New steps on a journey: Viaje Bienestar

View from the top of the Stillwater Stairs on the St Croix river

I haven't written here in a while, and I'm not going to make grand proclamations declaring that I'll be writing here regularly from now on. However, I did want to share a few notes on a few things going on in my life. Maybe I'll share updates on that going down the road: we'll see.

I started to realize about a year ago that I was experiencing burnout from the code contribution work I had been doing with Drupal. I hit a wall soon after DrupalCon New Orleans, where I had probably pushed myself too hard.

I had agreed in the spring of 2016 to work on a new book for Packt Publishing on mastering theme development for Drupal 8. While I initially had made some progress, it started coming slower and slower, and for a variety of reasons, I stopped making progress, and eventually they cancelled the book in the spring of 2017, which I fully understand.

I had been trying to do too many things at once, and eventually when some additional family pressures came up, I just couldn't keep doing everything. A close relative of my spouse had some serious health problems that became a big time commitment, the kiddo started going to sleep later, and I just couldn't keep burning the midnight oil every night: I needed some rest and recuperation time as well.

I had my own health issues I was dealing with this last year, and I finally got around to start taking better care of myself. In the past I had worked inconsistently with a health and wellness center connected with our local health care system—HealthEast Ways to Wellness—and I decided to make a commitment to start working with them on a more regular basis.

Since last November, I started working with a trainer there twice a week both on fitness and on improving nutrition. I have a lot of nutrition knowledge from over the years—I think you'll find that true of a lot of people who are larger and struggle with their weight—but I still had areas I could improve, and in the last six months I have. My big goals have been not to focus on numbers on a scale, but instead on functional fitness. Those numbers matter of course, over the long term, but I was having an increasingly hard time moving around, and I really needed to change that.

Stress management and sleep have been two other critical things I've been working on. I'm not saying I'm doing perfectly on any of these things, but I'm trying to make progress. My stress levels have been super high for the last year or longer due to all that's going on in the world, and I feel like I can't just walk away from that and ignore it. I have worked on some deep breathing and getting more sleep at night. I can still work on both some more, but I'm better on both than before.

I also wanted to try to focus my attention on just a few things, rather than spreading my energy too thin. Last winter, I tried to put my evening free time towards a few activities—I decided to start learning Spanish with the Duolingo app, to use a new iPad to try to learn a bit of the Swift programming language, and to work on improving my JavaScript skills. I found I really, really enjoyed working on learning things: it turned on a part of my brain that felt really good to use.

I got through a couple of Swift courses on the iPad and improved some JavaScript knowledge, but then I kind of ran into a wall with Spanish when I just couldn't grok some of the more complicated verb tenses. And at some point after the start of the New Year, I fell off from working on those things.

Around March, my trainer encouraged me try one of the cooking classes offered at Ways to Wellness. They have a super impressive demo kitchen there run by a former Cordon Bleu instructor, Chef Jeremy. I really, really enjoyed the classes, and so I continued signing up for more. I've been cooking at home a lot more now, and it's really helped to change the sort of things I've been eating on a regular basis, to the point where some things I used to eat now and then just really don't appeal to me very much anymore.

When the book was finally cancelled this spring, I felt both guilty and relieved that something that had hung over me for so long was no longer looming over me. I took that as an opportunity to change gears and put my energy elsewhere. I had enjoyed learning Spanish the past winter, so I gave myself a challenge to really focus on that with my free time over the next three months to see how far I could go.

I used Duolingo again, as well as a number of other supplementary resources that helped me to get past some of the previous barriers I had run into. At the end of the three months, I had finished the Duolingo Spanish course, and then I had a really good conversation with one of my coworkers in Spain, where I was able to put my knowledge to good use. I enjoyed that three month sprint, so I'm going to keep going with that, working in particular on improving my conversation skills.

While the initial source of burnout on my part had been from my volunteer Drupal contribution work, I'm still involved in the Drupal community. Since this spring, I've gotten involved with the Drupal Diversity and Inclusion working group. In particular I've been participating in and helping with that group's book club. I've been working on doing reading and study about diversity and inclusion to better educate myself, and I've found that very rewarding. So right now I'm focused less on the code for Drupal and more on the community. I may get more involved in code contribution again in the future, but right now I'm finding the community work very worthwhile.

I had been sharing on social media a number of photos from the cooking I'd been doing the last few months, and recently I decided it might be worthwhile to do so through a dedicated channel. I wanted to create an Instagram account and a Twitter account and then went about brainstorming a name. I settled on @ViajeBienstar: in Spanish, Viaje means "voyage" and Bienestar means "wellness." So, at least my intention was for it to mean Wellness Voyage. I had thought of ViajeDeBienstar—Voyage of Wellness—but discarded it due to character count. I also looked at ViajeABienstar—Voyage to Wellness—but I decided that seemed to indicate more that wellness was a destination I was trying to get to, but I'm really trying to avoid thinking of this like that.

I am working on improving my well-being so that I can feel better while I do the things I love doing like travel. I want to be able to walk better when we go places and not get so tired or sore. I want to feel better and healthier and not get tired so often in my daily life. I want to think more clearly and stay calmer. I want to enjoy life, both with the things I personally enjoy and the things I enjoy doing with my family.

These are things I can work on improving in my life now, not at some future point in time where a scale casts a verdict on whether or not I have achieved wellness. I do have long-term goals, but they are not going to be achieved in weeks or even months. True wellness is both something that will take years and something that is experienced as a continuum, with milestones and achievements and highlights throughout a lifetime. Wellness is not a destination, it's a journey towards new ways of living that are sustainable over the long term.

So I thought it might be enjoyable to share a few things as I continue on this voyage. I'll definitely share more photos from cooking, but also photos from travel and maybe some of my experiences from learning Spanish. My first second language was French, and I'll be going back to learn more French at some point soon, particularly since my wife, daughter and I will be making a big trip to France next summer. That trip is also another reason why I want to continue to work with my trainer to improve my movement. This past weekend I shared some photos from my first trek up a really tall set of stairs in Stillwater, Minnesota. So, I'll probably share more like that.

I have to say it's nerve-wracking to share something personal like this. Let me tell you, when you are overweight, there is nothing that can get you more likes on Facebook or Twitter than sharing something about how you are losing weight. And while I know that in part comes from people being happy for you, it's hard not to feel that also comes from a place of judgment. People make all sorts of assumptions about why somebody else is overweight, with all sorts of notions about a person making bad choices with food and activity. The reality is often far more complex than an outsider can see, and it's definitely more complex than the overly simplistic calories-in/calories-out mantra that's so often promoted. So it's hard not to hear beneath the congratulations a subtle whisper saying "Finally! Doing something about those problems, I didn't want to say anything, but geesh, FINALLY."

So sharing things about wellness can be scary, because it's not fun feeling like you've been judged, it's not fun thinking about the assumptions people make about you. I guess however that's happening either way. And it's probably not wise for me to share out loud this tension, but if somebody else out there feels the same way, maybe it helps to feel like you're not alone.

Anyhow, this is a lot to share, and I may be doing more of this in the future. I grabbed a domain name, so perhaps I'll direct that at a particular area on this site going forward. I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself to not start writing anything until I had everything just so. I can continue to build and make more improvements as I go, as I determine if that would be a useful activity or not.

So to sum up, I'm feeling like I'm in a lot better place than I was a year ago. I'm enjoying focusing my energies on learning Spanish, cooking, and working with my trainer. Work is going very well, and we're doing a JavaScript study group right now that I'm really enjoying. And with Drupal, I'm focused mostly on community work right now, particularly in the area of diversity and inclusion, where I feel like I'm learning a lot. I may be sharing more about my wellness journey through my new @ViajeBienestar Twitter and Instagram accounts, and if you're interested, feel free to follow me there.

¡Hasta pronto!