I mentioned in my earlier posts that I would talk about something in the red goals section, and this is that section, so I guess I will cover the issues here, if I have to! They impact on everything, which is not surprising as the red goals are about health and career.
MY RED GOALS: Be bright, be bold, be direct
For my Career, I was experiencing a bit of ennui. I love my job, it’s a great configuration…I have a fair amount of autonomy, knowable deliverables, enough variety to keep it interesting, and a solid team to manage. And yet…there is something in my work that is becoming a bit stale. I have been in the same job for eight years, something often unheard of in the EC category of government, with policy analysts being one of the most mobile groups in government. Even for planners, I’ve been a bit long in the same spot. For the first five years, the job was highly variable with lots of big projects that dwarfed my so-called “day job”, and so I was more about projects than regular management. Over the last three, however, I’ve been doing a newish job which combined all the planning files together in one team. And, as I said, it’s a great job.
But earlier this year I applied for a Director-level job and I updated my resume from two years ago — and only had to change six words. Literally, that was it. All the functions were basically the same, and the description was the same. Considering I started in government in B.C. with a job for eight months, then DFAIT for four years with three sub-jobs, CIDA / Multilateral for five years with three sub-jobs, bilateral for 8 months, policy for three years with two sub-jobs, DM’s office for eight months, SDC international for a year plus, and then HRSDC / policy for almost two, it’s not surprising that when most things haven’t changed in my duties for 8 years and nothing in 3, I might be feeling a bit stale.
I don’t quite want to say unchallenged, but I’m also not growing a whole lot in the job either. On the other hand, it is still a great job, and if I was closer to retirement, I’d just stay put. But I’m ten years out, and that is between three and four jobs. Probably at least two. So I need to do something about that, and I did a bit at the end of the year. I’ve at least put some actions in gear, including encouraging my current boss to look at hiring a replacement (even before I actually leave). There’s a theory that if you “announce” a goal, make it public, it helps keep you on track to actually achieving it, and I’ve used that stick here to force myself to find a new job, since I had already said two years in a row that it was time to move on and didn’t.
Related to moving on is my need to recertify my french. For those who remember, I struggled mightily back in ’98/’99 to get my french (B level intermediate) and it was such a demoralizing experience for me that I actually convinced myself that there was no chance of my ever getting C levels for oral. Fast forward to ’04, and I was looking at changing jobs, so I needed to recertify again. One week of re-training, and the guy told me I could already pass the B, so getting to C was not only possible, but practically guaranteed. A completely different mindset, and only partly based on good retention ability. Two months of 1:1 training, plus a few months of occasional tutor sessions, and I hit my C early in ’05.
But I’ve done almost nothing since about that…a written retest at one point, but I’m long expired for written and oral. And since it wasn’t urgent to change jobs, and I didn’t “have to” recertify, I have dragged my feet. There is a perfectly valid psychological reason for that, if not a great one.
The fact is that I derive a fair amount of my self-identity, and even self-esteem, from the fact that I am good at my job. Okay, I admit I’m being falsely humble. I’m awesome at my job. I report to a DG instead of a director, partly because of my abilities (which is also good for their budget, but that’s another story). I regularly get top-marks on my performance ratings, other branches call us to see what we’re doing so they can emulate it on the planning files, my bosses almost always love me up the line. And, even if I was deluded by all of that, my wife regularly has experiences where she is talking to people at work who find out that I’m her husband (since we have different last names, it isn’t immediately obvious of course), and then she has to listen to them regale her with stories about how amazing I am (she hasn’t yet said, “Are you freakin’ kidding me? Have you TRIED living with him? Let me tell you the reality!”, but it’s likely on her list of future replies). So there’s that.
Yet when I am on language training, I lose that sense of myself. I lose part of my identity, I’m not the “manager” anymore, I’m just Joe Student and honestly, not a great one. I feel my sense of self-worth slipping. Each and every time I’ve done it, even when I got my C, there was a loss in sense of who I am during the training.
And if I’m brutally honest, I haven’t been able to afford that right now. As positive as I have been about my BLUE, GREEN and YELLOW goals, my RED goals have been kicking my ass three ways from sideways.
To close off though, I pushed this year to do my french training and the organizational response was less than overwhelming. I was offered stupid options twice, even one that was 9 hours a week for a year. My retention is way better than that, and because of some tweaks to the org chart, I’m even considered a priority, so part-time on my own was not what we were looking for in the way of training. I did a bit on my own, not a lot, just some basic review, and then went for a new assessment back at the scene of the crime in ’98/98 — Asticou. The name strikes fear in the hearts of many a civil servant who had bad experiences there (if you are a good language student, you can have good experiences anywhere, as a friend of mine did at Asticou; if you are a bad language student, you may struggle anywhere too, but if you are in a bad environment as some found at Asticou, you will be in hell). The good news initially though was that they assessed me as almost close to levels still already, and that I would only need 1:1 refresh for about three weeks. A drop in the proverbial bucket and no risk to my psyche. Except that option fell off the table with an organizational change, and I don’t know what is going on anymore. People are looking into other options, but in the meantime, I’m planning to do most of it myself on my own in January and February as that is the only part I can control. Frustrating but I need to get ‘er done. With the assessment at only 3 weeks, I’m colouring it GREEN, although it was not the colour I thought it would be up until early November.
For Stretching, I did some basic work early in the year, and I’ve stuck with some of it that helps my back, but nowhere near the level I want to be at. I kept up with Chiro too, but definitely still leaving the category as RED.
For a general category of Exercise, with walking at lunch, some kata exercises, and more activity on weekends, I am going to say right up front that is this is a blazing hot RED. Way past fire-engine. I don’t have the words to show how bad it has been.
As I said earlier, there was something I would talk about in the red goal section, and this is it. My health over the last year has kicked up a fuss and wiped out just about any energy I had to do anything.
In 2015, I did a sleep test with a guy who is a bit of an activist on sleep apnea, and I didn’t have the highest level of efficacy in his results, but I did take it seriously enough to try to improve the environmental factors and some routine factors to see if it helped with my sleep. It did, but not enough. I was still sleeping anywhere from 5 to 6 hours a night with lots of interruptions during the night, and general fatigue, headaches, etc.
So in March of this year, I went in and picked up a sleep machine. If you saw earlier posts, I started to blog about it and thought I would keep it going as it would be relatively straight-forward to write about and explain. Not so much.
For those who don’t know much about sleep apnea, it is basically that you “stop” breathing for a second or so while you’re sleeping. Often it is because your tongue or part of your throat pushes back and closes on your airway, and no air goes through. Almost like a vapor lock. Your body will wake you up, you change positions, adjust your throat or tongue, and bob’s your uncle, you can breathe again. Most people don’t wake up fully, their body just adjusts as it goes. But it is crappy sleep. To find out if you have sleep apnea, you go to a sleep clinic, they hook you up with a bunch of wires, monitor a bunch of stuff during the night, and mostly count how many “incidents” you have per hour. Five is “normal”. Twenty is “severe apnea”.
My score? 124 an hour. I don’t even know how they count that. Which is partly why I didn’t know if the original results were even valid, but whatever. I got the machine, tried it out, blogged a few times, felt a bit better, good to go. Or so I thought.
Over the first six weeks, we had to play a lot with the settings. Initially I was using CPAP — a constant air pressure. It is the most common machine that people get, and it basically slowly ramps up from a low pressure to a stable pressure and then stays there during the night. I was still waking up, still having incidents although not as many, having headaches etc., and I started to actually feel MORE tired than previously. And I won’t name the company, but I wasn’t that thrilled with my service either.
On a pressure scale of 20 or 30 (don’t remember which), I was starting with an initial pressure of 5 that would ramp up slowly to 15. After a week, they would start me at 6, then 7, then 8, etc. I was five weeks in and we had made a couple of adjustments. Then my rep suggested we raise it to 6. I was like, “What? I was at 6 weeks ago, wtf?”. Yep, the machine had auto-reset (it has a modem that sends the data to the centre, I don’t monitor it, so I didn’t have any idea) and they didn’t notice, even when they went to adjust it again. But there I was, back at the beginning again. Tried a few more weeks, not much change.
So my doctor switched me to the APAP machine. This is an alternating/auto adjusting air pressure that basically alters the pressure depending on how hard I am breathing in or out, rather than a constant pressure. A little more aggressive, and it was better, but I wasn’t filled with energy. In fact, I was still feeling quite lethargic in the mornings. I kept feeling like I was waking up mid-REM sleep/cycle. Note that the auto-adjusting feature is a bit misleading. It doesn’t actually completely adjust to my individual breaths, more like analysing a series of breaths and then running an algorithm to figure out what settings to use.
Then my doctor switched me in September to a BIPAP machine. This one also adjusts, but it measures each and every breath in and out and adjusts immediately. Much more aggressive form of treatment, and more costly, so they don’t prescribe these machines until they try the other ones. Tried it for September, October, and November, and it is definitely the best of the options.
Mind you, all three did reduce my incident rate to less than five, so therapeutically, all worked. Except the first two left me with headaches and some other surprises.
In almost all patients, somewhere near 98%, you actually lose weight or at least stay the same using the machine. More restful sleep, blah blah blah, healthier you, blah blah blah, more energy, more blah blah blah, who cares the reason, you lose weight while sleeping better!
Lucky me, the kicker is that in 2% of users, you can GAIN weight. Yep, that was my experience. The first one started me off big time, with almost a 20 lb gain in 6-7 weeks. I have a weight problem already, but I manage just fine with it most of the time. It isn’t great, other issues at play too, and the long-term health costs, but day to day, I don’t “feel” it too strongly. I don’t get out of breath going up stairs at work, most things I want to do in day-to-day are fine. I’m not running marathons or water-skiing, but most of the time I am functional.
Add 20 lbs, plus major water retention and swelling of ankles and legs, and my energy levels plummeted back in May / June. I wouldn’t quite rate my fatigue and ennui to previous levels of depression, but I was losing steam big time. Mentally, emotionally, physically, intellectually, psychologically, there was nothing I was interested in working on. I added my therapist/social worker/counsellor back to the mix to keep my psyche tuned up, but the body changes were still affecting my mind too.
So, from April to October at least, I was MIA. Even some medication I take for reflux and blood pressure were suddenly acting up…I used to take them at supper, easy for my routine, worked fine for me. Now I have to take them in the morning or run the risks of headaches by mid-afternoon.
The BIPAP helped changed things a lot in October. I even noticed it in my ability to control my own emotions. We went to an appointment at a treatment centre with Jacob, and honestly, they have been doing a terrible job of coordination for over a year now. No guidance on what we should be doing, no options, heck they didn’t even know which personnel we should see. There are organizational reasons for it, and the issue is not acute, but we were trying to be proactive on it, and 13 months later, we finally had an appointment to see someone who we would told would handle it.
We went to see them, had the appointment, doctor was all happy, good to go. We’re like, “Umm, what about our issue?”. Well, he doesn’t deal with that. The person doing the coordination hadn’t mentioned it to him, he doesn’t do that type of work, and we were there for (almost) nothing. Thirteen months and back to square one after taking time off work for the appointment that would finally get us where we needed to be, and the guy doesn’t even do that type of work.
In many circumstances, this is where I would turn to Andrea and suggest she talk to the people cuz I’m likely to lose it, which serves no one. Plus I tend to want to go for a nuclear option and raise the engagement level by several rungs of the organization. In this case, though, I handled it myself, went to the main coordinating office and calmly, rationally, politely said, “Umm, there seems to be some confusion, and we need some new guidance.” The woman was very apologetic and helpful, and would get us the right info, etc. No big deal, moving on.
I said to Andrea afterwards, “Did you see me?????”.
She was like, “Yeah, who ARE you?”.
Cuz that’s not normally me.
But it was me with BIPAP treatment, decent sleep, and no headache. Progress.
I would like to say I’ve been the same ever since, but I haven’t. A few weeks later, I had a particularly brutal day at work and I was clearly in need of different interventions than I was capable of making. Very unproductive, very angry, very aggressive, very nuclear. It’s improving, but it’s not night and day, more like a slow dawn with some bright rays of sunshine leaping out from between trees in a forest.
The weight has improved slightly under the BIPAP, dropped 10 of the 20 I gained, and hoping to see that continue.
But overall, the changes in my body killed just about everything I was working on across the board for all goals. The headaches, for example, have been a lot like those for people with head injuries, except that I know my functions will return later in the day or the next when the headache passes. Yet the fatigue and the headaches sapped any hope I had most days for making progress on anything. Some days it was just easier to go back to bed and wait it out.
I was making some progress again in early November, and then I got the cough from hell. I’ve had it before, as one of my coworkers reminded me. It started innocently enough, basically just a small cold that went away and came back a week later. Lots had it, including Jacob. But one of the benefits of a sleep apnea machine is that it has moisture options that blow into your nose all night and help keep things healthy.
Yet the cough lingered. So much so that I threw my ribs out. Twice. Very dry, very deep in my throat but not my chest. Just a dry tickle that would not go away. I had this once before about 2 years ago, and same prognosis and treatment. The infection was gone but the inflammation continued.
So I had to take a steroid for the deep throat, a puffer for the upper throat, and keep it going for up to 6 weeks after the cold or flu are gone. Bloody hell. Mine took residence at the start of November and it was well into December before I could stop the steroid. I’m still using the regular puffer from time to time when I start to feel there’s a small rattle down there.
So 6 months of sleep treatments with my body going wonky from time to time as it adjusted (headaches, bloating, blah blah blah), and 7 weeks of the cough from hell, plus general stuff in there for regular aches / pains / colds / flu for the year.
All in all, I hated 2016. I said the only way out was through, and I had no idea how prophetic that was. I survived the year, and I am literally shocked that I made progress on any of my goals after March. I feel like I’ve got the sleep thing relatively under control, and while I’m not in the 98% that loses weight using it, I’ll be happy when I’m at least back down to my regular weight and can start fresh again at trying to reduce that further.
Over the last few months, I’ve even had to admit to Andrea a few times, “I don’t know if I can do activity x”, which was never the case before. But I worry about it more, and that is a good impetus for me for 2017. I’m a little worried about our trip to Mexico as I don’t normally do that well in heat, nor is it a great combo for my blood pressure, but I should be okay with the right balance to the day.
And I went skating today. A month ago, I suspected I might not be able to, but I did. It was a bit rough on my legs, but that wasn’t necessarily new. Just that I’ve been a bigger couch potato for the last 9 months and it’s time I got back into the game.
I have no idea what I’m going to do for my goals this year, but I have a small idea to keep it manageable. Realistic even. That will be new for me, when I normally go hog wild.
So maybe the glaring RED for my red goals might actually be a future motivator.
Hope springs eternal. Maybe that will be my new slogan for 2017.