Nobody Told Me There Was Going To Be A Test

Do you suppose that there are times in our lives when we are just more sensitive to the challenges that lie before us? Or are there just times when the numbers of challenges we face multiply compounding the stress in our lives exponentially? I am two and a half weeks removed from my last antidepressant medication dose. During the last two weeks I have been faced with an endless barrage of challenges that pick away at one of biggest anxiety vulnerabilities: illness.

I have written at length on this blog about the paralyzing fear I deal with when faced with the urge to vomit. Even after hours of therapy sessions spent talking about it, and hundreds of words written here about it I still feel ridiculous talking about it; however, the truth remains that it regularly effects my day to day life.  I can get pretty paranoid about various stomach upsets, but I also tend to get worked up about your day to day cold type problems. Over the past two weeks I have been forced to deal with not only a nasty flu like cold rampaging through my family, but also a couple of the less common infections. I think we are finally nearing the end of this round of illness and none too soon.

It started early last week at the dinner table. My wife who was sitting at the head of the table begins talking about how one of the kids at day care has conjunctivitis. While she is telling the story I am watching my son who is sitting across from me. As the story continues I notice a little deposit of goop in the corner of his right eye. Had she not been telling this story I would have assumed it be little sleepy seed or something, but in the context of our current conversation I point it out. She wipes it away and within a half hour it has returned. She wipes it away again and a few minutes later comes the two year old sniffle “my eye hurts”. The next morning his mom rousts him to make it to the walk in hours at the pediatrician’s office, and yells into our room that there is nothing in his eye. Hearing this my two year old proudly reports that he “already picked the lint out of his eye”. I closer inspection of the bed reveals a pile of dry crusty nastiness next to his pillow, and in good light it is clear that his eye is red and swollen. The doctor confirms the diagnosis and we begin seven fun filled days of putting medicated drops in the eyes of a fighting, and surprisingly strong, toddler. Of course I, having just a smidge of hypochondriac in me, begin to have an itchy eye before we are away from the dinner table. My itchiness persists for several days to the point I seriously consider visiting the doctor, but I don’t and it passes.

During this same timeframe my father, whom I have been helping get ready for another commercial fishing season, and my mother both catch and awful cold. My wife and I have been spending a lot of time there lately as I work with my Dad and by the end of last week she is laid out by it.

As I am tiptoeing around eye gunk and snot my Dad develops a spot on his forehead. He initially says he hit his head on the boat and I don’t really worry about it. Several days of us working side by side go by when last Friday he finally asks my mother to take him to the ER. My dad is one of those goes who never sees a doctor so when he asks to go you don’t ask questions you just take him. That evening I get a call from my mother in the Hospital reporting my father has shingles and that because he had been picking at the rash it has become badly infected and they have started and IV antibiotic. She also tells me to keep an eye on my boy because you can catch Chicken Pox from Shingles.

So here is the thing. My two year old has had the Varicella vaccination. He is fine. My 35 year old self on the other hand has never had them. In my twenties I had a coworker get them and after I didn’t catch them I had a blood test to see if I was immune and I was not. Shortly after I had a vaccination shot. Ironically it wasn’t more than a couple months ago that I was casually reading something and stumbled across information that the adult vaccination consists of two shots six to eight weeks apart. I only had one. I figured on mentioning it to my doc next time I was in the office. I didn’t figure on my father getting shingles. My dad and I had planned to go out fishing over the weekend. Saturday was shot so he could return to the hospital for another IV, but Sunday looked good. I figured I had been pretty heavily exposed to the Shingles for nearly a week before I even knew what it was so I went ahead and went with him Sunday. I also saw him Monday though my exposure was quite limited. I haven’t seen him since and Sunday being the last day I had any real exposure it looks as if that I may be in the clear. Another couple days should tell the tale.

The result of all these happenings had been a marked increase in my anxiety. Monday was really bad and I had to fight off a few mild anxiety attacks. I could feel the panic rising in my chest, but I kept it in check. Tuesday and Wednesday saw the return of my gastrointestinal challenges, a problem I haven’t dealt with in months. Today was better, and I suspect that each day that passes without contracting  an illness will lead to improved anxiety levels.

At this point I am not entirely sure how to feel. Dealing with all the sickness drama did not go as well as it would have when I was fully medicated with Klonopin, Wellbutrin, and Lexapro. On the other hand I am not sure it went a whole lot worse. There were a couple times when I felt things slipping, but I was able to reign things back in. At this point the good still far outweighs the bad, but if there was going to be a test to see if I could hack this I wish somebody would have told me

Counting Calories

In my last post I briefly discussed my recent weight loss. My wife and started the process when she decided sometime in January that she needed to lose some weight. I followed her down the path a couple weeks later. I have struggled with my weight since I was in college. In my teen years I was extremely active. I was a competitive swimmer and we practiced twice a day for about six months out of the year from October through April. I swam 7,000 to 8,000 yards a day during these months. That averages out to about 4 ½ miles. When I wasn’t swimming I was running and lifting weight through the summer in preparation for football in the fall. During these years I was always hungry. I actually tried to gain weight for football, but it made no difference what I ate I weighed in at 160 pounds. I recall the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I was determined to gain weight to make myself a better football player. I ran a lot, but I spent time each day in the weight room at the high school and drank these high calorie shakes a couple times a day. Between May and August I was able to gain about ten pounds and was a very fit and very strong 170 pounds on the first day of practice in mid August. The first week of practice was always two a days with a ton of running and drills in the morning with more running in the afternoon. After the first week I weighed 160 pounds. I have no way of knowing for sure, but looking back I would not be surprised if I was consuming in excess of 6000 calories a day, probably a lot more with those shakes, and I couldn’t gain a pound.

All that changed when I hit college. I went to a small school that had no athletics that were of interest to me. My activity level dropped sharply, but my calorie intake did not. I had learned some horrible eating habits in high school and they have haunted me constantly in the nearly twenty years since. I had a plan to enter the Marine Corps which kept me active the first year or so I was in school, but I had damaged my left elbow playing football, which brought a premature end to my military career. With that motivation for exercise gone I broke 200 pounds for the first time in the spring of my sophomore year of college. What I wouldn’t give to see that number on the scale again.

Over the years since I finished college there have been three separate attempts to lose weight. All have been successful, but eventually led to a weight that peaked out higher than the last. I was in the 230’s the first time I decided to stop and lose weight. That time I was able to get just under 200 for a brief spell, but I worked by ass of to get there. Five days or more of each week at the gym and eating like a rabbit was all that worked. Eventually I made it all the way back up to 250 a few years after I was married. My wife and I both put in a lot of effort and lost significant weight. I was back into the 220’s when she got pregnant. That changed our entire lives, and with my son at 2 ½ I peaked out this time in the mid 260’s. After working at my calorie intake for the last part of the winter I have made my way back to 240. I was under but Easter weekend was not kind and the remnants lying around the house, read jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, have continued to sabotage me.

The struggles I have faced over Easter pretty well highlight my biggest challenges with weight loss. I am not sure addiction is the right word, but maybe compulsion? I feel powerless around food. If it is there I will eat it. I cant help myself. In the weeks leading up to Easter my mother in law bought my son a bag of the Starburst jelly beans. I couldn’t stay out of them and ate the entire bag in less than two days. Sugar is my kryptonite. We will often make my son a little bag of “trail mix” to take in the car for the trip to day care. Typically it is just Cheerios and raisins. I had a purchased a bag of Special Dark chocolate chips for baking back around the holidays, but with our weight goals in mind I had not made any cookies. My wife opened the bag to sweeten the trail mix a little for my son, but once the bag was open I could stay out of it. Before it was opened I didn’t have a problem, but as soon as that seal was broken I was constantly eating handfuls of chips.

The second challenge I face is that I genuinely like to eat. I don’t eat just to provide my body with the nutrients required to sustain life, but also as a recreation. I love the sensation of flavor. I crave it. I recently told a friend that the two most important activities in life were eating and sex. It was suggested that breathing might out rank both, but I replied that without food and sex there was little point in breathing. An exaggeration?  Maybe. But it makes my point.

At the end of the day for those of us lucky enough to be relatively young and relatively healthy weight loss boils down to a simple mathematical formula:

Calories In > Calories Out = Weight Gain

Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss

All the fad diets in the world don’t change the simplicity of the above truth. Sure it can be more complicated, but if you eat fewer calories than you burn you will lose weight. Of course anybody who has ever actually counted every single calorie consumed in a day knows that it is shocking how fast they can add up to that 2000 – 2500 recommended daily intake.

It is 4:00 in the afternoon as I write this and I have eaten everything I will eat today prior to dinner. I was bad at lunch, and will be at a meeting for dinner that will really blow up the daily calorie count. So far today I have consumed the following:

                ½  of a 20oz Can of Dole chunked Pineapple with half the juice also = 160 Calories

                6 Dove Dark Chocolate Eggs (more Easter Sabotage) = 220 Calories

                Subway 6” Chicken Pizzioli Sandwich with Provlone cheese =  550 Calories

                1 bag of Baked Lays BBQ Chips with the above sandwich = 140 Calories

                6 sticks of Extra Gum = 30 Calories

                Total Calories before dinner = 1100 Calories

Had I been good at lunch I would have had a 300 calorie sandwich without the BBQ chips making the total calories only 710. If we had a reasonable dinner to this you can maintain or lose weight pretty easily. I only drink water all day. It is shocking how many calories you can drink in a day if you stray from water. We often squeeze cut up lemons into our water in the evenings.

All this sounds so easy, but as most reading this know all too well it is not. When I eat what I listed above I am hungry all damn day. I do alright staying out of the snacks until the evening, but the hours between dinnertime and bedtime are the hours that destroy my weight loss. I find it frustrating that little additions can screw up everything. A couple hundred extra calories in the form of fruit or veggies is not likely to show up on the scale, but the same number of calories in cookies, meat, or candy will destroy and entire days healthy eating.

I hope to lose another 15 pounds and then find a way to keep my weight under 230 pounds indefinitely. It is a battle maintaining healthy calorie counts. The other problem I often run into is that if I allow myself a single day to cheat I cant shut it off. I had one of those Chicken Pizzioli subs for dinner about a week and a half ago and I loved it. The problem is that instead of my nice healthy 300 Calorie sandwiches I have had three of the 6” chicken Pizziolis in the last four days. I cant seem to force myself to go back to the healthier sandwiches.  The truth is even the 500 calorie lunch is significantly healthier than anything I was eating before. The problem is my weight doesn’t seem to ever balance. If I am good I lose weight pretty steadily, but if I am not quite as good my weight doesn’t just stay the same it goes up.

The bottom line is that a thinner waist equals a better mood, better health, better sex, pretty much better everything I want. The challenge will remain, as it is with everything, finding some balance that will work inside the complicated confines of my life for the long term. That is a balance that I have yet to find.

Going To Try Chem Free Living

Forgive me blogosphere for it has been thirty two days since my last entry. It has been an amazing month, and with the notable exception of my employment circumstances things are looking up around here. The truth is my urge to write peters out when I am feeling good. When I have no real angst I have no inspiration.

A regular theme throughout the life of this blog has been my experience with the medications used to treat depression and anxiety. Anybody who has done much reading here knows I hate these drugs with some passion, but have also relied on them to get through the last twelve or thirteen years of my life. In that time I have never been completely drug free. For over a decade I have gone through each and every day of my life under the influence of at least one and most often two or more drugs designed to effect my mood. I hardly remember what it feels like to function without these pills.

Over the winter I went through the long ordeal of withdrawing from over ten years of daily Klonopin use. The last pill was taken December 30th and it was probably the third week in February before I began to feel in anyway normal again. At the end of February I had an appointment with the shrink and I asked about the possibility of getting off the Buspar and Wellbutrin. He told me I could drop the Buspar anytime and drop my Wellbutrin dose by a third from 450mg daily to 300mg if I felt up to it. I had been taking the Buspar twice a day prior to this appointment, but beginning to next day I only took it at night. After a week of the “only at night” dosage I quit altogether. Other than a mild hiccup in my sleep, which was probably all in my head, I didn’t even notice the drug was missing.

I was feeling very encouraged by the successful drop of Buspar. For many years I had used the Klonopin as my crutch. I never forgot the way the panic and anxiety felt, and I was fearful of returning to those days. During the withdrawal I was reminded of why I was scared as the experience was highlighted by two months of increased anxiety with several days spread out over the period that were nearly intolerable. With the Buspar gone I was living clear of any drug whose sole purpose was to control my anxiety, and I was functioning fine. For some time now I have been nagged by a vague awareness that the Wellbutrin isn’t really doing anything for me. With the Buspar gone it was time for the next hurdle so I cut the Wellbutrin dose as I had been directed. It has been about three weeks since I dropped the dose. I don’t remember the exact date/day, which I honestly consider a good sigh unto itself, if I can’t remember exactly when than I must not have been obsessing over it too badly. I am feeling very good, better than I remember feeling in a very very long time. Truthfully I feel better than I ever remember feeling. I left a message with the shrink this afternoon asking how to make the next drop. I am scheduled to see him May 2nd and I would like to have made the next drop a few weeks before then so if things do start to get weird I will have the checkup already on the calendar.

My wife and I committed to another change a couple months ago as well. Somewhere on this blog I once listed my weight at 250 pounds. I was lying. You know you are self conscious when you put the things in print I have put on this blog, and you can’t tell the truth about your weight. My weight maxed out at 266.6 pounds on my 5’11” frame. I remember the weight because the last three numbers struck me. I am not a terribly religious person, but I knew I was too heavy and the 666 stuck in my head as a bad sign. I had settled to 263ish when my wife decided she needed to drop some weight. I watched her get started and she was doing well. She bemoaned my cooking constantly as she struggled to lose, but lose she did. A couple weeks after she started I followed. I didn’t make a lot of noise about, and didn’t even tell her. My motivation was twofold. First my son is 2 ½. If I am going to be able to play and participate in his life I better get some of this weight off. The second is probably the greatest motivator for all men. Sex. My wife and I have always had mismatched sex drives, and one of the effects of dropping the Klonopin was a sharp increase in my drive which was already way ahead of hers. I had heard complaints from her that my weight made sex uncomfortable, but for some reason it took the light bulb a while to go off in my head. I finally decided if I wanted more sex I needed to take responsibility for making myself more appealing, and the act for comfortable for her. By the time I last posted a month ago I was down to the 250 number I had claimed to be. I wanted to brag, but how do you brag about being at the weight you told people you were already at? This morning marked two consecutive days at 238 pounds making my total weight loss from the start weight 25 pounds, and from my max weight almost thirty pounds. My pants used to fall down my ass like they do on all fat guys. They are still falling down my ass, but now it is because they don’t fit.

Weight loss is a real chore for me. I don’t want to get into all the details here so maybe I will put together another entry talking about that, but I can say the work is paying off. When I hit 245 my wife commented that the sex was better, and she was right. She has dropped about 17 pounds and the combination has made for a noticeable improvement. With the Buspar gone and Weight and Wellbutrin lower the biggest change I can see other than my general mood is my sex drive is off the charts. The mismatched desire has always been a problem in our marriage, but recently she has made more effort to participate and I tried to do some little things to keep her interested.  We talked about it last weekend and I told her that in a perfect world I would be looking for sex four times a week. She was a little taken aback by this. Last year we averaged every 10 -14 days with several instances where we approached 30 days between sexual encounters. This year has been once every 7 -10 days, and lately I am noticing we are pretty steady on a once on the weekend pace with the occasional extra thrown in. This is an amazing improvement over where we have been, but I think she was shocked to discover that I am only getting about 25% of the sex I actually want. Will this foster more understanding of where I am coming from? The drug free me is finding the urge stronger than ever so I certainly hope so. I am hopeful that this rapid change in my desire wont cause us any problems.

The past month has seen many more changes as well that I simply don’t have time for here, but maybe they will give me an excuse to write here a little more often. As a parting word I would ask for forgiveness for any typos you may find in this entry. I really want to get something posted, and I am rapidly running out of time so my editing will be quick and sloppy.

Men.Society.Depression.

I have been feeling generally uninspired to write over the last week, and the opportunities have been few and far between anyway. I have recently come to the realization that I need true peace and quiet to write anything worth reading. I can’t have my son pulling at my pant leg interrupting or my wife leaning over to see what I am doing. This never used to be, but I have also never put some of my deepest and darkest thoughts into print before either. I have had some moments to peruse different blogs over the past weekend. I spend some time when I can sifting through blogs tagged with depression or anxiety and have found some very good reading that way. This weekend I was finding things a little thin, but I did stumble across one article I found interesting. It was an Australian current events blog that was exploring some very disturbing statistics on male suicide. The writer discovered that 89 countries keep separate statistics on male v. female suicide rates, and that in all but one of these countries men were killing themselves at a faster rate than women, and the average was nearly four male suicides to every female. He had hard numbers for Australia showing a margin greater than 3:1. I can’t say I was surprised, but still the numbers were eye opening, and got me thinking about what it is like to live under the dark cloud of depression and anxiety as a man. The cold hard truth of the matter is that living with these issues as a man presents challenges and requires choices that are extremely difficult.

The author of this article has a decidedly anti feminist stance, and makes no effort to sugar coat that position in his article or in his responses to comments. While his comments are likely to get under the skin of many there is some truth to what he is saying. His general position is that feminism has made it socially acceptable to put down men, and that there has been a massive efforts over the last couple decades to get health information out to women while male health concerns have been largely ignored. As a man I cant help but tend towards agreeing with him in general terms. Modern society has pretty much emasculated men. Masculinity has been targeted as something to be covered over as if it is dirty or dangerous, while at the same time men are portrayed in modern media as bumbling morons in the domestic setting. It is very Ironic to listen to a true feminist complain that TV commercials for products like laundry detergent and dish soap show women being forced into traditional sex roles due to men’s incompetence as if these media clips of women continually coming the rescue of the useless man is somehow more damaging to the female sex than the male. Society’s message to men is to suppress any stereotypical masculine behavior as they can be seen as aggressive and/or unacceptable socially, but don’t try to step too far into the traditional female domain because you are useless there also. It is a confusing time to be a man, and it is a confusing time to be coming of age as a male.

So what’s the point of this little rant? When it comes to depression subtle signals are important. I can take a scowl from my wife and turn it into a catastrophic marital crisis in my head. People with depressive personalities need a lot of positive reinforcement and encouragement. It is becoming clear that depression is at least as common in men as women, and society is sending the same dangerous messages to men that are sent to women, but nobody wants to talk about it. Anybody can look at the covers of magazines at the grocery stores and see how the development of a young girl’s sense of self worth could be damaged by the images of “perfect” bodies. It is a problem society talks about. There is no such conversation about the things that society is telling its boys and young men that may be damaging to them. I dare say that many who may read this think this notion is ridiculous, and that only makes my point.

Society tells a man that he cant really be strong and masculine, but he cant be vulnerable either. If you sit on the couch and watch football while your wife cooks dinner you’re a misogynist, but don’t grab the laundry basket to help out because you’ll surely fuck that up. On the other hand when you are in a male dominated setting whether it be a locker room, a male only club, or a male dominated workplace the old rules of masculinity apply fully, and any sign of weakness will be ripped apart, so you better be able to go to that guy place in your brain when you need to. Then in the dating world you may find a woman who has bought in to the feminist message completely, or one who holds on to some more traditional ideas of how men behave. It’s truly schizophrenic

All these mixed signals leave men confused. Society tells us we don’t need to be the strong male, but weaknesses are still seen as a flaw. I find it telling that the vast majority of the blogs I read about depression are written by women. Why is that? Women face judgments for their mental illness, the stigma is strong for everybody, but be a man and say out loud for the whole world to hear that you are scared. You have no reason to be, but you go through your days with this vague sense of unease that can be triggered to downright panic over the slightest thing. Or get them to admit that they live with overriding feelings of sadness or question their self worth. You are not going to get most men to say it. It’s socially, and therefore emotionally, way too dangerous. In the world of maleness it’s not acceptable, and in the larger society, even in this supposed era of men being in touch with their softer side, no wants to hear it either. For those that  may be reading this who do suffer from depression and anxiety consider for a moment what it feels like when you are at your lowest and you think nobody cares.

Dealing with depression and anxiety as a man is like walking through a mine field. You never know how the information is going to be received, and society is slowly programming men and women into behaviors that make getting the proper support difficult. Those who have been following this blog may recall that when my tug boating career ended I was accused of misleading my employer about my condition, despite having revealed it openly on yearly company physicals. Nobody gave a shit about the circumstances my “issues” became a convenient scapegoat. Society needs to open their eyes to male depression. When they do they are going to find an epidemic on their hands.

One final thought on the suicide figures in the article that inspired this post. When I first read the 4:1 ratio I couldn’t imagine it was really this bad. The writer implied it was even worse in the United States. Then I began to think about my own experience. From my dining room I can see a bridge that was completed four or five years ago. It is some 130’ above the river it spans and is a regional hot spot for suicide. There have been six jumpers since the bridge was completed. All of them were male, and all but one were “successful” suicides. Now I know that woman stereotypically kill themselves in ways that are less violent, pills, etc, but not a single female jumper? In addition all the suicides that have ever touched my life have been men. I didn’t intend this to become and opinion piece, but one has to ask; why aren’t we talking about this?

Be kind to the men in your life, you never know what may be happening in their heads.