Did you know that motivation follows action? It stinks. It should be the other way around, right? High action individuals never need to notice because there’s always action producing endorphins and feeding inspiration. Like the desire to ride a bike. It springs naturally from the endorphins you got last time you rode (unless you didn’t). Endorphins from any action make you want to repeat and receive the love again, a circular pattern that feeds itself until something breaks.
You have to start the cycle though. I think of it like the pull cord on gas powered lawn mower. For strong people, starting is thoughtlessly easy. But, I can’t reliably pull fast and hard enough to make the motor turn over and get things going. Russ mows and now we’ve gone electric. But, before we got the electric mower, I was never going to be a reliable second, unless someone was home to help me start the mower. There are so many ways we are each other’s safety net.
Why it Matters
Difficult starts and interruptions kill momentum, break the inspiration/action feedback loop and lead to rough stretches. Missing targets leads one to avoid the pain of failure. And there are so many things that also need doing. Unlike my example, sometimes someone to help you start isn’t enough.
I’ve literally been trying not to write this post for years now, (Russ read and approved more than one version). It seems important to address the elephant in the room, though.
We’ve been planning the video cycling project since before the pandemic, writing about it here, postponing our deadlines, moving slowly toward promoting it and kicking ourselves over delays for stated and unstated reasons. Still, we haven’t submitted to the funding process. There are a few reasons that go beyond insecurity and fear of the test. There’s stress we’ve been up front about. Then there’s that stress we talk less about, absent some details for privacy (not just our own). Often it feels like the real problem is too many responsibilities.
A meme in my feed recently said “I hope you win the battle that you never tell anyone about.” I liked it for the kind wishes, but I liked it so much more for the acknowledgement that most people have more to deal with than what they let others see.
Russ, the Giant Teddy Bear
Russ is the glue that holds our family together. The problem is that Russ hasn’t been ok. He wants to be. He’s called it a “funk”, but if it was just a funk, we’d be funded and done with the project, and on to something else.
Russ has been down hard and fighting for air. It’s difficult for people who have never suffered depression to understand. I’m down pretty hard right now myself, and I don’t even understand, not as deeply as he feels it. It’s a very lonely place to be.
In the absence of healthcare coverage, we tend to research the most legitimate information available. After Russ discovered that “freeze” had been added to the “fight or flight” scenario he recognized it as his stress response. “Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn” is the current full list of threat responses.
It makes so much sense for these more recent threat responses to be recognized. “Freeze” isn’t always such a bad coping device. It’s is the opposite of rash. It prevents every mistake except inaction. Inaction creates its own problems though, and “freeze” may be the hardest stress response for outsiders to recognize as any kind of a response at all.
Depression and anxiety are more challenging with added stress and the world reached new levels of being turned upside. In middle school, I remember wondering what it was like to have brothers and cousins on opposite sides of a war (like the US Civil War, or when families were divided by the Berlin Wall). People everywhere are reflecting on that again. No one really knows how deep the current rifts and chasms, both near and far will get. Many people are too distracted, busy or stressed to let themselves think about it.
Thinking about these things makes a positive outlook harder, but ignoring them has different risks, and depression happens regardless of how one handles stresses. The kind of widespread pain experienced during the pandemic overloaded the collective psyche while Covid crushed hospitals worldwide.
Our private and inner worlds were challenged and stressed before the world became so “stranger than fiction”. It’s no wonder that we’d come up with a project to help others increase health and deal with stress when there’s little or no money to throw at the broken healthcare system in the US.
Our personal challenges haven’t been at bay during the 20+ years we’ve been together. For a while our outlook was promising. But, the recession hurt, other things happened, and we made some choices that were what we needed to be doing for family, but they involved one of us being under-employed for the last 10 years. That wasn’t helpful for our financial recovery, or financial security moving forward. No regrets. None. But, it did add to the stress load.
Deeply Personal and Different for Everyone
Some people didn’t think the pandemic was even real, and others were confused about what to think. Repeating a history so reminiscent of a pandemic 100 years ago made it even harder to grasp in a modern world. Russ was convinced he was likely to die. Between preexisting conditions, his lack of health care coverage, his essential worker status, his now longer hours, and his exposure through work and living conditions, his known risks were high.
There were so many unknowns, a lot of bad information, a lot of bad acts. Denial and irrational fears were amplified by ugly politics. Extraordinary stress is hell on the immune system. Boom, another risk factor! Russ didn’t die, but his fear was not irrational. It was a recognition that this thing few people knew how to deal with was a bigger risk to him, and that many people who were unconcerned had an uncomfortable level of impact on his risk factors.
It didn’t grip me like it did Russ, but I wouldn’t have said with confidence that I expected to live through it. Our household included exposed “essential employees” and school children, as well as people who were reluctant to follow recommended procedures. I was in a higher risk age group and also without health care coverage.
Some of it was Surreal
Most people had surreal experiences. The most important bit of security anyone gave us during that dark time was when my Aunt met me in Birmingham with a refurbished oxygen accumulator. Meeting her was an eerie trip. The streets were empty. I went to the interstate on an 8 mile, divided 4 lane. It’s normally slow and go, with heavy commuter traffic. But, I wondered for a while if I would see a single car along the stretch. I went through every traffic light,16, I think, and none of them turned red. Under different circumstanced you’d wish for something like that.
There were still very few people on the interstate. I wondered if gas would be available and how strange things might get, especially when I saw a military convoy headed who knows where. We met. My aunt gave me the machine, a package of disinfectant wipes, some laundry sanitizer, and a snack. She was taking care of me while she was taking care of me. Times like these are when people show you who they are.
There was gas. I got home. We were able to order hoses for the oxygen accumulator. Thankfully, no one needed it. But, the peace of mind it provided, knowing that if Russ, or any of the 8 family members who lived in our house before it was all over, went into respiratory distress, they could at least get oxygen as long as there was electricity. That was more priceless than any Visa commercial. Caring stands out when tragedy has become so ordinary for so many. Others not caring left it’s mark at times too.
Russ eventually caught Covid and later caught it again. Thankfully, it was after vaccines were obtained and treatments were developed. He made it through with care that cost hundreds of dollars that we had, instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars we didn’t have.
Mom had her dark experience just this summer while in rehab after a fall. There was an outbreak. Mom had been vaccinated and had good meds. Getting Covid after things were better made all of the difference for her. The quarantine was scary and some people didn’t make it, but Mom did. We recently celebrated her 90th birthday.
Four weeks back, I had my round with Covid. I was the last person in our house to catch it. I wondered if all the cycling gave me micro exposures that boosted my immunity, but never made me really sick. Or, if how often I wash my hands with housework was the reason. But really, who knows?
The pandemic was like life in that everyone is going through it, yet every person’s struggle was/is unique. So, I don’t know what to do, or write, or how to explain it when things aren’t on schedule with the project. Some people adapted, put things out quickly and leveraged all the change (for better or worse).
Some people have bounced back with double energy. Me? I still don’t know if continuing to pursue the project is what I should be doing. Can my dream really make a difference, or should I do something else. I know the project could help us, and others. I know he/we can do the job, but can he/we get the job? (flip on Joe Versus the Volcano intended).
One Step Forward
The risks were real, and some remain. The depression was and is real. We do a lot of DIY. It’s great that we can. Russ fixed a frozen pipe in the house before it became an insurance claim, but we’re not working on the project while he fixes our pop up problems, or someone else’s. It has all been big, real and debilitating, and I’ve had my own stuff to deal with too. Russ has been there for me in so many ways, but in others, I felt alone. He wasn’t present in the moment, or ready to move on. He spent a lot of time ruminating on fears he had no control over. He’s not mental health care averse, but there’s nothing in the budget to cover it.
It was so incredibly important to have income during the pandemic. It was important after too, but Russ lost his employment in January. Just as it seemed like things might settle a bit, boom, again! He went from “essential employee seeing a light at the end of the tunnel” to lost. Russ has made the most of his 6 jobless months in some ways, but in productivity, he froze. If he could retire to stay at home and cook and play with the grandchildren, he’d be in bliss, and he might be faring better if that were possible. Ironies abound. Not needing to pursue anything could loosen the stress and free up the mind space to… pursue anything.
And Then, Again
With all of this, we’ve come to and temporarily past the point of cancelling the project so many times. As much as we want to help anyone who’s interested in our project to get stress relief, escape, fitness and/or entertainment value from the project, there’s also a self-interested aspect. The project will have significant demands and stresses, but it will also do the things that we want to do for others for ourselves as well. It would lessen the impact of not having healthcare coverage (unless one of us has an accident riding).
We could benefit from a year of the heavy duty riding that is part of the project, letting all those demons work themselves out as we peddle. I hiked a lot when I was going through my divorce. I’d head for the woods, and after a day on the trail, whatever was weighing on me when I left had mostly lifted. It would be nice if Russ’s six months of unemployment had given him a head start on that, or progress in any form it might take, but that isn’t how it happened. Russ really does have a freeze response to threats. (And I have attention deficit, but, that’s another story).
I’m enough of an introvert that not being ok through the isolation was a real surprise to me. It piqued my interest in forming relationships and I desperately want to accomplishing things. The project is a two person job, and doing it without him wasn’t a step I was willing to take. I would ride and write to keep the project alive, but I still spend a lot of time feeling like I was alone or in hover mode. Recently, I started just doing things. It took a lot for me to just say I was going to do something and invite him along rather than asking what he wanted to do and make a joint decision. I didn’t expect him to, but Russ came with me. Most of the times I’ve really need him to, Russ has met me at least half way.
Things are getting better. Russ is working. It’s a financial band aid for our personal life and a mixed blessing for the project. I say band-aid because at this point, if both of us were working, that would just be a bigger band-aid. Americans spend twice as much on healthcare as other rich nations and still have a decreasing lifespan with poorer care. My healthcare.gov quote for next year was over 22K per year, even though I’m physically active, and some covered years I never went to a doctor… Seriously, in the last 10 of the years that I was covered, I don’t recall ever meeting a deductible. That’s rate is hard to accept.
Seeking employment that would move me toward having disposable income, or eventual retirement, rather than just paying for insurance for part of a catastrophic health failure requires that I get not just full time work, but demanding employment. Age and sex discrimination is real and my hodgepodge background doesn’t help. If I were lucky enough to get employment that would benefit the family rather than just cover personal health insurance, it would also require abandoning some other responsibilities I have been taking on, but how confident am I that I can get through another year without catastrophic coverage? If I had the coverage, would the cap be below the cost of whatever health failure I had? Riding a bike, even if it were a new high end bike, may well be the biggest healthcare bargain there is.
With all these questions and challenges, we’re taking a side step into t-shirts. We have a theme and hope the T-shirts will have at least as much positive impact as we want the video project to create, as well as some needed financial relief. After that we’ll re-visit the trail video project. Hopefully the t-shirt project will produce enough income to make up some of our losses and then, perhaps, to allow me more time to pursue the video project.