Writing had become something that provided me much satisfaction and then, in case you didn’t notice – I stopped. There are a few partial drafts yet to be completed and many unwritten stories waiting to be told. Content is not the problem. I just feel that I lost my voice…my words…my wit…my unique “take” on expressing myself.
Some years ago, a friend shared on Facebook his mental health struggles. Reading it, I thought, “Wait a minute. He’s as fit as can be and competes in Iron Man races. He has a management position in the pharmaceutical industry. Three kids, a hot wife. He appears to have it all going for himself”. While I don’t remember the words he posted, I remember the moment I read them. First, I felt like a peeping Tom and almost stopped reading as I felt it was an invasion of his privacy. Then, the more I read, I remember being immensely struck by the honesty and lack of shame that he was sharing. I remember feeling so happy that perhaps those words were helping someone that felt “off”, but that they perhaps could not put words or definitions to what they were feeling. So, with as much trepidation as confidence, I’m going to share some of what has been going on with me for the past two and a half years. While this blog has zero to do with life on the road, I hope that it does two (maybe three) things. 1) Be the catalyst to allow me to feel comfortable writing again. 2) Update friends on why I stopped writing and maybe stopped being whatever “myself” was. 3) Perhaps give support or help connect dots for someone reading this who is struggling and feeling “off”.
In September 2019, just five months after retiring and moving into a RV, something really bad happened to my best friend. I was utterly powerless to resolve the situation or to provide any meaningful support. The fear turned to anger and then the anger turned to rage. The particulars are something I agreed to keep secret, although it was a secret that I did not even understand. Wrapped up 24/7 into this rage, I was overcome with wanting to do quite severe things to rescue my friend. Two months later, at the end of my annual physical, my doctor asked, “So Jim, anything else that you want to talk about”? I will never forget that moment as I knew that I was about to immediately start crying. I explained the situation and a few minutes later, I was answering a mental health questionnaire. As the nurse read the questions, I felt an out of body type of experience as I responded honestly to the questions.The answers were completely incongruent with who I knew myself to be. It felt like I was both the person being interviewed and an observer of someone being interviewed. Before my doctor said the word, I knew that I was a mess and my answers left no doubt that I was clinically depressed.
Wait…What? Depressed? Me? The king of small talk…never met a stranger…like Tigger from Winnie The Pooh, bouncing off walls…I vividly remembered the proctor of a Myers Briggs Personality workshop telling me that she’d never seen someone score a 100 on the Introvert / Extrovert scale (yes, I am / was an extrovert). Wait, Tigger is depressed? Off to a psychiatrist I went and after three different meds that made me feel either worse or no different, I went back to my PCP and Jonathan suggested Lexapro for depression and Trazodone for restful sleep. Through the ramp up process of dosage, I started to feel better. But I also felt immense shame and resignation, thinking that my emotions were being controlled by a fucking orange bottle of pills.
Fast Forward….Three months later, a doctor is sitting by my hospital bed telling me that I almost died last night. He explains that I had septic shock and that his guess of the cause was a bizarre term I had never heard of – Leaky Gut Syndrome. “What the hell is that”, I asked and I’ll never forget him looking at me and asking….”Have you been dealing with extreme trauma or stress recently”? I explained to him what I can’t explain here due to promises of confidence. He nodded his head and concluded that while he could not be certain, this was likely the cause. So, once the 13 IV lines were out of me and the days of hallucinations mercifully subsided, I faced the reality that I pretty much got myself so upset that it almost killed me. What a fucking smack of reality that was and continues to be.
Next thing you know, it is a month later and I am recuperating while reviewing therapists on psychologytoday.com, a process that felt akin to perusing online restaurant menus. And, that is how I met Dr. Christina, the person that ultimately, and with one single question, opened my self awareness to the extent of finding out that Earth is round and not flat. I’ve always been a Doubting Thomas, immensely skeptical, presuming everyone has “an angle” or that everything is a “pitch”. That skepticism probably served me well in business, but to say that I had been dismissive on mental health diagnoses would be an understatement. Sure, I believe lab results from a blood test, but equally believed in the idiom, “Physician, Heal Thyself”, or in less-articulate terms, “Rub some dirt on it” or “Walk it off”. I pretty much refused to believe that someone in a white lab coat could get inside someones’ head and make an empirical diagnosis of mental health.
You thought that part was dicey – wait till you get a load of what is next. At the start of one session talking about my friend’s situation and my rage, I told Christina that I was feeling pretty OK and asked if we could take a break on the topic of my friend and talk about something else. Sure, she said and what a fork in the road this took. I asked her if she remembered one particular answer on my new patient intake form and her response was, “Yes, I have been waiting for the time to talk about this”. I begin to explain this odd relationship that happened with an older woman when I was thirteen years old. She listened intently and after I rambled through some of the gory details, she asked the question that I believe changed my life. Essentially, she posed the question, “What if your niece called you and told you that the same circumstances happened to her”? After I blurted out “flight to Boston”, “torture” and “body would never be found”, she interrupted me and rephrased the question, substituting nephew. My slightly softened response included “violence”, “police” and “lawsuits”. With a single – a single question, Christina made me immediately understand what had truly happened to me. Wait…What the fuck? I was…..what?
Over the past two years, I have learned so much about myself from therapy sessions. I have become more self-aware, more compassionate to others suffering from trauma and mental health issues. Throughout my career, I’ve kind of gotten a rush out of fixing difficult problems and laborious work. I’ve never been scared of pain to a large degree. “So what? It just hurts”, I’d say. Now I find myself doing a type of therapy called Exposure Therapy and every day, I’d spend an hour by myself speaking out loud the awful details of 1977 and 1978. Forget finding errors in massive spreadsheets, eight flight segments a week, running hot dog carts at 2:00AM in Massachusetts Winters. This therapy shit was the absolute epitome of the hardest fucking work I have ever taken on. Every week, she would ask me to express my SUDS (Subjective Units Of Distress) regarding my childhood abuse where 0 is laying in a pile of puppies and 100 is being on fire. My 85’s became 60’s, then 40’s until finally some months later, 5 or 0. Somehow, and in ways that I can’t really explain, things became better.
So anyway…here I was at 58 years old, being smacked in the face with shocking new realities and taking antidepressant pills. Surreal to say the least. Work hard…Live well under our means…Get out of the workforce and start enjoying life all made sense. We executed that plan and six months later I almost killed myself from rage induced septic shock. Another ten months and BOOM, I realize that the strange and unique relationship as a kid was sexual abuse. Again – Wait. What the absolute fuck is happening? Oh, and to top it off, we’ve sold the house and left our friends.
Man, it just struck me – what a damn downer this blog must be to read. Sorry bout that. But, what do you want for free? 🙂
So, what’s the point of this blog? The meds and the sense of “Do I even know myself?” made it hard for me to continue writing in my witty, irreverent style. I’m certainly not depressed any more as my friends’ turmoil finally resolved itself. Christina diagnosed me with GAD, General Anxiety Disorder, which she explains is kind of the umbrella where other issues reside under. In addition to PTSD associated with my childhood mess, after taking some tests, it came as no surprise to me that I have some OCD issues and truthfully, I wear that in unapologetic fashion. We are all quirky in one way or another. So what if I back into all parking spots….feel anxious if windows or my glasses are less than perfectly clean. Christina has taught me to sit with that discomfort and perhaps allow a window to have a smudge or, dreadful as it sounds, pull straight into a parking spot. I learned from Christina that what happened to me at 13 was something that a kids brain is not equipped to process and the fact that I misunderstood it, was simply the process of my brain protecting me. I have learned that trauma keeps us “stuck” and shuts down our inner compass. She’s explained that humans are complex and we don’t always need to know. I’ll never win a physical struggle with emotion and I should widen my window of tolerance. We all have our blind spots and in-congruencies and I have to remember to speak to my emotions and not through them. I have learned to pay better attention to limits and that I am essentially re-wiring myself. Progress is not linear, be comfortable with the uncomfortable and that OCD and anxiety are exhausting. One of my biggest issues has been black and white / rigid thinking, so I am trying to approach things with more curiosity and that growth is on the outside of the boundaries.
About two months ago, Christina asked me to try EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy and shift from our talk therapy. I am not even close to being able to explain exactly how EMDR works, but damn – it does work and it has been both amazing and exhausting.
So, best that I can pinpoint the reason….mental health issues is why I stopped writing. I’m hoping that the creativity, the wittiness, whatever made my words come together in an interesting fashion do return. Finally, I hope that just like when my friends Facebook comments about his mental health struggles really opened up my mind, perhaps someone gets something out of my journey. Time to proof read this thing and hopefully (unlike my old self) I said not too much, but just enough.
(Morning After Edits) Plenty of laying in bed last night thinking about who was going to read this and discover personal aspects about me….mother in law, ex co-workers, ex girlfriends. Resisted the urge to get up and modify the post. Had an amazing therapy call today. While I still feel a bit squeamish considering that yesterday only five people knew this happened and now perhaps a few hundred people know…it helps solidify to myself that I was an innocent kid. And, despite aspects of the trauma that clearly still reside with me, I can remind myself that somehow, the messed up kid without a college degree was debt free at 45 years old and left the workplace at 55, financially secure to travel and explore this amazing country. So, somehow…things worked out. I have considered removing some of my dark blogs written when my friend was in harms way, but ultimately decided to leave them as it reflects me at that time. Also, now that I am discovering more about myself and being able to see things less rigidly, I’m hoping that my love of writing returns. Time now to drive to Yachats, OR in search of a frosty stout or IPA.
Lynn’s Two Cents – Having had my own mental health issues in the past, I am so proud of the hard work Jim has been doing and continues to do every week. Therapy and medication are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Please, if you are reading this and need help, reach out to a therapist. Do it for you, do it for your family. Your future self will thank you a million times over.
Thanks for that, Jim. While some may be “shocked and appalled” by your honesty, it actually leads some of us to look our own lives and think “WTF?” I know I have my own shit to deal with, but I never take the time to do anything. I’m too fuckin’ busy taking care of everyone else’s bad decisions. The son needs (no, wants) a car despite more than a year of fruitless job searches. I’m still supporting him. Meanwhile, I’m supporting a 23 YO with no life objectives while only receiving a much reduced retirement income. Then the daughter has run up 11 grand in credit card debt and needs help. Oh, and she now wants to move to AZ from VA. Guess who’s paying for that? The wife needs her RA meds and the new exchange policy I had to buy for her won’t pay for it. Another $6000 a month – maybe. Counting on Abbvie to help. I’ve slowly lost all my dreams of retirement. I have not done one fuckin’ thing since we moved here last October. I bought myself a Z7II camera and lenses to kick off those dreams, but it sits in a camera bag. The wife hates AZ and doesn’t want to do anything I suggest doing. I go to the gym to work off some of my frustration and take therapeutic golf cart rides around Sun City.
Enough…you’re not a therapist, but maybe I need to talk to one. Retirement is turning out to be a shit show – nothing more than dealing with the SOS with less than 50% of my old income. And…here comes a recession.
I’m really glad to hear you’ve taken the bull by the horns, Jim. Now, start enjoying the time you have left in this world. God Bless!
I have always held you in a higher regard than you likely realized and am happy that my words resonated with you. For probably five years before retirement, I was fortunate to work with a 3M Employee Assistance therapist regarding work / life balance and preparation for retirement. They urged me to begin retirement not taking on too many responsibilities and also said that some of the attributes that served me well as a corporate “drone” / road warrior would likely not serve me well living in a 43 foot box with an introverted wife. Before retirement, I dropped thousands on a D750 and lenses and like yours, they quietly sit in a camera bag. Then I figured that I’d rekindle my childhood love of fishing. I have casted in less than five ponds and streams in three years. I know, I’ll make bluebird houses. I made about five and lots of Makita power tools ride around the country with us. Yeah, that’s it…let’s combine photography and aviation . My fancy drone sits in its fancy box and gets it batteries charged every once in a while. Paracord bracelets. I made around a hundred but don’t know what to do with them. Therapy has been amazing, confusing, and emotional as hell, but I love it. I’ve come full circle from thinking only weak minds need someone professional to talk with. I just finished my weekly session with Christina an hour ago and I continually find myself amazed with the thought-provoking results and new possibilities. One of my biggest issues is rigid thinking…all or nothing….yes, but…..Just today, she reminded me that reducing those “short cuts” of rigid thinking is becoming more realistic, healthier and will take me to a better place. Thanks for reading and commenting and if ever you’d like to shoot the shit, I’d like that very much.
New you were dealing with the first issue but not the others. I hope writing and sharing this helps. I love you very much and pray for you daily.❤🙏 Marianne