[Excerpts 10-11. These essays are from CYCLING in the CITY — How I Got My Confidence Back, Book 2 in the Burnout to Bliss series. Book 2 is about a first step in recovery after intense burnout. It was designed to be a guide for anyone wanting to make any kind of change in her life. “Part One: Cycling in the City” is my story, sharing the process of making a huge personal change — healing myself and reclaiming my confidence and self-esteem. “Part Two: Thoughts About Making Changes” explains why making change is so difficult; it addresses the different kinds of changes we make, the mental games we play, and the essential key for success. The book is $.99 for a limited time. Buy it here.]
Excerpts 10-11 from CYCLING in the CITY:
Over coffee the next morning, I decided that launching “the bicycle project” was, in fact, a stroke of genius, an inspiration received by a Higher Power. I had asked for help, and I was being guided! My particular set of skills worked with seriously emotionally disturbed or behaviorally disordered people as well as developmentally disabled adults. Surely they would work for me, too! But I had to remind my wounded-self first why I was the one who could do it.
How could I trust ME? And I heard my voice answering out loud to the wounded woman I saw seated in the chair across the table.
“You taught regular teachers how to work with special needs students. You coached special education teachers about working with their students. You were a consultant for agencies that wanted to improve their work training programs for disabled adults. Is that enough?”
I got no response from the wounded woman. No response sometimes means the client is considering, taking in, whatever the counselor has said. It can be a good thing.
My next thought was, Cool! We’re all on the same page!
I could do this! I could create a plan for myself! I could heal my burned-out, wounded, workaholic self – without doctors, psychologists, or pills!
My goals were both physical and emotional. I wanted to get exercise. I wanted to get back in shape. But I also wanted my confidence and self-esteem back!
I knew how to set up a program where I could start with small steps and increase the distance and the challenge as I mastered each one. I knew it would be easier if I had a series of desirable destinations, each with some tangible thing I considered rewarding. Each step would escalate, be longer, perhaps more challenging. Rides would begin with very short, super-safe rides. Length and challenge would increase only as the client felt comfortable with “where she was” on a particular ride.
I looked at the city information section of the local phone book and the maps I had bought earlier. Using those tools, I picked out a few places I wanted to go. I would explore the neighborhood first. My reward would be the taste of confidence, the reassurance of my sense of safety gained just from being familiar with my environment.
On another ride, I would stop at a convenience store (to practice social skills and buy a treat).
Next, I would ride to a grocery store, as I had done in Austin, with an army backpack for a gallon of raw milk each week! The memory of my college grocery shopping would reinforce the pleasure of whatever treat I got in the store.
Then I would visit a library, because I loved reading and having something fun to read would be worth the effort. Studying A Course in Miracles isn’t actually what I call fun, although it’s certainly worthwhile. But I needed fun for this project. So yes, I would definitely be looking for escapist fun reading, like an alien invasion or paranormal novel.
And I’d take my day-pack on a ride to the closest health food store (3 miles) and reward myself with organic vegetables!
I used the maps to plot out my rides. Once I had created my own map, I intended to drive to each destination in my car – not only to note the mileage, but also to observe what the traffic was like at that time of day (usually mid-morning). I needed assurance that there were “escapes” from traffic – like a parking lot near a busy intersection – where I could go in case someone got too close to me or if I needed to reconsider my route.
After I successfully completed those first destinations, I would adjust my map, and move the distance (represented by my drawn circle on the map) out a little farther from our address with newly identified targets. In like fashion, I continued to move that circle outward, forming concentric rings on the map like ripples from a pebble tossed into a pond.
I kept the map of circles representing distances and targeted destinations in my journal, so I could see my progress and refer to it before each ride. I reinforced the rewards of pre-determined treats from the destination with little red hearts drawn on my map. I even got a special pen for that!
Once I finished my plan, before I even started riding my bicycle, I drove my car to my target destinations. That was the safest way to learn about traffic. I wanted to experience California traffic first-hand from the relative safety of a metal container weighing about a ton – my Honda wagon.
Cruising Carmichael, I realized that the details one pays attention to when unemployed are quite different from those one perceives when scurrying here and there with work on the mind. I also noticed that Californians were generally thoughtful drivers. On the freeways, I saw that they maintained the recommended two car-lengths of space between themselves and the cars in front of them. And when I hesitantly changed lanes, drivers gave me plenty of room.
Whenever I mistakenly got into the wrong lane at a stoplight, I pleaded as a newcomer, with voice and casual sign language in case they couldn’t hear me, “Excuse me. I’m in the wrong lane. May I go ahead of you when the light changes?”
Most drivers would smile and gesture for me to go in front of them. Only a few seemed agitated and did not respond politely. But that was usually in heavy traffic.
One night when I couldn’t sleep – which was the case most nights during the first weeks I was there, because of the heavy traffic noise – I read the California driver’s manual cover to cover. I learned how to make legal U-turns when driving. Because I’d been making them like crazy anyhow, I decided I should at least do them correctly.
I also learned things relevant to riding a bicycle in the city!
One of the great things about California is that lots of cities have designated bike lanes. But the scary part about bike lanes is that they tend to end at intersections. And cars tend to use those bike lanes for turning, despite the manual’s warning. I would definitely have to be alert!
That reminded me of a story I’d heard in Colorado about California driving, the so-called “three car limit”: three cars can run a red light before anyone gets upset. I thought that was only meant as a joke until I saw it myself.
At a busy four-way stop, California drivers would take turns going through the intersection like a choreographed dance. Cars stop, move forward, stop, and move forward, and so on, each in sequence.
I wondered whether they made eye contact to determine whose turn it was – as we did in my small town – or whether there was just a rhythm that everyone instinctively develops if they drive in a big city for very long.
And I especially noticed the noise. In or out of a car, the traffic noise in a big city was simply much greater than what I was used to in my tiny town! I wondered if, in my depleted condition, the intense contrast of such noise would be too big a challenge for a small-town girl, much less for an emotionally-fried woman. Just another doubt to the question, “Could I really ride a bicycle in city traffic?”
Our house was on a four-lane thoroughfare through Carmichael and beyond. At peak hours, between 5:30 and 8:00 a.m. and again from 4:00 until 9:00 p.m., it sounded like a rushing river. At other times, the traffic steadily hummed along like a train.
Even while studying A Course in Miracles in Catherine’s garage, I caught myself listening to the cars. I could hear their approach from several blocks away.
Getting off the one-lane winding road down by the American River College onto a “real street” brought a surging sound, like wild horses breaking through a narrow gorge into a wide-open valley. I heard cars pass in front of this house, where they hit a manhole cover with a loud clank, then whooshed off into the great beyond of even more congested traffic down at Marconi, about a mile away.
Finally, having experienced the traffic and checked the distances to my selected bicycling destinations with my car, it was time to actually do a ride!
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi