Wednesday, November 3, 2010

#270: Getting Out of My Head

Mrs P hates it when I call him my "shrink." She's a therapist. She takes it a little personally. I understand that, but using words like "crazy pills" and "nut house" takes the edge off a little bit. I don't like being sick in the head, and I don't like having to get treatment for it. Joking makes it a little easier to take.

So the shrink and I met today. It was a good follow up to yesterday's group session. I told him that I was frustrated. I wake up with the intention of doing something, anything. But for some reason I feel paralized. I can sit in a chair for hours telling myself, "OK, time to get up now. Time to walk. Time to sweep the floor. Time to eat." I can spend a whole day intending to do something without doing it.

There were spaces between Donald and whatever he said / Strangers had forced him to live in his head. Not me exactly. Nobody's forced me to do anything. But I know how Donald and Lydia felt. I have always had a tendency to live in my head. When I was a kid, playing with my imaginary friends. When I first moved to New York, waiting alone for late night subway trains. Lying in bed between radiation treatments, imagining myself flying far away from my room, visiting strange places, doing heroic things. I have always had the ability to run away from whatever's going on. Nowadays, I do that a lot. The trouble is, I'm not exactly sure what I'm running away from. Or what I'm running toward.

I told the shrink, "I feel stuck in my head. I can't explain it. I know what I need to do. I tell my feet to go, but something keeps them from moving. I don't know what." He smiled at me. "It's your head. That's what's keeping you in your chair." Which is why it's a pretty good thing for me to see the head shrinker.

"I don't eat." I told him. "I've passed out twice. Once in the bathroom. Once in the living room. I didn't tell anyone about the second one. It happens because I get dehydrated. Because I don't eat. So I have to force myself to eat."

"And so you eat?"



"Because I don't want to faint. I want to stay conscious."

"So you can act when you have a good enough reason?"

That caught me up short. If you want to hide from the world, passing out is a pretty good strategy. All your troubles just fade away into that dizzy haze. But for some reason, I want to stick around. The same way I decided that I was going to live the day they told me I had cancer. I wanted to grow old with Mrs P. I wanted to act again. I had to live to do that.

Some people are good at finding things to do. Mrs P's family are all like this. None of them is any good as sitting around. They have to get up and go. Fix things. Clean things. Explore things. Me? I could sit on the porch and watch the world go by for weeks. I have to talk myself into moving. This is one of the reasons I've always sought out group activities like the theatre. It's just easier for me to get going when someone is depending on me. Now that I can't work, I have to depend on myself. I can't just find something to do. I have to find reasons to do it.

The doc says that "mindfulness" can help. Make a decision about what I want, and then stay mindful of the process of meeting that goal. I want to run again. So I'm going to have to start walking. "Don't just walk," he says. "Be mindful of what you are doing. Smell the leaves. Hear the kids playing. Feel the sunshine and the autumn wind. And remember why you are walking."

I don't understand why I want to hide. So I can spend my days trying to figure it out, or I can do things that I do understand. One at a time. Rake the leaves. Wash the dishes. Exercise. Finish the taxes. It isn't going to be easy getting out of my head. It's safe in there. But if I'm ever going to discover why God saved my life, I'm going to have to start living and hope to stumble onto the answer. Something tells me that I'm not going to find it sitting in my chair.

I'll let you know how the first day goes tomorrow.




  1. I'm not in your position, and nothing's worse than unsolicited and inapt advice. So, of course, now I'll give it. I've had my scarring enough moments in my life, times when I've wanted to do anything but doing anything.

    But I've learned that doing--running, reading, working (whether physical or mental)--leads to immediate escape and long-term health.

    One tactic I have is not to look beyond the next moment. I pick one task to do. From the sounds of your post, that could be as small a thing as getting up and getting a drink.

    In my case, sometimes, it's grading one paper. The chore done, I can cross it off my mental list. Then, I might decide to keep doing more tasks, or I might decide that one reified and conquered mental obstacle was enough. But I know I did it. And having done something, anything, leaves me feeling more powerful than in the waste before the chore. And that minor success leads to more triumphs of a moment.

    Put enough of those together, and I start to feel control and satisfaction (and, by the way, as someone who has summers off, I've gotten to be one of those people who's just lousy at "sitting around," not from any devotion to work but because I don't like the thoughts that throng around me, sidle up, and begin to attach their suckers (I guess for me, the inside of my head is not so "safe in there").

    An interesting contradiction is that you write grippingly about listlessness. Are you devaluing your writing? Isn't putting together a post like this one a major achievement? How many people who can't get out of a chair (and I've known some)can write so movingly? Hell, how many people could write this anyway, or your chronicle of illness and recovery?

  2. Just a thought...


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