An effort to stay afloat while determining which way is up

Posts tagged ‘mental-health’

Totally Justifiable Reactions

“_____ you Ernie, you _________ ________ ___________”

I can’t understand why society frowns on my urge to scream profanities at elves.

I was sitting,  tired-numb in the stagnant air of my morning commute, paused at the crossing of Broadway and Evans when my path was crossed by the likeness of this Keebler Elf plastered on the side of a semi-truck, hand upraised in the friendliest posture with that smug smile of his, as if inviting me to give up on the spot.  After all, it would be so easy, and it would feel so good.  Given that it was too early for my mental filtration unit to be put into place for the day, my first and only reaction was to scream profanities at Ernie until he went away, sort of like a terrier barking at a mailman.  You can easily fill in the blanks above.  This was the first time I realized that I am having some serious chocolate withdrawal.

Mark and I decided on a whim to embark upon a home exercise program called “Insanity”, after an embarrassing weekend when we tried to kick a soccer ball around and wound up stumbling around after ten minutes like a couple of asthmatic hedgehogs.   While Mark has dropped out after a day-five tantrum sighting foot-pain as the cause, I am determined to finish this project 100% and feel as good about myself as I did in Africa before I leave for France.  While I am happy to be getting back into a healthier lifestyle, I have discovered that exercising six days a week and counting calories religiously has produced some unexpected side effects.

First of all, I have clearly become a victim of Stockholm Syndrome.  I have developed an uncanny attachment to Sean T., the hairless, booming, muscle-bound purveyor of the Insanity program which is holding me captive each afternoon (Sundays excluded).  In any other arena of life, if I met Sean T. I would find him to be obnoxious, overconfident, overzealous, vain, and a little mean.  Like many of the permanent human installations you find in gyms, he has a bit of an overbearing, macho persona.  He pours water over his head with little to no regard for the people around him who could slip on his puddles.  He screams at unnecessary times.  Despite all these traits which I eschew in the real world, in the twelve square feet of my allotted living-room work-out space, I find these annoyances motivating, and even endearing.  I have been manipulated into thinking that this man can lead me into the promised land, if only I try hard enough.  “PUSH HARDER,” he yells at me with no regard for the acoustics of the room, and instead of retorting that he is not my supervisor, I do, in fact, find myself pushing just a bit harder.  I even miss him on Sundays when I should be enjoying the day off.  This, however, is not the strangest of consequences I have discovered after beginning my healthier lifestyle.

Almost every night now, I dream of eating something horribly unhealthy.  When I was living away from Mark, I had fairly frequent sex dreams to compensate for that lack in my reality; just like those times, I am now having graphic eating dreams to compensate for the lack of horrible, disgusting, delicious food in my life.  The odd part about it is that, similar to the sex dreams, these food dreams are usually good enough to stave off the cravings I’ve been having for the day.  When I dream about pizza on Thursday night, I won’t even think about it again until Saturday.

There’s a plaaaace for uuuuus…

The need for food has not only conquered my unconscious thoughts, but has invaded my waking mind as well.  At least once a day now, I find myself drifting into odd, food-centered daydreams.  Yesterday, pulling out of the driveway on my way to work again, as my brain began its usual routine of thinking of the places I would rather be going than my school, I began fantasizing about an amusement park similar to Six Flags, but made entirely of chocolate frosting.  All roller-coaster cars and attractions completely covered in frosting.  Mascots of hollowed-out chocolate like those weird and slightly gruesome Easter bunny statues.  When I shared this fantasy with Mark, he seemed disproportionately shocked, but is it really that strange to combine the two loves of my life into one glorious chocolate Mecca?  On another day, while accomplishing some menial task, I began construing my life as a version of West Side Story where I was Tony and Maria was cake.  I was singing the songs out loud before I thought about what this could look like to an outsider.  This daydream I have prudently kept to myself, although the songs have remained stuck in my head for days.

I’m two weeks into this routine, and taking bets on whether this will get easier, or just weirder.  All I know is that, like Lon Chaney Jr. on a full moon night, people should keep their children away from me because, for now, I can’t promise 100% to keep my chocolate-triggered profanity in check.

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The Shapes of Thoughts

Something is different.  Something has definitely changed, and worst of all, the change has come on so incrementally that I didn’t notice it until fairly late in the game.  The cathedral I once inhabited, with its Gothic arches flying up toward the center to meet harmoniously at the apex; with its centrally enormous but not-quite-gaudy red-velvet throne; with its hundreds of trap doors hidden by millions of cardboard boxes all labeled in Sharpie with my own large, untidy handwriting; this place, which was once my university, courtroom, playground, and sanctuary all rolled into one, now seems hazy and unclear.  I seem to have lost uninhibited access to the inner spaces of my mind.

As a child, I constructed my mind as a lofty, vaulted dome encircled by small arched windows.  Oddly, the only piece of furniture it contained was the European-style mahogany and red-velvet throne, raised on a small platform near the center of the back.  This was where my Self took residence, deciding important issues and operating the controls to reality.  Every one of my real actions in the outside world originated from that spot.  Other than that chair, the rest of the room was simply filled with boxes of information and memories, as if someone had just recently moved into the space.  The system of keeping everything encased in cardboard and strewn about the room may have seemed disorganized to the casual observer, but it was always adequate for finding whatever you needed.  The only other defining feature of the space was a relatively thin column at the exact center of the space.  This served as an anchor in times of need.  Whenever I had to memorize large amounts of information for tests, information which could be discarded after use, I freed up space for the temporary information by connecting some of my boxes to the center column with a long rope, and then throwing them out of the windows.  The everyday thoughts and memories would dangle freely out of the mind-space while the temporary information was stored in their place.  After the test, that information could be discarded, and the boxes hauled safely back inside.

The space also had advocates to help me see all sides of any issue and make my decisions wisely.  One was an advocate for logic and reason, the other for impulse and spontaneity.  They would each argue their case in front of the Self’s throne, and a decision would be reached accordingly.  They were identical in appearance, so Impulse and Spontaneity was tinted green, while Logic and Reason was tinted blue to tell them apart.  Honestly, Logic and Reason would win more than its share of the arguments, but no one was bitter about it.

This was how my mind operated for years, and I was thoroughly proud of the system.  However, in the past year or so, something has changed which I have only recently become aware of.  It is a bit difficult to explain.  It is as if the place I once saw so vividly, the place I essentially lived in, is now faded and unfocused.  The colors aren’t as saturated.  The room feels smaller.  The voices of the advocates have become muffled and almost unintelligible.  It’s like seeing a photo rather than being there in person.  It’s like dreaming about something rather than living it.

I want to know what has happened, and how I can get back.

I’ve come up with some possible theories.  My first thought is that it’s simply a result of the march toward inevitable adulthood.  Doubtless, imagination is required for the upkeep of such a place, and maybe only a few lucky adults get to retain their imagination throughout life.  Maybe as mine wanes with each passing day, my Self gets pushed further and further to the extremities of the space, until finally it’s on the outside looking in through the foggy glass of one of the windows.  Or perhaps I simply need to set aside time to exercise my imagination more; I’ll admit it hasn’t had too much excess play time during this last year’s bid to simply not fail at life.  It is possible that my Self’s eyes have been staring at the controls of reality so long and so intently that when they look up from their work, they are unable to focus anymore.

Another possible reason for this change occurs to me.  Could it be that, as I have become increasingly uncertain of what my life should be here on Earth, my mind is simply reflecting my nebulous state?  After all, if I am uncertain of my role in this world, how can my mind be certain of its role in me?  Perhaps the whole space and everything in it will continue morphing until I can decide who I need to be.

There is a third viable possibility to consider.  What if the fault is not in my space, but in my Self?  What if my Self is only seeing things as muffled and distorted because it is stricken ill, poisoned by the year of turmoil and self-loathing? In the past year especially, I have been internally reiterating how much of a failure I think I am because I’m not where I thought I would be by now.  It is not much of a stretch to think that this kind of mantra could turn poisonous to anyone exposed.  It could be that my miasma of negativity, initially meant for motivational means, has finally caught up with me.  Could my Self ever recover from the handicaps imposed by such toxic thinking?

In each of these scenarios, I can hold out slight hope for a return to the old ways.  I can try to strengthen the mind, to heal the self, to allow my space to redefine itself as necessary.  Or if I can never return it to what it once was, maybe I can construct something new to take its place.  Regardless of what happens, there is always hope.  With that thought alone, the colors become marginally more vivid, and the shapes of thoughts just a bit sharper than before.