Category Archives: Health

Picture of wooded landscape, trees without leaves, and a sunny but cloudy blue sky.

The hope of spring

Today is the first day of spring.

Personally, my favorite season is summer, but I have an appreciation for spring. With it comes hints of sunshine and heat, alongside occasional reminders of the winter you’re trying to leave behind.

It seems almost poetic to me that the trajectory of grief following the death of my mother has followed the changing of seasons. They appear so closely related that I can’t tell which is more true: has my grief mirrored the changing of the seasons, or has the harshness of this year’s winter made my grief that much more severe?

It’s impossible for me to discern that right now. But in case there is someone out there going through something similar and happens to stumble upon my writing, I hope my transparency can help shed some light on what is to come.

I’ve never dealt with depression before, but after the start of the new year I figured out that things were not good. Sadness is normal and expected after the death of someone close, but this was a powerful force that I hadn’t experienced before. In an earlier post, I wrote:

The worst was around the three-month mark. January 12 was a very low day for me. It was emotionally debilitating, and when it hit me it really came out of nowhere. There was a point that day when I took a shower and laid down in the tub. I didn’t have the energy to stand. I felt so broken. I cried so much. And the strangest thing is I can’t fully explain why. I suppose that was simply the day my mind chose to grieve, and my body was forced to submit.

Shortly after that, I start seeing a counselor. When I called to set up the appointment, the counselor asked me why I felt like I needed help. I explained that my mother had died, and that had reached a point where I simply did not care about anything. However, I had done some research online and I didn’t think I had enough of the symptoms of having depression.

At my first appointment, I answered some questions. The counselor said without hesitation, “You’re depressed. We have a lot of work to do.”

I have been working on me, and I have some good help. My wife, Amy, has been fantastic. There have been many times in the past few months where she’s said to me, “How can I support you?” This has been an immense help. If you’re going through anything like this, find some support and let others help you. I’m not real good at asking for help when I need it, but I’m learning.

This experience has really highlighted to me the state of mental health in the United States. Of course, the counselor I picked doesn’t take insurance, so I’m paying for all of this out of pocket. That’s fine, because I get along well with the counselor I chose, and the whole experience has set me on a better path. But really, what year is this? It should be easier and more affordable to get help with mental health issues than it is.

It’s also shown me that those closest to you — friends, co-workers, people who rely on you for stability — might not fully understand how to interact with you during a time of grieving. I’ll probably write more on this in the future as a guidebook of sorts of how to help someone who has been burdened by the pain of loss. I will say that death in the modern age is a strange thing. Social media can be haunting, and the digital artifacts of someone you’ve lost can be especially triggering. These are tricky waters to navigate.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how many people who have been a part of my life in some way who have died, many within recent memory. In the last year I can think of a girl I grew up with in my hometown, the dad of my childhood friend, the guy that owned the hardware store back home, the woman I worked with when I worked at Toys R Us in my college days, a mentor, and of course, mom.

Sometimes it feels like death is all around me. I suppose it is for all of us, but now I’m more susceptible to its presence.

That’s not to say I’m in despair. In fact, I have hope, and it’s nice to have it back.

This is a fairly recent change. It took about four-and-a-half months before things started to turn better, around the beginning of March. I wasn’t as sad anymore. There has been a level of acceptance that has come over me about mom’s death that has enabled a bit of peace that’s been missing since October. I started noticing it when I had some really good laughs at work. My co-worker made me laugh to the point where I was in tears, and then things started moving up from there.

That’s not to say that I’m all sunshine and roses. In the last few weeks I had a couple of really strong moments where I really wanted to talk to mom. One night, I sat at the dinner table and the tears just started coming. I don’t know what triggered it; the tears just came out. I had my moment, it passed, and then I got back to eating my food.

And that’s how all this has worked to this point.

I am so heartbroken now when I hear about someone who is experiencing loss. A friend of mine posted about the unexpected death of his young friend, and my heart sank. A co-worker was telling me about the death of his beloved dog, and I instantly felt so much compassion for him. Another co-worker also lost her mom unexpectedly; my empathy for her runs deep.

I miss my mom.

And yet, there are new lessons being learned here which I admit, I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. The food that I enjoy tastes better than it did before. The sun on my face feels even more spectacular than it did before October. The laughter and silliness of my children are a greater blessing than I have experienced to date.

Here is the lesson I’m starting to absorb: death can be a powerful teacher, if you allow it. I’m so glad that spring is here. The earth is muddy, the rains are cool, and the winds are ever shifting. I am eager to see what grows from this season I am in.

A pile of dirty snow and sand.

Throes of winter

The midwest winter this year has been very harsh.

We don’t normally have sub-zero temperatures, but a week ago we were hit with the polar vortex and made staying inside a necessity for safety. Being forced inside for any length of time is enough to drive one crazy, especially for how things have been around the corners of my mind lately.

I hate winter. I truly, deeply, hate it. The bitter cold wind, the dirty grime of the salt-covered roads, the gray sky; everything with this season reminds me of death.

Because of this, I find it fitting to have a season like this as I go through a season like this. It’s been 16 weeks since mom died, and there have been a few very rough spots.

The worst was around the three-month mark. January 12 was a very low day for me. It was emotionally debilitating, and when it hit me it really came out of nowhere. There was a point that day when I took a shower and laid down in the tub. I didn’t have the energy to stand. I felt so broken. I cried so much. And the strangest thing is I can’t fully explain why. I suppose that was simply the day my mind chose to grieve, and my body was forced to submit.

I wonder how I have looked to people around me. I’m sure in my day-to-day life I’ve looked like I was “doing fine.” I was not.

I decided to get some help. On the recommendation of a friend, I sought out a counselor. I’ve had a few sessions in the last month now, and I think it’s helping. Ironically, we don’t talk much about mom’s death. Instead, we’re talking through other things that have been on my mind for awhile now. It’s been good. I’m going to keep going for awhile and see what happens.

It seems that this event — death,  grieving, the whole process — has cracked something open, and now I’m dealing with some personal things that I’ve not fully processed before.

But this is not a bad thing.

I have started working out again. I’m not going full bore, but I am committed to getting some exercise at least three times a week. I have found that exercise makes me feel good. Since feeling good has been in short supply lately, it’s high on the list of Very Good Things To Do.

I have become a lot more empathetic to others going through the same circumstances. Two of my co-workers have had parents die in the last month, and as soon as I heard I immediately felt deep concern. I sprung into action. I’ve spoken to both of my co-workers. I’ve given them the nudge: “No, really, you’re going to need someone to talk to, and I am here when you do.” If you have co-workers, friends, or family who are dealing with grief, even if they seem “fine,” give them some grace and space. Check on them. They need you.

One day I was watching some water forming a whirlpool, which took me back to memories of how us kids would make giant whirlpools in my parents’ above ground pool. And then, instant tears.

But this is not a bad thing, either.

In the aftermath of mom’s death, in the throes of this winter, I have found myself to be seeking healing. I am starting to see what a future of healing looks like. I’m not there yet, and it’s certainly going to take more time, but I see a path.

I’m going to walk it and see where it goes.

Picture of Eric J Gruber

An intentional New Year

“Heal your wounds so you do not bleed on those you love.” – unknown

It’s the last day of 2018, and all day I’ve been thinking, “I think I have one more post in me.”

In looking back at my feelings from previous New Year’s Eve posts (thanks for the memories, Facebook). Not unlike others, I usually had positive thoughts about where the new year would take me.

Today I took down the Christmas tree. I packed away the decor. I moved some things around, and grumbled when things didn’t fit right. I watched the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen fall from the sky, then disintegrate as soon as they hit the ground. I took a nap. I listened to some music. I was pretty lazy.

I have thought a lot about mom today.

When I ball it all up, and really think about it, for the first time in a long time I have no feelings about the new year at all. I am not excited. I am not despondent. I am merely numb.

Since my mother’s death, I have started seeing life a lot differently. I’ve come to believe that a lot of what makes a modern existence is pure bullshit.

I was in a room with acquaintances the other day and I was the only one not staring at my phone. We have lost the ability to communicate like humans. I am guilty of this, but it makes it no less horrible.

Political candidates are starting to make their announcements for the next big election, and let me guarantee you: all that is bullshit as well. You should take an hour, sit down, be quiet, and listen to this episode of Freakonomics where they show how the two major political parties play the populous to get what they want (and how almost all third party candidates are losers). There are no politicians coming to help you. I don’t even think most of them care about the things you think they do. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Social media is bullshit. Because we can’t communicate anymore, this is all we have left. Can’t make friends as an adult? Welcome to the club. You’ll have to settle for bits and bytes in someone else’s walled garden. Pay no attention to the fact that they’re taking your data and selling all your information to whomever pays. What a terrible existence we’ve traded. I remember when people used to go get coffee and have great conversations in person. Now we waste hours every day on social media. Part of this is because we have a mobile computer in our hands at all times. According to my phone, I spent six hours and 37 minutes per day on it last week. Isn’t that pathetic? I bet one hour of actual face time  with another human would have been far more fulfilling.

But what do I know? Maybe I’m just a grumpy person at the end of the year.

In thinking about my 2019, I’ve decided to not be optimistic. I’ve also decided to not be bummed about it. But I have decided to be intentional.

For Thanksgiving, I was in Joplin, Mo., and decided to take my family to visit the Grand Falls, which is a small waterfall in the city limits there. That place has a special place in my heart. When my mom was sick in the hospital in September, I would take a break now and then to get out of the hospital and clear my head while my dad took over being with her. One of those days, I went to the Grand Falls. It was a beautiful day and I was full of reflection.

Over the next few days, I had feelings premonitions of what things would be like if mom wasn’t with us anymore. One night dad and I were alone in the house, and it just had that feeling. I went to Walmart during one of my breaks, and they had already started putting up Christmas decor. Mom loved Christmas, and even though she was lying in a hospital a few miles away very much alive, I just had this feeling. I texted my wife on Sept. 28 and said, “I can’t shake this sinking feeling that something bad is up with mom. Maybe it’s my brain thinking the worst. I can do that at times.

I wish I had been wrong.

But I digress. There is so much bullshit around us, around me, and I’ve not done well this year in keeping that check. I need to heal my wounds, because if not, I’m going to make a mess of things. I really don’t want that to happen. And so in 2019, I’m going to be intentional.

I had a few times this year where I was very intentional, and it was wonderful. I took my daughter to her first concert (Taylor Swift). We paid off our student loan debt. I went to some concerts for myself. I met up with friends and talked. I went for walks. All of these things were highly intentional. I don’t regret those things. But when I think about six hours and 37 minutes of time on a screen last week — which I was off work the whole week — I don’t have a lot of pride in that.

I’m going to take some time to heal my wounds. I’m going to be intentional. If you want to get ahold of me, I’m sure you can find a way. But I am broken, and really need to heal.

I hope you and I make 2019 an intentional one.

New Year’s Day, Taylor Swift

There’s glitter on the floor after the party
Girls carrying their shoes down in the lobby
Candle wax and Polaroids on the hardwood floor
You and me from the night before but

Don’t read the last page
But I stay when you’re lost and I’m scared and you’re turning away
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day

You squeeze my hand three times in the back of the taxi
I can tell that it’s going to be a long road
I’ll be there if you’re the toast of the town babe
Or if you strike out and you’re crawling home

Don’t read the last page
But I stay when it’s hard or it’s wrong or you’re making mistakes
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day

Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
And I will hold on to you

Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere
Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere

There’s glitter on the floor after the party
Girls carrying their shoes down in the lobby
Candle wax and Polaroids on the hardwood floor
You and me forevermore

Don’t read the last page
But I stay when it’s hard or it’s wrong or we’re making mistakes
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year’s Day

Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you
And I will hold on to you

Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere
Please don’t ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere

Pondering next moves

I went for a long hike in Weston Bend State Park to clear my head. It was a good decision, and helped quite a bit.

To say that I haven’t been feeling myself lately would be a bit of an understatement.

I have these moments where everything is fine, and then something will come across me and I get a little teary eyed thinking about my mother’s death. I hear that isn’t uncommon, and it’s certainly not unexpected.

There are times where I want to call mom, but then realize that’s something I can’t do anymore. Mom would use Facebook as a way to keep track of me (and definitely watch for pictures of the kids), and I would often post things thinking of her in mind. I find those thoughts still go through my head when I post to social media, which I find disconcerting. I’m still thinking about “Will she see this?” when clearly, she won’t.

I keep thinking of questions I want to ask her. It’s funny how these questions show up now, instead of when she was alive and I had the opportunities to get the answers. There’s probably a term for that.

Things feel a little better than they did a week ago, and far better than two weeks ago. My first week back to work was pretty rough. The first few days was a blur and chock full of emotions. The people I work with have been fantastic, and are giving me grace while I work through emotions while at work. I am blessed and honored to have their support.

I’ve been spending time trying to process what to do next. If I were talking to others in the same situation, I would tell them to take time, mourn, don’t make any big moves. I half follow that advice, and am thinking of my options. I have been thinking more of permanence. What are my financial plans for the future? When do we buy a house and start setting down deeper roots? How involved should I be with my extracurricular activities versus spending the maximum time I can with my family? Should I get busy executing my plans for my side work or should I just veg out?

At one point I said to my wife, “When do I get my fire back?” I spent most of this year charging hard, and now I feel only a flicker. I’m sure it’ll come back, but clearly it’s going to take some time to get there. I surmise that first I’ll have to get through the holidays, and all the sorrow that will come with it. My mom loved the Christmas season, and at this moment I can’t even imagine what this year will be like without her.

Right now, I’m mostly focused on short-term thinking. I’ve been spending more quality time with the kids. Last weekend I had moments of good times with each of my children, and although tiring it was the right move.

One of the positive things that have come out of this event is it has driven me to get a few things done off my lingering todo list. I have this long list on my phone of things I have noted to get done, and I’m starting to work on them. I seem to have more of a sense of urgency now to get things done. The trick is making sure they are things that are actually worth doing rather than simply doing busywork.

I think the next thing I need to do is to find time (and a sitter) for a date night with Amy. It’s been awhile since we had some time to ourselves, and it seems more necessary than ever that we go out on the down and think about something other than death and sadness. We need a little happiness soon, if only for an evening.

Time is the fire in which we burn, and I want to be more intentional of the flames I stoke from now on.

In training

Almost every day at lunch I walk with a co-worker (or two). These walks always lead to interesting conversations. Sometimes we talk about what we’re working on, and sometimes it’s about life in general. Recently the discussion has been about health and motivation.

We were discussing goals, and about how I wanted to get into better shape this year, but I don’t quite have the spark to get things going. Today my friend suggested I need something specific to work toward, like a race.

I realized he was right, and we decided on a run. On April 1, I will participate in a 5k. Training officially starts now.

My friend and I are taking two different approaches to training, which I’ll write more about later (once I solidify exactly how I’ll be training). But the main thing is this: I have a very specific end date when my training needs to be completed, and I need to get started yesterday.

I’m very excited by this. Given the name of the race, you could say I’m very eggcited. I couldn’t resist the pun.

Let the training begin!

Social media is a cancer

Almost every day I go for a walk with a co-worker or two, and the last week we were talking about the things in our life that vie for our attention.

We got on the topic of social media, and after the recent election, I decided I can’t take any more of it. I have to take a break.

There are many tools available to help curate the stream of consciousness coming from friends, strangers, and family, but none of them seem to be strong enough for me. The world is messed up; I realize this. But I don’t want to spend hours fighting the demons of information trying to get into my head. I have reached a point in my life where I am making great strides in personal development. I’m being challenged, in a really good way, in my career. I’m making an honest effort to be a better family man. I’m working on my debt. I’m working on my life.

But social media seems to take away from all of that. I have found myself guilty of phubbing (a new term I recently learned), and I feel awful. Someone will be trying to engage me in conversation, and yet I pick up my phone out of habit and start swiping away. I do it to my wife, my friends, my kids, you name it. I am disgusted with myself by this.

It’s time for a fast. I have no idea how long this will last, but I’m giving it an honest try. I went 40 days last year without facebook, but I went so far as to delete facebook, twitter, and instagram apps on my phone this time. I’ve changed my /etc/hosts file to point those domains to nowhere (in geek speak, I’ve made it so my computer doesn’t know what to do with those web addresses should I accidentally type them in the browser bar).

I already feel lighter. Even tonight, I’ve worked on a side project and written this post, which is more than I can say for many other nights.

I hope to produce more writings on the blog, more projects getting completed, and more personal projects making their way to the light of day. Meaningless consumption doesn’t stop at physical items, and frankly, I have had enough of it.

I hope RSS is still a thing …

 

Civility

Last night I joined some other developers for dinner, and is common these days at one point the discussion turned to politics.

Now, it wasn’t a very deep talk. It was mostly talk of uncertainty with the regime change, and how the election season was especially nasty this time around.

But at some point in the discussion, one of my fellow developers appeared fairly agitated. Being the diplomat I attempt to be, I tried to steer the conversation to something more positive, but that was a tough sell. The discussion finally turned a corner, but it was a little uncomfortable for a bit.

I have a done a good job surrounding myself with people who have a variety of views on a multitude of issues. I’ve had my fair share of ribbing for my very complicated views, but I dish it out, too.

But I can’t remember a time in recent memory when I yelled at someone because he disagreed with my politics. We talk, we disagree. No big deal. Our lives are bigger than politics, and our relationships are certainly more valuable than incessant bickering.

And so, dear readers, I want to encourage you to treat others with respect when you engage in your ideas. Otherwise it’s going to be a very long four years if we can’t engage in civil discussion.

Even if you all are wrong.

Going to war

A fool and his money are soon parted. – English proverb (paraphrased)

In last year’s in review post, I talked about how we didn’t make a lot of progress on our final debt (we’re not including the house debt): the student loans. Today marks a special day for us as a family. Today we begin, in earnest, our war with that debt.

We’ve made some progress in the last few years with some of our debt. In July of last year we paid off all our credit cards (again) and got rid of them completely with the help of our shredder. But those student loans have hung around for what feels like forever. This week, we talked with the girls (since the boy is too young to understand human language) about our debt and our plan to get out of it. We feel its important to talk to our kids about money so they don’t make the same mistakes we did. I hope we’re off to a good start.

In addition, we gave them a promise: when the student loans are paid off, we will take a trip to Disney World. That got their attention.

I write this now to mark a significant point in our family’s history: today is the day we begin our great war. This might be April 1, but it is no joke — we are at war.

Ending the compromise

Cut up your credit cards. If you use a credit card, you don’t want to be rich. — Marc Cuban, How to Get Rich

What seems like forever ago, my wife and I were on a crusade to eliminate our debt.

A friend had turned me on to Dave Ramsey’s plan, and we went after it with a vengeance. We killed our credit card and automobile debt and had money in the bank.

When our first child was born shortly after, everything stalled. We didn’t incur new credit card debt, but we weren’t making the kind of progress we were on other debts pre-kid. And then kid No. 2 came along. We needed a van, which we bought on credit.

The compromises began. We got credit cards again. And then in 2010, we purchased a house. Along with that came its own expenses, and because we weren’t following Ramsey’s plan, the expenses mounted up. The credit card bills started rising. We were fools.

A year ago, my wife and I took our 10-year anniversary vacation, and while we were traveling across the great state of Arkansas, we got to discussing all of those things above. We decided to change. We couldn’t let things go any further, so on Aug. 1, we refocused our efforts on getting out of debt. I took on more side jobs, and by the end of the year, we had paid off the last of the credit cards.

Except we didn’t; when you have a credit card you tend to use it. We didn’t typically carry a balance, but it happened a couple of times. Finally we realized: any credit card was too many.

Since my wife closed her business in May, we’ve found that by embracing the constraint of a temporary smaller income, we can live within our means just fine. It’s a challenge, but certainly doable. And so, we’ve decided to cut the last safety net and embrace constraints even more.

Today over lunch, I shut down the last two credit cards. We are done; no more of this. We will use cash and our debit card, and focus our remaining efforts on paying off the student loans for good. Perhaps the best part was that instead of using my children as a crutch for why we couldn’t get out of debt, they’ve now become a driver for why we will. And so, I had them help me get rid of the last one.

So now, forward. We have no auto loans and no credit card debt. The only thing we owe is our student loans. For the first time since we graduated college, we paid extra on the student loans this month. And when those things are gone, it’s “Hello, Disney World!”

It’s a good feeling to be where we are today. Today is a good day.

Busy

The other day on my way to work I had to take a different route.

School is out, and the college kids are leaving for the summer, so that means the city’s street construction is ramping up. Most of it is in my path in and out of Lawrence, so I’ve been getting creative in finding ways across the city to the highway that takes me to work.

In the eastern part of Lawrence, I was stopped behind a couple of cars at an intersection when I noticed a young woman pushing her child in a stroller. After she crossed, I noticed her looking up at one of the houses, seemingly examining its features. She looked relaxed and casual and in no particular hurry.

I found myself wanting to trade places with her for the day.

Life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride as of late. Work has been insane. My hometown was hit by a tornado so we went there so I could assist with the cleanup. Our vehicles each had issues days apart of each other, which I repaired myself. We traveled to watch my mother-in-law’s graduation from college for her Master’s degree. The house has had some projects I needed to take care of.

Add all of that up along with daily life, and it’s been a busy time. It has started to dawn on me: I’m burning out and need some sort of a break.

Typically I save up my vacation time for late July, when the kids go to the grandparents during our anniversary week, and the wife and I enjoy a week to ourselves. I’m not sure I’ll make it until then. I’m feeling wore out.

But taking time off right now really isn’t that feasible. The kids are still in school, so time off wouldn’t afford me the ability to do anything with the family. A co-worker is going on vacation next week, so that’s pretty much out of the picture anyway. After that, it’s off to DrupalCon. That might sound like a vacation, but my experience last year taught me it’s a week full of stuffing my brain with ideas and then walking everywhere.

And then, my birthday. I’ll be 38 on June 8.

So, what should I make of all of this? I don’t think this hints of anything exceptionally wrong, but just that I’m learning how to really listen to my body. It’s a lot like when the temperature reaches above 74 degrees in the house; I don’t need to check anymore. I get uncomfortable and know it’s time to turn on the air conditioning.

My body is telling me I need to get some things in my life under better management. My workouts have, for the most part, dwindled down to nothing. I haven’t gotten outside much lately, which I need to change. A weekend camping trip sounds like it would do me a world of good right now.

I am in need of some balance. Time to go find it.