July 2009


I went out of my office in late afternoon to have a cup of coffee and sit in the park near our building. I brought with me a copy of Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo. Everything about the setting was beneficial to anyone seeking calm and perhaps serenity. The sun was was out and a medium blue sky was above. Trees shaded the walkways and the benches lined along them. Sitting down and reading was a bit tough, though. I wanted to enjoy the setting and read maybe 10 pages or so, but my mind kept drifting inward to something strange, but hard to identify. It was a few minutes before I realized what it was that seemed to be percolating and that was unguarded emotion, something that I have been used to putting out of its misery like a wounded dog for many years with food and sometimes booze or prescriptions they give you that are easy to mistakenly take the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

The emotions that I felt were of lonesomeness, fear and warriness. It’s been a while since I stared them in the face and didn’t blink. It’s strange how emotions are supposed to help us to navigate life and for the most part serve a purpose and yet we also can’t help but avoid some while embracing others.

Maybe it’s alright to feel a bit lonely at times. It doesn’t need to be ignored, denied, buried or obscured. Perhaps anger at loved ones, friends and even ones self are reasonable responses towards certain situations. It could be that self-doubt is something that can bring forth greater faith in one’s own life.

When we’re left to face the potency of our emotions without flinching, it’s kinda scary. Next year I turn 30, which is one of those milestones in life. It is my hope that a decade from now – or sooner – I’ll have a better grasp over my emotions and be more accepting of them rather than trying to push them away. Today felt like a good step in that direction. I got up from the bench, went back to my desk and focused on some of what I was feeling, inviting it to stick around in my mind’s eye for a while without judging or encouraging it. For some reason, it made me feel more alive, though frightened. Strange how things work.

Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about being a mindful observer of my anger. This morning – its’ 5:30 a.m. and I hardly slept – I realize that part of what I was experiencing was the side effect of withdrawal from about a month or so of steadily taking Klonopin.

For a decent part of eight years, I’ve been prescribed this medication to treat anxiety. When I was 21 and the panic and other anxiety disorders that had been largely sporadic in episodes  in my brain began to worsen, it was the yellow pills that helped to bring my mind into some balance. I’ll never forget the night in my apartment in Boston after more than a week of intense anxiety that I took one of these pills. It had been prescribed to me earlier in the day by a Chinese psychiatrist (no, not like some ancient medicinal root). She warned me that it was addictive so it would need to be managed well. When I finally did take it ours later, I noticed an effect within minutes. My brain, which had largely been in overdrive for days, seemed to slow down to a managable pace. I felt a bit more control. At the time, I had no idea that was the same drug a lot of people use to cut loose.

Over the past eight years, I have taken it on and off, but rarely night after night for more than a week. Since early June I was laying on it more than I should have for sleep and to relieve stresses that I normally can handle just through breathing or doing something I am about to do in a a few minutes, which is to go for a run. Klonopin was more helpful for me during times of intense panic that came night after night or in relaxing on an airplane. Though I have been prescribed a daily dosage, I’ve never taken it that way until recently.  So, beginning a few days ago, I began to taper back until yesterday, when I took literally one quarter of a pill.

Last night was an awful night in some senses and I think it was because of my body perhaps saying to me, “what the fuck, man go take some!”

I slept fitfully, and experienced two very frightening dreams. I also woke up in a panic at one point. Combined, although I laid down at 10 p.m. feeling restless, I slept on and off for probably a combined five hours. At one point I got up and turned on my computer to play a simulation baseball game I have. I had trouble thinking straight, though and my lineups made little sense (my players did perform very well though!). After a shower and some stretching, I put on a familiar song list on iTunes and ran my photos on a slideshow. I drifted off somewhere between Emmylou Harris singing “Sweet Dreams” and Ray Price and Willie Nelson singing “Soft Rain”. Still, I’m up early, but tired. I have little doubt this is my body’s response to not having the little yellow pill!

I want to only take it for flights and extreme panic attacks that keep me up. Like recently, when I finally ditched taking Ambien, I’ll go through some withdrawal, I’m sure. Right now, I’m going to put my sneakers on and head out for a run to see if that helps. After all, I’ve got a big day of work ahead of me and need all the calm I can get. Just not from a yellow pill.

It was strange how I was just able to obsrve within myself how a little anger can impact and influence my thinking patterns. It’s interesting that I was able to sit in the impartial observer seat for a little while, noticing how frustration over something was causing me to think very negatively.

A few hours ago, I returned to my apartment from a nice fulfilling run in which I felt myself right in the moment most of the way, not thinking about work or money or anything else that my mind tends to want to drift off towards. My roommate and I had a minor argument about something and although I acknowledged he was right, I still felt a well of anger inside of me. The conflict was resolved, it didn’t involve shouting or anything, but for some reason, I felt mad. Mad at constructive and relavent criticism coming from this person. I went and took a shower and did some energy exercises and yet I still felt this negativity peppering the way I felt. As I drove to get a cup of coffee, everyone on the street, everything around me seemed to irritate me. At first I was mad at myself for feeling angry, but then I understood that I was in a beneficial situation. I was actually watching my mood change, observing a cause and effect relationship between my thoughts and my mood. Suddenly, it felt alright to be a bit angry, to acknowledge it, not judge it or try to bury it, but to see how it works.

Its alright to be angry, so long as you dont punch holes in the wall!

It's alright to be angry, so long as you don't punch holes in the wall! (that's not me right there)

I was angy because of the perfect shit storm of things coming at once; returning to work tomorrow after a few days off, something my roommate had said during our disagreement, and the fact that some of my days off were spent making repairs to something that was not my responsibility. All of these factors are reasonable in contributing to feeling anger. It’s alright to feel angry sometimes.

That said, I’m choosing to do somethign alright with it; to accept it as a lesson and to appreciate being able to witness how anger works without beating up on myself. Since sitting there with my  coffee, noticing my negative thoughts and accepting them without standing in judgment of myself, the anger has lost some of its punch and I actually feel quit better. Strange how these things work.

I’ve incorporated the core-affirming thoughts that I wrtoe about in my last blog into my running routine. Sometimes when I am running through this city, my mind drifts back to the things that I particularly don’t want to think about or perhaps would do better not to think about, like a lazy coworker, soemthing hurtful a friend or stranger may have said, the state of the world or the state of my wallet. These are allt hings that seem to take a toll, if overvalued on the whole person that I am because my focus becomes less on me without the externals and more on me made up of the things that bother me on the outside.

That said, harping online about the personal flaws in my thinking makes me feel a bit like a weakling, which I’m really not. I think everyone – from the smartest person in the world (which I am not) to the dumbest person in the world (which I’m not) fixates on externals. It’s just a matter of how well you can ignore them and not let them bother you. As annoying as they can be, I respect “bros” a bit because they are pretty cool with just saying “fuck it” about some of the defeating thoughts and project the tough, guy, ‘hell may care’ attitude. A pushover pussy I’m not, but neither am I a bro type.

I can’t tell. Perhaps I should, even at the old age of near 30, reinvent myself as a bro. Maybe it would preclude the need for c0re-affirming thoughts!

I’m a big fan of the Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi. A family member of mine who is a counselor gave me a copy a few years ago when I was really struggling with self-confidence issues and had ballooned to about 220 lbs! (though I’m not sure the weight was why they suggested the book).

That was in the spring of 2006 and some of the concepts in the workbook seemed daunting. It was hard to read that each person has worth, particularly because months before I’d been laid off from my first post-college job, was single (still am) and had next to no money (still don’t!).

Two months ago I revisited the book, which is modular. It’s format is like any other self-help workbook in that it requires a good deal of effort to not only read it but do the exercises. Schiraldi, like my other favorite self-help author David Burns, emphasizes the power of thinking, that we sometimes have overvalued ideas and distortions in our thinking that are the direct result of issues in our lives – generally speaking, our earlier years. Both authors teach that it’s how you think that in many ways determines how you feel. Thinking is more than half the battle in daily life.

To grow up feeling that one needs to have good grades, good looks and good athletic ability to have any worth, when one reaches his or her adulthood they will certainly have a disadvantage in negotiating the day-to-day challenges of existence. So much of how we feel is how we think. If a person succeeds five times in landing new customers for his company but on the sixth time fails to do so, the law of  averages would  indicate  that  he’s  pretty  successful. Still there are many people who are totally unable to accept any type of failure or set back in their life (I know, I’m too often guilty of that) so that they feel they must be successful all the time or nearly all the time to be happy. They must succeed to be worthwhile. That is a thinking pattern that can lead to a very miserable life. That and other distortions of thinking are what Burns and Schiraldi emphasize hold people back from acknowledging their core value and the blessings of day-to-day existence. It’s very easy to do.

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