Little Steps, Big Steps

I do this thing where I buy and sell penny stocks. It’s more like a hobby. I started trading stocks back in the mid-90’s, using a traditional broker. I made some money, I lost some money, I made a bunch of money (to me it was a bunch), then I lost it all. Now I do everything online in smaller dollar values, but with a greater number of shares per transaction. I like watching the stocks move. And with penny stocks, it’s anybody’s guess what they will do next. Never a dull moment.

So far, year to date, I’ve completed (bought and then sold) nine trades. I know that’s not a lot, but I don’t trade every day. I’ll go a month or two just watching, then make a couple trades in a week. Of the nine trades, seven have been profitable. That includes the fees to buy and sell. That’s a pretty good winning percentage, but don’t get too excited for me yet. Some of the trades were only minimally profitable. For example, I’ve made as little as $9.13 on a stock before. I’ve also made over $100 on a stock. Then turned around and lost almost all of that profit on the same stock. I’ve averaged a profit of about $53 for each positive trade I’ve made. Not great, but not horrible. This hobby won’t make me rich, but I’m taking a whole bunch of little steps in the right direction and I’m up for the year, even if only a small amount.

It occurred to me recently that I’m doing that in my life as well. A bunch of little, sometimes unnoticeable, steps in the right direction. Here’s the problem I have with that. My steps backwards are much bigger than any single step forward and will usually have a very negative impact. That seems to bring me down and get the depression going. When I go in reverse, I end up dwelling on it. I don’t stop long enough to realize that I’ve made far more steps forward, even if only small ones. And when added up, all those little steps forward are greater than a single big step backwards. Why do we sometimes get hung up on the one failure when we are still moving in the right direction overall? Why do we fixate on the negative like that? I don’t believe I used to be that way. I used to shake it off and keep moving.

For me, it’s probably because I’m my own worst critic. And I know I have my share of critics out there. I also rarely celebrate or “advertise” my achievements. I might mention something to a couple people if I’m happy about something I’ve done, but I don’t get too caught up in insignificant things. My little victories are not a big deal to me. Yet, my downfalls are atrocious in my eyes and in my mind. Not to mention, a lot of my forward and backward progress are just things that go on in my head, not something you can see. And let’s be honest, sometimes a small step forward is simply not smacking the crap out of someone that deserves it. I’m not sure I should share that little victory out loud every time it happens.

I will continue to take a hundred tiny steps forward and hope my occasional big step backwards doesn’t take away all the progress I’ve made, like what I’m doing with the penny stocks I trade. I have no delusions of grandeur that my stock trades are going to make me rich or that my life and mind will magically get back to where it used to be. I am content with small steps forward on both fronts. Although I’m content with just surviving at the moment, that should not be taken in a negative context. It wasn’t too very long ago that I did not want to survive at all. Another small step forward. I’ll take it, and I’ll keep surviving, and I’ll continue with my small steps forward.

Thanks for reading Story of My Life this week and being part of my small steps in the right direction. Good day, God bless.

Dave

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Lessons Learned

When I was a young teenager, probably 13 or 14 years old, I had a dog that was a master at climbing the fence and escaping the back yard to roam the neighborhood. Eventually, my dad installed an electric fence kit to the top of the back-yard fence in hopes of curbing the dog’s desire to be free and explore. It should have only taken one jolt from the fence, maybe two, for the dog to no longer try to escape. That beagle sure could climb a fence. I’ve seen dogs that could jump a fence, but that was the only dog I ever saw that could climb one that way.

I was curious about the electric fence. I tapped it with my finger. Nothing. I touched it for a second. Still nothing. I decided to grab hold of it. Not the brightest thing I ever did in my life, but still not even close the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I was “shocked” to learn that the fence worked when I grasped it fully in my hand. It was slightly painful, but a life lesson that I still remember to this day. I won’t be testing anymore electric fences. No need, I satisfied my curiosity and fully understand how they work.

Most of the things we learn in life are directly related to the decisions we make, whether those be good decisions or bad ones. Ever since my children were little, I liked letting them make their own decisions about things when they could. When my two oldest were in pre-school, I would let them choose what to wear each day. Living in Florida, they usually chose shorts and short-sleeve shirts. One morning I told them a cold front was coming through and they should take a jacket. Neither wanted to take a jacket, so I took them to school with only what they had picked out to wear.

By noon that day, the temperature had dropped to a “frigid” 40 degrees. When I picked them up from pre-school, I heard one teacher comment that I should check the weather and dress them accordingly because my children were cold. Really? They weren’t going to die from hypothermia in 40-degree weather on the walk from the classroom to my car. I promise. And they both learned a valuable lesson that day, that sometimes, dad knows what he’s talking about. On the flip-side, on a trip to Colorado in January years ago with the kids, I made sure they had more than enough warm clothes. The trick is to know when to let them decide and when to plan for them. I don’t care what that one teacher thought, I was teaching my young children by giving them all the information available and letting them make the final decision. I think using that philosophy has more than paid off with them.

But what about the times when a decision is made without any idea of what all could possibly happen? And what if a decision is made with the best of intentions, but it turns out to be a disaster? That’s a great ethical question that has been debated for centuries. I don’t have the answer to it, in case you were wondering. During an army reserve weekend years ago, a fellow Service Member found a puppy. There was no collar with identification on the dog. And after asking around, he believed it to be a stray or an abandoned pet. He went to the store and bought a dog bowl, some dog food, and a leash. He was going to give the puppy a home. Since it was a couple hours before quitting time, he put the puppy in the bed of his truck with food and water, and put a collar and leash on the dog and tied it to the inside of the bed of his truck. The puppy climbed up on the wheel well and hanged himself trying to get out of the truck. The man’s intentions were pure gold, but the outcome was tragic.

In 2007, I decided to go back in to military service in the army reserves. I wanted to serve my country again and take care of Soldiers as a chaplain assistant. Although my life does not reflect it now, it was a matter I prayed about and truly believed it was something God wanted me to do, so, I rejoined. I still believe that. I volunteered to go Iraq in 2007. Then, I volunteered to go Afghanistan in 2013. My intentions were admirable, but the outcome of my decision cost me my mental health, my physical health, my marriage, relationships, a business, my favorite job I ever had, and who knows what else. I basically lost Me, the Me I used to know, the Me I used to be. I lost my identity. I had even lost my will to live at one point.

There have been times when I would figuratively touch the electric fence just to see what would happened. There were times when I learned from my decisions like my young children did from theirs, in learning that sometimes we should heed the advice or warnings of others. And there was a time when I was like the puppy, trying to escape, even though I didn’t know it would kill me.

All the decisions I’ve made in my life make me who I am today. Same goes for you, too, by the way. I’m grateful and lucky that to have survived some of my decisions. And even knowing what I know today, I would still rejoin the military and serve again. There are definitely some things I would do differently, but I know for certain I made the right decision to rejoin the army reserves. I don’t understand some of the consequences I’ve had to endure since I believe that decision was made with the best of intentions. And I don’t care to debate it or dig into the philosophical principles of whether or not it was the right decision based on the outcome. I’m moving forward with life.

Thank you for reading Story of My Life this week. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Other related posts you might like:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/02/13/the-irony-of-life/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/06/suicide-intervention/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/08/20/the-storm/

4 Months Since Therapy

It’s been four months since the last time I’ve been to a professional therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist. I may have mentioned in a previous blog that my psychologist that I had been seeing at the Vet Center (part of the VA) moved on to a better job. I don’t blame him. I know I’ve mentioned before that all the good ones leave the VA and the ones that can’t do the job very well get comfortable at the VA because they get paid whether they do a good job or not. The ones that are worth a darn know they don’t have to put up with the bureaucratic stupidity that is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they can make it elsewhere. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen way too many mental health professionals come and go at the local VA I use.

Overall, I’ve been doing well since my doctor left. So, let me first say, to make sure there’s no confusion, I do not feel like my world is crashing down on me. I’m ok, I promise.  However, I am starting to notice some things about myself that suggest I should start looking for a new therapist. In the last month, I find my frustration with life events to be more easily provoked. My attention span and interest in things has gone downhill. I have had minor, but very noticeable, bouts with depression.  And I have not been sleeping well at all.  Again, I say, I am handling all of this. I am in no way a danger to myself or others.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/).

It was a rough week at work. Three schedule changes, a few contentious exchanges with the boss, and people not showing up to work. I actually started to wonder if I made the right decision in going back to work after taking a year off because of mental health issues. I wasn’t having bad thoughts. Not like the ones documented in my psychological evaluation from last year that the VA ordered. During that session, I discussed with the psychiatrist some of the morbid thoughts I had during my last job. This week, my thoughts were more questioning if the job was worth it, if it were good for my sanity. And with that, the doubts of me being able to function in the workforce flooded my mind. That’s where the bouts of depression came from, I’m sure.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/16/depressed-ptsd/).

I took my truck to the shop this week. I only let one shop work on my truck. I told him my budget and a few things that I needed to get worked on. Nothing major. So, I thought. The one issue I figured would be the easiest and cheapest part of my short list was twice as much as my entire budget for maintenance and repairs on my truck. I’m not good under the hood, so I’ll explain it as best I can: The fluid reservoir for the clutch was leaking and the housing for the transmission must be removed to get the root of the problem. Ouch. OUCH. My truck is 16 years old and paid for. The money I spend yearly on maintenance is still much cheaper than a car payment. But, ouch, all at once this time. Well, all at once again.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/07/23/448/).

These were the two highlights of my lows for the week.   I remember not too very long ago how either one of these stressful events would have derailed me. And while I am feeling the effects of these things, both financially and psychologically, I am in control. I am handling each of these things better than I did similar events in the last year and a half. I have my moments when I want to run away or simply punch someone in the throat. But I don’t. I can’t. I’ve come too far in my recovery from my own mind to go that far backwards. A few steps back on a long, forward journey are expected, but I’m not going to start over again. I can’t.

As far as the job goes, YES. I was supposed to go back to work when I did. Any earlier and I might not be handling this as well. Any later and I would have missed out on a great job that I feel at home with. I missed having a job during the year I was not working. And I’m very happy to be where I’m at now, it was perfect timing and I love what I do. I’m learning how to cope with the challenges of functioning in a work environment again, challenges that didn’t seem to be there before I went to Afghanistan. I’m doing pretty well with it.

My truck and I have a lot in common. We both have a lot of miles and wear and tear on us, and both need some maintenance from time to time. And if the maintenance falls too far behind, we run the risk of a catastrophic breakdown. In August 2015, I had a complete breakdown in life and I got “put in the shop” for a while. Since then, until four months ago, I had been getting regular therapy maintenance. Similar to checking the tire pressure or getting an oil change in the truck at regular intervals and having a mechanic check things over. Sometimes for preventative measures, sometimes for repairs, for both me and the truck. I do still take my medications daily, but I think I need some more maintenance than that right now. Nothing imperative, I just think it’s time to go back to therapy.  (https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/04/16/the-pysch-ward/).

Now I have to find a new psychologist and start all over. That’s the whole reason I’ve gone four months without therapy. I don’t want to start over. But I will say that the timing for my previous doctor to move on was good for me. I had made tremendous progress with him in the 10 months we met for my therapy, and by the time he left, I didn’t really need to see him weekly. Now, because I know I need it, I have to find someone else for therapy. A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of needing therapy on a regular basis. But, like my truck that needs regular upkeep, I know I need it, too. Basically, I’m far enough along in recovery to realize that I need to go back to therapy. I think knowing that is a good sign. But it doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it.

I put links throughout this post that relate to the idea of specific paragraphs.  If you haven’t read them before, it will give you an idea where I was, what I’ve gone through, and where I’m at now.  Also, go check out my friend Frank’s blog, here’s the link.  I think most of you would enjoy it, he’s a very talented writer.  https://fnvaughn.com/

That’s what I have for the week. Thanks for taking the time to be part of my week and reading Story of My Life. Good day, God bless.

Dave

Last Weekend

Last weekend I had my army reserve training at Ft Jackson, South Carolina. I drive over 500 miles to get there and over 500 miles back home. Almost every month I make the same trip. I leave Florida on Friday morning and get back Sunday night for a regular weekend. I spend about as much time on the road as I do in uniform for my weekends each month. I’ve been in this unit for a couple of years, and despite the weekends where we don’t accomplish much, I like the unit. I don’t mind the drive.

The first few months I was in my unit, I would drive up I-65 to I-85 to I-20 to get to Columbia, SC, where Fort Jackson is located. But my disdain for driving through Atlanta got the best of me so I found a different route. Now I take I-10 across the Florida Panhandle, then go north, driving back roads in Georgia to I-75 before getting on I-20 somewhere around Augusta. It takes a little longer, but the distance and frustration is less than driving through Atlanta. And the view is much better than being on an interstate.

Most months, the drive is good. I like road trips. There’s an always an adventure out there or a new sight to view as I drive. But this trip didn’t work out that way. As it happens from time to time on the road, I became anxious and irritable on my way up to South Carolina. I don’t know which came first, but they worked in tandem to make the whole weekend stressful. Unfortunately, that happens to me sometimes. I was in a funk all weekend.

I have a theory. I used to think it was just traffic and bad drivers in Atlanta. But, after almost two years of research by driving to South Carolina every month using multiple routes, I have concluded that my frustration is with Georgia motorists in general. I’ve been in traffic in India, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and many other countries all over the world (I’ve listed the three worst). Congratulations, Georgia, you suck at driving just as bad as motorists in third-world countries.

Here’s a suggestion. Stop spending so much time trying to figure out if you should call your mom’s brother “Uncle” or “Dad” and look in your state’s driver’s manual and learn how to drive. In that manual, you might find exciting information on how to properly use the lanes on an interstate. For example, stop camping out in the passing lane. Pass, or get out of the way. As far as your inability to use blinkers, refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. But here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: The blinkers are operated by the stick that comes out the left side of your steering wheel. Move it UP to turn (or change lanes) to the right, move it DOWN to turn (or change lanes) to the left. You can sit in your driveway and practice if you need. Your manual might have them listed as Turn Signals. Don’t let that confuse you.

On a brighter note, after almost seven months, I finally got some paperwork from the VA that I’ve been needing to turn in to my army reserve unit. It’s paperwork from a psychological evaluation I had last year that will have some bearing on whether or not I stay in the reserves. At this point, I don’t care what they decide to do with me. I just want to know. If I’m staying in, I will continue to give it everything I have. If I’m being put out, fine. But after more than a year and a half of being in Limbo, it’s time for the army to figure it out and tell me what’s going on. Is my career still going or is it over? This has been beyond frustrating for me. Either way, I’m satisfied and proud of what I did in the army. And I’d do it all again, even knowing what I know now.

DSCN6614

(and there’s one more ribbon I still need to add).

Thanks for reading this week. And to my friends that have Georgia tags on their vehicle, sorry, but the part about most of you not knowing how to drive is true. And you know it. And before my Alabama and Louisiana friends laugh and enjoy too much what I’ve written about Georgia motorists, y’all are right behind them on my list. Ha Ha! I hope you all have a great week, thanks for letting me rant, this post made me smile.

Good day, God bless.

Dave

Related posts:

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/06/04/memories-and-afghanistan/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2016/05/21/im-ok-i-promise/

https://storyofmylife.blog/2017/01/21/the-soccer-game/

 

Don’t Work Too Hard

My brain gets stuck on things sometimes. Some of those things don’t make any sense at all to be obsessing over. But I do it anyway. And in a week where nothing came to me for my blog, I’ll write about what’s been stuck in my brain. I have nothing profound to offer in this, but at the very least, this will be a glimpse into what goes on in my head occasionally. So, if you see me deep in thought and I look like I’m pondering some important life-changing knowledge, I might only be contemplating some trivial nonsense that popped into my thoughts and is driving me nuts. Like this….

I’ve always wondered about the phrase “Don’t work too hard.” What does it mean? Be lazy? Slack off? Don’t give your full effort? I’ve always answered that statement by responding with, “Too late.” In school, our teachers always encouraged us to study hard. In sports, our coaches implored us to play or run hard. When mowing the grass as a teenager, my dad would tell me to do a good job, or I’d have to do it again. So, why then, when we get to adulthood do we tell each other “Don’t work too hard”? Isn’t that a contradiction of everything we were taught growing up?

But I’ve been thinking about this lately because someone at work recently told me “Don’t work too hard” as they were leaving for the day. And it’s been stuck in my head ever since. I know this topic for my blog might be a little different or weird compared to most of my other posts, but that’s how my brain works. Or, in some cases, doesn’t work. It’s just a corny, cliché phrase, something to say that might be funny in an ironic way. But for some reason, my brain is fixated on it.

I have worked hard in my life at every job I’ve ever had, at least in my adult life. I pride myself on being a hard worker. I also pride myself on being a smart worker, efficient and productive. Work smart, not hard, right? Either way, I earn my pay, that’s for sure. But then I think about some of my Army Reserve weekends and wonder if I do always earn my pay. There have been a few times that I was amazed we even got paid for some of the unproductive weekends I’ve been part of at various units. In fairness, some of the boring weekends are a result of budget cuts after the wars “ended” and the Reserves was again put at the end of the money train.

And then I thought, I shouldn’t feel bad about getting paid for not doing much once in a while on my Army Reserve weekends. I’ve been on two deployments, one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, where I earned my pay ten times over. No overtime, no bonuses. Just work, every day. Long days. Hard days. Every day. I’m not complaining. I did sign up for that, and I wanted to be there. I volunteered for both of my deployments and I would go back right now and do it all again, the same hours for the same pay. This is simply a comment on how things balance out sometimes. And I don’t in the least feel bad about it.

I’ve worked with people that have taken “Don’t work too hard” seriously. It’s bothersome to me. And I’ve seen road crews where one guy is working and four others are standing around not working too hard. I’ve been in the Veterans Affairs system where it seems like only a few of the people I’ve dealt with even work at all, and even fewer work hard. Maybe this is the part where it’s balancing out for them. Maybe they already met their quota for hard work. I guess I can relate to that on some level, considering some of my Army Reserve weekends.

So, if you can get away with it once in a while, “Don’t work too hard.” But I don’t recommend that being your lifestyle or motto to live by. And I’m not sure what I accomplished with hashing this out here as opposed to in my head, aside from trying to stay disciplined to post every week. In any event, thanks for reading. I’ll do better next week. Good day, God bless.

Dave