Despite (most?) humans having a natural negativity bias as a sort of survival mechanism, I've long been what many people have described as an eternal optimist. Despite lots of awful stuff going on in the world, I tend to believe that things will work out and that there's generally more good than bad (just stop watching/reading the news!), and increasingly, I've been able to just find joy in the present moment, without even worrying so much about the future.
The last few years had been pretty difficult. But 2020 has been a different beast altogether. I wish I could say that I had the internal strength to be resilient to the challenges thrown at me, but I've been severely dysregulated by a confluence of...I don't even know what to call them...together, they're a shitstorm of hellfuckery. Sure, I had my part to play in these situations; undoubtedly, there were things I could have done better, which is much easier to see in hindsight. But I was doing my fucking best. And when that best ends up corresponding to being so severely beaten down, it's hard to not believe in a malevolent universe premise.
As I'm writing this in the beginning of January 2021, I'm in a really bad and dark place. I'm doing all the allegedly right things that my therapist and all the books recommend: I'm eating well, I'm exercising, I'm sleeping, I'm spending time with friends, I'm pursuing my interests (snowboarding, reading, book clubs / study groups), I'm taking time to grieve, I'm participating in support groups. (Thank goodness for my rules / OCO / discipline, I suppose.) None of that shit is helping, and I'm sick to death of all the advice about self-love and self-compassion and believing that I'm fundamentally "enough" and "worthy of love and belonging". None of that has ever been the problem. My experience of all this turmoil is not that there's something wrong with me (whatever growth I'm still pursuing), but that the universe is just a fundamentally fucked up place and the people who inhabit it are not to be trusted. However much I might intellectually believe that this is temporary, emotionally, I can't connect with the belief that I can experience happiness and joy again. And I'm struggling to connect with other people, too, especially in a romaintic-sexual context, as I'm trying to move on. Yeah, sure, I can take joy in the little things, day to day, but by and large, everything feels like it's in grayscale, like a living death...living, but not really alive. So my dominant experience of existence is cycling through feeling numb and incapacitated and overwhelmed, feeling anxious and frantic and panicked, crying uncontrollably, and being angry and hateful. At least I can take pride in never having taken out my frustration on anybody else.
To put your mind at ease, I'll say unequivocally that I'm not suicidal. I'm too averse to one-way doors to even do myself intentional temporary harm.
It's almost funny that with everything I endured in 2020, almost none of it had anything to do with COVID-19. I'm sure the pandemic had a magnifying effect on some of the things I went through, but for the most part, it's barely been a blip on my emotional radar. If anything, it's given me the excuse I wanted to just stay at home, isolated from everybody else anyway.
For all my enlightenment and meditation, blah, blah, blah, I find that accepting and living with what is has started to feel unbearable. Either all that work is doing nothing, or I might have been in an even worse place, unimaginable though that might be. The idea of moving forward with how things have turned out makes me sick to my stomach and makes my heart race. I've never so desperately wanted to be able to go back in time and redo everything. I feel like I've wasted my life, and I feel powerless to achieve the things I have come to hold dear.
And here, I've just started on a new team at Amazon, and I'm trying to get excited about that and at least be effective in my job. I'm trying so hard to just put one foot in front of the other, and that's so hard when I can barely get out of bed in the morning.
- End of Relationship with Adam
- Move to Denver
- Loss of MyFitnessPal Data
- Burglary of Storage Unit
- Identity Theft
- State Farm's Bad-Faith Liability Determination Reversal
- Changing Teams at Amazon
- End of Friendship with Diana
- Ongoing Misprocessing of Health Care Claims by Aetna
- Ridiculous Beard
- Front Range Objectivism
- Peak Living Network and Healing
End of Relationship with Adam
On June 2, 2020, I wrote the following Facebook post, which I decided to not post:
To preempt what I imagine might be questions from folks who notice that our relationship status has changed...
It is with deep sorrow that Adam and I have split up. Adam is truly wonderful man, whom I respect and admire and love--mind, body, and spirit--more than I can adequately put into words. We shared so much joy, creating a life and future together, and we also struggled with some challenges that we ultimately could not heal from, despite tremendous effort.
My heart is in a million pieces right now, grieving the loss of a great love, and at the same time, I know that I will eventually be okay. Beyond my own healing, I am wishing for nothing less than joy and happiness for Adam.
I understand that you may want more details, but this is all that I am willing to share.
Since then, there have been a lot of ups and downs. I had to move out from living with Adam and ended up moving numerous times within the California Bay Area. For the remainder of the summer before moving to Denver at the end of July, I stayed with Christopher and Morten in Marin. It was a difficult few months, while things were very tense between me and Adam. I was heartbroken and in constant agony, desperately trying to avoid any further discord. In early August, I retrieved my belongings from Fairplay, where we had driven a trailer full of things in July 2019 that we would need in our future home there. We had a good talk for a few hours and got on better footing, but it was clear that our relationship was over and that we wouldn't be trying to make it work. As of this writing, that was the last time I saw Adam, and we had only one superficial back-and-forth exchange over SMS in late September.
Within a few weeks, with my therapist's support, I tried dating. It was an interesting experience, but mostly disappointing. I would still have occasional bouts of sadness about losing Adam, doggo Billy, and our life and future together, but I was feeling more and more settled, especially after getting the rest of my belongings to Denver and moving into my own apartment. But by the time that the holidays started rolling around, I ended up experiencing more and more grief. At one point, I was having dreams/nightmares every night and crying daily. It wasn't about being alone; it was about having lost Adam and being flooded by memories of the joy we experienced together and the future we were building.
Part of what's been devastating for me is that I learned in the course of our relationship the kind of life I wanted; and I have lost confidence that that is possible. I got very attached to a particular vision. Is there another life I could build where I would be just as happy? Maybe, I guess. But what's to say I wouldn't have to give that up, too, at some point? I'm not the kind of person who can just hop from one life to the next. When there's something I want, I'm all in. When "a life" doesn't work out, that means I've lost everything; that's what it means to be "all in".
As I understand it, there's a lot in Buddhist philosophy about disidentifying from specific things or results. This is echoed in mindfulness meditation, sometimes expressed in the idea of the "blue sky" that's always there, regardless of whatever clouds might be obscuring its view in any given moment. It's related to having a growth mindset, where achievement of any specific goal or state is not as important as continued effort and adherence to process. Brené Brown's concept of worthiness and lovability has nothing to do with whether any one particular person values or loves you. Objectivism's benevolent universe premise implies a kind of resilience or perseverance in the face of any "accidental" shitfuckery that frustrates your goals. In June, I framed this to myself as "I know that I will eventually be okay, and in a way, that means that I'm already okay.".
And that's all fine and well because my self-esteem is not the issue here. What this loss has resulted in for me is a lack of confidence in the gods-damned universe. I'm exhausted and demoralized. I have lost an irreplaceable value. Whatever value there is in the approaches articulated in the previous paragraph, I don't think the implication is that you can't or shouldn't value something or someone so intensely that you have a correlative intense grief and even dysregulation associated with its loss. The common retort I've heard is that you can value something highly without its loss being devastating. I don't know how that would be possible; it seems an incoherent idea to me. Even if I could, I don't think I'd want to go through life relatively indifferent to losing things I care about. (The irony is that by having the stakes so high, the effort expended can sometimes backfire in terms of being able to achieve one's values, but that's topic for a different post.)
Adam and our relationship were some of my highest, deeply selfish, personal values. My happiness and well-being were (still are?) dependent on him and us, not in a codependent way that's often derided as second-handed and unhealthy, but in the way that humans properly come to depend on one another because we're wired for connection. And now that's lost.
So I'm rebuilding, because what else can I do? And I'm pursuing what feels like a pale shadow of what I wanted and was building with Adam. It's not that I'm beating myself up over it--because I know that I was doing my best--but I'm plagued by "what if"s, wondering whether some of what I've learned over the last year might have given us a better chance of healing. I don't want to get into specifics here; the point is that I don't feel "complete"...I don't have "closure"...I'm not convinced it couldn't still work out.
So I can't close the door. Aside from the personal psychic cost of reversing my decisions in that way (since that would still be possible), when I don't have emotional closure, I know myself well enough to know that I would be even further plagued by regrets and "what if"s. For me, taking some kind of affirmative action to "close the door" would be sidestepping and delaying my processing of the grief and loss. It's why I will wallow and keep our photos in my smart display rotation.
I'm going to go off on even more of a tangent here, but bear with me--I want to address the sort of advice that I often get when I share my approach.
I have seen and experienced firsthand what happens when we don't let our emotions run their course, when we don't lean into them, when we suppress or repress them. I'm not saying we should vomit those emotions all over the place, irrespective of context, or that we should intentionally pursue misery, but we need to express them. The alternative is to build up subconscious unease and pressure. And when that pressure gets too high, it almost always bursts out as uncalibrated anger and frustration. Another consequence of pushing away unpleasant feelings is that we also undermine our ability to experience the pleasant feelings on which resilience to life's challenges depends. This is particularly true when we turn to numbing mechanisms like alcohol or SSRIs. (Those may have their proper place, but that's a different discussion.)
Speaking of alcohol, there's a useful analogy here: An alcoholic who abstains from alcohol is still an alcoholic. He hasn't necessarily learned new skills or grown or worked through his condition. It is only when someone can start to use alcohol appropriately (quantitatively and qualitatively) that we can say that he has overcome and gotten past the alcoholism. This can take a lot of work and may not be worth the effort, in which case permanent abstention may be the better long-term path (whatever the role of abstinence would be in tactical growth processes). And then the tradeoff is that the spectre of alcohol's ruinous effects looms over the rest of one's life, all the while robbing a person of whatever positive value it can provide. I leave it to people to decide for themselves whether this is the right approach for them; but its being the right decision doesn't cause the tradeoffs and risks to disappear.
I know that I will have worked through my grief when I can look at my photos of Adam and Billy and not feel like a knife is going through my heart. But I'll only know that by being confronted with those photos. And being confronted by them and just experiencing that pain is part of the work. Heck, sometimes I will take some time to intentionally look through photos and have myself a good cry. If I removed the photos from the rotation, I would just be sidestepping my healing, and I would be robbing myself of feeling all the joy and happiness of reminiscing about the good times. One day, maybe I'll be able to look at the photos and feel only a touch of sadness.
Or maybe not. Maybe Adam was the great love of my life, and I'm doomed to suffer over the loss forever. I don't know. But for the gods' sake, I'm sick of hearing how I should remove reminders of Adam from my life. For the reasons above, I'm dubious about that kind of approach being good for anyone, but I'll just speak for myself: It wouldn't be good for me; I need to feel things deeply and intensely; if I don't want this to become part of my subconscious baggage for the rest of my life, I need to let it run its course, with all its intensity and unpleasantness.
Maybe what I need is a bit of a break from all those reminders, to give my "emotional immune system" a break, to calm down a bit, so that I'm in a better position to later reengage and process things. Indeed, that kind of "deferral" is exactly what I regard as one of the legitimate justifications for pharmacological intervention. I'm not against that in principle, but I also don't think that--going back to our analogy of the alcoholic--I'm doing the equivalent of binge drinking the photos and getting behind the wheel of a car.
Indeed, one of the things I know I need to do to heal is attend my focus to my other values. And I'm doing that. And because human focus is inherently limited, that has the effect of taking my attention off Adam to varying degrees. To be frank, I'm not sure how much that's helping. And at the same time, I don't want to experience less intensity around the grief and despair. In a way, that feels like it would be devaluing my love for Adam and what we had. It's not that I'm trying to prolong the suffering, but I want my emotions about him to evolve organically. I wish I could explain it better, but my worry is basically that by interfering with the natural expression and progression of my emotions (qualitative and quantitative), I'm risking the buildup of that subconscious baggage I described above. When and if I feel some peace and equanimity about (losing) Adam, I want to experience it with a clear conscience and a pure heart and without anything nagging at my subconscious.
It's almost too perfect: As I'm writing this, I'm suddenly realizing that that's exactly why I'm still struggling to connect with others in a romantic-sexual way. My mind races about Adam because I'm not done working through the loss. The signal my brain/heart is sending me is "Hey now, slow the fuck down; you're not ready for this yet.". See, Adam was not some interchangeable cog in the machinery of wanting human companionship. Finding someone else is not going to heal the pain...it would be a distraction from working through it. And if I find someone else too soon, my not having really worked through things will undermine that new relationship...just as has been happening. Put another way--it's not that going into the holidays alone was hard; it's that going into the holidays without Adam was hard. And that's true outside the holidays, too.
So here I am now, not knowing how to endure this loss. Sometimes I cry so hard I've exhaled all the air from my lungs and am still trying to retch out more.
Adam and I had our difficulties, yes, and there was a lot of heartache toward the end of our relationship, but I think I've endured more suffering since its end than during. I feel like I've learned a lot that could help us to heal if we tried again, but I don't know whether he'd be willing. Heck, I don't know if I'm willing. There are a lot of tradeoffs and risks associated with that path.
I am heartbroken, and life continues to be a baseline of misery, punctuated by occasional pleasurable occurrences. Every path open to me feels like a bad option, and I don't know which is least bad.
Fuck you, 2020.
(And really, if it weren't for COVID-19 shutdowns, we would have attended the April Hold Me Tight Workshop, and then who knows if that might have been able to work through things. Fuck.)
Move to Denver
During the 2010s, I developed a sort of background love affair with Colorado. Mostly, I visited for snowboarding, especially with my then close friend Diana, who organized an annual winter philosophy / ski/snowboarding conference called SnowCon for a few years. But every time I visited, I loved Colorado's beauty, enjoyed the activities, connected with the people, and felt at home with the outdoorsy, mind-your-own-business culture. I had unseriously flirted with the idea of moving to Colorado several times during that decade, usually catalyzed by difficulties at work and wanting to "Fuck this shit!" and live a quieter, calmer life outside of tech. Relevant item of context: I only grudging moved to and stayed in the SF Bay Area because I'm a nerd who works in tech, and that's where the jobs predominantly are.
So given how much I'm subject to the influence of inertia, it was so wonderful to learn (and it was definitely part of the attraction) that, when we met, Adam had recently purchased 35 undeveloped acres in Fairplay, which he had intended to transform into his future "forever home". I was totally on board.
Over the course of our relationship, we moved some stuff in a trailer to Fairplay and strategized about how we were going to buy a fixer-upper in Denver, so that we had a landing pad while we continued to turn Fairplay into our dream home. (Relevant context: Adam is an amazing contractor. I've seen his work firsthand, and while I'm no expert, it's finer than anything I've ever seen anybody else do, ever.) Especially when my job went fully remote in October 2019, the only thing holding us back from moving to Colorado was flipping the house we were living in in SF (which was owned by his business). While I was eager to "get a move on" and encouraged Adam to stop taking on other clients so that he could focus on flipping the house, I get why, in light of our difficulties that were mounting, making himself dependent on my income alone might have felt too risky for him. There's probably more to say about that, but the point is that our plans were not progressing.
Our difficulties ultimately culminated in our breakup, and I had to move out of the house. There's a bit more detail there, but it's not relevant to the overall narrative. After a few months living on Christopher's and Morten's boat in Marin, it was time for me to start landing on my feet again. As I'm sure will be no surprise to anybody who knows me at all, I made a spreadsheet of candidate cities/regions versus various factors that I care about.
Just for fun, here are the locations I considered:
- Bay Area
- LA / Orange County
- San Diego
- Salt Lake City
- Hawai'i (probably Poipu, Kauai)
- New York
- Tel Aviv
- Santa Barbara / CA Central Coast
And here are the factors that I rated each location by (as ---, --, -,
null, +, ++, +++), in no particular order:
- surrogacy laws
- Krav Maga
- compensation adjustment
- cost of living
These aren't all well-defined categories, and they tend to lump in a lot of other factors. Some are not really mutually exclusive. What's funny is that a straight unweighted analysis put LA on top, which my gut told me was definitely wrong. (The exact ratings aren't important here.) So, of course, weighting the factors got me the result that my gut was already nudging me toward: Denver and Austin are at the top. This is pure rationalism. Or is it? What I realized is that the way I was wanting to approach it is precisely what I mean by data-informed, as against data-driven, and for exactly the same reasons. That's outside the scope of this post, but the point is that by listing everything out and thinking about it quantitatively, I was making sure that I was going with my gut, rational eyes wide open. It meant I was less likely to be overlooking anything, and by choosing the things that weren't ideal about Denver or Austin, I was taking ownership of them, rather than being their victim and later being frustrated by them.
So I planned to make a U-shaped roadtrip, down to LA to spend a few weeks with my folks in Tarzana, then across to Austin to spend a few weeks with my brother Andrew, then up to Denver to spend a few weeks with my cousin Stacy. I had a feeling that I would ultimately decide on Denver, but I wanted to give Austin a fair shot, and I knew that if I went to Denver first, I might fall in love so hard that I would never bother going to Austin. Well, because at that time, Austin was suffering a rather severe COVID-19 outbreak, and Stacy was especially desirous of having me as a roommate, I decided to just go straight to Denver.
At the end of July, I packed up my car and drove out to Denver. I made a short stop in Salt Lake City to see my friends Karl and Tammy, then arrived at Stacy's on July 31.
It was good timing, since within a week or so, Adam wanted me to retrieve my belongings from the trailer in Fairplay, and I'm not sure he even knew I was in Denver. While I didn't urgently need those things at Stacy's (primarily my sectional sofa from Daly City, fancy Cal King mattress, and squat rack and lifting equipment), I knew I would likely need them in Colorado soon enough.
After a good month with Stacy, I decided that I wanted to live in Denver, to test the waters by renting for a lease term before deciding on whether I'd ultimately settle down in Colorado. So I started looking for my own place. Aside from various "niceness" and convenience requirements, my chief concerns were amazing mountain views and quiet.
I felt a lot of hesitation, because Colorado had become a thing that I was going to do with Adam. I was worried that I would be constantly triggered by being here. I was right; I was. And still am regularly. Big time. I knew I couldn't let that stop me from pursuing what I first-handedly wanted for myself. Yes, Adam and our future plans certainly intensified my love of Colorado and put my desire to live there in sharp focus, but I wanted to make my decision based on what I learned I really wanted. So with great angst, I moved forward.
I found a place that I liked, Country Club Towers II & III, and signed a 17-month lease.
When I found the place (by the way, HT Savannah Griffin of Smart City Locating), it definitely struck me as way too "boujie": way too many amenities I didn't care about, and let's just say that it wasn't the wisest financial decision I ever made in my life. But It came with a surprisingly decent gym for an apartment complex. (During COVID-19 restrictions, that was important.) And the view of my beloved Front Range from my patio made it all worthwhile:
In a lot of ways, it's what I needed.
Of course, then it was time to go back to the SF Bay area, pack up my storage unit, and move that out to Colorado. That ordeal was a post of its own.
So here I am, a few months in, and I'm liking Denver just fine. It's been really hard, feeling like I was supposed to be here with Adam, not by myself. And every time I looked out west, the mountains were calling...
During the winter so far, I managed to get in fair amount of snowboarding. It's the first time I'd ever gone snowboarding by myself, and though I thought I'd hate it, I actually really liked it. A lot. I guess I shouldn't find that surprising. And it was quite meditative. In some ways that was enjoyable; in other ways, agonizing. I can't tell you how many times I had to just stop and bawl my eyes out on the mountain, desperately grieving the time that Adam and I spent together on the slopes.
People often ask me why I moved to Colorado and what I love about it, particularly compared to other places I've lived. I love the sunshine, the mountains, and the natural splendor in general. I love the wild weather (we had a day in September where it went from oppressively hot one day to snowing the next and then back to hot again within a few more days). And the sun beats down so hard that we can have an intense snowstorm and then be snow-free a few days later. And it can be below freezing, but if it's sunny (and it almost always is), it's warm enough to comfortably be shirtless outside. I love the outdoorsy, fitness-oriented culture, which sometimes manifests in annoying ways, like people flaking on you because they got distracted by going on a hike or scaling a 14er. (Flaking is frustrating, but the reasons tend to be more charming here than elsewhere.) I love that it's more libertarian-ish, even in a more leftist region like Denver; it's more consistently "live and let live" than anywhere else I've been. And I love that people love to be here; people who live here genuinely love Colorado, not in some kind of collectivist patriotic/nationalistic way, but because they first-handedly, individually, personally love it.
There are things I liked about California, too, but I don't think I ever loved California. Living there was mostly an accident. LA and Southern California in general were great for the weather, the beach (fuck, I miss the beach), and the very attractive people. There's a lot of nostalgia for me there, and those feelings are especially intense when I pick up a whiff of LA's distinctive flora during certain seasons when I visit. But there was a lot of superficiality, too, and particularly among the transplants. LA feels very busy to me. And that's best reflected in the traffic, where I joke that it takes an hour to get anywhere, even a few miles. It's only partially a joke, and that's why SNL's The Californians (particularly Stuart Has Cancer (2021-04-14)) is so hilarious and really rings true.
And whenever I visit UCLA (mostly for the annual Men's Rowing Alumni Banquet and Races), I'm flooded with anxiety, which I realized has a lot to do with how, for about seven years of undergrad and grad school, I was all piss and vinegar about everything, especially anything philosophical, and that was reflected in the angsty, in-your-face, tone-deaf way I often ran the activism activities of my philosophy club, LOGIC. (And law school itself was no walk in the park, either.)
San Francisco and the CA Bay Area in general were more difficult for me. I was never a fan before I moved for work, and there was a lot I found I had to tolerate. I did like that SF was much more sexually liberal, with a fun nude beach and lots of opportunities to be free and frisky. But its charm ends there.
SF was so politically angsty, and it was so in your face. Everybody made it their business what you did or did not do, what you did or did not say, and what you did or did not think. Heaven forfend you did the "wrong" thing or didn't do the "right" thing or said the "wrong" thing or didn't say the "right" thing or thought the "wrong" thing or didn't think the "right" thing; you'd be a monster that everybody ganged up on to condemn. It was intersectionality run amok. And while I realize the irony in opining about what everybody else did, said, and thought, one tragedy about SF is that I got the sense that this obsession was really many people's way of deflecting from focusing on and improving their own lives; superficially, people can feel a lot of relief to point a finger at others, rather than deal with their own misery. (Contrast that with Colorado, where people tend to be too busy going on outdoor adventures to be too bothered by what you're doing.)
Another irony is that I think that a lot of this angst reflected a deep (and proper--or at least understandable) dissatisfaction with aspects of the culture and society, and yet the naive policies they advocated only worsened the problems they found so distressing. (A great example of this is simultaneously bemoaning lack of affordable housing and also supporting rent control laws and direct prohibitions on development. What an eloquent--and tragic--illustration of how limbic system hijack totally takes rational faculties offline.)
Then there was the hypocritical condemnation of the tech industry (let me tell ya, it doesn't feel good to be hated for doing good work, especially by confused, self-hating coworkers), coupled with the seriously toxic startup culture. Silicon Valley is one of the few shows I've ever stopped watching without finishing because it hit too close to home. I jokingly referred to it as "a documentary where people's names have been changed to protect the guilty".
Gay culture wasn't much better. Whatever its virtues in being sexually liberal, it was muddied by using sex for counterfeit self-esteem, second-handed attention-seeking, and having to make everything political. Drama abound, hardly anybody knew how to communicate about anything. And while that might be largely true of gay culture anywhere, if you want a true-to-life perspective (documentary?) about gay life in San Francisco, watch Looking. I can't remember the exact phrasing now, but one of my friends quipped about this show something to the effect of "I can just see the head writer documenting exactly everything that happened to him and his shitty friends.". Yup. Exactly.
San Francisco has a beautiful skyline, with some cool architecture and so much that is almost universally recognizable (Golden Gate Bridge, Sutro Tower, Coit Tower, etc). But at ground level, it's absolutely filthy (so much so that someone developed an app for showing where there was human feces on the sidewalk), crime-ridden (my cousin was mugged at knife-point), and full of drugs (I routinely walked past drug needles strewn across the sidewalk and sometimes even people openly shooting up in the daylight).
Last, and not least, the homelessness was just gut-wrenching. I could write a treatise about the phenomenon (including causes and solutions) from a philosophic and economic perspective, but that's beside my point. All that human suffering caused me a tremendous amount of emotional distress. In 2017, when I left my job at Autodesk in downtown SF and started driving down to the South Bay for my then new job at Amazon, I realized how much relief I felt, not being confronted by so much tragedy on a daily basis. (And I don't think that amounts to turning a blind eye--I have done more than my fair share in terms of activism to change the culture in way that would help alleviate this and many other problems.)
So all that, coupled with what is now something I describe as "low-grade PTSD" because of the various traumas I endured, leads me to just feel done with California. I don't hate California by any means, but I do feel frustrated and exasperated by it and its people. I dread visiting UCLA and the CA Bay Area.
Colorado is the first place I've moved to because I wanted to be here in particular, not because of the accident of my birth (and subsequent inertia), which schools I happened to be accepted to, or where I happened to easily find a job. Colorado feels like a choice that reflects my direct values, and that fills me with optimism about living here.
It's too soon to tell, but my gut is telling me that Colorado will become my permanent home.
Loss of MyFitnessPal Data
Many of you know (or wouldn't be surprised to learn) that I'm a meticulous and consistent logger of my food consumption on MyFitnessPal. I've been doing it since 2011-09-07. I have log entries for every day. Originally, I used them as a basis for performing calculations for my diet and exercise routines, and with time, I grew to love the process of logging and tracking for its own sake. Or, more precisely, I grew to love having the logs. The actual logging was sometimes annoying, but worth having my logs and maintaining the streak I find so motivating. And on days when I didn't have pre-planned meals and still had caloric restrictions, it was useful to make sure I didn't over- (or under-) eat.
On 2020-09-28, I happened to be talking to my brother on the phone, and I wanted to look up that day in February 2015 that I had set a personal record for total calories consumed (over 11,000), only to find that the logs for that day were empty. I started to feel frantic. And some research revealed that MyFitnessPal had deleted many years of my logs because I didn't subscribe to their Premium tier (the features of which were useless to me). After numerous back-and-forths with their support, they told me that they changed their policy in 2019, so that the free tier would start to have a limited diary history. Did they send an email to their users about this? Of course not. Their customer "support" person told me, matter of factly, that they had written a blog post on their website. WHAT!? Who the fuck reads the MyFitnessPal blog? What universe are these people living in that they think that their users give two shits about the blog--and the support blog at that!? Good gods.
Their justification? Cost. WHAT!? With how cheap storage is and knowing a thing or two about database design and scaling, there's just no way that this is a serious cost-related matter. Clearly, this was a monetization tactic. And that would be fine, but (1) be upfront about it, and (2) fuckin' inform your users before deleting their data.
Okay, so maybe if I purchase the Premium subscription now, they'd restore my data? Nope! It's permanently deleted. WHAT!? They couldn't preserve a backup? I pleaded and pleaded. Maybe they had a cold storage somewhere. They insisted that they didn't. (I still don't believe that.) WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK. FUCK!
(Oh, and of course they didn't have a data export function for the free tier that I could have been using to perform my own backups.)
So you can imagine how restimulated I was when I discovered a few months later that my storage unit had been burglarized.
Well, that's another gallon dropped into my "loss bucket". Ugh.
Burglary of Storage Unit
When I updated one of my dating profiles and answered the prompt "Six things I could never do without", I wrote "the physical and digital things/memorabilia that serve as anchors for my memory and nostalgia".
On December 29, I stopped by my storage unit in Arvada, where I had deposited 59 27-gallon bins on October 14 as part of moving to Denver. I was there with my friend Christopher to retrieve a spare ski jacket for him, since we had plans to go to Steamboat Springs.
When I opened my unit, I found that it had been burglarized.
As of January 4, I still haven't taken a full inventory of what was stolen, but I counted 26 missing bins. Every bin marked "Memorabilia" was gone. That's everything from my entire life, going back to childhood. Every photo. Every trinket from my desks through the years. Every concert program that I saved. The flower I gave Adam on our anniversary. The map of the Denver Botanical Gardens from my trip with Adam. All my Star Trek collectables. All my DVDs and VHS tapes and CDs. Signed mint-condition books...signed by authors I will never see again. My Sega Genesis and Sonic: The Hedgehog stuff. My pony tails. My coin collection. All my Christmas ornaments. Jewelry. All my Boy Scouts stuff and accomplishments, including my uniform and merit badge sash. My report cards and yearbooks from school. My Hogwarts robes. A snowboard, even. And so much more.
I summoned the police, and they took fingerprints. I at least had the presence of mind to fall back on what I'd learned from all those crime procedurals that I watched and not touch anything before they arrived and collected as much forensic evidence as possible. Yes, there are some leads that we're pursuing, but the facility has no cameras near my unit, and the available data is sparse, particularly because we don't know for sure when between October 14 and December 29 this happened. Frankly, I have no expectation that I will ever get my things back. I have reason to believe that this happened closer to October, and if that's true, then all the valuable things will long have been sold and the rest dumped.
This has been horrifically devastating for me, and not even so much because of the violation, but the sheer loss of all those things that were meant to be a "backup" for what I know is a fragile and delicate and unreliable thing: human memory. These are things that I had hoped to share with my children one day, telling them about my life. Now all that is gone. Just. Fucking. Gone.
Yes, other people suffer similar loses, and they go on with their lives. Numerous people, in the spirit of trying to be helpful, have tried to remind me of this fact, but if we're going to be doing comparisons to other people, then perhaps consider how much I in particular am attached to physical things. I even made it a bullet in my "about me". During all the effort I expended in October carefully organizing and packing up my disaster zone of a storage unit in Sunnyvale, I came across so many thing that brought a big grin to my face (and even tears of joy), despite its being such a stressful time for me. I can't even begin to explain how much of a loss this is for me. I struggle to throw away things I don't even have any emotional connection to or have any memories of...such as things I accidentally inherited from friends...things that my friends would throw away, but I can't bring myself to throw away because it's a snapshot of something about them. And when a friend needed help to extract her family video files from DVDs to preserve them in Dropbox, I was on that like white on bread.
As the capstone to 2020, going on just feels unbearable and all the more unreal. This isn't a "fresh start". This isn't "liberation". This is just horseshit.
Around November, I got a call from American Express inquiring whether the recent attempt to open a credit card in my name was valid. Uh, no. They recommended that I contact the credit bureaus and freeze/lock my credit. In the process of doing that, I noticed a new address on my credit report, one in Colorado. Weird coincidence, I guess, since at this point, all my addresses for all financial institutions and everything (other than my Denver lease) were still in California. Whatever. I had them remove it.
And then, at the end of 2020, shortly after the burglary of my storage unit, I suddenly remembered the attempted identity theft. I looked up the address that I had removed from my credit report. Sure enough, it was within 10 minutes of my storage unit. I potentially had the home address of the burglars. I turned it over to the police. Tempted though I am to take matters into my own hands, let's see what happens.
Update: The police never did anything with the address and never followed up on any other part of the investigation, despite several inquiries by me for an update. Ugh.
State Farm's Bad-Faith Liability Determination Reversal
I'll keep this section relatively short because it really needs its own blog post. In October 2019, Adam and I took a trip to Denver. We were on our way to the airport to return home to SF, and while nearly stopped in a lefthand turn lane (I'm talking < 1 mph), another driver sped up behind us, whipped around our left side into oncoming traffic, then whipped back into our lane ahead of us past the intersection. They clipped our left mirror. We all pulled over in a parking lot. They summoned the police and spun a story that the cop ended up citing me. The damage? A paint smudge on my rental car's mirror casing (or whatever it's called) and a paint smudge on their right rear panel. I immediately wrote up all the details and compiled all the evidence (including a synthesis of what was physically possible in terms of inference) and sent it off to both my auto insurer (State Farm) and the rental car company (Avis). Avis didn't care; the "damage" was below their threshold for normal wear and tear. After a few weeks of agonizing over this and going over the details with my claim investigator, State Farm decided on 50/50 liability. My claim investigator told me that her personal belief was that my narrative was the only one that made sense and that there were inconsistencies in the other party's account. But because of the lack of conclusive direct evidence and because of the police report and my citation, she figured that a 50/50 liability determination would be more palatable to the other insurance company, and under Colorado law, that determination means each party pays for their own damages. Not ideal, but good enough, particularly because I had no damages. The other party (a couple, both of whom were employees of Progressive, their own auto insurance company) were not so pleased with this determination, and they attempted to intimidate State Farm into determining in their favor. This dragged on through early 2020, and when I stopped hearing about it from State Farm, after the last I had heard from my claim investigator was that she was going to hold firm and not capitulate to what was obvious threats and fabrications, I concluded that the matter was resolved.
Fast-forward six months. While I'm driving my 26-foot truck from California to Denver, I got a voicemail from a different claims specialist at State Farm, telling me that they reversed their liability determination. After numerous back and forths, I learned that the basis for the change was that the other side didn't accept it. No new evidence. No reevaluation of the existing evidence. Just disagreement by the other party. Oh, and they also trumped up bodily injury damages, which was so outlandish that it triggered a heightened-scrutiny investigating by State Farm. So here, State Farm already questioned the other party's veracity, but their disagreement was sufficient to overturn the liability determination. WHAT!? I think the epistemological problems here stand on their own without need of further comment. And while I might otherwise have been willing to just suck up the injustice, this determination came with a hefty price tag: Even though my policy would be paying out in the immediate term, it would cause my premiums to increase to the point that, over the course of 6 years, I'd be paying an extra $5000. So not trivial.
I engaged an attorney for guidance. And I appealed with State Farm's internal "California Department of Reconsideration", which is supposed to be independent and objective. In less than 24 clock hours to review all the rich detail I provided, the State Farm California Department of Reconsideration upheld the most recent "all Arthur's fault" determination, citing a bunch of factors that showed a glaring lack of attentiveness to the matter at hand, getting basic facts wrong, re-asserting claims I proved were physically impossible, re-asserting disputed assertions by the other part as though they were incontestable facts, and applying the wrong state law.
So now I'm continuing to pursue a potential legal avenue, while trying to see if I can escalate through State Farm's own management chain.
But fuckin'-A; do I really need this stress on top of everything else going on?
Changing Teams at Amazon
For reasons that I mentioned in my post on moving to Denver, I started looking at other teams within Amazon to transfer to in Q4. At the end of December, I had two offers, and I chose to transition from the Alexa Tech Docs team to the Alexa Device SDK team, under a manager just hired to lead this team. There were a few yellow flags, and I had to contend with some unfavorable parts of my reputation following me (some earned and some unearned), but I ultimately decided on the Alexa Device SDK team because I wanted to learn more about device software and C++, and there were a lot of opportunities to leverage my previous Alexa experience in API design and cloud services, to say nothing of my skill in unifying/generalizing divergent solutions. This is the primary reason that my colleague on the team recruited me so strongly.
So while my heart weighs heavy to leave a team, area, and manger that I love so much, I'm optimistic and excited about the opportunity to do some really cool--and impactful--things on this new team.
End of Friendship with Diana
There is a lot I could say here, but I want to be respectful of Diana's privacy. The last thing I want to do is blast her in a public forum. This has been frustrating and dysregulating and crushing. But I want to make clear that I don't think Diana is a bad person.
Here's what I'm willing to say about it:
I wish that I had been a better friend to Diana in early 2020. Instead, I was so focused on my own pain and the difficulties that I was going through with Adam, that whether there were any signs that I missed, I wish that I had proactively been more caring and inquired about her experience.
I also wish that Diana had treated me better. I had come to expect that she would always be forthright, direct, and kind with me in asserting her needs and boundaries; it was something that I valued in our relationship and something I admired about her. And in this instance, I did not get that. I don't want to get into the substance here, but a lot of Diana's conduct seemed wildly uncharacteristic of her, from a sort of quasi-ghosting, to sharp and hurtful messages, to an utter unwillingness to even talk about things, to ultimately cutting me off in response to my leaving flowers on her doorstep on her birthday (after several months of no contact), asserting many things that, well, I'll just say I expected better of her as a person and as a philosophy PhD.
Whatever mistakes I made and whatever I could have done better, I don't think I deserved this. If I sound frustrated, it's because I am. And while I can imagine some benign explanations for all this (not the least of which is that 2020 has been a severely dysregulating time for many people, and not only because of COVID-19), I don't think it excuses or justifies her treatment of me.
My anxious-preoccupied tendencies are manifesting hard, prompting me to overexplain and belabor every point. I have a strong urge to defend myself against what feels like being severely misunderstood. The injustice of it all feels almost unbearable. But the last thing I want to do is have this stand as some overall condemnation of Diana. This was not okay, and the loss of her friendship is deeply painful (particular in the context of all the other loss I suffered in 2020), but in many ways, I still admire her and hold her in high esteem.
I had hoped to continue being a valued friend to her. She was no small part of my decision to come to Colorado. (Even though things were already rocky between us when I was thinking of coming to Denver, I expected it was temporary.) And while I'm coming to grips with losing her friendship, I'm hoping for the best for her, hoping that she finds joy and happiness on her path, even if I'm not part of it.
But fuck, it hurts.
If you know her--or perhaps especially if you don't--please respect Diana's privacy and do not inquire with her about this matter. Let her have some peace and not feel like I'm the instigator of her being continually dragged into this. It's been unpleasant enough for her.
Ongoing Misprocessing of Health Care Claims by Aetna
Fucking Aetna. I literally can't even with them. I'm definitely going to have to write up a longer post about this after it's all finally over with.
Now, look, I could have been more timely about submitting and auditing claims on an ongoing basis, rather than letting them pile up and then have hours-long projects that I kept wanting to put off. So that's on me.
But you know, this didn't need to be so difficult.
The chief areas where I ran into difficulty were claims for massage therapy and for psychotherapy. Neither of my providers (the excellent Carolyn Hart and Mařenka Cerny, respectively) deal with health plans, so it's on me to manually submit claims. Aetna has pretty good theoretical coverage for these, so it made sense to recoup over $10,000 over the course of several years of treatment.
And it's really interesting how, for claims submitted by providers directly, their success rate at processing claims correctly is about 95%, but when I submit them, it's closer to 50%. And then maybe about 25% of those times, I have to get it reprocessed an additional time. If I hadn't become an expert in medical billing (seriously, you should see my spreadsheet) and realizing how there's no way for the mere mortals who work in claims processing to know how to do this correctly, I would suspect fraud. But it's obvious to me that it's just gross incompetence that's magnified by a poorly "designed" system/process. I don't know why, but knowing that does not reduce the anger and sheer fury I feel every time I have to send a claim back for reprocessing.
A related point is that Aetna's conceptual data model is just bonkers, making auditing anything an extremely painful process.
A single claim can have multiple line items. Okay, that makes sense. But sometimes, a single line item is split into multiple line items. For instance, a 60-minute session might be split--for no apparent reason--into a 45-minute session and a 15-minute session. So that's not a huge problem. But then multiple claims go on the Explanation of Benefits (EOB). I guess that's okay when everything goes swimmingly, except that a single claim is sometimes split across multiple EOBs. EOBs don't get revised the way that claims do; they're fixed in time. So if a claim is reprocessed, it's entirely specified on the new EOB. An EOB corresponds to a single reimbursement check, but it takes some dedicated detective work to figure out which claim on that EOB contributed how much to the check total; it's not clearly specified. In simple cases, none of this would be that bad. But given the (unnecessary) complexity, errors, and volume associated with my claims, I'll have a single claim processed multiple times, and each processing contributes some amount to some line item on some EOB and therefore to some check. When there are multiple such claims, figuring out how to get everything to sum up correctly (when even the amounts to sum up are not clearly indicated) requires enormous effort. Figuring out which check corresponds to which portions of which line items of which claims is some expert-level forensic accounting.
I can't wait to be done with this project, and it's not the sort of hateful overhead I need right now, but I guess I have a backup career.
What I can say is that Aetna is so horrible (and that's to say nothing of numerous other problems, like their broken-in-myriad-ways website) that once I'm done with this, I'll never use them ever again, and I'll warn off everybody I can. It's sad that there's nowhere I can rate them, and this isn't something that I can (in good conscience) report to some regulatory agency.
Oh, and I've definitely learned my lesson about letting these kinds of things pile up. Never fucking again.
Okay, so you probably saw my ridiculous beard above and maybe thought "Uh, what's up with that?". Believe me, I got plenty of "feedback" about that. I didn't ever think it was attractive; don't you worry.
I don't really know how it happened, but in early 2020, I just accidentally let it get longer. I don't really have good follicle density on my face, so when my beard is longer, it looks fuller. And I'm a sucker for a good beard. So I let it get a little long. And then the COVID-19 restrictions hit, and Supercuts was closed indefinitely, so I couldn't get a haircut. This happened just around the time that I was due for a haircut anyway. So I guess I sort of adopted a "Ah, well, fuck it; I'll just let it all grow out." attitude.
In a way, the sort of disheveled, unkept outward appearance reflected my inner state, given how severely dysregulated I was by the escalating difficulties with Adam and then my grief after our breakup. It felt appropriate. Bummer that my driver license renewal came up in July, and it looks absolutely hideous. But since I'm likely to get a CO driver license soon enough anyway, I guess in retrospect, it's not so bad.
As the summer wore on, I realized that I could actually use my beard as part of a Halloween costume, despite lack of parties or trick-or-treating, on account of COVID-19. So I decided I would be a Viking, and I managed to get a haircut and have my beard cleaned up professionally. The result was pretty good:
A few days later, I wanted to see what it would look like if I dyed it jet black:
I liked it a little better, but within another week, I was done, and I was so relieved to be back to normal:
One of the good things of 2020 is that, because of my desperate desire to work things out with Adam and understand what was going on with him, me, and us, I started doing a lot of reading. It helped that I was doing it through Audible, since that allowed me to better utilize time weightlifting, driving, walking, cleaning, and even snowboarding. And when I felt like I had had enough of the psychology-related books, I moved on to other topics, especially economics and (mostly) other non-fiction. Most of that was concentrated in the last few months, where I think I averaged more than a book per day. (Some were quite short, and I listen on 2x speed!) I'll probably take a bit of a break from such voracious "reading", but I hope that the general disposition to read more than I had been in previous years will stick.
Front Range Objectivism
Another good thing is that I got involved with Front Range Objectivism, particularly the various study groups. I joined three of the four groups, each which meets monthly, and we're either going through some particular book as a book club or reading articles and discussing other topics. Many of the folks I know from years past, and it's been really wonderful reconnecting with them and getting to know them better. They have been very welcoming, and I'm so very grateful to them.
Peak Living Network and Healing
In February 2020, I finished reading Lundy Bancroft's book Why Does He Do That?. Diana had recommended the book to me because she worried that, given how I described some of our difficulties, Adam was being abusive. I'm really glad I read the book because it gave me full confidence and a clear understanding that Adam was not abusive, however unacceptable some of his behavior was. But the book was so good in so many ways, and I reached out to Lundy to thank him for writing it. Much to my surprise, he responded, and we ended up exchanging occasional emails. I learned of another book he'd written, The Joyous Recovery, which I started reading. And then I joined a book club he was running for it. And that book was part of the basis for something Lundy called the Peak Living Network, which I started getting more involved with. And then I started up a Slack workspace for us. And so far, that's seeming to really speed up the level of engagement of members and helping us to feel like a real community, providing one another support and love and care with whatever we're going through.
I even put up a page about having a local Denver group for PLN, but I haven't done anything proactive about that, yet.
I started doing something called cocounseling, which has been really helpful. And later in January, I'll be participating in a cocounseling training class that Lundy is running.
I don't always see eye to eye with everybody in the group (I mean, obviously--that's just human relationships), and I do think a lot of folks would benefit on a deep emotional level from reading Brené Brown, Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication, Susan Campbell's Getting Real, Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics, and a few other books, but this is a great group of people consciously and earnestly pursuing their well being and prosperity. I'm getting a lot out of being part of this organization, often in ways I didn't expect.
I'm so grateful to Lundy for his books and for bringing us together in this common pursuit.
I'm so glad that 2020 is done. I'm still anticipating a lot of difficulty ahead, but I have to believe that 2021 can't be nearly as challenging as 2020. I'm just so ready for things to be somewhat easy and calm. I desperately need to be able to relax.