Tag Archives: stress

How I Lost a Superpower during the Pandemic

clockI used to pride myself on my punctuality. It wasn’t like I was in some sort of contest or anything, but to me, punctuality meant respect for other people and their valuable time.

That being the case, I always did my very best to leave early enough to arrive on time.

My goal was always to arrive early, but not too early either and rob myself of precious minutes from my time-starved existence.

With years of experience, commuting by car and by bus, I became pretty skillful at predicting how much extra time to allow, when factoring in bad weather, construction and traffic congestion on any given day. As a result, I often enjoyed that sweet spot of arriving about five minutes early for most appointments.

The fact that my early-but-not-too-early arrivals were pretty consistent was a great source of pride. It got to a point that I considered it my superpower.

Needless to say, on those rare occasions when Murphy’s Law (or weather, or construction, or traffic accidents) played against me and I showed up late for something, I was beyond apologetic that my superpower had failed me.

But then three life events happened that have totally messed up my superpower: the pandemic, moving to the country and retirement. Continue reading

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Waiting for the Noodles

After nearly four decades of cooking for myself, I can’t say that there is much that scares me in the kitchen. I have no problem following a recipe, word for word, in the hope of achieving the expected results.

I will even go so far as to say that I am pretty confident when keeping my eye on two dishes at once.

But it’s when a meal has three separate components (or more) than my anxiety can potentially boil over. In those moments, I start wondering how the talented jugglers I have seen on TV could spin multiple plates on the end of tall sticks, and keep them spinning beautifully.

To me, cooking is very much the same thing. It is the variability of variables that can potentially spoil a meal that keeps me on edge.

Let’s start with the essential work tools, the stove and oven:

I’ll never forget the stove that came with the house in my last place. At 15 years old, it wasn’t an antiquity, but by today’s standards for appliances, it was getting old… and increasingly unreliable.

It didn’t take many under-baked goodies for me to figure out that there was a problem with the oven. After a while, I bought an oven thermometer to get a second opinion on the temperature. Sure enough, the oven was almost always 25 degrees under the temperature I requested. Continue reading

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The Massage Therapist Auditions

a cat in a complete state of relaxationAbout twenty years ago, a received a gift certificate for my very first registered massage therapy (RMT) session.

It was a very kind and generous gift, especially at a time when I was dealing with the grief of my Dad’s passing. At the same time, I was recovering from the final sprint to the finish line for a major project at work. The timing was absolutely right for what I would consider my first real dose of self-care.

I admit that at first I was bit shy about the whole idea, but the massage therapist assigned to me took the time to ask me questions about my health, what I was looking for from therapeutic massage and to walk me through the process.

Any apprehensions I might have had disappeared within three minutes into the treatment. I relaxed and turned into a mass of jelly which allowed the therapist to gently work out some of the knots that had accumulated over time.

By the end of the session, I was a convert. I was so deeply relaxed, I worried about the long drive home and accidentally veering off the road, but I successfully made it home in one piece.

Sadly, the distance to this particular spa made it difficult for me to promise my return. But I was immediately hooked on that amazing feeling that followed, that “clean slate” sensation when the knots and kinks are eradicated. And so began what I called “the massage therapist auditions”, closer to home. Continue reading

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Ready for the Reopening? Not So Fast

With the province of Ontario’s recent announcement of its plan for the removal of mask mandates and the easing of pandemic restrictions in the coming months, I wonder to myself if I am really ready for the grand reopening.

In some ways, I think it would be easy to say yes. I’d love to see my extended family and my friends again. I miss going to movies, plays, concerts and museums. I’d love to shop without my glasses fogging up all the time. And fine dining isn’t quite so fine when purchased from a take-out window and soggy by the time you get home.

I also look forward to the day that I can be more spontaneous and run quick errands as the need arises without having to map out detailed logistics including fluid intake, protein bar consumption and the anticipated bathroom breaks.

But after the last two years, I don’t know if I am quite ready to go back to the “old normal” or even the “new normal” as quickly as some other folks.

I don’t say that from a position of fear or even out of excessive precaution. I think it would be fair to say it is out of plain old fatigue. Over the last two years, there has been a lot going on: Continue reading

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Learning to Appreciate Snow Again

As I sit down to write this piece, all is calm, all is bright. Miss Ivy, the “guardian cat”, is snoring on the wing chair beside me while I sip my morning coffee. Just outside my window is the first major snowfall of this season.

What a great way to spend a weekend snow day. I am very fortunate indeed for this simple pleasure.

I look out my window and think to myself how pretty the winter wonderland is. Then I stop myself and say “Whoa! What happened to that guy who used to ‘hate’ winter?”

The answer is that things have changed quite a bit.

For so many years, I have equated snowfalls with stress, the fear of the unknown, and having to dig deeply for an extra dose patience.

I don’t know why in Ottawa the show must go on, even in inclement weather, but only in rare and very extreme weather conditions was work ever “cancelled”.

It always brings a smile to my face to see news reports from other cities that shut down when they had one or two inches of snow on the ground. “That would never happen here”, I always think to myself as one to two inches on the ground is just an average winter day in Ottawa. But it didn’t mean it was an easy day.

Back when I was taking the city bus to school or to work, a snowy day meant a longer commute time in an overheated bus, while wearing a winter coat, sweating like a pig, wishing I could take another shower by the time I got to my destination. It also meant the crap shoot of whether the bus will be late or if it will show up at all, meaning that extra layers of clothes were needed to stand outside waiting, to protect from the elements.

It also meant the risk of being late for an important commitment, which is excruciating for someone who prides himself on his punctuality. Continue reading

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Where Did the Running Season Go?

When I look at the calendar, it blows my mind that we are already at the end of what I refer to as “my running season” (typically, the period from March to November) and yet I still haven’t gone running yet this year.

How did that happen? How did a whole running season escape on me?

Thankfully, it’s not like I was sidelined due to injury or anything like that (been there, done that!), but I think we can all agree that 2020 was far from normal for anyone.

Much like every year, when the ice build-up on the wintry sidewalks was melting, making them less of a hazard for slipping and breaking an ankle or a hip (a legit concern for us folks on the cusp of “elderly”), I had every intention of getting out, building up my walking routine and slowly graduating to running.

At the dawn of the Covid-19 lockdown, I was working from home and during most lunch breaks, I was outside walking two kilometres to get some fresh air, sunshine and exercise. In reality, that wasn’t too far off from my routine had I been working from the office. Over time, my pace increased with no noticeable complaints from the legs, knees, hips, IT bands or shins. I felt like I was making good progress.

Over the span of a few weeks, I had just graduated to the walk-run combo for my two kilometre circuit, so I was almost there and planning to increase my distance. Continue reading

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The Worst Possible Time for a Car Repair

You can imagine my excitement when I got the call from the auto body shop to tell me that my car was ready.

When I went to pick it up, I let out a huge sigh of relief to see my vehicle restored to its original beauty. The body shop did a magnificent job. The car dent I had been living with for six months was finally erased.

What irks me to this day is that I was nowhere near the car when the dent happened, and the person who was responsible never stepped forward to identify themselves by leaving a note (*head shake in disbelief*).

Regular readers know that I am not a “car person” to begin with, and it’s not like I own a luxury car by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a cute, practical, compact car, which I have grown to love, but it’s my car.

It is sad to think that people do not have more regard for other people’s property or are too afraid of the repercussions to own up to their mistakes (or a combination of both) (*head shake in annoyance*). Continue reading

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How My Cat Survived the Big Move

In the five years since Ivy the Wonder Cat’s adoption, most days I would think that Ivy is one of the coolest, calmest and most predictable cats on the planet, given her innate ability to stick to a schedule which includes 14 hours of sleep per day.

When I say stick to a schedule, I mean you can set your watch by her. God forbid if I should miss her 9:00 p.m. treat time or should slip by more than five minutes for her regularly scheduled feeding times. Let’s just say my extroverted cat is not terribly subtle and if I am ever late, her mild meow builds up to a full ambulance siren within a matter of minutes.

I often ask myself who is the trainer and who is the student?

With a cat whose routine is so deeply entrenched, we are fortunate that harmony is a two way street. She knows when it’s her humans’ bedtime and she doesn’t typically wail by the door. She seems to understand our work-from-home routine and keeps herself quietly entertained during business hours. And she doesn’t usually beg for food outside of her appointed meal times.

But with that strong sense of structure, a sensitivity to disruption may be part of the package deal. Every November and December, as the holiday decorations go up and our schedules stray from the normal routine, she does get a little discombobulated, but then again, don’t we all to some extent? Continue reading

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The Moving Diet and Exercise Plan

Upon opening a box marked “OFF65” containing items for the home office, I discovered my bathroom scale that was slightly misfiled in my last minute haste.

I laid the scale on the floor and hopped on to confirm what I had suspected for the last few weeks, as I noticed that my jeans were getting progressively looser.

From the moment we put the offer in on the house, I secretly hoped that the stress of the legal paperwork, the preparation, the packing and the move itself would help me shed a couple of pounds (as it did the last time I moved, 19 years ago).

Well, it worked… almost ten pounds dropped!

In some ways I was happy as it meant that I will likely fit into some summer clothes that have been at the back of the closet for a while… as soon as I locate the box in which they are stored. But in other ways, it was also a reminder of the ways that stress impacts my body.

Even though the home purchase, the home sale and the move were indeed joyful, positive events, the trajectory did present moments of late nights, early mornings, not-so-restful sleep and sometimes uncomfortable adrenaline rushes through my midsection, like a case of feral butterflies in the tummy.

The sensation of knots in the stomach in stressful times is normal for me and, not surprisingly, acts as an appetite suppressant. It has been that way since I was very young. Every major life event whether it involved school exams, job interviews, important work presentations, or just rites of passage in general, usually meant a few pounds dropped along the way.

I think it is just my body’s way of dealing with the “fight or flight” response to what life throws at me. By not ingesting more food than necessary, I don’t turn into the “Stan” character from the “South Park” cartoon series and throw up when stress gets the best of me. Continue reading

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The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 8)

When my house sold, I no longer had to live within the boundaries of a home staged for showings. I could finally spread out, enjoy my space and not obsessively pick up crumbs before they hit the floor.

It was finally time to go back to “normal” life and to start preparing for the move to our home in the country.

The drive to my cat’s hotel was an opportunity to reflect on the emotional ups and downs of the process and the huge milestones that were behind us.

It was also an opportunity to “high-5” myself, psychologically speaking. The nervousness and the anxiety I felt before we put in the offer on our future home was off the charts, and rightfully so. It’s not like we buy or sell houses every day. The last time I did this was 19 years ago, and much has changed in the industry in that time.

For someone who likes to be organized and whose pride wanted his home to show as well as possible, there was indeed a lot of work required to be prepared and to do it right.

But the reassurance from my real estate agent that this could all be accomplished within reasonable time frames was the antidote to my nervousness and the encouragement to face my fears.

Just the same, I was guarded as I knew that once the train left the station, there wouldn’t be much opportunity to slow down until we were comfortably seated in our new home with the cat purring contentedly in my lap… in about 3 months. This period also came with Julie Chen’s Big Brother voice permanently in my subconscious saying “Expect the unexpected” at least a few times per day, just to keep me on my toes.

That was when I put into practice what I know works best for me: I made a list… several lists, actually. I broke down the large tasks of buying and selling into smaller sub-steps, laid out in chronological order, and scratched items off the list as I completed them.

This method works for me because I am not looking at a mountain of activity as one large unmanageable obstacle. I seem better able to wrap my head around many small tasks and to accomplish a few each day with steady and consistent action. If I don’t, that is when the racing thoughts can take over and rob me of valuable sleep.

Another element to trying to remain composed through it all was laying appropriate boundaries around my worry, and not letting a 5 minute task occupy an hour’s worth of head space. It sounds obvious, but sometimes the “what ifs” can get the best of me. It’s just part of my professional programming and a reflex to be prepared for any eventuality. Shutting it off can be a challenge sometimes.

This major life event was the ultimate test of my “list method”, and it seemed to work, even though it wasn’t without its share of smaller-scale freaking out moments anyway.

I was pleased that the humour in some of the situations encountered along the way was not lost on me, even when I accidentally locked myself in my own powder room while changing the doorknob.

Of course, I couldn’t have made it through without the moral support of family, friends and colleagues, the expertise of the professionals we hired at critical decision points, and of course, the best partner in the world.

It really was cause for celebration to be on the other side of the mountain, to resume a new normal and to start the countdown to the big move.

When I brought Ivy the Wonder Cat home, her standard operating procedure for rediscovering her surroundings was pretty much the same as any other time I brought her home from her cat hotel. She walked around the entire house a few times, sniffing every step of the way. She located her food, her litter box and her sleeping quarters, which all seemed to meet with her approval. Before I knew it, she was pretty much back on track and in her usual routine.

However with the dawn of COVID-19, it appeared that the rest of the process of preparing for the big move would be anything but normal. With stay-at-home advisories, social distancing and lockdown procedures, was it going to be business as usual for the big move? How long would these measures be in place?

Fortunately many of the services required to prepare were deemed essential by the province, much to my relief, including booking movers for our closing date.

I was also able to purchase a huge stack of boxes and packing supplies with the intention of using free time constructively, and to get as much packing completed in the time that we were told to stay home.

Nevertheless, the realization that the biggest steps, the buying and selling, were well behind us brought huge pride and gratitude. Unfortunately, under this new normal, the celebration of these milestones would have to wait a little.

To return to Episode 7 of the Housing Market Roller Coaster, click here.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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