The Year My Everything Broke.

It’s the evening before my 33rd birthday, and I’m sitting in my ‘nerd den’, with Alice in Chains’s ‘Frogs’ providing the background music, and a solitary desk lamp providing that moody kind of writerly spotlight I enjoy so much, and I’m thinking about the past year.

Some good things and some terrible things happened this year, and unfortunately, it feels like the latter outnumbered the former, and I am hoping to swap those statistics moving forward.

Last year started with the return of the incredibly awful panic attacks that I had managed to stay free from for about 5 years, and that had owned my life for almost two years before that. Never a good way to start a year, especially when they were almost always occurring at work, in front of my boss, co-workers, customers, etc. By February, I’d had about half a dozen nerve-knocking blind-sides, and there was no discernible reason for them.

Not making me feel any better about myself was the fact that I was gaining weight again. I topped 270 lbs in February, and suddenly 300 was meaning much more than a group of sweaty Spartans in leather battle panties killing the Persian touring circus. I was pretty messed up when I hit the deuce and a half mark years ago, so the fact that I was realistically due to score a fat-trick was not one I was pleased with. I started using fitday to try to at least prevent further inflation.

April was a giant shining puck of 200 Flushes Blue in the Trainspotting toilet that my 33rd year turned out, for the most part, to be. In the EIGHT (holy fuck!)  years that my wife and I had been together, we’d never been on any kind of real vacation, so when the extremely charismatic and handsome (just ask him) wine guru, and object of some amount of obsession on my part, Gary Vaynerchuk announced that he was hosting a 7 day wine cruise, we decided screw it, let’s go for it, and booked a three week holiday; one week in Orlando; the (thunder)cruise; and then a week in Fort Lauderdale, where I happened to learn that Denis Leary was performing live stand up. Tickets bought.

That was probably the best time I’ve had since I was in Vegas with my family when I was 21. In spite of the gluten free thing, we were able to eat some amazing food, even on the cruise, we had a blast at amusement parks, I swam in the ocean for the first time, we met some of the coolest people and drank some amazing alcohol on the cruise, and, even though we caught what may have been swine flu (it was just as the news was blowing that whole thing out of proportion) at the end of the cruise, we still managed to drag our fevered asses to the Hard Rock in Lauderdale to see one of my heroes, Denis Leary, blow the fucking roof off.

I had a couple of panic attacks during the holiday, but mostly from getting over-excited, but on the plane home, I needed serious ativan supplementation just to keep my vibrations down to a level that would keep the bolts that held my seat to the fuselage from shaking loose. It was my brain and body kicking and screaming like a petulant child, not wanting to go back to the dull complacent drudgery of home and work and lack of fulfillment. It only got worse when we got home. So much worse.

At first I thought it was some lingering effects of the brutal flu, combined with the psychological tantruming 4 year-old. The panic attacks started coming faster and more furious than before, and now brought with them a nearly constant upset stomach and lack of appetite, and my left shoulder, which has been a bit unhappy since the first go around with panic attacks, was now almost constantly in pain.

My doctor suggested that I had IBS, and told me to try a bland food diet, to try and eliminate common gut-troublers, and to try meditation, exercise and water to help with the panic and the shoulder.

By paying attention to my caloric intake, I had managed to lose about 10lbs between tipping the scales at 270, and the time of our trip. In the 2 months following the vacation, I dropped another 40, but it had nothing to do with careful menu planning and portion control, but because nearly everything I ate made me feel sick, and brought about the panic monster. I was on the Double A Diet. No, not batteries, I’m talking about a steady intake of Ativan and Advil.

I honestly don’t remember much of those months. I was a zombie at home, tired and depressed, and at work I oscillated between cold and angry. I hated having to interact with anyone, because I felt so shitty that I couldn’t focus on conversation, so it became a chore to the point that I had to try really hard not to just walk away from people when they started talking to me. This included my co-workers, my friends, even my wife. I was stating to become agoraphobic. I had to step down as best man at my friend’s wedding, and didn’t even make it to his bachelor party because, 2 hours before it started, I was dry-heaving and crying from the anxiety of having to be around people. There were so many plans made with friends, things we wanted to do, that we had to bail out on because I was so fucked up.

I’ve done a lot of damage to relationships, which is probably what bothers me the most from all of this shit. I wasn’t myself, and I continue to work my way out of that today, though I’ve come pretty far in the past few months.  I’m unbelievably grateful that my wife was able to deal with me through it all.  She’s phenomenal, and whatever cliche you want to attach to it about being lucky to have her in my life is absolutely true.

I wasn’t even aware of how bad I was, and it wasn’ until we went to visit my family during the summer that I got the wake up call that I needed. We were out at the lake, and I spent most of the first day either sitting and shaking, hardly able to be a part of the conversation, or napping. The lake is the most beautiful and peaceful place in the world that I could be, and even there, I was completely on edge, exhausted, and it was the first time my family had seen me without that extra 50 or so pounds, so needless to say, everyone was very worried about me.

When my sister told me how upset and worried my wife was, and that I should go to an emergency room and refuse to leave until someone had an answer for what was going on with me, a switch flipped in my head. For the first time, I stopped seeing my situation from my own head, and instead through the eyes of a bunch of people who loved me and were genuinely frightened for me in a way I had never seen before.

On the drive back home, I made a decision to take control of my well-being, instead of being a victim of it. I would see my doctor about getting a complete physical, as well as the $300 food alergy/intolerance test that he was pretty sure would help point me toward other foods that might be causing me grief; I would see a therapist about the anxiety, a massage therapist and physiotherapist for the shoulder, and accupuncture/chinese medicine practicing friend to work on everything in a general sense. I also took a closer look at what food I’d been eating over the preceding weeks, and estimated that I was eating between 800 and 1000 calories per day, (in order for one’s internal organs to function properly, a person needs to consume a minimum of 1250) which was almost certainly contributing to my mood and energy problems. So I resolved to make sure I ate 1500 calories a day minimum. Suddenly, instead of using the fitday website to make sure I wasn’t eating too much, it was helping me make sure I was eating enough. It was kind of awesome to ‘have to’ eat a couple of cookies and a spoonful of peanut butter before bed, instead of it being a shameful stab at the self esteem.

My physical came back pretty normal, other than low vitamin D, (which made snese considering I hadn’t seen the sun very much since leaving Florida) but the food intolerance test came back with a shocking list of foods that I have been avoiding ever since. (notably: dairy, eggs, peanuts, bananas, garlic, soy, yeast, pineapple, cranberries) Ironically, the test says that I should be okay with gluten, though I haven’t tested that theory just yet. By the end of this month, I can start reintroducing some of the verboten vittles, to see how I react to them. It’s been difficult to eat with so many restrictions, and there were some grocery store trips in the beginning that ended in me wanting to simultaneously cry while smashing a stock boy in the head with a brick that has the phrase ‘May Contain Traces Of…’ engraved on it, but after a while I got into a decent pattern of food that I could eat and make taste okay.  The downside is that I have to do all my own cooking, as dining out is nearly impossible, and I can’t eat anything that is remotely quick-fix. But, the change in diet seems to be helping, and that’s what matters.

I saw a behavioural therapist for a few sessions, and she gave me quite a bit of good advice, meditation techniques, and even called me ‘brilliant’ at one point in our conversations, (I do understand that I was paying her good money for those conversations, but it’s still pretty cool when a stranger calls you brilliant) and she got me thinking differently about anxiety and panic by giving me The Mindulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, a $20 workbook that I can not recommend enough if you suffer from any kind of anxiety related disorder. It took quite a bit for me to actually see a therapist, because I never thought they could do anything for me I couldn’t figure out for myself, but now that I’ve had the experience, I think everyone could benefit some amount of professional therapy.

Massage therapy, accupuncture, and physio helped get my shoulder back to a manageable place. Unfortuntely (and the same can be said for my anxiety homework) I have trouble keeping up on the exercises when I’m feeling okay, so I go through these waves of feeling good, not doing the maintenance, getting in pain again, and then getting back in a routine until I feel okay again, etc. Now my goal is to keep stretching and working on myself even when I feel okay, so that I can do some longterm good.

I also need to work on fitness. Sure, I’ve lost about 55lbs this year, but it was completely due to starvation, and had nothing to do with exercise, so while I’m lighter, I am actually in worse physical condition that I was a year ago, and I’ve been feeling it lately. The relatively rare times when I do get into anxiety or panic situations now, such as when in line at a store, or at the airport, are usually preceded by some amount of strenuous physical activity, (like, you know, walking, or having to stand for more than five minutes) and that physical stress combines with the social anxiety and makes me start to feel like I’m sharing a phone booth with Michael J Fox, Mohammed Ali, and a space heater.

So, the good news is that this, my 33rd spin around the sun, has ended on a note of improvement. Slowly but surely, I’m getting myself put back together, and with any luck, I can continue riding that wave into coming years. Hopefully we will be relocating this year, to a nicer part of the country, and find a house that doesn’t share walls with noisey, ignorrant, white trash breeders, and maybe I’ll acquire enough peace of mind to figure out what I want to be if I grow up, and be able to start pursuing it.

Okay, it’s getting late, and I have a very low-key 33rd birthday celebration tomorrow. I hope we all have a great year.

Oh, and in lieu of presents, this year I will be accepting donations of cute Asian servant girls. Thanks in advance.


3 Responses to “The Year My Everything Broke.”

  • WelshPixie says:

    Oh gawd – huge hugs for you! That was a very compelling read – not just for what you’ve been through, but for how you came out the other side. You have incredible courage – it’s so easy to just lose yourself in that black hole, to give up and sit at the bottom but you clawed yourself out. You should definitely go on more vacations, even if it’s just taking a tent somewhere for one night of the weekend. Getting away from the monotony of the daily grind does wonders for the soul.

    I’m glad you’re finding yourself again. I hope 33’s your magic number. :)

  • moominboy says:

    Dude. Just… dude. I never knew it was that serious.

    First of all, happy belated! Second of all, it seems like you did solid self-improvement work this year. And this is not easy. I went through a similar year after finishing my studies (it was 2005/06) and then again more recently (2008/09). But I think I have finally found my way. And you just might have found yours. Which is awesome!

    Eh, I’m being incoherent. My point is, my current situation is beyond anything that I could have imagined during earlier years. So you have good stuff before you, just keep focusing on that :)

    Also, you might wanna check my latest post. I posted something similar :)

  • Kelley says:

    Wow, you know, I was privy to a lot of this information just via bloggery/twitter, but DAMN, dude. I just want to congratulate you for surviving that year, and for pulling through with so much strength. You and the wife have always been a source of inspiration for me, and this story is exactly why.

    Cheers, and may your 33rd year be nothing short of incredible.


Leave a Reply

Stuff I Do
  • [SIC] I’m working on recording an album. Follow the progress here.
  • Downloadable Contempt My newest blog, focusing on commentary on music, movies, TV shows.
  • Imaginary Enemies Another webcomic, done in crayon. Still figuring it out.
  • misplaced: the webcomic My photographic webcomic, about action figures. Read by over 4 people worldwide!