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The Ironies

I get married in 13 days... and today I was peeling potatoes. You know where this is going, what does a potato and me getting married have in common? I sliced off half my ring finger's nail on my left hand. My fiance asked me, "So, what if I can't get the ring on your finger? Will you still marry me?" Lol...

My younger brother happened to be in the room and I was trying to set a good example - so I didn't allow the curse words to fly out of my mouth. Instead I threw the potato peeler into the sink, it bounced back up and hit me in the face. So my finger is bleeding profusely and I'm a bit disoriented from hitting myself. But I still had 10 potatoes to peel, we had family coming over, and even though I was dripping blood I knew my little brother wouldn't get off the couch from watching television to finish peeling.

Men are Big Babies when Wounded

I wouldn't let my fiance touch my hand. I wouldn't let her clean the wound, let alone wrap it. It freaking hurt! Yeah and here I am typing without using my ring finger, lol. My pinky is a trooper, lucky for me, capable of doing double finger duty. In any case I probably wrapped my finger more than was needed. I can barely even bend it. The first aide kit had some of that ankle brace wrap... and well I used it.

Wedding Words of Wisdom

Even the people who hardly say a word to me usually, friends, family, or random people at church, have some marriage council for me. Some words are worth repeating, "While you're getting married for each other, the wedding is for everyone else." That was my debate coach speaking. That really brought to light the retarded procedures you go through to get a wedding put together. Order a cake, get a priest lined up, send out invites, get photos taken, decorate, blah blah blah... For starters - I hate cake. I have bad hand writing, and my fiance wanted to address the envelopes by hand. I have to get in a line for the reception, as people who are probably related to me - that I don't know in practically any regard, come down and shake my hand and utter more pointless words of wisdom.

Now, I apologize for the cynicism, but I just want to whisk my woman off and get to our honeymoon in Vegas. Luckily we did end up finding a cake I actually enjoyed. Spice batter with apple filling. Kind of tastes like an apple pie. My fiance is under my covers right now and every time I look over my shoulder at her she pulls the blankets over her head. She's playing some sort of peekaboo. I guess that's time for me to get off... haha.

The Past

Logged in after being away for something like 2 years and did some cleanup. Looked at my old nodes with new eyes and had to laugh. Things have changed so much from even 2 years ago that I have broken a cardinal rule of not day noding (I had this rule?) just so that the future me can come back and read this, and perhaps laugh again.

I left law school. I had wanted many things out of it, and had been inevitably disappointed. I did not agree with most principles behind US patent law, particularly relating to whole damn field of computer software. Strangely enough, I had enjoyed classes that I did not expect to enjoy: antitrust, bankruptcy. I agree with the principles behind both fields (well, with the exception of the 2005 bankruptcy revisions). I chose not to take the bar exam.

After Law School

Spent half a year working in investor relations in shipping. 2007 and early 2008 was the good year for shipping: the Baltic index was soaring above 10,000; the Chinese were demanding more dry bulk, more oil, more commodities; other emerging market economies were pumping out commodities as fast as they could get ships out their ports. Everything from small little Handymaxes to the large Capesize vessels were booked in record numbers, at staggering daily rates; Korea and Japan could not keep up with the demand for more new vessels. Bear Stearns fell, and it was barely a blip on the radar for us. Oil climbed steadily in price; Goldman Sachs analysts called for $200/barrel. BHP Billiton made a bid for Rio Tinto, turning it into a company that would have controlled 1/3 of the world's iron ore supply. I endured a workplace that seemed to thrive on poor attitudes, poor pay, passive-aggressive behavior, and barely concealed insider trading. I left in May 2008.

The Present

The timing could not have been worse. I worked in research and happened to be working on securitization. (I thought about updating those outdated nodes but will leave that up to impartial 3rd party sources. I am hardly impartial when I am a source for others.) There was a credit crisis, but it had not intruded in my work too much. Northern Rock and Indymac came and fell. Even Fannie and Freddie Mac's conservatorship on September 7, 2008, while extremely worrisome (while not technically a default, it triggered settlement of credit default swaps as it was considered a credit event), did not bother me too much.

Then, a week later, Lehman failed to find a buyer and filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That's when shit hit the fan for me. I suddenly found myself working like I've never worked before, on too many fronts. Barclays bought the North American Lehman assets for a song (and much later, Nomura snapped up the Asian divisions). Merrill Lynch snuck behind Lehman's back to beg for Bank of America's mercy, and received it. Lehman's bankruptcy triggered several credit events. The Primary Reserve money market fund broke the buck, causing the credit market to shut down. The rating agencies downgraded AIG and suddenly AIG found itself needing to post $15 billion in additional collateral due to the downgrade of its senior debt. The market completely went haywire; the TED spread shot through the roof. The Federal Reserve threw an $85 billion line to AIG, ripping out a 79.9% stake (eventually investing $150 billion instead), and established a facility to prop up the money markets; the US SEC and UK FSA announced a short sale ban on all the financials (a crappy idea, in my opinion), which was quickly adopted around the world. It wasn't enough; the market fled from the financials, causing trauma everywhere, infecting the consumer. In the space of 9 days, $16.7 billion was withdrawn from Washington Mutual in the truest form of a bank run; the FDIC went behind the bank's back to arrange a quick sale to JP Morgan, and then asked Congress to open an unlimited line to the Treasury, as nearly all the money withdrawn was by those who had more than the $100,000 insurance limit inside the bank. HBOS was sold to TSB Lloyds, and having worked almost exclusively with European market numbers the last few months, I knew that it was only a matter of time that Europe would be up shitscreek. Goldman Sachs received a $5 billion mercy package from the Oracle of Omaha (who was not very merciful; read the term sheet if you'd like to see how he raped them), while Morgan Stanley went to appeal to their Japanese overlords. The cash wasn't enough and within a matter of days, they became bank holding companies, allowed to tap into the primary dealer facilities at the Federal Reserve (Merrill Lynch was also given this privilege in the meantime.) The Treasury Secretary Paulson pushed through a $700 billion plan through a completely spooked Congress, and then did an aboutface from buying mortgages, instead investing $250 billion into banks large and small.

Then the reports from Europe turned ugly. It had already been known for a while that the United Kingdom was in trouble as early as September 2007, when Victoria Mortgages was taken into administration by the FSA, then Northern Rock in March 2008 (and then Alliance & Leicester, eventually taken over by Banco Santander), but I think people were unprepared at how quickly the banks caved in. Bradford & Bingley was nationalized, and shortly after, the Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS, and Lloyds; the HM Treasury eventually invested 37 billion pounds to prop them up. Ireland went and did the absolutely unthinkable, guaranteeing all debt of their six banks (senior and subordinated), causing the rest of Europe to panic (the guarantee was easily the quickest way to cause a bank run). Germany threw a cash line to Hypo Real Estate; Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands jointly nationalized Fortis (eventually selling some of the parts to BNP Paribas). Landsbanki of Iceland failed; then Kaupthing and Glitnir, freezing accounts abroad (causing trauma in particular with the UK Icesave accounts, among other Continental accounts). The Netherlands jammed 10 billion euros down ING's throat. Switzerland's central bank poured $54 billion into UBS to parcel out its bad assets and create a bad bank. The European Union quickly passed a 50,000 euro bank guarantee.

The trauma spread to the emerging markets as the carry trade unwound. Investors fled into the yen and the greenback. South Korea's currency dropped precipitously against the greenback, almost overnight. Russia's markets dropped over 30% in a single day, forcing the markets to shutter them. Pakistan, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, and Ukraine all eventually caved in and applied for IMF loans, even as the IMF moved to strip the arrangements down as simply as possible (having learned a valuable lesson from the disastrous South Korea experiment in 1997-1998). Argentina nears default yet again, and the prime minister seized private pension funds.

The beat still goes on. I wake up every day to more news. Citigroup is bailed out, bank runs occur in the Middle East; banks are shuttered by the FDIC to the tune of nearly 2 per month on average. The list of troubled bank institutions swells from 70 to over 170. American Express is now a bank holding company. There is plenty missing in the summary I have written, but it wasn't meant to be comprehensive; it was done at the top of my head and you can only remember so much.

I worked through all this. I walked past the protesters on Wall Street calling for the heads of "corrupt" bankers. I survived through the first round of layoffs at our firm. I consoled friends being laid off. I fielded questions from reporters. I sat in annual meetings eating steak with other bankers so deep in their delusion that they couldn't see the elephants in the room even if they were trampled upon.

The curse of "May you live in interesting times" rings true. I hope to one day read this node years from now and laugh.

Well, we're nearing the halfway mark for this damn deployment, and tensions are already running high. People are acting like dumbasses, and have been since our first port visit. That figures.

Rumors about the future are getting everyone down, too. Looks like we're in for an interesting schedule when we return, too... Welcome to working 7 days a week, all the time. Maybe even 18 on/6 off/no downtime during the holidays in '09. Somebody pass the Zofran, that thought's nauseating me.

Same deal, every day. Get up at 0600, eat a thoroughly unsatisfying breakfast of cold waffles and friggin' Froot Loops (what's wrong with frosted Mini-wheats or corn flakes or something, eh?). Go on watch until 1900. At 1900, spend an hour or two doing turnover, go PT, get a shower, hit the rack at 2200. Catch 8 hours of fitful sleep on an iron (but thankfully fire-resistant!) slab. Do it again. Gah, I need some kind of break, already. I'd be happy just phase-wrapping around to the night shift, but that's not gonna happen either. It's been arbitrarily decreed that I remain on days. Ugh.

Ugh. More. I'm not sure I have another 18 months of this crap in me.

The power of the mind is pretty amazing. I mean, I had always heard things about the placebo effect -- stories of soldiers in war who were administered sugar pills instead of sedatives because the hospital was totally out of the latter (thanks, M*A*S*H!), stories of people with phantom limb pain, stories of hysterical blindness. But this last week is the first time that it really came into perspective for me.

1. Out of sight

First, some back story: shortly after Halloween -- November 2nd, in fact -- I picked up my glasses and they promptly fell in half. Not broke, just fell. The bridge had apparently had enough in the way of metal fatigue, and just disintegrated. Well, this was a Sunday before work, and it was quite obvious that these things were not going to be fixed. So my wife, daughter and I piled into the car to run to the nearest place open on a Sunday, which happened to be America's Best. (Hint: they aren't.) The first thing I learned is that there was no way they could fix my frames, even temporarily. The second thing I learned is that getting new glasses from them would take seven to ten business days. So much for that idea.

However, the third thing I learned is that I could get a trial pair of contacts to wear if I had a contact eye exam. I had never worn contacts before, because my eyes were just too sensitive, but I figured that perhaps I could wear the trial pair until some new glasses came in. After much trial and error, I managed to get the trial contacts in, and it was obvious they would be no help: they had no astigmatism correction at all, leaving me with vast smears across my field of view.

Out of ideas, but determined to press on, I ordered one pair of glasses and one pair of contacts (ones with the right prescription this time) and headed home. My wife continued with inventive, if not successful, attempts to mend my old frames, when a revelation occurred to me. I ran out to the car, threw open my glove box, and let out an insane cackle of joy as I found my emergency backup glasses, enormous Coke-bottle things that were once Transitions lenses but had long since decayed into a uniform light-brown tint.

I wore that pair of glasses for the next two weeks, and despite the fact that their prescription was way off, they worked fine. I even attended the Obama rally wearing them, and barely noticed the fact that I probably had somewhere around 20/60 vision with them.

2. Not Quite Optimal

The new glasses finally arrived, and I picked them up on a Friday night (along with the contacts). The lady there pulled them out of the envelope and just handed them to me. Putting them on, I immediately knew something was way wrong. Massive fishbowl effect, color fringing all over, total disorientation.

"Whoa, there's something really wrong with these. They definitely have to be adjusted," I said.

The lady standing there just stared vacantly back at me. "Adjusted in what way?" she asked. This caught me a bit by surprise. In what way? I've worn glasses since I was in first grade, and every time I'd gotten new frames, a staff member there would adjust them to fit my face. She acted as though I was speaking Dutch or something.

"Uhhh... I don't know," I fumbled. "I'm just very dizzy, and everything seems to have a barrel-like effect."

"Oh, well, you have a really strong prescription, so it will probably take some time to adjust. We tell our customers to give it a week or so first, and then come back if they still have trouble. We definitely don't recommend you drive home with them on."

I was pretty sure I was being fed quite a line of bullshit, but I said okay, I'd give it a shot, and headed home. I stumbled through a somewhat dizzy four days like that before deciding that, no, something was definitely not right, and headed to an independent optician to get them looked at. Immediately they found that the bridge was seriously bent out of shape, causing one of my lenses to be vertically tilted with respect to the other. They made some adjustments which resulted in a vast improvement.

Things were still not quite right, though, so I made yet another eye appointment with them instead, for the following week. They found that my prescription was a bit different than what the last exam showed, and that the glasses were a bit off as well. So I ordered another pair of glasses from them (which have yet to arrive); then I went back to America's Best, showed them the new prescription, pointed out the discrepancy in my existing glasses, and they promised to remake the lenses for me (which also have yet to arrive). I headed home and proceeded to have a very nice Thanksgiving weekend with my wife, daughter, and extended family.

3. Out Of Mind

This brings me to last Tuesday, when I decided I would make an appointment with a doctor because I was very tired and seemed to be much more oddly aware of floaters in my vision. Since I am extremely nearsighted, so they tend to be more of a problem for me than others, but they'd grown particularly prevalent lately. Neither of my two recent eye exams had found anything particularly wrong with my eyes. (That is, other than the America's Best optometrist saying, "Gee, you have a lot of floaters, don't you?" Yeah, lady, thanks. I knew that.)

Floaters scare me, because they are a much-ignored part of the eye, considered to be more or less a nuisance than anything else. They also scare me because there's basically no cure for them. There's one laser therapy that seems to be considered rather dubious, and one surgical procedure called a vitrectomy which is about as dangerous and unpleasant as it sounds.

Anyways, I say I made an appointment with a doctor because there was no way in hell I was going to be able to see my doctor, as in my family's doctor for the past decade or so. He is apparently so in demand that he is booked well into the Second Coming. Or mid-January, at least. So I set up an appointment for that evening with a new doctor.

The appointment followed the typical routine: vitals taken by a nurse, and then the doctor comes in. The first thing the doctor said when he arrived was that my blood pressure was abnormally high compared to my previous readings, and that I should keep tabs on it. Then he went through questions about my family history and about my current symptoms, went through a few various tests, and said I should have blood work done at a lab since it had been a while since I'd had it done. He also said he wanted to rule out any connective tissue diseases, since my aunt has lupus and my father died of sarcoidosis. As a last bit, he prescribed Wellbutrin for me, believing the fatigue might be due to depression (which I have suffered from off and on throughout my life).

I have always been a nervous individual, catastrophizing on a regular basis, but I never considered myself particularly hypochondriac until my dad died. Suddenly death became a very, very real thing, and I began to imagine I had all sorts of diseases. The Internet empowers a hypochondriac to a ludicrous degree, of course, with its incredible repository of knowledge, conjecture, hearsay, anecdotes, and complete disinformation. So what did I do the moment I got home? Why, I looked up the symptoms of lupus, of course! Fatigue, muscle/joint aches, temporary loss of cognition... I fit a ton of these symptoms! And in that moment, I diagnosed myself with lupus and went into full-blown panic attack mode.

This was nuts, of course. I hadn't even had the blood work done. I didn't have many of the symptoms, particularly the most prevalent (rashes). And I'm a guy -- lupus usually hits women, not men. But that didn't stop me from propelling into a full-blown freakout, larger than anything I'd had previously. I'd had mild anxiety attacks, sure, but never that "I'm going to die" panic attack feeling.

Wednesday morning I had the blood work done, managed to trudge through work without much trouble (albeit also without much productivity), and went back home. Thursday something was very wrong. While at work, my heart felt like it was pounding, and I felt like I couldn't get enough breath. I couldn't eat anything, either. Seeing that this was another panic attack, I decided I'd go home... but I wasn't much better there. I was compelled to stay in bed, asleep, under the covers. Any time I tried to get up I was assaulted by feelings of panic and terror, directed at nothing at all in particular.

I had the doctor paged, saying I needed some sort of help. Turns out it was the Wellbutrin; apparently the side effects for me were heightened anxiety and paranoia, precisely the opposite of what I needed. He prescribed a sedative as a short-term solution to help calm me down. Another appointment on Saturday revealed that my blood pressure was normal again (probably had been a temporary stress-related condition), and had me return to Paxil CR, which I had been on a while back.

4. Recapturing Clarity

The floaters still persist sometimes, though, and they are teaching me an interesting lesson. You see, they're always there, for all of us, but our brain usually "tunes them out". And if I am calm enough and concentrating on something, I tune them out too... but I'm having trouble doing either of those things, and when I can't, I become aware of the floaters again. Then it just becomes a spiral of annoyance leading to anxiety and frustration, which just makes it worse, et cetera.

I still have yet to receive my glasses with the corrected prescription. It is possible that something is going on optically that makes it harder for me to ignore them. Maybe the prescription is just slightly out of whack enough, I don't know.

But I think the problem is largely psychosomatic, and this is where the "power of the mind" bit comes in... because there are times when the floaters are simply gone -- although they obviously aren't physically gone. My brain just wills them away, and wills them back, just like that. After experiencing this, I can totally see how somebody could end up losing motor functions, or sight, entirely due to psychological factors. It just might be that some sort of wiring in my brain just fizzled out and is causing me to "relearn" how to subconsciously ignore them all over again.

I just hope that I can relearn it. (Unhelpfully, anxiety about being "stuck this way forever" makes things worse.) I do believe that things will be okay in time, and I'll return to feeling centered and clear-eyed. Hopefully this will happen before I run out of Ativan, though.

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