I have had a love/hate relationship with goal setting for many years. I suppose my story isn’t too different from many people. You are on your way to a goal and something smacks you down. After that happens enough, you begin to question the point of it all. Saving money was like that for me. Every time I saved something for a personal project, someone in my family suddenly needed money. One time, I had even convinced my job to let me work parttime so that I could pursue doing voiceover work. I had spent money on getting a professional demo tape, (back when they were cassette tapes) and created my own marketing package and mailed them to agents, when someone in my family had to declare bankruptcy and I was the only person in the family who could afford to pay for the proceedings. I am the only person in my family who has been able to work full time consistently for all my adult life. I had spent everything I had on getting the tapes done. I had to go back to my job and ask them to take me back full time, which, thankfully, they found a position for me. If I had been a braver woman, I might have tried to keep going after the voicework, but that was the third family bankruptcy I had had to pay for and I chose to be cautious. That cured me of trying to save money or make big plans for about 15 years.
This past year, I felt differently about the whole thing. It actually started in April of 2016. I was ready to take on some new challenges. I had just made a new list of things I wanted to do and was starting a group coaching session on making things happen. Then in May, my mother died, unexpectedly. That whole story may be told at another time, but it is enough to say that I was completely derailed for months. It wasn’t until December that I found the list I had written in April and I was shocked to see that I had actually done many of the things on that list, even though I was unaware that I was doing them. I realized that if I could do those things while basically in a fog, I could accomplish big changes in my life, if I made a complete plan. I started reading books and blogs about planning and goal setting. I was trying to find components of different plans that would work for me. At the very end of the year, I had three days off where I had no obligations to anyone. For three days I wrote goals, and steps and even potential setbacks so that I would not be knocked down again. And when I was done, I had a plan for 5 parts of my life – money, family, community, career and creativity.
At the end of March, I reviewed my progress. I was behind on health and creativity. As I write this, I see these are the two goals that are personal to me alone, and perhaps that’s why they came in last? Anyway, I don’t expect to pursue everything evenly all the time. There’s balance and then there’s crazy. But that’s why I want to review my goals, at least on a quarterly basis. For April, I signed up for a creativity workshop (discussed in my post (An Experiment in Terror Vol 1., part 2) and talked with my husband about me taking 2 weeknights to myself to paint/draw/write, or whatever. I created a health habit tracker for my planner. I am enough of an A-Type personality that filling out that chart became a bit of an obsession. I had nearly a perfect record for the month and I was very proud of that. I was super charged about what I had gotten done and was motivated to keep going.
May brought the smackdown that I was not expecting. The first anniversary of my mother’s death was harder and more emotional than I expected. The fact that is was on Mother’s Day weekend didn’t help.
I had spent hours and hours reviewing our money spending and trying to create a budget. We have been a single income family by choice, for several months, but we have not changed our spending to accommodate that. I showed the numbers to my husband and we agreed to make some cuts. I was feeling good about it as there was potential for saving as well as cutting debt. Then my husband’s car needed major repairs. The car is paid for, and we want to take care of it. $2,000 later, he’s back on the road and a guy runs a red light and hits him and drives off. Another $3,300. That was my bonus and tax refund that I had just paid into the credit cards, gone. In less than 2 weeks.
And finally the night where my big toe exploded. I was watching TV with my husband and my toe started hurting like crazy. By the time we went to bed, it hurt so bad I could not sleep. And I kept hearing my Dad in my head talking about his gout and his big toe. Morning finds me googling gout and I learn that you can get it from taking too much niacin. My doctor had me on very large doses of niacin to combat high cholesterol. I stopped taking the niacin and the doctor did tests and chronic gout was confirmed.
And as I write this, there’s one week of May left.
I now have a third chronic illness. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease, and then a couple of years after that, Celiac disease. None these are life threatening, but had been bad enough that I have been in pain, especially in my legs, almost constantly for the past 7 years. You see, despite the fact I got the gout from the niacin, it wasn’t going to go away by my not taking it anymore. As I understand my situation at this time, I will have to watch my uric acid levels the rest of my life. And this means more dietary changes. I have been gluten-free for about three years, but now I’m pretty much going to have to be meat-free and dairy-free and alcohol-free. I don’t have to be a perfectly sober vegan, but I am going to have get a lot closer.
Having another pain-filled illness was a little much for my emotional state. I stopped tracking, I stopped doing the things I was tracking. I whined to my friends, who were very supportive and gave permission to whine for a bit, but also gave me action steps to pull myself out of my funk. This is why I love my friends. My husband made me wonderful meatless meatballs, and he drank all my gluten-free beer. I’m sure that was for my benefit….
I had to shut down my brain from the negative spiral. Almost everything I had accomplished in the past 4 months was gone and I was hurting and angry. I gave myself permission to just not think about it for a week. Friday, I had an email that I could pick up a diet book that I had requested from the library. Saturday, I sat on the couch almost all day with my foot propped up, alternately watching old episodes of Twin Peaks and reading the book. I started to think about small changes I could make to my diet to start getting on track. I had let go of the panic-inducing thought that I had to change things overnight. I realized I had a three-day weekend coming up where I could spend some time doing some food prep to make changes happen a little easier. I was so much more relaxed when I went to bed. I woke up at 5:30 this morning with my brain buzzing. I got up and journaled for the first time in a week. While journaling, I found a way to turn around my thinking about getting smacked down on goals. I realized that because I had created a long-term plan and trackers, I was going to be able to get moving ahead more quickly than just starting over again.
Then I decided, because ultimately, how I wish to view things is my decision, that getting smacked down was not a punishment for thinking of me. Instead, I have a superpower that unconsciously knows these things are coming and it sets me on a path to be prepared. Yes, it’s a mind game, but I don’t believe in any great force out there that would be interested in punishing me for taking care of myself, so that’s a pretty ridiculous thought process to go with.
Having a superpower brings me back my control. I have not taken good care of myself. I haven’t eaten well and I don’t (except for last April) exercise, and I take on huge amounts of stress. I have the feeling my body has been screaming at me for a long time and I have been too absorbed in taking care of other people to hear it.
Ultimately, it all boils down to me and my mindset and choices in fixing this. I have to write a new plan. I am now experienced at doing that. I know how to create a bridge of steps to get me where I need to be and I know that I will get knocked down again, and I will get up again. There are a lot of changes that need to made, but they only have to be made one at a time.
As long as I’m espousing ridiculous theories, I have one more to add. My father was fascinated with Houdini. He bought me kits and books so I could learn how to do magic. He was also very interested in Houdini’s spiritualism debunking and how Houdini promised that if it was possible, he would try to contact his wife after his death. They worked out a code so she would know it was his message. There are stories, but no proof that Houdini was able to contact his wife, but my father was very much into the idea. He said he would try to find way to communicate from the other side. He always thought I spent too much time taking care of other people at the expense of myself. He also had a trickster sense of humor. The thought that he would contact me through gout to tell me to take care of myself kind of makes me smile, albeit wincingly, through the pain.