A Much Needed Personal Update

It can derail your progress, reduce your motivation and take away your happiness.  It can distort your thinking, distract you from tackling important priorities and prevent you from personal advancement.  It traps you in a bubble of your own discontent resulting in increased feelings of helplessness and dread.  And you can feel so alone much of the time. 
Sometimes, your mind can be your own worst enemy and you don’t even know it.  It’s only when a significant revelation hits you squarely and undeniably that you begin to realize why your life seems permanently stuck in mental quicksand.
It happened to me this past May.  One night early that month I went to bed feeling particularly great.  As I got settled in, though, I started paying attention to my heart.  It was beating really fast.  That was odd.  I was perfectly calm just moments earlier.  It kept beating and beating at a relentless rhythm and I couldn’t ignore it. Needless to say, I barely slept that night.
The next day, I had all this energy despite a lack of significant rest.  After trying to use it up in some way, I went to bed still feeling anxious.  (You can imagine the frustration.)
This was unusual.  Apart from being ill, I don’t remember ever having two consecutive sleepless nights before, not even during my school years.  Fortunately, I figured out a way to calm down.  After showering and shaving, doing laundry and vacuuming two carpets, I settled in for a great night of sleeping.  I barely noticed my heartbeat (it had slowed down significantly due to my busy day) and was extremely tired.  I spent the next afternoon hanging with a friend still feeling great but much more relaxed.  Another long, restful slumber awaited me later that evening.  Wonderful.
But on the fifth night, the anxiety returned.  As a result, a new, troubling pattern emerged:  one or two good nights of comfortable rest followed by one or two bad nights of reduced shut-eye.  On the good nights, I slept soundly with a calm heart whose beating I barely noticed.  On the bad nights, my eyes would be closed but my heart just wouldn’t settle down.  It was baffling.  I would lay there for hours wondering what the problem was.  Sometimes, I would subject myself to FM radio hoping it would help me doze off.  Usually, it did.  But only for a few hours. 
Feeling a depression coming on (due to increased nervousness, my declining appetite reduced my weight to 112 pounds), I turned to my local library for help.  Soon thereafter, several reserved self-help books were immediately picked up.  Over the next, several weeks, I devoured their contents looking for answers to my bizarre insomnia.  Feeling so low at one point, I booked an appointment with my longtime physician.  A complete physical was requested (it had been awhile) but it wouldn’t be happening for two weeks.  (Blood work was normal and there’s nothing physically wrong with me.)  Much earlier, I emailed an old college professor who I had recently reconnected with on Facebook.  His wife (whom I ‘ve never met in person) specializes in mental health, he once wrote to me, so I reached out to him hoping for some answers from her.  It would be months until I heard from both of them.  (It turned out he was going through his own depression at the same time.  I hope he’s doing better.)
The same day I scheduled a sit-down with my doctor, my friend of 24 years sent me an email.  My birthday was coming up and he wanted to treat me to a movie.  Despite feeling underfed and miserable after a month of suffering, I accepted his invite.  The night before an afternoon screening of The Strangers, frequent trips to the bathroom and a nervous demeanour resulted in only 2 hours sleep.  It was unclear whether seeing a film in the afternoon was possible.  I forced myself to eat two apples and two sandwiches the day of the screening.  Thankfully, there was no nausea.  Despite feeling blech, I went to the movies with my buddy.  How I was able to be awake and concentrate fully on this abysmal film, I’m not sure.  At any event, it was a turning point.  My appetite increased during the next couple of weeks.  By the time I saw the doctor, I was back up to 116.5 pounds.  I even started sleeping better with fewer bad nights.
It was during my doctor’s appointment that the idea of seeing a shrink came up.  Great idea.  There would be a delay, however.  The earliest chance of securing a one-on-one session was two months away.  Six weeks later, while watching Airport and after a brief interlude of phone tag, my mental health counsellor and I settled on a day and a time.  By the time I sat down with her for the first time that August afternoon, I had finally figured out why I was experiencing occasional insomnia.  I was obsessing too much about my heart.  Instead of simply listening to it beat, I would start to worry about whether its rhythm was too fast which inevitably made it go faster.  By neither paying attention to its rhythm nor worrying about it, I was able to settle down and get some much needed rest.  Thankfully, in the last couple of months, there have been considerably more good nights of sleep than bad.  (I can count on one, maybe two hands, the number of irregular nights I’ve since suffered through.)  Furthermore, my weight is back up to 120.
All of this is a long way of explaining why there have been fewer postings this year, particularly in the last, several months.  (And yes, I wrote something remarkably similiar on May 1st.  I just checked.)  Besides this upsetting obsession with my heart, I had been dealing with other obsessions, mainly women from my past.  A couple of them led to the feelings that kept me up for several nights in the spring.  It was weird having all these endorphins floating around in my body while simultaneously brooding over my insomnia and feeling bummed out about these long ended entanglements.  It took two weeks or so for the chemicals to die out and that’s when my brief depression got worse.  At some point, I realized I was wasting my time thinking about all these broads.  After asking myself a straightforward question (why am I obssessing about women who don’t make me happy?), I snapped out of it. 
My second shrink session led me to the doorstep of Employment Hamilton.  They improved my resume and gave me some advice on how to undergo an effective job search.  This week, I’ve been submitting resumes and, where necessary, completed applications to nearly a dozen businesses hoping to land something part-time.  This is something I’ve long resisted persuing.  I’m a stubborn ass who is learning gradually to overcome personal negativity and timidity in order to get reacquainted with the workforce, something that hasn’t happened for me since the start of this decade.
While I attempt to end my Costanza period (“Hi, I’m Dennis.  I’m unemployed and live with my parents.”), I hope to continue writing on a more regular basis, a task that has proven difficult for much of the year.  I make no promises, though.
The good news is that this website has passed 21000 hits and routinely receives hundreds of visitors every week, some of whom leave comments.  There is still interest in the contents posted here which is very encouraging.  Here’s hoping that becomes one of the motivating factors for me to work on more pieces more often.
You may have noticed some additions to a couple of my lists.  Three of the self-help books I borrowed from the library – The Everything Health Guide To OCD, The OCD Answerbook and Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy – have been added to my Amazon book list.  I highly recommened them for anybody going through mental health problems.  They’re both engaging and extremely helpful.  Learning that it’s possible to reassure yourself about irrational fears and negative thinking by constantly challenging them through straightforward exercises is such a relief, you have no idea.  Also worth reading is Free Ride: John McCain And The Media, an eye-opening examination of remarkably unskeptical “journalism”.  Want to know why the longtime Arizona Republican seems to get extraordinarily positive press despite being a blatantly transparent phony with shady political connections?  This book offers compelling answers.  A timely publication.
One last thing.  I’ve added a couple of new Recommended Websites.  Replacing Entertainment Weekly and Editor & Publisher are Daily Howler, Bob Somerby’s blog that tirelessly criticizes awful American journalism that has been too conservatively biased for far too long, and Glenn Greenwald’s blog on Salon.com.  The latter offers some refreshing commentary on politics and the news media rarely heard on TV or seen in print.  Both are worth checking out.  They’re updated frequently.
As I continue to turn my life around and prepare for an independent adulthood I’ve long dreamt for myself, I hope to keep things interesting on this site.  God knows there’s lots to write about.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 5, 2008
9:37 p.m.
Published in: on September 5, 2008 at 9:36 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hey dude, glad to hear your feeling better! If you find your readings about mental health interesting, you might want to go one step further and pick up a book on Neural Linguistic Programming- or NLP for short. It’s another great topic about how to “observe” and even “program” your thoughts. It may not be as entertaining as a good McCain yarn… or The Strangers… (HA!) but it may give you a few more excellent ideas and strategies for coping with compulsion and other stuff.

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