A few weeks back I relayed a comment a therapist made to me about anxiety making a person’s world grow smaller and smaller. I had not thought about anxiety in this context before, but it is the perfect description. For some this may not be a fresh revelation, but I have been living with anxiety for years and while I was aware that this was happening to me I had not found a way to clearly voice it. Somehow being able to articulate what is happening offers some respite from the feelings of loss that accompany the anxiety. Continue reading
In my last post I vented my frustration at the process that lies before me. I was already coming around in my view of the situation, but I still needed an outlet for my disappointment. Now it is time to get to work. My plan is to make sense of this by writing out the problem on paper, and I will post the results of that writing here. Be patient as these posts may ramble a bit.There is no obvious path ahead of me and the problem is a large and complex web of interrelated fears. There is only one way to deal with large complicated problems, and that is too break them down into smaller manageable pieces. The actual problem needs a clear and specific definition. The first question that needs to be answered is simply what it the problem? The problem is clearly emetophobia, but that is not specific enough for this purpose. Emetophobia references fear of vomit and/or vomiting that my actually mean a variety of different things depending upon the individual. So what specifically am I afraid off? Continue reading
About three weeks ago in a post titled Weighing Changes I spoke about my concern related to high levels of anxiety in my new chem free existence. This is a growing problem that I fear will eventually sabotage my chance for success living a medication free life. The frequency and intensity of these anxiety attacks is building. At least four of the last five days have been impacted negatively by what amounts to my overactive imagination.
In the short time I have been living without the chemical safety net to which I had become accustomed I have been reintroduced to some of life’s simpler pleasures. I have written here a couple times about my Latte misadventures, and commented on my increased libido, but I have yet to mention my gentle reintroduction to adult beverages. I have never been a big drinker. I used a lightly abused alcohol for a brief time in college, but my by senior year I pretty much volunteered to drive whenever we decided to go out. In the ten plus years that I took Klonopin I may have consumed ten alcoholic beverages, but I doubt it. The drugs magnified the effect of the alcohol and I have written at length about my intense fear of vomiting so it was simpler to stay away.
A week ago after a long hot day of yard work we all went to the grocery store to do the shopping. The beer cooler is at the end of the last aisle and my wife commented on the ice cold bottles of Woodchuck hard cider. It was a drink I remember from college and it the spirit of my new found freedom I put a six pack in the cart. That night my wife and I each enjoyed just one cold Woodchuck, and they were just as good as I remembered, dangerously good actually. Over the course of the following week I had a couple more, and then last Friday night came around. I had had very little to eat all day and dinner turned into burgers on the grill much later than we would usually be eating. With a plate full of raw meat in hand I grabbed a Woodchuck and retreated to the porch. In less than the time it took for the burgers to do their thing I consumed the entire of bottle of hard cider. Now I am a big guy and one bottle of any beer type beverage is not going to knock me over, but the dehydration and lack of food combined with the relative virginity of my liver left me feeling a little buzzed. For me a huge anxiety trigger is the sense that I am not in control and there was nothing I could do to stop the dizzy sensation in my head. I could feel the tightening in my chest and then I had a flutter in my stomach. This sensation had nothing to do with my alcohol consumption; rather it was just a passing pain that is a regular occurrence for me throughout the day. The truth of the discomfort didn’t really matter as my anxious brain was already teetering on the brink. When the anxiety is triggered I need to move, think the flight part of fight or flight, so I excused myself from the table where I could gather myself out of my toddler’s sight.
Over the weekend I had a couple mild occurrences of anxiety, but the Tuesday return to work brought the worst day yet since the Klonopin withdrawals. I am generally effected by the amount of light outside and as I was driving today through a rainy gray overcast I began to encounter small embedded thunderstorms. As I passed through each it became twilight dark and of course the rain was heavier with the associated lightning and thunder. This is an anxiety trigger I don’t fully understand and is relatively new in recent years, but I have apparently become uncomfortable with thunderstorms. What is ironic and troublesome about this is that with my interests in aviation and the ocean I am something of a weather junkie. I l-o-v-e weather, and have always marveled at the process by which weather is created. It is physics you can see, and geeky as it may be I think it is one of the coolest things going. I could sit down and pound out several pages on what makes a thunder storm happen, and I know that the comparatively week storms we experience here in the Northeast are generally nothing to be worried about. I knew the storms I was experiencing today were of no real concern. So given the strength of my background why the hell do they make me nervous? The truth is there is no real good answer to that question. Like most of my anxious moments it is nothing more than the rapid movement of illogical thought processes. These anxieties take loose correlations to real dangers and blow them up to irrational fears. After the fact I am often uneasy talking about them out loud because I know they don’t make any damn sense. The only thing “real” about them is the fear they create. The sensations they create are as real as if somebody had a gun to my head. Fear feels the same whether based on a quantifiable threat or the gobbledygook that more commonly runs around my brain.
The real trouble with today’s challenges was the length of time over which they occurred. For two or three hours this morning I lived with unacceptably high levels of anxiety that occasional spiked into the sensations I have no desire to EVER feel again. These were the sensations that I spent ten years on Klonopin to avoid and that I endured for several weeks over the winter for the promise of Coast Guard documents and a better life. Today I discovered that I have a very low tolerance for feeling this way. I simply will not live my life this way. It terrifies me to even put those words, “will not live my life this way”, on paper, but I am not yet ready to give up on living without medications.
In the comments section of the Weighing Changes posting referenced in the first paragraph my most loyal commenter, Lady J, told a story about her experience with her children in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. She described a technique for externalizing the anxiety where the kids treat their anxiety as an entity separate from themselves. They give it a name and a personality completely separate from their own selves. My own admittedly limited research on the topic revealed a lot of medical mumbo jumbo but I found a couple articles that explained the premise some. The idea is not to say I am scared or I am fearful because you are not, you are you. You feel scared, fearful, anxious etc. The distinction is subtle but important. (If somebody who actually knows about this stuff happens to read this I apologize for hatchet job I just committed explaining and undoubtedly complex idea, but this working knowledge is what I am moving forward with.)
So Lady J and her kids have named their anxieties and she said in her comments that it is remarkably helpful to her. I was intrigued by the idea and have played with it in my head some, but today I went all the way. The prolonged almost sin wave nature of my anxiety today as I passed from storm to storm allowed me some time to reflect on what was happening. I began talking to myself, if your thinking this sounds a little schitzo so did I at first, but I began asking myself if what I felt was real. I knew it was not and by forcing those ideas to the front of my brain I was able to overcome most of my day. The truth is that I also took steps to shorten my work day and remove myself from the stress, but while I was in the thick of it I was able to force myself to function by telling myself the truth about my circumstances. Not my anxieties truth, but my truth: “these are very small thunderstorms embedded in a larger weather system. The atmosphere does not contain the energy required to build them into even moderately strong storms”, or something like that. The anxiety level stayed pretty high no matter what I told myself, but the horrible spikes stopped.
This afternoon I have had some time home alone and been able to reflect further on the day. I am left unsettled by the experience, but there is hope that these new tactic will be helpful. I hope it will become easier and more helpful with time. I have decided to go all in and introduce to the world my not so friendly acquaintance Freakout Freddie. Freakout Freddie’s favorite phrase is “what if” and he runs around thinking the sky is falling. He likes to take single snowflakes and push them around until he creates a ball of ice so large it can run you right over. Freddie is not an altogether bad guy. He will undoubtedly let me know when I have crossed into a danger zone, but it is up to me to decide if what Freddie is saying makes sense or if he had just gone off the deep end again. Wish me luck.
Two weeks ago I used the anonymous platform of this blog to rebel against one of my own long entrenched self defense mechanisms. I am sure to any readers that came across my post it didn’t seem like it was that big a deal. The truth is it didn’t seem like that big a deal to me either. I had heard a song that I really liked and I wanted to tell someone. I wrote at the time that music was something that I was never comfortable expressing my views about. I was afraid of the judgments of my peers, but I had realized that nobody in the blogosphere has any idea who I am so it felt safe. Too my surprise the post was well received and relative to my very small readership appeared fairly popular. After the first post I was feeling encouraged so last week I posted another song, and again folks seemed to like it. Tonight I graduated from my anonymous blog and posted something in a more public forum. It wasn’t music and it wasn’t controversial in any way, but I clipped a yahoo news article and linked it to my Facebook account. I have never done this before. On FB I have always been a lurker. I comment on very little for the same reason that I never tell anybody what music I like.
So did timidly putting my toe in the water on this blog cure my social anxieties and self confidence issues? No. Did it help? Absolutely. I commented a couple weeks back that I have noticed that with the medications all leaving my system a little bit of my old attitude seems to be returning. People used to comment before the depression and anxiety took over my life that I could always be counted on for an honest opinion. I didn’t really varnish the truth, but at the same time I was afraid to tell you what my favorite song was because I didn’t want to be judged. What a strange combination of personality traits.
I can say with certainty that this blog and those that read and comment on it have been unexpectedly therapeutic. I never expected this little digital space to have any real impact on my life, but as the weeks and months pass I am beginning to see connections between the issues I address here, and my ability to cope with those same issues in the real world. For this I am grateful.
I have been giving some thought to the direction I want to take this blog. The addition of the music posts has been both personally helpful and fun. Last week I posted some lifestlyle stuff that I also enjoyed writing. I imagine that I will air all that out on here in the future, but for now in the spirit of music, healing, and strength through adversity I leave you with this music video sent to me by an amazing 19 year old man and leukemia survivor. (I posted this to my Facebook also).
Most days I can’t tell if I am dead or alive. My life has become nothing more than going through the daily motions. It wasn’t always this way. I try not to dwell on the past as it rarely serves any constructive purpose. I try to take my lessons and move on, but there are days when I look back on who I used to be, that confident young man full of potential, and pine for what has been lost.
To paint a complete picture and be fair to myself my teen years were not fantastic, and I would not wish to relive them. That said there are things I miss from my youth. At that age there was an almost daily thrill to being alive. The adrenaline rush of life was a regular occurrence. I have said in the past that the tell tale signs of depression were there even back then, and I was a sensitive serious kid, but I had yet to feel the deep dark lows that were to come, and I had the ability to feel the rush of life on a regular basis.
The rush I am talking about came from a lot of sources in those days. I was successful in academics, and treated school like a competition. By my senior year of high school I had developed into a mostly straight A student, but those grades were mostly a function of me being good at school. Sure I was bright, but I had also figured out how to play the game that was school. This was a skill that I really capitalized on in college. When I am taken by the feeling flatness as an adult the rush I really yearn for is the one that came from athletics. Forgive me while I let me inner jock out for a moment. I was blessed to be from a small town and attend a small high school. This meant you didn’t have to be particularly talented to participate in varsity sports. I began swimming competitively when I was eight years old, and competed until I graduated from high school. We didn’t have any youth football programs, but when I got to high school I joined the team and despite being only 160 pounds I played all through high school including two years of varsity where I was co-captain my senior year. I am not trying to relive my “glory days” here. I have run across acquaintances from that time in my life that never left the area and still talk about nothing but the days they spent in pads. I have gone on to do many more things, but I do miss they rush that came from standing on that field. I was 160 pounds and a very slow runner which meant I couldn’t play on the outside with the other small kids. They were all way too fast. I played inside where all the big boys were. I was easily the smallest kid down in the “trenches”, and there was an intensity that came with those circumstances that I miss feeling. To physically overcome another guy who outweighed me by anywhere from 20 to 100 pounds to make a play was a rush that defies description. I felt strong, vital, and alive. Anybody reading this who has ever watched a football game has probably seen a player make a big play and break into spontaneous celebration. I didn’t have any stupid or offensive dance like you see in the pro game, but beating another guy in a contest of physical skill and making a big play in a football game takes a lot of energy and intensity, and when it all comes together and the whistle blows that energy needs an outlet which usually comes in the form of jumping, yelling, fist pumping, and helmet slapping. Imagine having such a rush of positive energy that it actual needs a physical outlet. It was a thrill to play down in the mud with guys so much bigger than me and be successful.
I got the same charge from swimming. The contest was not one of trying to overcome or control another physically, but putting forward your maximum output of energy over a race had a similar effect. The nice thing about swimming was that it was often as much about beating the clock as it was the guy next to you. You didn’t need to win the race to get the thrill. There were times when I started a race knowing full well the guy next to me was faster and was probably going to win, but chasing him could lead to a personal best in an event which was a rush in itself. Swimming was the only place I ever saw the loser of a contest celebrate. Hours, days, and weeks, of practice would culminate in seconds of racing and seeing that effort and dedication show up on the clock was exciting.
My junior year of high school I discovered another source of life. I have often repeated that we had no money growing up. I didn’t really know what a family vacation was. I had never traveled. When I was 16 a small group was selected from a pool of applicants to spend a month in Ecuador on a community service trip. I was one of ten picked to go, and spent the better part of a month living with host families and traveling about the country. We were with a group, but lived alone with our host families. I heard and saw things over the course of that month that a small town kid from the north could barely wrap my brain around. We weren’t on vacation we were immersed in the culture and it was an amazing experience. When I came home I was all fucked up. I had seen too much poverty, too many dirty hungry kids, and my perspective was clouded. I eventually got my shit put back together, but the wanderlust seed was planted. A couple years later I was sailing to the Caribbean where I would again be living in the island communities as opposed to behind the walls of a resort. I was pretty well grounded all through college, but a couple years out of school I had the chance to move a sailboat from Fiji to Australia by way of Vanuatu, and was again able to breathe in the life of new cultures. Other than a business trip to Europe that was the last time I had any significant travel and it was nearly ten years ago.
There has been nothing in my adult life to replace any of the above. I am sure many people get their rush from success in their work, and others have interests or hobbies that keep that spark going. Some may get a sense of purpose from raising their families. I am in a job with no future, circumstances have taken the hobbies I had and most of my passion for pursuing them. I love my wife and my child, but I don’t find personal serenity in either. I am no longer strong, and I don’t feel vital or alive. I mostly feel angry, tired, and short tempered. The routine of daily life is a long way from exploring new cultures where a fresh experience is waiting at every turn. Adult life is about monotonous repetition, and it is snuffing out any spark that may be hiding somewhere in my soul.
I am tired of just going numbly through the motions of life. I am tired of missing out on the experience of living. On paper it seems easy to recognize this and plot a new course towards a better place, but there is nothing easy about the real world. It’s like solving the world’s problems in a classroom or at the water cooler. Things are easier said than done, and are often simpler in theory than in reality. Every decision has its consequences and the grass is not always greener. A drastic change in the direction of my life would likely lead to unacceptable personal consequences so I am left with finding acceptance in my heart for my life as it is or with minimal changes. Changing my perspective on my current circumstances to find some peace for my soul is the goal, but the path is not clear. Sometimes I think peace in the Middle East is more likely than peace for me, but that defeatist attitude is not productive either.
Through this blog I hoped to skip another expensive trip through therapy and a return to the world of SSRI’s. The thing is I know what the first thing a new shrink is going to say. Get more exercise and better rest. They all say the same damn thing, but here is the truth; I have tried exercise, and as an adult with no competition to train for I have a hard time staying interested and it becomes just one more chore. It is just another piece of the monotony. I have given it an honest try a few times. I am not saying I couldn’t use a little more activity, I can see that in the mirror, but I have never felt and great lifting of my mood from sweating at the gym. Regarding rest it doesn’t seem to matter how much I sleep I am always tired… hello depression we have met before.
So I suppose I am at a cross roads of sorts as I have been since this blog got started. Something needs to give I know that for certain. When and in what direction remains the question.