuff of the day or our perceived tomorrows. Thoughts along these lines come from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard which I read recently and is awesome. We skip right over most of the good stuff that’s going on and hone in on whatever we perceive to be problematic. It’s how we’re wired. But we don’t have to BE our natural tendencies.

That song kept me in check a lot during my months of unemployment early this year, and then my months where I wasn’t making enough at my job to make ends meet. Of course it was tempting to think “When I get a job making more money, everything will be great.” But I knew that was a lie. The truth is closer to “When I get a job making more money, there will be a few financial concerns that I no longer have while I’m at that job. And that will free me up a bit for other challenges that can emerge once those financial concerns are alleviated.” And that is pretty much what happened.

I was only unemployed for two short weeks between these last two jobs. I visited friends in Cincinnati, we baked some s’more cookies, I came home and got right into my next job. And at this job I made over twice what I did at the previous job. Cha-ching! It was pretty nice to go from not being able to scrape by on my own (thank you Mom and friends who helped me through all that) to being able to pay my bills that had piled up. Within 5 weeks, I was pretty much alright again financially. Still in debt from the previous months, but more financially comfortable than I had been all year.

I had taken a job doing database work again. It was a solution to my problem. I needed to make a bunch of money fast so I could afford my recent trip to California (which was life-changing and deserves its own series of blog posts), and so I could afford to live, basically. And so came this job where there was zero on-call support, which is pretty much unheard of in DBA work, and I got to clock out at 5pm every day. “Sweet! I can do database stuff for 8 hours a day, and then go home and do other stuff and make good money. It’s a reasonable trade-off. I can handle this.”

And I had a stellar attitude about it for the first three weeks or so. And just as I figured they would, the challenges presented themselves once the sting of my financial situation had been sufficiently mitigated. I realized it wasn’t so much 8 hours out of my day. It was more than 11. I spent 9 hours in the building every week day, and 2 hours a day in the car commuting. There was no place to go for lunch that was anywhere near any of my friends, or even a restaurant that was much higher caliber than fast food. I sat in a gray box for 9 hours with people who had been there for years and planned to retire from there. Lifers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not a mentality I relate to well. And to me it was feeling a lot like “doing time” instead of doing a job that I sort of liked and was somewhat good at.

And when I got home from work, I was too exhausted to do anything that required much brain power. I’d watch some TV, read a little and go to bed early. My time socializing went down considerably, too. Doing things much later than 8pm just wasn’t feasible for my getting up at 5:30am schedule. And so I got a bit depressed. I didn’t really know what to do. The trade-off was seeming less reasonable day by day. But I felt like I should at least finish out my contract there. So I kept doing my thing until they let me go last Friday without warning or notice.

And so, the Universe balances itself out. It always does. Of course I was upset and shocked initially. That has never happened to me before. But I wasn’t happy there, and the two days I’ve had so far where I didn’t have to go there have felt like a gift. I don’t feel like I need to scramble to find another job just to get by right now. I want to take some time to regroup and get back in touch with what’s important to me.

I am not my job. I am not my résumé. There is no event I’m waiting for before I can be happy again. No future pie in the sky that I’m just waiting to bite into. I am here and now. I inhale and exhale. Sometimes with purpose, sometimes automatically. Things that happen to me only define me if I choose to allow them to do so.

And so far this week, I’ve made lunch plans on the fly and eaten at places I enjoy with people I like. And sometimes being happy is just that simple. I’m grateful for the times when I recognize that.

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When I Grow Up – Part 1

I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I say that often enough. At 37, it might seem like a funny thing to say, but it’s true. It’s always been true.

I remember how I felt as a little kid being asked that question. I’d think, “I don’t know. How could I know that?” And often enough, that’s the actual answer I’d give. My cousin would say she wanted to be a nurse, like her mother. My mom was an elementary school teacher, and I never wanted to do that. Stand up in front of a classroom every day and talk? Try to get a bunch of kids to sit and pay attention to school work when it was the last thing they wanted to do? Be around kids all the time? No, thank you. Not for me.

I remember when I was really little and out with my mom somewhere, I saw somebody typing. I don’t remember who at all. I just remember the sight of their fingers tapping away at the keys, effortlessly. Like those fingers had a mind of their own. How did they know where to go like that? How did the person’s brain work to tell their fingers what to do? They moved so fast and they typed the letters in the right order somehow. And I was fascinated by that. I wanted my fingers to do that.

In fifth grade I bugged my mom enough to let me take a typing class. She let me use her old Smith-Corona. It was a pale turquoise manual typewriter with white keys. It came in a black hard suitcase. A portable model. I couldn’t lift it, but it was portable. And I loved my typing classes. I didn’t really like making pictures out of X’s and such. A 4 leaf clover for St. Patrick’s day, a bunny for Easter… The instructions like “space 4, X 10, space 8, X 19” etc. That was just tedious counting. The pictures were neat at the end, though. I liked learning to type the sentences more. “Mary jumped over the fox and ran around the frozen pond.” Over and over again.

After a few years, I became a decent touch typist. I had no aspirations to be a secretary, so my parents didn’t really get why I wanted to do that so badly. And for me, it was never really more than wanting to make my fingers move like that. I had no larger aspiration at that time. I had no idea that the keyboard would become the doorway to the Internet one day. I just thought typing fast seemed pretty neat and that was it.

Around the same time, I decided I wanted to play the oboe. I had to fight for it as there were already two oboe players in the band and that’s all there could be. I took lessons on my own and petitioned to challenge the current oboists for their chair. Eventually I got it, and I became first chair oboe in the Perry High Symphonic Wind Ensemble, which was the finest band I ever played in. I enjoyed it and that was well and good. I didn’t think about it being what I wanted to do when I grew up, though.

But suddenly it was time for college, and I didn’t really like anything else yet. I wanted to take a year or two off to figure things out, but got pressured into going immediately, and thus became a music major. My high school grades weren’t good, but my test scores and oboe playing got me a couple scholarships and so that’s what I did. And I did it until I found myself not enjoying listening to music anymore. Always trying to figure out the chords, intervals, tonalities and time signatures sucked the fun out of music for me. It took several years before that dissipated and I once again heard music instead of a collection of notes.

Next I worked in the Juniors department at Kaufmann’s at a mall back home. Then I sold carpet there for a year. And after that I went to OSU for design. That was an interesting year. I really applied myself for the first time. I had several classes that were art and drawing-centric. I drew hundreds of chairs in my industrial design classes, shapes with perfect line weights for my Engineering Graphics class… I was so good at my orthographic projection homework, and loved messing around with AutoCad.

I got the best grades of my entire educational career that year. I remember a talk given by a guest speaker for one of my design classes. He was a product designer and brought shower caddy he had designed with him. He talked about the considerations that went into making it. The places for the razors, soap, shampoo bottles, etc. And then he talked about noticing how his wife would turn the bottles over when they were nearly empty and store them upside-down to get the last bit of shampoo or conditioner out. And so he adjusted his design to accommodate an upside-down bottle and keep it from falling over. Again, I was fascinated by this. He had the power to change things and make them work better. I wanted that power, too.

In that, I am a designer. I notice things like that. I appreciate the consideration that went into the design features of most things I come in contact with. Some brands have really impressed me. Like Breville, an Australian company that mostly makes small kitchen appliances. I really love my Breville juicer. It is well designed from top to plug. I once saw a $200 hot tea maker of theirs in action. It was so beautifully designed, I got a little choked up as it brewed me a perfect mug of herbal tea. I’m telling you, it was amazing.

Back to 1997 for a minute. I was at the top of my classes and doing well. I was also working part time as a transcriptionist at Harding Hospital (a full service mental hospital). I was working hard and doing really well. I had signed up for my next semester of classes and was working on my portfolio and getting professor’s recommendations to vie for one of the 14 spots in the Visual Communication Design program. I was between that and Industrial Design. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer and was headed toward Vis Com, though my heart was more into product design.

Anyway, I had a 4am moment of clarity in the thick of it all, and decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, my argument felt well-reasoned and justified. I stuck with the transcriptionist gig instead and just went full time at Harding. Looking back now, I am pretty sure I chickened out.

To be continued…

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I’m fine, then?

I had my sleep study a week ago last Wednesday. It wasn’t the most fun I’ve had, but it wasn’t awful. I went in around 8pm and they had me hooked up to electrodes, breath tubes and all manner of sensors and ready for sleep around 9:30pm. I slept on my back, kind of afraid to move. They assured me that everything was latched onto me securely, but I didn’t want them to have to hook anything back up again. I had to flag down the attendant a couple times to go to the bathroom in the night. It was her job to watch me on night vision camera, so I just waved my hand and she came in. Yeah, kinda creepy.

In the morning they unhooked the breath tube, the electrodes on my legs and the sensor belts around my torso and let me sit in a recliner and mess around on the internet while I waited for them to tell me to take a nap. When they did that, I got all hooked up again and calibrated the equipment by moving my eyes and grinding my teeth on cue. And then I tried to sleep. This is not how my narcolepsy symptoms manifested at all. They didn’t have me listen to a lecture, sit in a meeting or read a book until I blinked out. But I suppose they checked the order I went through the sleep stages when I napped (narcoleptics hit REM sleep first unlike most people). And I took 5 scheduled naps. I think I actually fell asleep for 3 of the 5.

At 5pm after the daytime study, they unhooked me and sent me home with electrode goo (the consistency of Vaseline and sand) all through my hair and still on my face and body. Unpleasant, but not awful. They made it a point to tell me several times that they wouldn’t discuss any of their observations with me, and that I’d have to wait for the doctor to look over my test data and get the results in a consult within the next couple weeks. OK, fair enough.

On Friday, 8/10/12 (aka “yesterday”) I got a letter in the mail from a neuroscience lab. I figured it maybe contained the date for my consultation to go over the results. Finally, I was another step closer to getting my diagnosis and then treatment. I was giddy as I opened it. And this is what I read:

“Your sleep study was rather unremarkable. Your nighttime sleep was normal and your daytime portion of the test failed to show evidence for narcolepsy. He might have an idiopathic hypersomnia but overall this sleep test seems to be normal. Certainly, if your symptoms persist and no other cause is found, then we could reevaluate this in the office.”

My first thought was that my results got mixed up with somebody else’s. I think it was because he used “He” instead of “She” and I also just didn’t know how to wrap my head around those results. That thought was fleeting and was gone in a second. So my sleep study was “unremarkable” and “seems to be normal.” So what does that mean? Before I could think much more about it, I just started to cry.

I’m not a hypochondriac, nor have I made these symptoms up. I’ve dealt with this crap most of my life. And now there’s no diagnosis and therefore no treatment. Huh.

My mind spun through all the stories of all the times I’ve fallen asleep inappropriately and at inopportune times. “But what about THAT and there was THAT and oh man… that…” It’s normal… I guess. Yay?

It just made so much sense to me that I was narcoleptic. That answered a question. And then that answer evaporated into the ether.

When I was 23, I went through a lot of changes in my chemical makeup. I guess. Basically I went from being 5’8″ and having to eat a ton to just keep 117 lbs on my frame to gaining weight and starting to experience mysterious health problems. In a matter of weeks, I went from sleeping 6 hours a night to 13+ hours. I had experienced that during a bout of severe depression when I was 20, but I didn’t feel like I was depressed when I was 23. I was just going to work and doing my thing. Felt relatively happy. But as my need to sleep increased to the point where it was hard for me to function, I felt less happy.

I went to the doctor and got all kinds of tests run. They all came back perfect. Like “Do you run? You’re in great shape!” (note: I was a couch potato with a high metabolism and ate a lot of fast food. Never understood how my blood work was so great.) I was a transcriptionist at Harding Hospital (a mental hospital) and had learned about things that caused symptoms similar to mine via typing up psychiatric evaluations and patient histories. I was sure it was a thyroid problem after everything else came up normal or better. When they tested for that and it also came up perfect, I felt so lost.

At that point, I was sleeping 13-18 hours in 24, and could not force myself to stay awake at work. I was foggy headed, couldn’t think clearly and missed most appointments regardless of how many reminders I set for myself. And yet… I was fine according to the tests. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t fine at all.

Eventually, I walked to the outpatient side of Harding and talked to a psychiatrist. I didn’t know what else to do and I just couldn’t continue like that. He tried me on Prozac first. For about a week I was able to get out of bed in the morning. I also developed a ravenous appetite, yet I began to lose the weight I had gained. Didn’t make sense, and after a week I stopped being able to get out of bed in the morning again. He tried me on something else. It didn’t work either.

And when I had completely given up hope, he tried me on Wellbutrin. And that was the magic pill for me. Within 2 days of first taking that, the fog had lifted completely and I went back to only sleeping about 8 hours a night. I got right out of bed in the morning and felt “normal.” I also started to sweat about 3 times as much as I used to and had crazy vivid dreams, but hey. It was a miracle to me. I was a functional human being again. It was amazing.

I had to take that for the next 5 years. Every time I stopped, the excessive sleep problem came right back. When I was 27, I got far more sick and gained far more weight. Then I turned to fasting and a primarily raw vegan diet, stopped taking all my medication and got really healthy. I did that for a couple years, and while my arthritis, allergies and all that other unsavory stuff went away, my narcolepsy symptoms persisted. Which is why that diagnosis made so much sense to me. And yet somehow, that’s not it and I’m “normal” again.

We’ve all got our stuff. And as far as things go, this isn’t anything debilitating or life threatening. And I’m very grateful for that. Most of the limits I operate under at this stage in my life are self-imposed. I’m grateful for that as well. This is just something to process and deal with. I don’t think I’ll pursue this any further (via another sleep study, etc). I’ll continue to self-medicate with caffeine and such as long as what I do for a living requires it, and I suppose that’s about it for now.

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Smells like Narcolepsy

Hey, friends. Since my last post about my battle with sleepiness, I have been to a sleep consultation and talked more to people with sleep disorders. I have a sleep study scheduled for the beginning of August, so I will finally get to explore treatment of this problem I’ve dealt with nearly 30 years. After spending 10 minutes talking to a sleep specialist and explaining my symptoms, he said it definitely sounded like narcolepsy without cataplexy. That last part is something I’m extremely grateful for. Narcoleptics with cataplexy lose motor control and faint when experiencing strong emotions like being startled or really happy. Basically, their brain gets tricked into thinking they’re asleep when they’re not. I don’t have that part, and I’m really glad about that.

My narcolepsy is more mild, and that’s part of why I’ve gone so long without getting it diagnosed. It can be really annoying and inconvenient, but it’s not life-threatening in my case. Since I first wrote about it, I’ve been improving my sleep hygiene by getting 8 hours of sleep most nights and trying to keep to a regular sleep/wake cycle that centers around my day job. And my symptoms have improved a bit, but they haven’t gone away. I’ve explained to my managers that I’m working on getting treatment for it, and they’re understanding to a degree, but still get frustrated with me when I fall asleep inappropriately. Sometimes I can stay awake and sometimes I can’t. I suppose that’s what it boils down to. And sometimes I can get 8+ hours of sleep a night, and the next day feel sleepy. I’ve improved my diet again, and that helps, too, but there are still a lot of factors that are beyond my control. And that’s where the treatment comes in.

Watching things like Lissa Rankin’s TedX talk has helped me to understand some of the deeper implications of the problems we experience with our bodies. I’m working on a more holistic approach to… life. It’s all part of the journey. Bumpy though it may be from time to time.

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“You look like you’re struggling.” a nice coworker said to me today. I had consumed a lot of delicious food from a potluck (everybody really brought their A Game today) and enough caffeine to reanimate a dead horse. But yes, I was struggling to stay awake. Struggling to process thoughts. Struggling to work. Struggling. When she said that to me, it was out of kindness and understanding. A simple acknowledgement. An observation. Not a negative judgment. And when she did that, I stopped fighting it. I decided to go home early and take a nap. I woke up a little over an hour later and felt much better. The fog had cleared and I was able to get back to work.

It just made me think about how often we just ignore what our body is trying to tell us and plow right on through whatever it is anyway. I’ve been guilty of this so much lately. When I was working from home the past 3 years and, more recently, unemployed, I just woke up when I woke up and slept when I felt sleepy. Sure, I still had problems with insomnia and being sleepy when I needed to be alert, but it was a lot easier for me. I almost never had any caffeine during that time.

My sleep/wake cycle has been all over the place. When I was little, I never stayed up past 8:30pm, and never slept in much past 6am. In my late teens and early 20’s, I became more of a night owl. And I feel like I remained one until the last year or so. I worked second shift sometimes. When there was no other pressure on me, I’d go to sleep around 2 or 3am, then wake up around 10am. Now I find that I have a hard time sleeping in much past 7:30am. It’s getting to bed early that’s the most tricky for me. For work, I wake up between 6 and 6:30am. I should get to sleep around 10pm to get adequate rest. As hard as that is, trying to make it through my days with much chemical assistance (Red Bull, energy shots, coffee…) is harder, not to mention more expensive and worse for me. Starting tonight, I’m going to make a concerted effort to get to sleep at 10pm. It’s close to 9pm already. *sigh*

I’m also working on figuring out my benefits so I can get that sleep study, start some real form of treatment and stop self-medicating. My body is trying to tell me something. And I’m trying to listen.