Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dip in the Road

After yesterday’s post, I came across a quote I’d saved from Gilovitch (How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life) that happiness is a talent, not a trait. Pursuing the thought through other connections, the bottom line of the research is the suggestion that we each have a happiness set point that’s likely hard wired, which can be moved through purposeful choice and practice. This was a reassuring reminder, so I’m back to choosing to be happy and to focus on the good points of my great life, as well as continuing to do variations of Seligman’s gratitude exercises, which I see more as perspective-setting than anything else.

This is against an odd backdrop: I wrote all day Saturday (another positive milestone!) and then was wiped out Sunday when I'd hoped to write more. My dreams continue to be strangely sensory and repetitive in ways that are different than what has come “before.” More often than not, awakening involves a music selection that’s not otherwise a feature in our listening habits playing constantly in my head. Sunday, it was a piano concerto I couldn’t begin to identify. Country music, show tunes, Moon River, have all shown up in my head, and it’s rarely anything we listen to with regularity. This morning, the description that came to mind is that it’s like is a printer going through a test program, printing out pattern after pattern. Then, I read today’s NYT article discussing a new theory that dreams are brain tuneups. Bingo! There’s an explanation that resonates.

If the article on dreams as a physiological brain tuneup wasn’t timely enough, there’s also a Jane Brody article about long-term steroid use, though it doesn't get into the kind of tapering regime I’m on. We speculate a lot about which of the changes I’m seeing are from reduced steroid doses, and which are just brain changes from the rewiring underway. While all this is going on, my stamina is increasing steadily so I don’t fall asleep in the middle of the evening any more, more progress in the big picture.

In the midst of all this progress, odd and uneven though it may be, yesterday had some dips: during class last night, I couldn’t get my eyes to focus properly to grade quizzes. For my freshman class, I usually grade their reading quizzes while they negotiate, to give them quick feedback and reinforce the punctuality/professionalism messages of the course. This has been the pattern for years, and last night was the first time I’ve not returned the quizzes on the same day they were turned in. I can still read today, so maybe whatever caused that was transient or a function of being tired. Meanwhile, my balance has gone out again for the first time in a long time, and is continuing to deteriorate today. I wonder if I’m catching something. It’s also possible that we’ve gone too quickly on the steroid tapering and this is a side-effect. If things don’t get better today, we’ll likely consult, as the combination isn’t so much fun.

It helps to set all of this in the larger context of clear and measurable progress, so as much as anything, today’s reflection is a way of recording the progress--large--to put this small dip in the road into perspective.

May your road be smooth and without dips.

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