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Are You Playing The Game of Life on Hard Mode?

Wandering Aimfully Through Our Podcast: What is it all for?

Are You Playing The Game of Life on Hard Mode?

Life is harder for some people than others and we want to share how we work together in a relationship when one person plays on hard mode and the other does not.
Jason ZookJason Zook Jason ZookJason Zook

Written by

Jason Zook

Listen to our full episode on Are You Playing The Game of Life on Hard Mode? below (with full transcript) or find our podcast by searching What is it all for? in your favorite podcast player.



Five Key Takeaways for Are You Playing The Game of Life on Hard Mode?

1. No feeling lasts forever

No matter how hard life feels right now, you will feel differently a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, etc. Time will carry you forward when you feel like you can’t move forward anymore. The rest of your life won’t always feel like this. We know that doesn’t make your current struggles any easier, but keep your head up and keep doing your best each and every day.

2. Shift your attention away from what is uncomfortable

Over time, your thoughts and emotions can become automatic. It’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your body and mind so you can take control when the experience becomes frustrating, uncomfortable, or difficult. Try shifting your attention away from what is uncomfortable and try turning your attention inward by meditating or taking a mindful breath when you need it.

3. Adjust your expectations for yourself if life feels extra hard right now

There are some days when you just can’t do anything, but that doesn’t mean what you do is less important. It just means some days are different, and you need to accept when you’re playing life on hard mode, you will inevitably and naturally not be able to produce as much or as best you can. As a person who plays life on hard mode, it’s also incredibly important to avoid comparing yourself and your capacity to people around you who might be playing life on easy/normal mode.

4. Trust that YOU know what YOU need

Do you need a full day where you just zone out and watch Netflix? Great, trust that is what you need and don’t see it as being lazy. After a few full days of rest you might think, “What I need today is a win, I need to NOT feel like I did nothing today.” That can look like going to the gym, or doing one task, or whatever feels right in the moment to you. Trust that you are the ultimate person who knows whether you need to push yourself a little bit or you need to pull back a little bit.

5. Distraction can be a tool to help you get through hard times

We often hear, at least in the mental health world, that distraction can be a form of escapism. But when you are in the thick of it, sometimes distraction can save your life. Sometimes, it can be incredibly helpful to give your brain something else to chew on and stop fixating. If you’re someone who needs to escape your thoughts for a bit, don’t feel guilty for distracting yourself with TV, work tasks, exercise, or whatever works best for you. Then, when distraction doesn’t feel like the right answer any more, come back to whatever tough thing you’re going through and you might just have more energy to confront it.


Show Notes for Episode 134: Are You Playing The Game of Life on Hard Mode?

When you’re a person who lives with an “invisible illness” (anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, Binocular Vision Dysfunction, etc) it can be very difficult for the rest of the world to see how much you are struggling. It’s like you’re playing the game of life on HARD MODE, while everyone else is playing on normal mode.

A few years ago, while struggling with anxiety, we were very lucky to discover that Caroline has a slight misalignment of her eyes that causes a condition called Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD). Thankfully, we were able to find an optometrist who could prescribe a unique glasses prescription that helped give her much-needed comfort from daily dizziness, clumsiness (no joke), and many more symptoms you can find linked below caused by BVD.

We wanted to peel back the curtain, talk about how Caroline is feeling this week, and share this small metaphor epiphany we stumbled into together. For Jason, playing the game of life is very normal and comfortable. For Caroline, every day can be a bit of a struggle, and it’s like she’s always playing on HARD MODE. Maybe you and your partner are similar? So, how do we navigate those different game modes together? How can we better support the person playing on HARD mode? All of that and more this week!

Links we said we’d share with you…

👁 Learn more about Binocular Vision Dysfunction (BVD) and take a simple online test to see if you might have it.

🧑‍⚕️ Find an optometrist near you that treats BVD (US Only).

✈️ No pramvel update this week as we wanted to focus on this more important topic. Travel updates are back next week!


Full Transcript of Episode 134: Are You Playing The Game of Life on Hard Mode?

⬇️ You can also download the .TXT file of the transcript

Caroline: Welcome to What is it All For?, a podcast designed to help you grow your online business and pursue a spacious, satisfying life at the same time. We are your hosts, Jason and Caroline Zook, and we run Wandering Aimfully, an UN-boring business coaching program. Every week, we bring you advice and conversations to return you to your most intentional self and to help you examine every aspect of your life and business by asking, What is it all for? Thanks for listening. And now let’s get into the show.

Jason: And I’m here, too.

Caroline: I don’t know what you’re doing when you adjust those knobs at all. You’ve been doing it for years. Tell everybody, so we do like an audio test.

Jason: I think it’s a general metaphor for our entire relationship.

Caroline: What do you do with those knobs?

Jason: I don’t know what you’re doing with those knobs.

Caroline: You’re always turning a knob.

Jason: I’m always turning a knob, I’m always doing random things.

Caroline: I’m just in the passenger seat going, What are you doing?

Jason: Yeah, you’re just like, Whoop tee doop tee doop tee whoo.

Caroline: We do this audio test before every podcast episode.

Jason: Yeah, so I’ve got a little audio recorder. So for those of you, if this was like the first episode you clicked into and you don’t know, we’re traveling full time. So I have this minimal podcast recording set up, which is two handheld microphones wired in with XLR cables into a little audio interface device. And it has four inputs, we only use two because we’re just two people with two mics and it has a little volume input knobs so I can turn the volume up or down. And the one unfortunate part about this device is that you can’t lock the input level. So the knob, I could put it in the little case that I have, a little travel case, and just bump it…

Caroline: Oh, so you do it every time.

Jason: I do it because I have to watch your levels to keep you in between the negative twelve and negative six decibels where we like to keep our voices. That’s where my decibels are. Well, that’s where just like the human ear likes to stay in listening because if you go higher, you start to have the peaking and if you go lower, whispering. But if you do like a loud whisper, that’s kind of interesting. So it does have some anti-clipping and things like that, but the problem is we’ve had this happen once or twice. We haven’t done an audio test and I looked at the end and yours got touched to a seven and mine’s like a four and then in post I have to go in and I have to adjust them and it doesn’t…

Caroline: But my favorite part about it is you make me do these like little audio things where we’re talking.

Jason: Every single time.

Caroline: You’re doing it. And just now I’m like, No idea what he’s doing.

Jason: But I’m really not doing a lot.

Caroline: I’m like, you could be just like role playing, like faking it.

Jason: Yeah, I could just be over here, go ahead.

Caroline: You might as well be like, Beep boop boop beep.

Jason: Yeah, you can imagine in the like well, definitely this year, 20 odd episodes that we recorded while traveling. But even in our previous home, we had this similar set up for another 20 episodes. So 50 episodes of this podcast. We do an audio test every single episode. You’ve just never known what I’m doing.

Caroline: Nah.

Jason: All you do is just sit here, like, La la la la la. Saying things. My favorite part…

Caroline: Man, I just show up. We’re going to talk about that in this episode. Showing up is enough.

Jason: Yeah. So let’s actually get into the episode. We are going to push the pramvel to the…

Caroline: End.

Jason: Yeah, the midpoint of the episode. Normally, we start with the pramvel about travel, but this topic felt, not heavier…

Caroline: No, but it would have felt weird to be like, and also..

Jason: Let’s giggle and laugh. Although we did just giggle and laugh.

Caroline: I know. But that’s just us. I like to talk about the pramvel and get excited and everything, but the tone did not feel right. To then talk about just, like, kind of a little bit of a hard stretch that we’re going through.

Jason: Yes.

Caroline: We’re going through a hard stretch.

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: And we like to talk about it when that happens.

Jason: I think, to kind of do a pramvel but obviously we have the stories of pramvel later, we are at this place in the journey as of recording this. We just hit the six month mark of full time travel. Congratulations. I mean, 183 days on the nose was six days ago, and we made it. We made it halfway. We have half a year to go, and we have run into a couple of different points on this trip. You getting COVID. I mean, me getting COVID is fine. You getting COVID, tough. You getting shingles, tough. You having your eye condition now rear its head and really cause you to kind of be, like, put on the sidelines of traveling, tough.

Caroline: It’s tough.

Jason: And I think that in looking back at the last six months, the thing that we’ve really tried to talk about is, as difficult as this current time right now is, and we’ll talk a lot more about that, it’s really important just as, like, an overall idea of life is like, zoom the lens out. And of the 183 days that we’ve been traveling, how many do you think you felt just crappy and really hated it?

Caroline: Oh, I couldn’t say, but maybe like three weeks.

Jason: Three weeks. I was going to say like 21 days.

Caroline: Sure.

Jason: So when you say, like, 21 out of 183, you look at that and you go, Oh okay, it’s actually not that bad. But it doesn’t make it any more easy to deal with the 21 crappy days when you’re in it.

Caroline: This is what we share all the time, which is, like, so rarely do people actually share where they are when they’re in it because the online world is so this space of let me share the lessons I learned after the fact. And I get why that is. Like, people say you don’t want to be sharing from your gaping wounds. You don’t want to be, like, in the thick of it because you don’t have any perspective yet. And I hear that, and I am that person, for sure, but I think there’s also value in sharing authentically about what the experience of being at a low point is so that we can normalize the fact that everyone all the time is experiencing low points. And at least I do. I do this thing where when I’m at a low point, I just insulate myself, and I just go, let me just get to the other side. And then I’ll be, like, happy. Like, just joyful Carol again. And it’s like, no, these are all the different sides of me. These are all the different parts of us. And it’s worth sharing about what that experience is like while you’re in it, if only to just normalize it. This is the human condition, and this is the human experience. And we do this weekly vlog, you could call it, but it’s really just us sitting in front of a camera. To our members. This is for our Un-Boring Coaching program.

Jason: Every Monday for the past three years, we have done a little 20-minute check-in video.

Caroline: And we just do it for our members, and we say, This is where we are, and this is what’s going on with business this week. This is what we’re working on. This is where…

Jason: And life.

Caroline: And life. And just where we’re at, and this Monday, we rightfully so, kind of shared that we’re in a little bit of a tough spot because we always like to be transparent. And just before hitting record on that video, Jason and I had a long talk that was preceded by a meltdown on my part, which always leads us to these talks of, like, Okay, what do we need to get on the same page about? And just, like, express our emotions to each other. And Jason brought up this metaphor during this conversation. That kind of was a light bulb moment for me. Or did I bring it up?

Jason: No, I brought it up. Thank you. You tried to give me credit then you tried to steal my credit. Listen, in our relationship, I will admit, you bring most of the metaphors, ideas and concepts. That is 100%. This one was me. And Wandering Aimfully was my idea. Like, it was my idea. Just so we’re clear.

Caroline: (indistinct) you.

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: But it doesn’t matter.

Jason: No, but truthfully, though, not the name, Wandering Aimfully, but combining our businesses. I just want to be clear on that.

Caroline: Yes, yes, yes. You get all the credit for that, babe.

Jason: Turn the mics off. And then you could be like, Hey, I just need everyone to know…

Caroline: No, I love you. And that was a really good idea.

Jason: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that credit.

Caroline: So you came up with this metaphor, and it kind of turned on a light bulb for me and we shared it with our members.

Jason: Yeah, you can call them WAIMers.

Caroline: WAIMers. Sometimes I’m like if someone’s new, they’re like, what the, what word is that, WAIMers?

Jason: Wandering Aimfully is our business. And we call them WAIMers.

Caroline: Yeah. And it resonated with some people. And so we thought it would be helpful to bring it to the podcast. Also, if I’m less eloquent than I normally am, this is very hard for my brain right now to form sentences and it’s because of what we’ll talk about with my eye condition. It’s not just an eye condition, it’s like an eye-brain condition. And so I have found that when I’m kind of like flared up in this way, all of my cognition is not there, it’s slower. So finding words is harder, forming sentences is harder, thinking about…

Jason: Making decisions is harder.

Caroline: Making decisions, everything’s harder. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m less eloquent than normal. So let’s talk about that metaphor. Before we get into that and like, sharing this with people. I did want to share a little bit about binocular vision dysfunction, which is what I have, because I refer to it sometimes, but we haven’t done a full deep dive on it in I think like a couple of years, probably maybe a year or so.

Jason: Yeah, from when you first basically got diagnosed.

Caroline: Maybe a year or two. And every time we do it, I get people who reach out to us that say, I didn’t know this existed. I went to an optometrist to get this checked out. I’ve had chronic migraines or whatever, and I think it’s this.

Jason: Well, talk about some of the symptoms.

Caroline: OK, so let me share for those of you who don’t know, and most people don’t know about this condition, but it’s called binocular vision dysfunction, or BVD for short. And I’m going to read from this…

Jason: If it hurts you to read, I can read, by the way.

Caroline: Well, I’ll let you know.

Jason: Okay.

Caroline: But yeah, reading is hard. So binocular vision dysfunction is an ocular condition that occurs when the eyes don’t align properly with one another. So although our brains may try to correct this misalignment, it isn’t without considerable effort. And this results in a range of symptoms that are associated with the condition. Patients who suffer from binocular vision dysfunction have one eye that is slightly out of alignment with the other. So in my case, it’s vertical misalignment. So this says, This difference could be absolutely tiny, but could still have a significant effect on your vision. And so in theory, this would result in double images, but since the brain won’t allow this, it will try and force the muscles in your eyes to compensate for the misalignment. So this is why it causes so many symptoms that strain your eyes. And then also, again, I have to be really clear, it’s not just an eye condition, it is a neurological condition. It is a communication that’s happening between your eyes and your brain that is causing symptoms. And so some of those symptoms, Well, first of all, let’s talk about the triggers. The reason why I’m in such a flare up right now is because driving is a huge trigger. So moving your head from side to side or up and down can trigger it. Driving around bends and curves, quickly standing up or moving to an upright position. Driving with vehicles speeding past on either side. And then here’s a huge one. Large spaces with tall ceilings, such as airports, large malls, and theaters. Also grocery aisles or big box stores that have lots of aisles with lots of detail also is very triggering. And I want to list the symptoms now and just share a little bit of my experience with some of these. So dizziness/ lightheadedness. This is something I’ve struggled with a lot. I thought it was just due to my anxiety condition. Turns out a lot of my anxiety condition is a result of this condition.

Jason: Yeah. And I think, just to interject very quickly, a lot of folks who have chronic illnesses or neurological conditions, it tends to not just be one thing, right? It’s one thing with another thing. And then it’s when you realize, like, for you, it was such a relief to find that you had binocular vision dysfunction. Binocular vision dysfunction. So that we could get you glasses that could help.

Caroline: Yes. And the glasses helped tremendously. Right now, I’m not experiencing vertigo, which is something that I have had in the past due to a wrong prescription. I’ve gotten visual vertigo, and that is ten times worse. When I have my gratitude every morning, I am grateful that my symptoms right now are not dizziness and vertigo. It’s more of the pressure, which we’ll talk about. So more symptoms. Nausea, unsteadiness on the feet or drifting while walking. This is another big clue for us.

Jason: Someone bumps into me all the time while we’re walking. The other thing is Caroline doesn’t know where her hands are, which is such a really weird thing. We’ll be walking, and she’ll just like she’ll hit my hand with her hand. I’m like, what are you doing? I know where my hands are at all times. And you’ll bump your hands into tables and chairs and couches and walls. It’s crazy.

Caroline: And this isn’t on this list, but if you read multiple lists of symptoms, bumping, like, one side of your body into door frames or tables or things like that is a symptom as well. Motion sickness. This is a big one. So always have had motion sickness. But riding in cars or… This is why traveling is so hard for me. It’s trains, it’s cars, it’s buses.

Jason: But you know what’s interesting is you don’t get motion sick on boats. And I think it’s because if you think about boating as an activity, it’s very wide open, you’re not passing things close by, and it’s very easy for you to see the horizon.

Caroline: Probably.

Jason: Whereas in a car, with turns, with cars passing by, with things like it’s a lot more stimulus for your eye. Which is why I always found it so weird that you get car sick almost immediately, but you don’t get boat sick. Seasickness.

Caroline: I don’t know.

Jason: It’s wild.

Caroline: Could be, babe.

Jason: Thank you.

Caroline: Poor coordination may appear clumsy.

Jason: Clumsy, Crafty, Happy was your first blog.

Caroline: That feels right. Poor depth perception. This is also a thing that you and I have in the car that causes a lot of trouble between us because I don’t feel like you’re breaking soon enough. But it’s also because I’ve poor depth perception so it feels like I’m closer to the car in front of us than we are.

Jason: I really wonder if anybody listening to this podcast if this alone is one thing that they realize. It’s like, Oh, I’m super anxious when my partner is driving or anybody else is driving because I always want them to slow down faster or I always think we’re going to get to something sooner than we do. And then to realize I might have BVD, like my eyes might be in misalignment and I need some glasses to help correct that.

Caroline: Persistent headaches. Head tilt, face pain, pain in the upper back, shoulders and neck. This is because oftentimes you’ll crack your neck to compensate for the misalignment. I don’t have as much of that, but double vision. Losing your place while reading, this is just another weird connection. I love reading, but I never read when I was a kid and I’m wondering now if it was because it was so uncomfortable for me to read. I just thought this is what reading felt like. I still have trouble reading and so I’m trying audiobooks now, but it’s just very, with my vision, it’s really hard for me to read.

Jason: I also never read books as a kid, but that’s also because I hated books.

Caroline: That’s right. So that’s what I thought too. Doo, doo, doo, doo. Anxiety, particularly in crowds or large spaces, having difficulty focusing when someone’s talking to you, fitful and restless sleep patterns. No, my sleep powers are more stronger than my BVD, but I wanted to share some of that in case. So for me, especially right now, one that’s not listed on there, this intense sinus pressure and so you’ll see this listed on some symptoms list, but for me it shows up. It feels like my forehead is in a vice right now between my temples and it’s extremely uncomfortable. And also it feels like, in my sinus cavity, like it’s extreme pressure. And what’s funny is, I’ve gone to the doctor, they’ve said allergies. They said, this is before I knew I had BVD. Now it all starts to make sense, right?

Jason: You realize…

Caroline: You see the full picture.

Jason: And you realize your eye muscles are just exhausted.

Caroline: Exactly. And this was before I even have glasses. So we’ve been driving a lot and this is the trigger that I’ve recognized. And so it’s important to find out some of these things because at least now, like, if I felt this way and I didn’t know I had this eye condition, I would be like, what’s happening to me? But now, because I know I can see a very clear cause, it’s a little bit easier to tell myself that it will pass because I know that it’s just a matter of resting my eyes, but it’s freaking hard.

Jason: Yeah. So I think that leads us into the metaphor. And so we had this discussion this Monday before we recorded our WAIM vlog video that we always do. And what I kind of came to, when we were talking about this, is and we’ve known this for a long time in our relationship. Like, I am the person in our relationship, and I would imagine a lot of our listeners have similar relationships just because we know from people that we talk to, it’s not everybody, but there tends to be one person in the relationship who has tons of energy. Has tons of willpower. Has tons of focus. Doesn’t have anxiety. Doesn’t get bogged down or overwhelmed easily. That’s me. And it tends to also be less emotional. Right? I think that very much is…

Caroline: Right, because hand-in-hand.

Jason: Absolutely.

Caroline: Because what allows you to use all of your resources towards those things is the way that your brain can compartmentalize. And I was actually, not to interrupt you, but I was thinking about this. I think it’s important… Well, keep going and then I’ll come back. So keyword ‘compartmentalized.’

Jason: Great.

Caroline: Great.

Jason: In our family, when you need to discuss something, but the other person’s, like in a roll, saying something, you got to have a keyword so you can come back to it. So in a relationship, I am obviously that other person. And then on this other side, there’s you who deals with more feelings, highly sensitive person, which we talked about recently, this eye condition, anxiety, all this other stuff. And what the metaphor that came to us in this conversation, and I’m sure we’ve talked about it before in different ways together, and not necessarily on the podcast, but it really just hit me. I was like, Oh, it’s like we’re both playing the same video game of Life. When I log in and it gives me like, what mode do you want to play? Easy, normal, hard, master. I’m like, I’ll just play normal. I’m not going to play easy, but I’ll play normal. It’s fine.

Caroline: To be honest, nobody’s really on easy mode.

Jason: No, no. Not at all.

Caroline: We all think that people are. So there’s, like, basically normal mode and hard mode.

Jason: You might pick it the first time you play and you’re like, this is dumb. So you pick normal mode. That’s how I play. You’re playing on hard mode all the time. And then now it would be like, that like master mode. It’s like the mode that’s like, you just want all the challenges and you want it to be so difficult.

Caroline: Yeah. Let me interject a couple of things, because one fear or hesitation that I have in sharing this episode is I want to be clear that I know that there are people out there that are struggling with much harder things than my eye condition. I want to be clear in saying that and acknowledging those people and just have an awareness for that. My instinct to do that is because I was raised in a family where it’s like, you are grateful for what you have, and other people have it worse, and, like, you just your perspective, right? However, I also am aware that in doing that, sometimes we can explain away our own pain, or we can say, Oh, it’s not that bad, and that doesn’t serve anyone, because all I have is my experience. So I know cognitively that other people have much harder challenges, but all I have is my own list of experiences that I have felt. So I can only go off of that scale. And in that scale, this is very difficult for me right now. So I just want to say that.

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: And same with you listening. It’s okay that other people may have it harder. The comparison thing I don’t think is helpful. So just acknowledging that if you two are playing on hard mode right now, it doesn’t matter what that is. It could be even, you’re a single parent, or you have COVID right now, or you are struggling with infertility, or, like, you have this circumstantial thing that is extremely difficult for you. And it’s okay to say that other people have things that are harder, but this is in your realm, very hard for you right now. And that’s okay to say. But the thing that really helped me is, when Jason said this metaphor, I was able to build upon it. Because what it made me realize and this is actually part of where my little pre-WAIM Weekly meltdown happened is, and I’ve talked about this before, but the way that, when you’re playing on hard mode, it triggers this negative self-esteem loop. Because what it made me realize is, Okay. So every day I wake up. Jason is playing on normal mode. Right now, I feel like I’m playing on hard mode, but then it’s like I’m dying all the time in the video game, right?

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: It feels like I’m trying something, and I’m failing all the time. And so I’m looking at someone playing next to me the same game, and I’m like, Why am I dying all the time?

Jason: Like, driving in the car is an example, right?

Caroline: Driving in the car, walking into a grocery store, and having a panic attack in the frozen food aisle. Oops, I died. And I’m like, well, why do I keep dying in this video game of life while this person next to me is seemingly…

Jason: I’m just driving. I’m just…

Caroline: He is putting stuff in his cart.

Jason: I am collecting all of the badges…

Caroline: Badges, the rubies.

Jason: And the weapons.

Caroline: It’s like flawless level. And I’m like, God damn it.

Jason: Perfect! Street Fighter 2, shout out. What’s up?

Caroline: And so it can start to really affect your self-esteem if you’re playing on hard mode, because you’re not realizing that it looks like you’re playing the same game, but you’re not, you’re playing a different game.

Jason: Yeah. And I think a big realization in this conversation that we’re trying to figure out, as a couple who play two separate modes, is then how do we interact together so that we support one another in the modes that we play in life? And obviously, the person who’s playing on the easier mode of life is always going to be trying to help the person who’s playing on the harder mode. So I’m always trying to figure out and like a perfect example of where we are right now, we have two weeks of upcoming travel with a lot of driving and a lot of moving around to places and a lot of new environments, which we know just from our experience, it makes your eye condition flare up, if you will. And so I’m constantly like, okay, let’s just cancel all of this. We’re not trying to give up on the full time travel life, but let’s just pick one place and move to a place and then just stay put for two weeks to let your eyes recover. Because we still have six months of travel that we’re trying to do. We aren’t trying to give up. And I give you so much credit for that. It would be so easy for you just to go, I just want to go back to my comfortable life. I want to be in a home somewhere where I can get used to all my visual stimuli and just be comfortable and try and get back to a lower mode. I’m not going to be in normal mode, less hard mode. And I think that a big part of this is, what we’re trying to figure out is, how do I support you every day? Because I start off every day going, it’s another day of normal mode. I can get up, I can make my coffee, I can start my work stuff, I can do all these things. And I think what I’m really trying to do is figure out how do I be aware of where you are? But then I also don’t know where you are.

Caroline: Right. So I do want to talk about that.

Jason: Also you had your keyword, compartmentalized. I don’t know if you want to come back to that or if you’re just done with that one. We can just let that one be.

Caroline: No, I do want to come back to that. Not yet.

Jason: Okay.

Caroline: Because mainly my brain literally can’t hold it right now. What I was saying is, yeah, and I want to say this is what’s also hard about being in this relationship where maybe one person just is struggling more often than the other person is like, then I get guilty because I’m like, well, this is not a fair relationship if you’re always having to cater your life…

Jason: Decisions.

Caroline: And decisions and everything to me. But what I’ve learned is like, me feeling guilty about that doesn’t change it. You know what I mean? I’m like, cool. So either of my options are I’m honest about how I’m feeling and we as a team can come up with whatever the best scenario is so that we as a team can thrive. And maybe that requires you to not always be able to do the things that you want to do because of me. And I can be guilty about that. I can feel like that’s a limitation, but it doesn’t change it. The other option is, what? Not be honest about how I’m feeling and then put myself constantly in situations that make me feel worse and then when I do have a meltdown and then it’s like, where are we there? So it’s like, of the options, sometimes in life you do have to be honest about just the reality of life and the fact that you have certain limitations and then how can we like I said, the key for us is like viewing it as a team and checking in so that you don’t form some type of resentment. And then when I do feel good, giving it my all. And so this trip is a perfect example. To me, this trip is me…

Jason: This full time travel trip.

Caroline: This full time travel trip is me also pushing myself a little bit, a lot bit, out of my comfort zone to go, Okay, I might not be able to do everything, but I can do some things and let’s do this to their fullest so that we can both get what we want out of life. That’s what being in a partnership is to me. But coming back to you, not always knowing where I am, this is what’s really difficult about playing on hard mode is like, so often the hard mode experience is on the inside. And I had this moment a couple of days ago where we were in the grocery store and, first of all, I was feeling so good about myself because I’d had two full days of rest and I still had my head pressure and my eyes, but I was like, I can do a little bit more. So we went to the gym and I did pretty okay doing that and I felt really good about myself and I was feeling big for my birches and I was like, we need to restock on shampoo. Let’s go to the grocery store. We’ll just be in and out.

Jason: We need to restock on shampoo.

Caroline: Jason’s bald. I needed shampoo, so I’m like, we’ll be in and out and going back to the BVD. Grocery stores are incredibly triggering when you’re in like a flare up. When I’m okay, normally, it’s…

Jason: You can do it.

Caroline: When my eyes are rested, it’s still hard, but I can do it. In this time, I knew it was going to be kind of like a dangerous scenario, so I was like, let’s just get in, get out. I get to the aisle…

Jason: And I knew right where everything was. So I just let us straight to the shampoo section.

Caroline: Which is great. But then I find myself in front of this aisle, and because of this condition, I can tell that the connection between my eyes and my brain is already so strained. I am looking at this aisle of just like hundreds of things, and this is going to be really hard to describe, but I think it’s worth describing in case anyone has ever had this happen before. My brain is not recognizing what is in front of me. I’m seeing with my eyes, but my brain is not…

Jason: It’s like you zone out.

Caroline: It’s like I can’t interpret labels. I can’t see where the freaking deodorant is. I’m looking for deodorant and I see bottles in front of me and my brain is not telling me what ones are the deodorant. And I’m tearing up right now because it’s such a scary feeling to feel like your brain is, like, short circuiting and you’re like, oh, I see things, but I don’t know what they are. I’ve never had an experience of like, amnesia or aphasia or something where you know that you’re supposed to know a word but you can’t find it. That’s what it feels like in this moment. And then it causes anxiety because you’re like, oh, like, what’s happening? And I had to physically turn away from the deodorants and the shampoos.

Jason: To the cereal?

Caroline: To the cereal because it was so uncomfortable. And so afterwards, after that experience, you helped me. You were like, They’re right here. And I was like, Okay, well, those aren’t what I need, so let’s just go. After that experience, I was kind of decompressing and thinking about it, and I was like, this is what’s so hard about having an invisible illness. And I know there are a lot of people listening who have chronic conditions or are struggling with something that is not visible from the outside. And it’s so difficult because you just are fighting this battle inside of you that nobody else can see. And so if I had not verbalized all of that to you, you’d be like, what just happened?

Jason: I know that in this moment, we’re in the grocery store, your eyes are very strained, you’re not doing well, you’re in this flare up. But I know that. But I don’t know at all that you literally can’t figure out what shampoo to buy because you can’t discern the bottles from one another, right? So it’s like, it’s impossible for me to know those things. And also, this is the thing that for those of you who listen to this, that are on the other side of this, where you’re the ‘me,’ you’re also operating just in your normal thing, right? Like, I was just looking at the toothpaste, I was looking for some flossers, I was looking at the men’s dealer, I was looking at the shave cream. I turned around and looked at the cereal to see what cereal they have, where we are. I’m just like, taking all these things in because it’s easy for me, just totally fine. And I don’t know that you’re struggling in this specific situation.

Caroline: Exactly.

Jason: And so I think that’s the really difficult part of this and the thing that I wanted to bring up, which I think is maybe just like a helpful tip, if you’re in a relationship with someone who, and it doesn’t have to be an eye condition, it can be any type of invisible illness that’s difficult to deal with. I think two things that we’ve really learned and we could even do more of it, which would be helpful. Number one is, every morning and even throughout the day, multiple times throughout the day, just trying to do a check in of you to tell me how you feel. Because as the person who loves you and cares about you more than anybody else in life, all I want to know is what do I need to do to support you best every hour of every day? A lot of times that doesn’t mean I need to do anything. It just means I need to be cognizant of what you’re going through. Because I don’t know. All I know is, like, I’m looking outside, I’m looking at my laptop, I’ve got to go poop. I’m living my life and nothing is blocking my way of existing. You’re like, the wind just blew harder and my head hurts and now my leg I’m feeling… and the weather’s changing and is my hair going to… You don’t know what’s going on. It’s helpful if you can share throughout the day those feelings. That’s kind of like the first thing. The second thing is, and this is where I think in our relationship, again, the dynamic of the one person that can just do a lot more than the other person, is to be really clear on which side quests the more or the person who has less limitations can do easily. So for us, a very easy one is like, I will always go to the grocery store with zero resentment.

Caroline: Yeah.

Jason: And I think it’s helpful just to be like, these are the side quests I can do at all times. Like, if you need me to send all the emails, if you need me to answer all the customer support stuff, if you need me to take on these discussions with these people and make these decisions on Airbnbs and all this other stuff, I’m willing to handle all of those side quests with no issue whatsoever, driving everywhere, all those things. But then we get to talking about like, work stuff where it’s like, I can’t do what you can do. I don’t have the design ability. I don’t have the branding eye. I don’t have the curriculum building for our coaching sessions. Then it’s about just really having a discussion of, Okay, but how can I help you? And how can we move things around if we need to or reschedule or redo things? Because that is where some resemblance will build, where it’s like, we’re working on something as a team, and I can’t do it.

Caroline: Right.

Jason: But it needs to be done. Like, we’ve committed to doing it. So how do we figure that out?

Caroline: Yeah. And I just want to take a second to acknowledge you and appreciate you for all of those side quests that you do, because it’s true, when you say that you do that with zero resentment. Like, you don’t ever throw that back in my face. If anything, I would say there’s probably a handful of times where you’ve maybe said, like, I feel like I’m cooking a lot of the meals or something. And we’ve had a conversation about maybe rebalancing that workload.

Jason: You could make a salad one month.

Caroline: And so I’ve been trying to make more stuff, but all of these things that you recognize are not a battle for you, but you see how much of a battle they are for me, and you go, I will do that because I love you, and this is how I show love to you. And I just sometimes can’t believe how lucky I am that I am with a partner that’s willing to do that. And I thank you so much for that. And I do feel extremely loved because it’s a wild thing to feel like, it’s really hard to describe because sometimes I’m harder on myself than you’ve ever been on me in terms of feeling weak or feeling like I have these limitations. But you’ve never made me feel weird or you’ve never made me feel less than. If anything, if I ever feel that way, it’s because I’m projecting that onto me. And I have worked through that in therapy, and I continue to work on that. But I just wanted to acknowledge you and say that you do a really great job of just being, like, a teammate and a partner and just doing whatever you can so that we as a team can keep moving forward.

Jason: Well, thank you for acknowledging that. Two things. Number one, I do the side quest because I want the badges. So I don’t really care about the love…

Caroline: Yeah, you get so many fucking badges.

Jason: The second thing is grocery shopping for me. I then get to buy whatever I want.

Caroline: It’s true. You do come home with some…

Jason: Yeah, I get a lot less cookies and ice cream when you come along.

Caroline: It’s true.

Jason: Do we need both the cookies and ice cream? And I’m like, yeah, just because the ice cream has cookie dough in it doesn’t mean that those are the cookies that I wanted. I wanted cookies. Those are separate from cookie dough ice cream.

Caroline: You do, when you’re off on a side quest, you do come back with quite a few un-shopping listed items.

Jason: That’s what happens when you go on a side quest by yourself.

Caroline: That’s right.

Jason: No, the one thing that I wanted to say, bring it back to a more serious note is I think another part of this that we have really learned is specifically talking about projecting how you might think that I’m feeling. It’s the story I’m telling myself in the head from Brene Brown, that whole phrase, which is very helpful. And it’s this idea that I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, but I’m just going to give an example of, you’re going through a flare up, and you can’t get some things done. And you basically are saying to me, but maybe not saying to me, which is like the story I’m telling myself in my head is that you see me as weak right now because I can’t just create the slides for the coaching session that we have in two weeks. And that’s how you’re thinking. And for me, I’m not at all thinking that. All I’m thinking, especially if we’re having a conversation about it, is what do we want to do to accomplish this goal? So what does that look like? Does that look like me trying to do the slides? Does that look like us just not doing anything this? And this is just an example, but it’s trying to have you share how you’re feeling so I can tell you that’s not how I’m feeling or have you share how you think I’m feeling, so I can say that’s not how I’m feeling. So we can squash that as best possible, then we move forward, and we go, okay, now we’re working on this as a team, but if we don’t squash how you think I’m feeling, that’s where it gets very dangerous, especially with these invisible illnesses. Because, again, I’ll just reiterate as the person who doesn’t suffer from these, I just completely reset the game every day.

Caroline: Right.

Jason: And so every day, as much as I know that you deal with these challenges, I’m also only operating in my own video game of life, and I’m trying to remember, but then I’m also just, like, boop boo boop boo boop. Just dancing around your life.

Caroline: Yeah. And I can imagine how it would be so hard for you because, when you don’t have the… Like, you’re trying to be empathetic, but you literally don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like. So it’s like you’re just sort of, like, guessing based on what I tell you. And, I mean, that’s all really relating to human beings is.

Jason: There’s a butterfly flying in our house. Where did you come from? No, there’s no door open downstairs. There was earlier. I think he probably flew in and just, like, hung out on the thing. It’s a butterfly.

Caroline: That’s cute. I love that.

Jason: Okay, great. I thought you were, like, worried. We’ll get the butterfly later.

Caroline: Are you okay?

Jason: What a cute one. Yeah, he’s just flitting around. I’ll capture him in a cup gently, and then I’ll release him into the outdoor wild for everybody. Don’t worry, everyone. That butterfly will be taken care of.

Caroline: Always.

Jason: Not in a bad way. Sorry, that sounds a little bit like a…

Caroline: No, yeah, that was like a mob boss, I’ll take care of him.

Jason: Hey, take care of that butterfly already, okay? I don’t know what voice that is whatsoever. That was terrible. I got a butterfly to take care of.

Caroline: Why is it always a news boy? (laughing) What are we talking about? Oh, yeah. So you don’t know. And I get that. And that’s another thing for, like, if you’re the one who maybe has a condition of some sort, like, you know, realizing that your partner, if you’re in a situation like ours, doesn’t exactly know what it’s like for you, and so trying to communicate that in a way. And then the other person obviously trying to just do the best they can to imagine what that would be like coming back to my keyword, compartmentalized.

Jason: Yeah. Great job.

Caroline: Thank you.

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: What’s helpful for me as well is to remember that both of our brains are trying to protect us. They’re just doing it in a different way, and one is not better than the other. So, for example, the way that Jason’s brain has developed, he has this extreme ability to compartmentalize things. Meaning, if his foot is in pain, he can literally shove it in, like, a quadrant where he can go about his day. And then every so often, he revisits the quadrant. He’s like, Yes, my foot hurts.

Jason: My foot is bleeding profusely.

Caroline: Yeah, exactly. But he’s doing emails, and he’s not thinking about his foot. And we’ve seen that play out over and over again. That’s with physical pain. That’s with emotional pain. His brain is very good at locking it in a thing.

Jason: Thanks, childhood trauma.

Caroline: Yeah. And that comes from trauma, and that comes from his brain developed that ability in order to protect him. My brain developed a different ability, which is my brain decided that the best way to protect me would be to call my attention to things that are hurting me so that it wouldn’t turn into a bigger issue or so that I could change it or do something about it. And that’s the way that my brain developed in order to protect myself. So when I feel anxiety or when I feel pain or my brain has a habit of fixating as a means of saying, Don’t forget about this, don’t forget about this. Don’t pretend this doesn’t exist. Deal with this, deal with this. And I think being the person who’s playing on hard mode, it’s important to remember that, to have compassion for yourself, that that is your brain trying to do you a service. And both are helpful in their individual ways. So as much as, like, Jason’s compartmentalization allows him to get more done, it doesn’t always allow him to deal with underlying issues. And so they can linger and they can fester.

Jason: Yeah, and it also… And this is in a way where you can’t explain some ways that you feel, like a very clear and concise way. There are a lot of times, I don’t feel empathy in a situation, and I can’t explain why I don’t. Like it’s literally just like…

Caroline: It’s shutting off your feeling centers.

Jason: Yeah. And it’s just like it’s not even a, I know what I’m supposed to be feeling and I’m pushing it away. And we all know that feeling. Right? I don’t want to cry right now. That would be embarrassing. And I would look like not like a man. Come on, society.

Caroline: That’s a joke about toxic masculinity, in case anyone doesn’t recognize sarcasm.

Jason: But I do know that there are situations when it’s just like, Ph, I just literally don’t feel the empathy that a normal person would feel right now. And I think that some of those things in a relationship where one person is an extreme feeler and the other person is an un-extreme feeler, it creates tension, it creates difficulty.

Caroline: Communication.

Jason: Yes. And the key is just to really try and talk that out and make sure that we are having discussions and continuing to check in on each other. And I think more so from my side, it’s trying to learn, what do you need empathy for? And I think a lot of times, you’re just looking for it. You’re just looking to be seen because there’s an invisible thing happening that I can’t see. Like, if your arm was bleeding, I could check on your arm every hour of every day because I can see it.

Caroline: Rotally.

Jason: But if it’s inside your head or inside your body somewhere…

Caroline: And that’s what’s so isolating about it. I know I’ve talked about this before, but truly, the worst part of it is the loneliness and the isolation that comes from fighting a battle inside your own head. Whether that’s anxiety, whether that’s a chronic illness, whether that’s depression. Like, you feel like you are going to literally like war every day in your own mind, and nobody knows what that feels like. And that can be so isolating. And so it’s like the only way… I know you’ll never know my full experience, but I know that you have a better shot at being able to support me if I talk about it, if I share what I’m feeling.

Jason: Yeah. And there are a lot of times when you talk about it when I’m like, I can’t even imagine what that feels like.

Caroline: Which is how I feel when other people talk about their issues.\

Jason: Absolutely. And I think, again, that’s why we record episodes like this. That’s why when you were in your anxiety struggle, I think it’s episode 24, like, you were in the thick of your anxiety struggle. We recorded a podcast episode, and I know that you did not want to do it, and I know that you did not feel good doing it. But in that moment, it was important for us to say, we just want to be humans to other humans. We don’t want to just pretend we run this online business community and everything’s great, and here’s just all the things you can learn from us business wise, because we’re just going to be business people. It’s like, no, we’re humans and we run the business, but also the humanity of life kicks in sometimes and it also kicks us to the curb a little bit here and there.

Caroline: I also wish we just recognize the whole quote, and I don’t know who it’s by, so forgive me, but maybe it’s the Bible. I don’t know.

Jason: Interesting. All right.

Caroline: Who’s that guy that wrote that? But, it’s not the Bible. What’s the quote about?

Jason: I don’t know.

Caroline: Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Who said that?

Jason: You’re asking the wrong person. I try to attribute quotes to myself as often as possible.

Caroline: By Jason Zook. I’m just kidding. But no, I do think that we’re getting to this place, not to make it so macro about we’re the old muppets talking about the state of our world again.

Jason: Yeah. If you listened to last week’s episode…

Caroline: But I see the way that our Internet culture has become so prone to bullying or criticism or skepticism, and it’s like some of that is warranted and good, but I think the weight of it now is just forgetting that people are human beings and every person is struggling with something. And I hate when I see people go out on a limb and just be honest and be vulnerable. And people are like, pick apart everything they say because they can, because that’s what we do now, is we criticize everyone for everything they say. And it’s like, yes, we need accountability. Absolutely. But we forget that at the end of the day, we are all fighting some type of battle. Some of us are playing on extreme hard mode, and you don’t know when someone is on the precipice of just doing something extremely drastic.

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: And that’s why I try to remember that and remember that everyone’s struggling in some way. And hopefully you don’t have to go through some type of deep struggle yourself in order to deploy some type of empathy, even if you’re a Jason.

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. I think I’m going to make the podcast producer decision here to skip the pramvel for this episode because what I don’t want to do is talk about all these really helpful, emotional…

Caroline: See what I said about not doing the pramvel at the beginning?

Jason: Yeah. No. But I don’t want to then skip into stories of our travels and then someone might forget. Like, Oh, I wanted to look up to see if maybe I have BVD or I want to reach out to a friend of mine who I know struggles with an invisible illness of some kind. Whether it’s anxiety or depression. Or a chronic illness or anything. And just to say, I hope you’re doing okay and to check in on them. So I think, like, the end of this episode, we don’t do this often, but I just think it would be really helpful of taking a little check with yourself and maybe you heard these symptoms that Caroline wrote down or read from Binocular Vision Dysfunction. And if they sound like something that you have dealt with, look into it. See if you can make an appointment with an optometrist, because getting a new prescription on your glasses literally might change your life.

Caroline: Okay, wait. Before you turn off the episode and go do that, something really important is that a normal optometrist cannot scan for this?

Jason: Yes.

Caroline: And this is why it goes undiagnosed for so many people. So definitely Google binocular vision dysfunction.

Jason: I’ll put a link in the show notes.

Caroline: Okay, optometrist. There’s a specific website, I think it’s like Vision Specialist in Michigan, actually, that has a search for a practitioner on their website, and they will list out optometrists who are certified in this neurovisual exam that can scan for BVD. And when I tell you that I went from not having prism glasses and lenses to it literally correcting my visual vertigo within a week and changing my life, and obviously it’s not that it…

Jason: Didn’t change it forever.

Caroline: Yeah, exactly. It’s not like it goes away and it can still flare up. But…

Jason: Imagine if you didn’t have them.

Caroline: Exactly. I didn’t for a long time, and it was really much worse. So that’s the important thing there if you think of BVD. I want to end on, I wrote in my journal this morning, if somebody was going through something on hard mode right now, what are some mantras or lessons or things that help me when I’m going through a tough time? And these are not going to apply to everyone. These are not going to fix it. I’m only sharing them in case you’re in the thick of it right now, and something can give you a perspective shift that might relieve the pain, whether physical or mental, right now. So there’s like five things. The first one I wrote is, no feeling lasts forever. And this is something that comforts me when I’m in the thick of it, is that I know that I will feel some type of different way a week from now, a month from now, a year from now. And I always say that time will carry me forward when I feel like I can’t walk forward anymore. Hello? A fly instead of a butterfly.

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: Wow. That butterfly turned into a fly, magic. And so that sometimes is just enough of a comfort to remind myself, if I could just get through another day, I can focus on the next hour, the next minute, however micro you need that to be, that even if your symptoms don’t change, your perspective on it could change. So something could be different. Because a lot of times anyone who struggles with something knows the torture is in feeling like this feeling will… The rest of my life will feel like this. And it never does. It always is different. Number two is, I focus on shifting my attention away from what is uncomfortable. So for right now, the most uncomfortable sensation is this vice grip on my temples. It’s extremely uncomfortable. And like I was saying, the way my brain operates is that it calls my attention to it every second of every day because it says, Something is wrong. We need to pay attention to this. And meditation has actually helped me tremendously in this, or mindfulness exercises. I’ve done it for years now because being able to distance yourself from your thoughts and have the awareness of going, My brain is really fixating on this sensation. I work to desensitize myself to that sensation. I try to change my perception of it. So it’s like, instead of struggling with it, picture someone like holding a toddler who’s writhing and you’re like, I can’t get a grip on it and everything is awful. And then going limp, kind of.

Jason: Or just like setting the toddler down.

Caroline: Yeah. And it’s like something about just not trying to restrain the feeling or run from the feeling or struggle against the feeling. If I can just settle into it and not try to wish it away. Something about surrendering to that changes my relationship to it. And also I use a little bit of what I think people would call CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, maybe, of just saying, I’m going to gently shift my thoughts away from the sensation to another part of my day. And constantly reminding yourself of that. And that really helps me. And just the goal there, remember, is not to change the sensation, it’s to change your sensitivity to the sensation and you’re focusing on it. And that really helps me. Oh, it’s only four things. The third thing is to adjust my expectations for myself. So this is a hard one if you’re not your own boss.

Jason: And if you’re a high achiever.

Caroline: And if you’re a high achiever. But whatever I had on my Notion database for what I was going to do this week, erase it and go back to the drawing board. Sometimes that means I can only do one thing a day. Sometimes that means I can only do zero things a day. But I also wrote as an addendum, Trust that I know what I need. So do I need a full day where I just zone out and watch Netflix? Great. Trust that that is what you need and that you’re not being lazy. Then inevitably, I’ll have a couple of days of that and I’ll go, you know what I need today is I need a win. I need to not feel like I did nothing. So I’ll set one goal for myself. Either that’s go to the gym or do this one task or whatever and just trust that you are the ultimate person who knows whether you need to push yourself a little bit or you need to pull back a little bit. And then finally I wrote down, distraction can be a tool. I think that we often, I hear, at least in the mental health world, distraction kind of gets a bad rap sometimes of like, you’re not confronting your… Escapism, it’s like you’re not confronting your issues and all this stuff. And, like, I get it. We need to confront those things so that they don’t bug us forever. But when you are in the thick of it, sometimes distraction can save your life. Sometimes being like, you know, I’m just going to do this next thing or do this. I’m not going to think about it right now. I’m not going to do the full thing. I’m not going to journal about it right now. I just need a break from trying to untangle this, and I’m going to give my brain something else to chew on. So I would just say, if you’re someone who needs that, don’t feel guilty for distracting yourself with TV, tasks, or whatever and knowing that you’ll come back to it and you’ll address what’s going on.

Jason: Yeah, those are four great takeaways.

Caroline: That’s it.

Jason: Yeah.

Caroline: Those are just what I wrote down in my journal of what’s helping me right now.

Jason: Yeah. I just hope this episode is helpful. We know this is a departure from our normal business chat or travel chat, and this is the reality of life. And it would be easy to hide this. It would be easy to just pretend like this super difficult week didn’t happen for you, but that’s not the truth. And we really want to share the reality of life and travel and business and all the different things. So that’s why we share.

Caroline: And I hope that next episode, maybe something will feel differently, but if it doesn’t, we’ll just keep showing up.

Jason: We’ll do our best.

Caroline: We’ll do our best.

Jason: All right, that’s it. Thanks, everybody, for listening. We appreciate you so much.

Caroline: I love you so much.

Jason: Me? Me?

Caroline: Oh, you. Always you.

Jason: I’m going to go do some side quests. Get some badges and some cookies and some ice cream. And some ice cream with cookies in it, okay?

Caroline: Yeah.

Jason: Bye.

Are You Playing The Game of Life on Hard Mode?

(Big Fat Takeaway)

When you are playing the game of life on hard mode, remember that no feeling lasts forever. Trust that you know what you need to get through a tough patch.

IT IT

This article written by

Jason Zook

(he/him) Co-head-hancho of this WAIM thing. I used to wear t-shirts for a living, now I just wear them because I'm not a nudist. You can usually find me baking things, watching JCVD movies, and dreaming of living on an island.

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