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.


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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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Sleeper Agent

I fell asleep in a meeting at my new job today. Unfortunately, that is not an unusual occurrence. I’ve spent a fair amount of time explaining myself to my new bosses and coworkers. It’s been awhile since I’ve been around people who don’t know that about me who are affected by it after being in my previous job for so long. So I’ve had to give my explanation several times. It generally goes something like this:

“I’ve been like this since I was a kid. In school I would fall asleep during lectures, regardless of whether I was well-rested or not. I upset a lot of my teachers over the years. I know it looked to them like I was disrespectful and lazy, but I’ve never had any control over it. In my adult life, it happens in pretty much every meeting I attend. I can usually manage to have somebody talk at me for about 10 minutes before I start to fade out. My eyes glaze over and the head-bobbing will start shortly after that, then I’m gone. I’ve managed to control the yawning for the most part, at least. But there’s a switch that flips in my brain during periods of non-interaction and I can’t seem to do much to stop it. I try to doodle or take notes to stay with it. That helps, but sometimes I don’t do a good job of that, or looking like I’m doodling comes off nearly as badly as nodding off does.

I also have a hard time reading books. After 10-15 minutes of that, I’m usually out as well. I learn primarily through doing things. Having somebody sit near me and tell me what to do step-by-step and allowing it to go through my own fingertips is highly effective. Absorbing instructions via text book is harder, but expecting me to learn by lecture just doesn’t work for me. I’ll do my best not to embarrass myself or my department by falling asleep in important meetings with VP’s present, but I really can’t control it. Sorry.”

I also fall asleep reading or doing repetitive tasks. This has been a pretty big problem for me throughout my life. I have countless embarrassing stories of things that have happened because I fell asleep at an inopportune time. Many of them happened when I knew I would be highly visible and was on my best behavior. I even fell asleep playing little league softball while standing in the outfield a few times. I resembled a turtle on its back until I woke up with a start. I’ve just accepted it as part of how I am. A part I don’t like very much, but part of me nonetheless.

I thought about it a lot today after I gave that explanation for the thousandth time. “What if there’s something I can do about it, after all? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Maybe I can get some help and change it.” I’m already wondering how this is the first time that thought really occurred to me in all these years. Seems silly and obvious. Regardless, I’m glad that I had that thought at all.

I’ll be eligible for benefits next month. I’d like to get the ball rolling now in hopes that I can actually get started on treatment soon. I don’t know what it is yet. But the fact that there’s something going on with me that affects so much of my life at least deserves some examination.

If this is something that you or somebody you know has dealt with and you have any treatment suggestions in Columbus, OH, let me know in the comments section, email me (jacki890 at yahoo) or ping me on Twitter (@jacki890).

Update:
I have a coworker who has almost identical symptoms to mine. I talked to her a lot today. She has narcolepsy and has been treated for it the past few years and said that medication has made a huge difference in her life. As soon as I get benefits, I’m going to talk to my general practitioner about having a sleep study done on me to work toward diagnosis and treatment. I’m pretty excited about it. Now I just hope I can get a benefits package that will cover things like this. It would be amazing to finally get a handle on these symptoms.


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Work in Progress

I’ve been through a lot of major life changes since I started my blog a couple years ago. My main intention for writing that blog initially was to share one of those big changes from inception to completion to help other people who were contemplating that same change. I wanted to give people a roadmap from start to finish. Leave breadcrumbs…

But it didn’t go the way I planned it. And my feelings throughout much of the process were pretty negative. I didn’t want that to be part of the roadmap, so I didn’t write most of that. And later I felt like it was my duty to write it. And I started to… But it never felt right. And ultimately I deleted my allusions to those posts.

And then I did that a second time. These posts are mostly career-related. I read another post this morning that brought a lot of this home for me. I want to stop deciding for everybody what part of my process is worthy to put out there. Life — raw, honest and true life — is never neatly packaged and a straight line from point A to point B. It’s difficult and full of obstacles. A constant struggle. It’s also amazing, miraculous and beautiful all at the same time. It is our perception and our perspective that changes. But that is not merely all that changes. When our perception and perspective changes, that literally changes us and our world around us.

So this is me changing my perspective. This is me deciding to give you my truth as often as I can. Messy. Unfinished. Unpolished. But honest. Me.

Because ultimately, it’s not for me to decide who and what I am to you. That is your perspective to cultivate. I might bring you hope. You might relate to something small I said that seemed insignificant to me. That tiny thing might be enough to shine a light into your world brighter than I ever could’ve imagined when I said or wrote it. I might upset or frustrate you. Or you may just feel indifferent. That’s all up to you. But what’s up to me is getting myself out there. Not waiting to see if the story has a happy ending before writing its beginning and middle. Not waiting till I’m “done.” Not waiting…

I started this post when I got on the bus to work this morning. I finished it about halfway there. I’m going to post it as is. And I’m going to make a habit of this.


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Just Need a Belt

I noticed something simple a couple weeks ago. And though it was simple, this thing made me question the way I think about the world I live in and the way I perceive and interact with it. It’s not all that important in and of itself, but it sparked an avalanche of ideas in its wake. What else is like this in my life? What else is there that is not what I’ve taken it to be at face value? How many of my other perceptions are just… wrong? Curious…

I worked from home the last couple years until I quit my job in January. Then I went from working from home to just BEING at home. My wardrobe has gotten quite relaxed in those years. I went from having casual Fridays to “Oh, I’m going somewhere today, so I should probably put on some clothes.” On one of those days when I went somewhere, I put on my pair of brown corduroy pants. They’re kind of stretchy and fit me comfortably with a belt. I went about my day and my pants went with me. It was a long day, and I was really tired by the end of it. So tired that I fell asleep on the couch still wearing my clothes.

I groggily made the five step journey from my living room to my bedroom to get some proper rest. But in my foggy state of being half-asleep, I did something new. I just yanked my pants off without first unbuttoning them or unzipping the fly. And they came right off. I don’t think I cared much about it at the time or really even noticed. But the next morning, I picked up the pants to throw them in the hamper and noticed that the fly was still zipped and buttoned. I left it that way and pulled them on. Huh! There was no struggle. They went on fine and just conformed to my waist as they usually did. Pulled them off again, and again there was no struggle.

I’ve had those pants for about three years now. My body shape hasn’t changed very much in that time. So how long has this been true? I have other pants that are similarly made with a little stretch to them. I tried them all on. SAME THING. I didn’t need to touch the fly on any of my pants to be able to get them off and on easily. Most of them just need a belt to keep them where they belong during the day’s many standing ups and sitting downs. Revelation!

How much time have I spent dealing with a vestigial structure on my clothing? It adds up, surely. I can remember some pants I’ve worn in recent years that were form-fitting enough and lacking stretch that this wouldn’t have worked with them. But I hadn’t even TRIED before. The thought never even crossed my mind. Button, zip, buckle; unbuckle, unbutton, unzip. Over and over for years.

Perhaps what’s more interesting is that even after making that discovery… Now that I KNOW there’s no need to fiddle with those fasteners… I STILL DO IT. It’s over 30 years of autopilot at work. It’s hard to rewire those neural pathways to stop myself from doing something that is so habitually ingrained. But still, the new way is more efficient, so I’m going to retrain myself. It’s not that it takes a lot of effort. It’s more that I have to be more mindful of something I haven’t thought about since I was a little kid.

It’s hard for us to remember what it was like when we were little. Tiny fingers just starting to figure out how to work things in the big new world. Putting buttons through buttonholes, putting on socks, getting shoes on so the socks aren’t all bunched up in the toe, tying shoelaces! Working forks, knives, spoons, bowls, cups, straws, stairs, everything!!! You work and struggle at each new kind of clasp or fastener until you finally get it to work that first time. And every time after that is practice until it’s something that’s automatic in your muscle memory. Much like I’m typing these words on a little keyboard as a touch-typist… My fingers are in the right place because the letters are coming out in the expected order. There’s an upraised bump on both the “F” and “J” keys. I had to rewire my brain a bit to use this particular keyboard, though. The “;” key has been replaced by a “‘” key. I have to use the Fn key to get the semi-colon and colon now. I would argue that it’s a slight improvement over standard QWERTY, but it has made making emoticons a lot more annoying. And then it’s a pain to switch back to a normal keyboard, so I do most of my writing on this one.

But I digress… Anyway, I’ve been trying to approach many aspects of my life right now with the same level of mindfulness. I do so many things simply because that’s how I’ve always done them. But as I approach things with a higher level of awareness, I hope to find more ways to improve things.

A lot of this thought has helped me to see that though I have a lot of interests, skills and talents, I believe I am a designer at heart. Always trying to make things better, more efficient, work more smoothly… I’ve always been that way. But I feel like I’m taking it to another level now. Not just coming into a field where I’ll be a designer by trade. But also designing my life. Cutting out the things that don’t work, improving on the things that do, but could be better… It’s an interesting, exciting and sometimes scary time in my life right now. Sometimes the changes I make are huge and obviously life-altering. Other times, it’s just learning that all I need to do is buckle and unbuckle my belt. But they’re all making my brain work differently. And somehow, that seems pretty significant when you think about it.


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Without a Net

I’ve worked at the same place for seven years now. That’s more than twice as long as any other place I’ve worked previously. I got my start there as a help desk technician. After more than a year of that, I transitioned into a Junior Oracle DBA role. And I’ve been there ever since. The amount of years I’ve occupied that role allowed me to drop the “Junior” from my title and add “SQL Server” and “MySQL” as well. It was a good move to get me beyond phone-in help desk support, which I had been in for about 6 years at various places before that.

I went into a lot more detail about that in my Pre-beginning blog post. Three years ago, I tried to find another DBA job elsewhere. I worked at that for a year or so before deciding that I probably didn’t want another DBA job. This time last year, the winds of change blew me into the possibility of being a Ruby programmer. I was excited about it and felt good about it. I liked the people in the community and it seemed it would be a much better fit for me than DBA work. But I kept my DBA job, because I valued the lifestyle it afforded me. It seemed like the sensible thing to do. Keep the steady paycheck coming, the 21 days of paid time off, the health, dental and vision insurance… After all, I work from home 100% of the time and have for a couple of years now. I had enough flexibility to be able to co-work somewhere else and still meet my expectations at the DBA job.

So I worked hard to make room for Ruby. I delegated off a lot of my DBA responsibilities to capable help desk technicians and often I had very little DBA work to do. It seemed like that should’ve been enough. And it probably could’ve been. The opportunity I had there didn’t pan out very well for me. But I ultimately feel that was for the best. I think that if it had worked out, I probably would’ve done it for a year or two, but I feel I still would’ve arrived at the conclusion that my calling is in User Experience Design (UX).

In keeping my DBA job, I played it very safe. And what I was really saying with that decision was “I really hope this Ruby thing works out, but if it doesn’t, I still have my day job.” And more pointedly, “I’m afraid I might not be able to do this, and I’m not willing to put my security on the line to give it all I’ve got. I don’t believe in myself enough to make a leap of faith here.”

A year later, I have learned from that. I DO believe in myself. I don’t know where I’ll land yet, but I know that I’ll hit the ground running wherever that may be. I submitted my letter of resignation at 11:00am this morning. My boss responded a short time later that he was sad to hear that I was leaving, but that he’d work with me to make my transition out as smooth as possible. He also made sure I knew he’d give me a good reference if need be. He’s a good guy. If it hadn’t been for him, I would’ve left there long ago.

Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And I do believe that to be true. I feel better having made my decison to leave official. I’ve only told a few people at this point, so it’s quite possible that you are one of my close friends and this is the first you’re hearing about it (please don’t be offended if that’s the case). I figured that writing a blog post was the easiest way for me to handle letting people know about this. Good friends included. I only really decided to do it about 24 hours ago.

So what comes next for me? I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to find out! I don’t have any savings or a nest egg. I don’t even have a credit card. So I’m well-motivated to find something soon. If I’m really lucky, it will be a start somewhere in UX. A place where I can start, learn and grow. If not, I’ll figure something else out. I believe in myself. For me, life isn’t about being comfortable and settling. It’s about learning, growing, expanding, and pushing boundaries. I have an exciting new journey I’m taking. And I’m getting started right… NOW!