Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Notch in My Mental Armor

To be honest, as this blog pretty succinctly details, my mental armor is pretty notched up.  That's how it happens.  Little things.  Tiny little occurrences that you pay very little attention to somehow seem to pile up in the recesses of your subconscious until you dump them.  How do you dump them?  Hell if I know.  My advice is to save up the copay, hop on a couch, and let the crazy flow from you like a river.  Some people actually claim that therapy helps.  Me, I always seemed to stick to the "That's for other, weaker people; I can handle it myself" approach.  After all, I'm a fairly bright guy with an over-inflated sense of self control.  I should be fine.  Scratch that.  I AM fine.  Just fine.

2003 was a very weird year for me.  Lots of changes.  I dropped out of my cushy little private college, got married, joined the military, and moved sixteen hours away from my home with my new wife.  We settled into the nicest 650 square foot home that we could afford in our upscale town, that doubled as a vacation spot for the rich during the summer months.  Nothing forces you to grow closer to a new spouse than literally being unable to avoid them at all times.

I adjusted to a military life of order and strict discipline.  To long days on the river and increasingly shorter nights of sleep.  But I could handle it.  I was fine.

A few months into this new life we held a work life training session over the span of a couple of days.  It consisted of the usual "how to manage your life" sessions on relationships, money, time, work, and stress.  The session on stress contained a neat little handout.  The handout was a one page list, front and back, of life situations that one could face.  We were instructed to place a nice check mark next to any of the things that we'd experienced in the last twelve months.  As I began marking off life experiences, I noticed that my sheet was pretty full.  It seemed that I'd been subconsciously going through quite a few significant experiences, but had failed to sense their importance.

A few minutes after I turned my page in, I was asked to step outside by the instructors and my commanding officer.  The head instructor approached me with a pathetic display of baby gloves as he asked me if I'd been experiencing any nagging health issues he needed to know about.  He asked if I'd been to a doctor lately, or if I was seeking any professional counseling.  I responded no to all of his inquiries.  He looked very puzzled and informed me that my life had changed so drastically in the past year that he was concerned over my mental health.  He was concerned that my stress levels would begin to affect my ability to work well with others, my marriage, and even my physical health.

I blew off his questions and returned to work.  But I was puzzled.  How was I supposed to feel?  Why didn't I feel the "right" way?  Was I broken?  Was I a super hero?  Ok, probably not a super hero.

Life churned on.  Two kids, three hurricanes, a car accident, three jobs, the end of my twenties, and a stagnant feeling of overwhelming ordinariness.  Flash to a few months back.  Amanda and I took the kids to the Neshoba county fair.  It's a family event for Amanda's family, but I don't always go.  In fact, I rarely go.  There are so many things to dislike about the fair.  It's CRAZY freaking hot, dirty red clay, crammed accommodations, screaming kids, drunk rednecks, country music, bad food, and oppressive boredom.  But I'd skipped out a few too many times, and I could tell that Amanda really wanted me to come along this year.

The day before the fair I began to experience some weird sensations.  I began feeling some slight tinges of pain in my right side.  The pain was fleeting and pretty tame, but it was there.  Over the next few days, my symptoms increased.  I won't say what all they consisted of, but there was gastrointestinal distress......for 5 days.  While at the fair, someone mentioned that I might be experiencing a slight gallbladder attack.  Once we left the fair, my condition greatly improved.  Must've been the food.

A few weeks later I flew to Texas to interview for a job.  A big job.  A job that would change our lives, significantly.  A job that would alter my career path in a very positive way.  I slapped on a coat and tie, jumped on a plane, and withstood almost four hours of interviews.  It went well.  The moment my left butt cheek touched the seat of the cab that was to return me to the airport, I got a strange feeling.  I was dizzy.  The pain returned.  I couldn't make things slow down in my mind, but as I reported in to Amanda on the phone I sounded like I was nearly asleep.  I missed my flight and the discomfort increased.  The entire flight home was a blur of dizziness and worry.  Was something wrong with me?  Something really wrong?

It came and went over the next few weeks but I tried to ignore it.  That's when a cute little tropical storm popped up in the gulf.

"I don't need this.  I need to hear about this job.  Why am I so stuck in this repeating cycle of plodding failure and shortcomings?  Why don't they want me?  Was I too eager?  Too confident?  Not confident enough?  Gee, that storm slid right by Florida.  Do I really want this job? Of course I do!  Huh, that storm sure looks like it's headed this way.  Maybe they'll call tomorrow.  ok, not today, but maybe the next day.  Damn, still no call.  Hurricane Isaac.  I don't like the sound of that.  I've got too much to do this week."

This constant and incessant mental chatter was only compounded by that tinge of pain.  It's getting worse.  I couldn't make it stop or stretch it out.  That's when the dizziness returned, only this time it came with a vengeance.  Much more intense than it'd been before.  This followed with bi-hourly trips to the bathroom for four hours and finally, vomiting.  After I vomited, my energy level dropped and I fell asleep, hard.  Monday morning, I woke up and began working from home.  I had a great day and felt SO much better.  Must've been a bug.  After work, Amanda and I ran out to pick up a few things to hold us through until the storm passed.  After supper, I sat in front of the computer and the feeling returned.  This time was worse than ever.  My hands trembled as I googled "gallbladder attack."  The symptoms were dead on.  I might be in trouble.  Then, at the bottom of the page I was referred to other issues that it might be.  These read like a horror story of death and woe.  "Ok, I'm definitely in trouble.  I can't get it under control.  Why can't I just get control?" 

 As I walked, nervously, into the living room Amanda's face said it all.  She knew I was worried.  I don't worry.  Ever.  I'm the calm one.  I'm the re-assuring one who calms everyone else down.  But this time's different.  I grab the keys and tell her that I've got to go to the emergency room and that I'm in trouble. 

The triage nurse seems unconvinced of my imminent doom.  She takes my blood pressure.  175/80.  Uhh, that seems a tad on the high side.  She tells me that I need to calm down or I'm going to cause myself some serious issues.  She tells me that when people come in to the ER with the conditions I rattled off to her, they are in extreme pain and vomiting uncontrollably.  She assures me I'm not dying, though I'm sure she's wrong.  So I settle into my hospital bed, backless gown and all, and try to settle down.  They take samples and give me an IV, should I need medication.

I freak out with every button pressed by the radiologist as she ultrasounds my entire abdomen.  I try to read her expressions as she stares at the screen.  Surely something will give away her poker face.  Nothing.  A little later a very bored doctor comes in and explains that the ultrasound showed nothing but perfectly healthy organs.  The lab report from my samples showed likewise.  Nothing.  My nurse explained that he'd done the same thing a few years earlier.  He told me not to worry.  Gee, nice prescription.

But, it was something.  I panicked.  Not baby panic, or a little worry.  I manifested symptoms that wrecked my body and my psyche.  I've not dealt with the things in my mind.  They caught up with me.  I mostly use this blog to tell wacky stories from my past.  Honestly, it's deflection.  If I think about that stuff long enough, may I'll convince myself that I'm so much more stable now.  That I'm headed in the right direction.  That I know the way.  The illusion of control is only an outward expression.  You can only say "don't worry" for so long.  Eventually, your mind will slam on the brakes.

So what's the resolution?  There isn't one.  At this point the only thing I'm convinced of is that our lives are a never ending daisy chain of inner-conflict.  You don't always get to resolve everything.  Those words you said, that insult you hurled, that job you missed, that money you wasted, those years you wasted, that life you wasted.  You don't get do-overs.  That's the real panic inducing thought.  My fear was only compounded by the realization of finality.  If I was dying, this was it.  I'd had my chance.  This is what I did with it.  I worried about jobs, and money, and insults, and misused words.  How incredibly small.  That was my real fear.  My primal fear.  I wasted it.

Oh wait, I'm not dying.  My story isn't finished.  I still have a pen and plenty of blank pages.  hmm.  What to write?  What to write?


  1. As usual pithy and pathos. I love it and YOU!

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  3. And have you laid on a couch and let it spew forth like a river yet? Sometimes just talking it out or writing it down is therapy enough. You know I'm certifiable and have more initials than a professional student so I say this to you... You like to be in control. You can be in control. But only of your reaction to things that happen. That's all you can control. If you're level 10 stressed out pretending everything is okay when something else gets piled on, you're gonna wig out. Being a man does not equal being in control all of the time. Sharing your story will show you those rock solid people you thought you knew? Well, they're on antidepressants too. Normal is a setting on your dryer.

  4. Thanks Cindy. No couches for me, yet. Writing about it does seem to help me see all the angles of the issue and usually the true motivator of my stress. You should see some of the stuff I haven't published. haha. I don't really have a perception of manhood = can hack it. I think my stress issues had a LOT more to do with not facing the fact that the things going on in my life were somewhat heavier than the credit I consciously gave them. I think that's probably my therapy session "ah ha" moment from this whole thing. Gotta treat certain things in my life, and the things that happen to me, as seriously as they deserve. Thanks for reading my drivel. Hope you like it, or at least giggle at it sometimes.