Nearly four years ago, in early 2012, I started taking Taekwondo. I was overweight, out of shape, but my oldest minion had been taking classes for a year plus and had just turned old enough to start doing family classes. So I buckled down, drank plenty of water, tried not to smoke so much and gave it a shot.
I didn’t just show up to class with him one day, though. The last thing I wanted was for my son to see his old man collapse in a fit of coughing or pass out from exhaustion or wind up twisting himself into so many Gordian knots even the EMTs wouldn’t be able to save him. I took adult classes for a few months to get a bead on where I really stood physically. Turned out I wasn’t in all that bad of shape. Also, apparently very few folks actually went to the adult classes, so I wound up getting a bunch of private lessons at regular cost and getting to know the masters pretty well.
After a few months, I started going to the family classes with my son. And aside from occasionally getting round-housed by a pre-teen, all was well.
Fast-forward to November 2015. My second son has arrived and earned his dark green belt. My first son and I are both preparing for our black belt tests. Things are seemingly going well. But they’re not.
I’d started experiencing some discomfort early to mid 2015, wound up at the doctor’s in July with back pain, was given some meds and sent on my way. I’m not huge on taking pills, but I tried one anyhow. Didn’t much like the way it made me feel, so I opted instead to put a little more effort into stretching my back muscles. Though intermittent, the pain was not going away. In fact, it actually got worse, but so slowly and so unpredictably that I didn’t really take much notice until November 18, when I wound up going back to the doctor. I’ll spare the details of my visit, but the diagnosis was a left inguinal hernia. My black belt test was already scheduled for December 5.
Needless to say, I cancelled my test and stopped going to classes while I sorted the situation out. I met with the surgeon December 2, had the surgery on December 14, and let myself recover for the following few weeks.
Yesterday, January 9, I returned to Taekwondo. In the space of a month or so, I’d put some extra weight back on and my joints had become relatively stiff and inflexible. The moves were familiar, yet I was clumsy and uncertain in my execution. My performance was less than stellar, at times a little embarrassing considering a mere month prior I was deemed ready to take my black belt test, but I tried my best, and that’s what mattered. I showed up. I tried. And before long I’ll be back to where I was and headed for more improvement.
Why am I writing about this on a blog (using the term loosely) that hasn’t been updated in three years? Because I learned a few things in 2015 that are worth capturing, if for nothing else as a reminder to me going forward.
First, hernias suck. However, mine was relatively minor. The surgeon didn’t have to go through any muscle to fix it, I was in and out of surgery in roughly an hour, and only used pain medication for one day. A good friend of mine at work had undergone similar surgery a month or so prior to mine, but his damage was more extensive and required a longer recovery time. By the way, talking with him is part of what took me back to the doctor on November for a proper diagnosis. Anyhow, my point here is that no matter how much your tough experience sucks, in all likelihood someone else has it worse. My hernia was tough on me, but not nearly as tough as it could have been. In fact, I’m pretty damned lucky as far as hernias go.
Second, when you feel pain or discomfort, it pays to take time and figure out why. Between July and November I did nothing about my physical pain and discomfort. I tried to ignore it in the hopes it would all go away. Not usually the best tactic to take. The pain was telling me something was wrong, and I should have listened more closely sooner than later.
Third, when getting back into something you’ve stepped away from, you have to be forgiving of yourself. It’s unreasonable to expect to pick up exactly where you left off when taking time away from something. It’s okay to take a step back. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s human.
Those three things apply to a much broader situation in my life, one represented in some ways by the fact that I haven’t posted on this blog in three years. Just like the hernia pain cause so much difficulty in my Taekwondo, I’ve suffered some stresses over the past few years that have affected my writing. Most notably, I took a new role at my company three years ago. If I recall correctly, my start date was January 21, 2013.
In the most general terms, I took a new role that relied less on my strict technical skills and forced me to work more on my people skills. Like the hernia, that new role was, and at times continues to be, a tough experience. Unlike the hernia, I took the role voluntarily precisely because I knew it would be tough in ways and challenge me to work on aspects of my personality that I’ve neglected. And even though the experience was tough, I’m actually very privileged to have a good paying job at a company that cares for its employees and to even have the opportunity for choosing to change roles. This was my choice, and by virtue of that fact alone my tough experience pales in comparison to many of those around me. I have friends and family who suffer, some physically, other emotionally, on a daily basis. Life for them is a struggle. I will not pretend my tough experiences are as bad as theirs, but they are the only experiences I have to share. If you think I have it pretty good, I happen to agree.
Even though the change in role was voluntary, and I expected some degree of pain and challenge, I also underestimated the number and types of new stressors involved. Essentially the role was more work than a single person could tackle. In fact, a couple of months in my boss and his boss asked that my role be split into two. For whatever reasons that didn’t happen until around October 2015, and by mid-2013 I’d mostly forgotten I was doing the work of two. The matter would come up at times with my boss (who’s been a champion for me since day one), but for the most part I soldiered on, did the best I could, safe in the knowledge that I had full direct managerial support in my effort to accomplish what I could. I expected the pain of growth, the stress of having to stretch myself further in ways I hadn’t before, but what I neglected to realize was that the pain and stress were from more than just normal growth. Something more was wrong. The stress affected my productivity, my personality, my happiness, yet it came on so gradually that I failed to notice. These problems manifested most notably in my writing life, but the energy drain affected me pretty much across the board: work, family, friends, writing. Three years since I’ve even attempted a blog post. I spent a year plus working on a science fiction novel an effort to help me stretch and grow as a writer, only to scrap it because it was too tough. I started a side project that combines analytics and fiction, only to let that dwindle as well. I’ve been working on the sequel to Tearstone, but that’s been a slog at times and the thought has crossed my mind more than once that I should just give up on it.
But I won’t.
Like I mentioned above, my role was finally split in October 2015. A second person was brought in and roughly half my responsibilities were given to him. Again, I’m lucky. He’s smart, trustworthy, and very capable. During November and December I gave myself permission to slack off on the writing, not because I was giving up but because I realized that I needed to let myself recover from the stress I’d only recently recognized. I needed to heal.
I had originally planned on having the first draft to the Tearstone sequel done by the end of 2015. I’m only half-way through, but I’m back at it, and I’ve brought with me something I haven’t typically been good at - the capacity to forgive myself for not being perfect. I cannot pick up exactly where I left off in my writing, but I will get back there, and probably much sooner than I think.
I will have this first draft finished well before June rolls around, but if I don’t, I’ll forgive myself and keep working at it.