Diary of a 50-something mess

Diary of a 50-something mess - student project

Recovering from a burnout, getting back to what I love.


10 day challenge - Day 1

Today I noticed I am scared. I’ve always been scared. I’ve always been scared of everything. Fear of judgment, fear of rejection, and even fear of success. I have great ideas, though I’m scared to execute them.

I am a good technical writer, but I put too much time into it, so I rarely publish. Things get edited and edited until the manuscript loses the original idea.

Though I’m not an artist, I am artistic. I’ve done some photography, had a few shows and I’ve sold some of my images. But to me, photography was more scientific and technical than it was artistic. This is bullshit, of course. The cameras, lights, and computers are the pencils, paper, and erasers for the writer. The tools don’t make a difference. I am artistic. But I am scared to admit this, even to myself.

This afternoon I saw this challenge, and it was exactly what I was looking for. So much so that I paid for Skillshare to see the entire class - all the videos. It completely psyched me up to to write again. But then a little later, my wife told me she was looking forward to reading my writing. She recognizes writers put pieces of themselves into everything they write. She said she would like to read something I wrote, so she could see what goes on in my mind. Frozen, I changed the subject. I am scared, but I’m forging ahead.


10 day challenge - Day 2

Today I noticed I care about things. At least I seem to care about things. Do I care about things? Yesterday, despite being sick and off work, I took a few hours to correct my student’s latest thesis draft. I told myself that my inaction could delay my student’s graduation, which would not be fair to her. I cared about this... Or so I thought. When I started thinking about it, I didn’t care about my student’s schedule as much as I was fearful I would piss her off. I guess I do care, but I care more about this person’s feelings towards me than I care about her goals.

True caring is different. I care about my wife. While I don’t want to anger my wife either, I care she is happy, and that life is treating her well. I would miss her immensely if she wasn’t around. Conversely, my student is leaving in a few months and is unlikely to contact me again unless she needs a reference. I don’t dislike this person, and I hope she does well in life. But do I care more about her, or am I more concerned she will be angry if I somehow disappoint her? As I’m writing this, it is the latter.

I must work on my feelings, and I shouldn’t care in the least if this person is angry at me under the circumstances, but I do. Many things like these are outside of my control, and I know better than to worry about them. I only have so much of me to give - I may as well give it to the right people.


10 day challenge - Day 3

Today I noticed that while I’m heard, nobody listens. It is truly astounding how often I can start a discussion by saying “2 + 2 = 4”, only to have the subject of the conversation change, and then later have to other party ask me “so, did you ever find out what 2 + 2 is?”. In some ways, it is no wonder I have no confidence in anything. “People hearing without listening” - That is what Simon and Garfunkel said, right? People hear me, but do not listen. How do I change this? I hesitate to speak to anyone about it, for obvious reasons. How can I talk to anyone about this feeling if nobody will listen? Can I speak about anything or do I need to write about everything?

People tell me I give great presentations. I am often re-invited to give more presentations. While people seem to like my message, I feel that they only hear what they want to hear. Do any of these people understand anything I’ve said? Nobody in my family or at work has any actual idea what I’m saying. They aren’t listening.

Where must I go from here? I have so much doubt about everything. I do not know how I ever achieved any of the success I’ve had. This is not an expression of the impostor syndrome. I’ve worked hard and deserve my success. This said, everyone seems to have misunderstood everything I’ve done or said for the last 18 months. Is this even possible? It seems more likely that I am going crazy. This must stop now.


10 day challenge - Day 4

Today I noticed how negative I have become. Nobody has ever described a burnout as a fun part of their life, but I didn’t think it would affect me so much. I wanted to write, to get back to the things I enjoy. In reading the first three entries of this ten-day challenge, it is difficult to accept how negative everything seems to be right now.

Better is always possible, so I need to make a change. This challenge has made me realize I was in much worse condition than I thought. While this will be a long journey, I see light. Although the weather is not great these days, I will attempt to take short walks and observe nature. I must see rather than look. There is beauty out there. I am re-discovering music. It has been way too long since I’ve listened to these tunes. They will be part of my walks.

This will pass. I’ve helped so many others get over their struggles with mental wellness, but I will have to dig deep and listen to my own advice. Journaling is one of the big strategies for maintaining mental wellness. In a brief time, journaling has made me change my outlook on things, if only for a few minutes each day. Write. I will write.


10-day challenge - Day 5

Today I noticed that I've been settling for second best. Not in terms of winning or competing, but in terms of settling on things that I want. I know I want to write, but now that I’ve started this, I want more. I want to publish. I want to make vlogs and blogs. I want to share my passions, my knowledge, and my fears. My fears have taken control recently, but it hasn't always been like that. The younger version of me had the same fears but he tucked them away rather neatly. I can't be young again in chronological terms, but I can be a kid again.

I want to share. This 10-day challenge is a start, but I want more. I have passion, although nobody would know it. I've decided to outline a Vlog Chanel and a book on mental wellness. This can't just be something I do to pass the time. I want to make it work. As I write this down, self-doubt is swelling. What the fuck is it about growing older that changes not only your body but also your mind.

Wow - I can't believe I've not made this connection before this very moment! Ken Zen Ichi - Mind and body are one. We can't stop aging, but keeping the mind young will keep the body young. Keeping the body young will keep the mind young. I have so much to re-learn.


10 day challenge - Day 6

Today I noticed that I’ve been trying to be a different person, and not in a good way. My personality type is INTJ, the strategist. For more than a year now, I’ve been trying to be something else, to please people at work. Why? I am the strategist, the architect, made to plan and execute, a loner. Popularity is not something I crave, and I know there is no reason to please people if doing so doesn’t make me happy. It is not about being a jerk, but about being myself. My work colleagues don’t have to like me, they have to work with me. Ditto. So I must get back to being me. See the big picture, understand the issues, make the plans and execute. No more wait and see attitude. I am a strategist.

While it is clear I must be myself, I need to explore why I was trying to change. Was I jealous that some of my friends were more popular? Did I think it would help me get ahead in life? Neither of those hypotheses sound like me. Then again, I’ve not been myself, have I?

So how would the younger me become a writer?

1 - Find my why. Why do I want to become a writer?

2 - Try to talk myself out of it. Not really, but rather present the alternative. What are the cons with the way forward.

3 - Research the crap out of it

4 - Make a plan

5 - Make an Outline

6 - Start writing.

This 10-day challenge has opened up my eyes. I am a strategist. Introspection is my way of life, and I inexplicably ignored this. Welcome back to the INTJ fold.


10 day challenge - Day 7

Today I noticed a level of insincerity in terms of my perception of things. I took a walk on my local golf course. As the course is recovering from a long winter, it looks horrible. It looks worse than it did last autumn. Muddy, wet, grey; not words normally used to describe a top-end golf course. But walking around in the spring air, it was inspiring to imagining the lush green colours and exemplary landscaping that will soon be the envy of all the other golf courses.

It’s hypocrisy! I “remember” how awful I thought the course looked in the autumn. Putrid even. I confirmed today that it looked much better last autumn than it does now. But looking forward to the summer months is distorting my perception - I imagine it is better than it really is. Conversely, last autumn, with the oncoming winter my perception was distorted. I have to learn to live in the present.


10 day challenge - Day 8

Today I noticed I am much more than I let on to be. Many people see my various online profiles and assume I am nothing more than an academic. To be clear, I am a proud nerd, a geek, and a techie. My life is so much more. I’ve decided to rewrite my online profile. As there is a professional component to my profile, I must mention my actual job, not simply describe my passions. I can, however, add some flair to this brief biography. Let’s see what I can come up with in the remaining 7 minutes of today’s challenge.




I help people feel engaged, so they maintain life balance while increasing productivity.


My resume will suggest I am a leader, having worked in both government and private industry, and that I have experience in the delivery of diagnostic services, laboratory methods, quality management, and technical writing. It also shows I get results and have strong leadership skills. What my resume does not show is methods; how I achieved these results. Talk to me. I am proud to be a scientist, critical thinker, writer, photographer, and public servant (though not necessarily in that order). I am an advocate of leadership, engagement and mental health in the workplace and at home.


10 day challenge - Day 9

Today I noticed humans need to categorize, sub-categorize, and label everything. As an evolutionary biologist, I often observed taxonomists had an innate need to categorize orders, families, genera, and species. They relished in any debate linked to categorization. It seems, however, that this behaviour is much more widespread. People need to categorize everything, and not always in a good way. Often, the need to categorize comes from a need to label. Ah yes, the infamous labels. Fred is a gant, Susie is a slut.

Today I learned I have high-functioning anxiety. Like so many other people, I live with anxiety, but in my case, it is unnoticeable to many people, especially to my colleagues. I am a high achiever, a leader, and I inspire confidence. But I live with anxiety.

What is wrong with saying Mark is living with anxiety? Why do we need to point out that Mark is high-functioning? Is high-functioning anxiety better, worse, or in any way different from anxiety? The use of the term high-functioning is subjective. I know single moms that do not enjoy the same success as I do at work, but don’t anyone dare say they are not high-functioning! It would seem that the label of high functioning anxiety applies only to those who are high functioning in specific activities. The label seeks to separate these people from people living with other forms of anxiety. Why? Is our need to sub-categorize so insatiable that we are not content with simply saying anxiety.

High-functioning does nothing to describe the condition, just the person, and seems to suggest the condition is less severe. A term more often heard is high-functioning alcoholic, and it is essentially the same thing. It describes a person living with a substance addiction, but this person is high-functioning because they appear to maintain job performance and relationships. Unfortunately, adding the high-functioning qualifier makes the illness sound less severe. Further, performance at a professional level says nothing of the hardships this person may live with on a personal level.

In an age where we are striving to achieve balance, we need to stop sub-categorizing everything. Mark is living with anxiety. If you would like to know if he is high functioning, speak with him, not with others that are trying to sub-categorize the disorder.


10 day challenge - Day 10

Today I noticed that the phrase April showers bring May flowers doesn’t pertain to Atlantic Canada. The 23rd of April is today’s date, and it is snowing outside. Golf courses that had been posting non stop on Facebook about how they would soon open have been silent. It is literally a dark day today.

The spring equinox is the same date in Atlantic Canada as it is everywhere else. It just means something different here. Flower buds and pussy willows are the expectation when the equinox arrives in many places. Here it means five more snowstorms. You may think we have long summers to balance the long winters? We don’t. In fact, the last few times Halloween came around, popular costumes included puffy ghosts (or a bedsheet laid over a parka) and for the brave, a still-frozen Captain America.

I always boast that, unlike Floridians, I live in an area with four seasons. While this is true, it is unfortunate that three seasons come with snow. Oh well, this is a fitting day for the last of a 10-day challenge. I’m looking forward to something new tomorrow.

Mark Laflamme
Scientist, critical thinker, writer.