One of the reasons for my month-plus hiatus from this site is that we moved from our apartment in Fort Collins to a condo in Loveland. The process of moving was brutal, naturally; but it was a good move, you know? For one thing, the rental market in northern Colorado is getting both expensive and volatile, meaning we couldn't really predict what our new monthly rent would be—and whether we could reasonably afford it—once our current lease expired in May.
I'll miss Fort Collins, but I'm happy with our newfound modicum of stability where monthly expenditures are concerned. Plus, the place is really nice, and was basically "turn-key." It's all worked out very well, and I'm glad for it.
One of the other perks of our new digs is that both of us are now much closer to work. A shorter commute equals fewer dollars spent on gas and vehicle upkeep, fewer particles of vaporized dinosaur sludge getting spewed into the atmosphere, and hours of our lives back each and every week. For me, my old 45 or 50 minute commute (each way) has been reduced to about 25 or 30 minutes. That time adds up very quickly, and I'm grateful to have it back.
I'm still not used to it, though. A year and a half of commuting from my old place in FoCo to my office in Greeley has programmed my sense of the duration of my commute accordingly. So when I rolled up to campus this morning having only been driving my car for a half hour, my arrival felt strange, sudden, and jarring.
And then I noticed the reaction that prompted me to write this article: I felt sadness.
Okay, yes, there have been benefits to my longer commute. It's given me the chance to listen to, and stay current on, a number of excellent podcasts; and it's afforded me some alone time, which I both enjoy and need in certain doses.
However, all things considered, my feeling of sadness is almost completely illogical. It isn't as if I'm altogether losing any of the perks of the commute: I'll still have my podcasts, and I'll still have my alone time. So what gives?
I think it's just a matter of conditioning, plain and simple. Here I had this well-established, highly reinforced, inexorable routine that was, in sum, less than ideal: While it kept me employed and provided some immediate psychological benefits, its expenditures of time and money were, according to my values and circumstances, too steep.
But it was my commute. It was what I was used to. On some deep, irrational, animal level, I was attached to my commute, I was in control of my commute, and it didn't matter a whit that it wasn't all that great for me.
To my way of thinking, those deep-brain, subconscious, "animal" sensibilities offset my more rational self—the piece that may have, if left to its own devices, demanded a lifestyle change much sooner—and conspired to keep me in a state of benign, unthinking acceptance of the commute.
Of course, the stakes of all this were and are fairly low, insofar as we're not talking about behavior that was actively harming my or another's well-being. But it's easy, perhaps, for one to extrapolate the process I underwent to behaviors with altogether more serious pitfalls and ramifications. Food for thought there, maybe.
For my part, that moment of sadness didn't linger too terribly long. But it demonstrated to me the power of habit, and the trickiness and unreliability of our emotional feedback system when we try to change.
I felt "off" this morning as I walked into my office. My mind-chatter was chaotic, noisy, and persuasive, and I couldn't concentrate or think clearly, let alone relax. Ironically, one of the things on my mind was an upcoming presentation I am giving on self-care.
By the time I sat down at my desk, I knew I needed to take a few moments and figure out a way to center myself. I thought of writing something here—like a "process" blog or something—but when nothing came to me, I turned to my old Mental Health for Humans archives for assistance. Lo and behold, I found a link to a great little article entitled, "7 Way to Train the Self-Care Habit," by Elisha Goldstien, Ph.D. (on Twitter @Mindful_Living).
So that was a boon—and a helpful one: I immediately felt grounded, and much of that pesky mind-chatter fell away. Then my phone's notification asked for my attention: knock knock knock. My master's Alma Mater, the College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University (Twitter: @BinghamtonCCPA) had just tweeted a new faculty blog post entitled, "How Do You Practice Self Care?"
And with that, I had everything I needed to take care of myself.
Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that I'm not an island unto myself—that I am, in fact, dependent upon other people and other resources outside myself (including ideas). I suspect many of us struggle in similar fashion. Individualism carries a certain allure, a certain air of romance. But, like most ideas taken to their extreme, individualism can drive a wedge between us and the world of which we are a part, and with which we are interdependent.
It feels good to have reconnected, and to remember that the connection is a thing to maintain; i.e., it is an ongoing process—and that that's okay!
Thanks for reading.
In this quick-listen episode, I revisit my previous "Everyday Mental Health" podcast (Episode 6) and dig a little deeper into the themes that emerged from it.
In this quick-listen episode, I introduce the notion of "everyday mental health," whereby one gets to know oneself a bit better as to improve one's outlook, mood, and overall wellness.