Saturday, January 24, 2015

When Everything is Going Well

Twelve days ago, I stopped drinking, Almost. Maybe. Not sure yet. A lifetime of substance abuse. Serious and destructive in my teens, in my twenties and thirties. Under control in my forties and fifties, sort of. I drink daily, two drinks, three drinks. Never drunk but unable to quit. Afraid to quit. Always worried that without my relaxing, day-end glasses of wine, life won't be worth living. Now I'm not sure this is true.

On Sunday morning, I ran ten miles and change. Thirty years ago, I did this weekly, sometimes twice a week. Long exploring runs throughout Washington, DC. National parks, nice neighborhoods, not-so-nice neighborhoods. That was before knee-bursitis hobbled me. Limited my runs to four or five miles at a shot, my weekly total to less than fifteen. There have been times I've been able to push out longer runs, including a ten mile race three years ago, but since Sunday was actually a quarter-mile longer than ten, this was my longest run in at least twenty years.

Eighteen months ago, I started blogging.  Writing at a local coffee shop, once or twice a week. I envisioned myself a curmudgeon. I believed that I had funny, insightful complaints about society. My blog would be my outlet. I would get attention and become a syndicated columnist. Paid to bitch – everybody’s dream. This didn't happen, or it hasn't happened yet. I'm not funny, and for the most part, I only write about myself. My writing sessions have expanded to four or five per week, and the stuff that comes out, all very personal. Not about society, except in ways that I mirror society. Self-exploration in a way that has allowed me to better understand myself and make some positive changes.

And here, at the start of a new year, a time when it is natural to take stock of your life, I've been thinking about the impact that writing has had on my physical and mental health. We all have nagging thoughts. Weight issues, financial worries, chronic injuries, relationship problems. Because I have OCD, my nagging thoughts probably nag a bit more than others'. And when those thoughts become unbearable, when I develop the courage to face a topic, when I decide to spend four to eight hours thinking and writing about a problem, I often solve that problem. Probably too strong a word. Most problems are unsolvable. But I gain understanding, acceptance, peace. I change or improve the way the problem affects me.

At times we need to step back and assess. It is easy to get caught up in the problem of the day. Assume that because something isn't right, everything is wrong. By looking back at what I was concerned about a few years ago, I realize that I'm a completely different person. I'm more confident, more balanced, kinder. Actualized, at least a little. Three years ago, all I could think about was how much I hated my job. Frustration with co-workers, my boss, my pay, my responsibilities. I felt like a loser. A smallish fish in a small pond. I compared myself to those around me. Their profession, their pay, their athletic ability. Everyone was more impressive. Everyone else had their act together.

I was agitated, quick to anger, quick to put myself down. Obsessive thoughts, Tourette’s tics, chronic injuries that limited my running, my overall fitness. Social anxiety – unable to connect with those around me. That was three years ago. Today? OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome, injuries, social anxiety – they are all still present. But they leave me less agitated, less angry. As my wife’s Buddhist guru, Tara Brach would say, “by exploring these subjects, by inviting them in, by spending time with my problems, I take away their power."  

Last Monday morning, I was riding the double high of a week without alcohol, and a Sunday morning run long enough to leave me fully winded. I was buzzing. Feeling like all of my problems were solved. My OCD has been simmering on low. The unattractive retching I experience when stressed, unexpected dry-heaves, and occasionally vomiting, has disappeared. Missing for four weeks. I don’t know where it went, but I’m glad it’s gone. Tourette’s tics, omnipresent, have become a non-issue. I’ve told everyone I know that I have Tourette's Syndrome. The tics are just part of who I am. Take me or leave me.

Monday morning, everything was cured. Throw away the Prozac and cancel my therapy appointments. Sign up for a marathon and book me to give a presentation at the chamber of commerce. I was fixed. My blogging, my self-analysis, my therapy, my incessant foam rolling. Changes to my running style, my form.  All of the things I’ve incorporated to combat these problems, they worked. Not a problem left in the world.

Monday afternoon, I was a mess. Elevated, agitated beyond belief. Obsessing about everything in my life. Unable to focus at work, unable to control my tics, even a little. I know these ups and downs are part of mental illness, and actually part of everyone's life. Mine are likely to be more dramatic than the next person's, but I am now blessed with the ability to understand what's happening. When OCD and anxiety strike, I'm not blind-sided. I don't lash out at my co-workers, my wife, my kids. I'm able to fall back on my experiences to weather the storm, knowing that tomorrow – or even later today – will be better.

For the first time since I started my self-improvement regeime of therapy and theraputic writing, I am able to look at myself, my overall being and say I'm better. Not cured. This stuff isn't curable. But I'm better, much better, than I was.

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