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2021 goals

I usually have a succinct theme for the start of each year. But for 2021, I couldn’t phrase it in a way that didn’t sound pretentious. (Haha.) So, the gist of what I want to happen, is to strengthen my self. To make sure I have a solid foundation of my thoughts, habits, etc.

I was inspired after reading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography (which took me 3 months to complete – it’s not long at all, I’d just get distracted about other things). In particular, reading about his personal project to improve himself using 13 virtues. Each week, he would focus on a single virtue, trying his best to live it. He cycled through the 13 virtues continuously from when he was 20 years old.

I don’t think I’m ready to cycle through virtues weekly and hold myself to the same standard. But I like the idea of focusing on a single aspect of self-improvement. So for each month, I’m going to deep-dive on one thing of improving my self. While I feel like doing the “little bits every day” is helpful for some things, I think there are other things that I could devote a bigger chunk of my time and energy to.

For January, I’m joining an online Vipassana course for 10 days, starting two days from now. There’s an option for people who can’t get away from work or family commitments and that’s what I’ve signed up for. Even then, I’m a little overwhelmed looking at the schedule. Even with the “lite” version, there’s around 5 hours of meditation each day, plus rules to follow for when I’m not working/needing to do the “essentials”: not exposing myself to content with the outside world, refraining from interacting with others, etc. Still, it is only 10 days, and I’m excited to see what I’ll learn.

(Obviously, writing blogs is out of the question for that time, so see you all in two weeks or so!)

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“Brick by boring brick”

If there’s anything to describe 2020, it’d be this phrase nicked from one of the readings on “The Daily Stoic Journal”. (It’s also one of the reasons why I managed to finish the journal in the first place. I started it in 2019, but only completed only around 5% by the end of that year. Oops.)

With everything going on, there was a lot of waiting. And putting plans on hold, if not cancelling them entirely. While there were milestones, there were no big celebrations. It just felt like a quiet, subdued year. Plodding along slowly, steadily.

This year, I learned how to do things little by little. An hour of exercise a day, and I’ve now done heaps more exercise than the previous year. Fifteen minutes of EspaƱol each morning and I’ve completed several online courses (and feeling a lot more fluent than when I stopped studying years ago). Thirty minutes of sewing and I’ve made around a dozen items of clothing in 2020, more than I made from the past years put together (and that’s not even counting masks). This year had more baking, more cooking, more piano playing, more meditation.

I always thought that I never had as much time as I wanted for my hobbies. I used to want to wait for long stretches of time to do things and complain that I never got to complete the projects I wanted to. But now I know, this small, steady bit of effort, no matter how unexciting it feels, all adds up sooner or later. Brick by boring brick.

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Happy holidays

It’s Christmas eve. S is in the thick of making tonight’s dinner and preps for tomorrow’s Christmas lunch. I’ve got nothing to do but “sit and look pretty” (his words, not mine). So here I am.

I was initially going to write something very different. I was going to gush about how I was finally comfortable enough to hang out with people in larger groups. About how the past few months brought a spate of get-togethers with friends and family, some of whom I hadn’t seen since in person since the start of the pandemic.

It all changed last week. It started with a trickle of community transmission cases. Wary of an infection explosion during the silly season, everyone acted fast. Some restrictions were reinstated (luckily, the area I’m in didn’t get the brunt of it). Other states started closing their borders to NSW.

On a personal level… my employer postponed our Christmas party the night before it was meant to happen. We were supposed to go on a cruise. But it was too risky to have everyone come into the city, given that a big chunk of us travelled on public transportation (me included). Oh well, it was meant to rain anyway. Instead of working in the office, which they’d been trying to encourage, we were advised to work from home again.

Maximum visitors to each household were capped at 10. Fortunately, the decision came into effect the day after a colleague’s BBQ (where there were a lot more of us than that). Also fortunately, it doesn’t affect our Christmas or Boxing Day plans, where there will be less visitors than that.

I’m still shocked at how quickly things have changed. I’ve gotten somewhat complacent the past few months, admittedly, with such low numbers, and things seemingly getting back to normal. Obviously, I’m saddened that we can’t be out and about as much as we intended until things get back under control.

But still, I know I – we – are extremely lucky. I took a COVID test the Friday after the government announced the spike in cases. The same day we were meant to have our Christmas party. Although I had to queue for 30 minutes until I got to to the drive through testing centre, I knew I couldn’t complain. The testing centre had put up three, instead of just the one, testing areas. Their staff were out in the rain, handing out forms and pens, directing traffic, taking swabs. (I later read that the queues for other locations took 3-4 hours.)

I got my results in 6 hours.

(Negative, fortunately.)

There is something heartwarming about seeing how our state has rallied together. There have been 222k tests this week compared to 60k tests the week before. And how awesome is it that they do genomic testing to link infections to known clusters, and sewage testing to see where the virus might be hiding? I’m also amazed at the state’s contact tracers – there’s a continuously updating, detailed list of venues, down to the dates and times that a known case had visited and specific public transportation routes, sometimes down to the train carriage.

I know I personally have been relatively unaffected, and that there are many, many people who have been negatively impacted by this sudden spike. But at the end of the day, with people rallying together to keep the number of infections low, I’m hopeful that things will get better soon. And it makes me hopeful that, despite this crazy year we’ve all gone through, we will pull together.

So wherever you are, to my friend reading this, I hope you stay safe and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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Sleep, precious sleep…

I used to sleep pretty well, until I didn’t.

I used to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I thought it was a superpower, but then I was always tired. Apparently, falling asleep instantaneously was a symptom of not getting quality sleep at night, which I discovered a couple of years ago while seeking treatment for a seemingly unrelated issue.

Fortunately, I sleep much better now, the biggest helper being running an air purifier at night. (The first time I ran it, I got compliments from three people the very next day saying I looked well rested. Dang, did I look that haggard all the time, previously? Haha.)

The flipside is that now I’m subject to the same issues that normal-people-who-don’t-frequently-wake-up-at-night-due-to-allergies do.

I know that insomnia is inevitable when people are going through something, and I’ve had the occasional sleepless night stressed about one thing or the other. But it has never been as persistent as it was last month. It started with one night… and despite being tired, I couldn’t sleep the following night.

I was OK for a week, and then I got another two nights in a row of not falling asleep. I was getting super frustrated, not to mention I was keeping S up with my thrashing and sooking (no matter how quiet I thought I was being).

Now I’m on a mission to fix my sleep hygiene. I initially thought it wasn’t too bad, on closer look it was actually pretty crap.

Although I’d somehow manage to get 7-8 hours of sleep, I’d go to sleep at around 11 PM, or midnight, or even 1 AM. I’d wake up at different times each day. I feel like working from home had something to do with it – because I’d saved two hours a day from not commuting, there were less chances of me being super tired at night and being slightly sleep deprived each day.

I don’t know if it was because it was cooler then, and the days shorter, I somehow survived the past few months. But it’s summer now, and the days are longer, and nights warmer. Maybe it’s age, too. Ha! But at least it was a good sign for me to fix my sleep hygiene.

This is what I’ve been doing:

  • Waking up at 6:30 AM at the latest
  • Getting sun on the balcony until I need to start work
  • No coffees whatsoever
  • Minimal caffeinated tea in the mornings, until 10 AM at the latest
  • Exercise for at least an hour day in the sun (unless I’m doing an online class – then I try to get more sun other ways)
  • No alcohol
  • No device use past 8:30 PM
  • In bed at 10:30 PM at the latest
  • Melatonin if I can’t sleep after 30 minutes

I have to say, I like waking up early and having “me time” on the balcony. It’s pretty productive. I’ve also found that I’ve been more focused with how I spend my time, knowing that I have to start winding down at around 9 PM.

I started melatonin around two weeks ago, but I haven’t had to take any the past two days, so I’m hoping things are getting better! (I’m starting to miss coffee and late night movies, plus the prospect of not being able to enjoy a drink during the silly season makes me a little sad!)