Preventive Measures

I’m sitting on my couch right now, with a sleeve of saltines on my left and a bottle of Gatorade on IMG_0207my right. I’m wearing pajama pants, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, a bathrobe, a Snuggie, and slippers, and I’m still cold. I’m intermittently stretching my legs because of random muscle spasms which are causing my toes to literally curl, a sure sign my body is running low on fluids.

Yes, dear reader, this is the onset of a stomach bug.

I’ve had many of these throughout my life, and I feel as if in 40 years I’ve learned a thing or two about what I need to do when I feel one coming on. Hence, the saltines and Gatorade. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I’m taking things extra-easy this evening and not tempting fate by chowing down on, say, a pizza or a cheeseburger. Will it stave off the worst? Eh, maybe, maybe not. It’s at least worth a shot, though.

It’s amazing the things I am willing to give up to avoid a negative physical outcome for myself. It is also quite astounding the things I am unwilling to give up on a daily basis which can drag down my mood. It’s as if I’ve elevated my body to a greater stature than my mind, which really doesn’t make much sense since I am a relatively healthy person physically who has been diagnosed with a type of depression. You’d think I would at least be willing to give them equal importance.

Just look at me right now (Well, imagine me right now.). I’m pulling out at least most of the stops to avoid getting sick. In addition, I take a multivitamin and a fish oil pill every day. I exercise when I can, although I’ve been slacking a little in that department lately. I try to avoid sugar as much as I can. I don’t exactly treat my body like a shrine, but I at least try to take care of myself.

coffee1Perhaps the most radical thing I’ve ever done in this regard is cutting out drinking caffeine several years ago. I was having severe headaches and having to get up several times a night to go to the bathroom. I eventually traced the cause of both to drinking caffeine, so I knew I needed to stop drinking beverages which contained high amounts of it. Instead of doing the logical thing and scaling back, however, I just quit cold turkey. And it hurt. Basically three days of intense caffeine withdrawal and headaches … but I made it, and I haven’t looked back since.

Consider, though, all the things I have not been that diligent about concerning my mental upkeep. I am very spotty with my thought journals. I stay on the internet too much. I jump to the worst case scenario too often. I don’t get as much sunlight as I should. I complain more than I ought to, sometimes because I fall in line with complaints brought to me and sometimes because I originate them. All those cognitive thinking exercises I’ve learned? They get tossed out the window on a regular basis.

Why, then, don’t I start treating my mind like my body?

It makes all kinds of sense, when you think about it. If I had a heart disease, I’d alter my diet, keep an eye on my cholesterol, and do whatever else it took to keep it at bay. So I have a form of depression known as Chronic Depressive Disorder. Why wouldn’t I take any measure necessary to reduce its effects as well? I have my theories, but that’s another discussion for another time. I have a tremendous fear of being seen as selfish, but no one else is going to do this for me. Just like what I put into my body is my decision, what I put into my brain falls along the same lines.

Will I be sick in the morning? I don’t know. I did my best tonight to not be, though. Can I say the same for my mind?

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And

andIs there any more demanding word in the English language than and?

Take this weekend, for example. My mother- and father-in-law graciously offered to watch my wife and I’s brood of five children (which includes our 1-year-old daughter) from Friday night until Sunday morning. We’ve had a recent stretch of dry weather where I live, so my usual Saturday ritual of mowing the yard didn’t need to be performed. That meant we essentially had no schedule or obligations except those we set for ourselves.

Knowing this, my mind nearly exploded with possibilities. I wanted to go out with my wife and put a new string on my guitar and get outside and ride my bicycle and maybe see a movie and sleep in Saturday morning and shop for a couple of things and write a new blog post and catch up on my emails and

Well, obviously, I didn’t get all that done, mainly because no human being can possibly cram that many activities into an approximately 36-hour period. Time is not my enemy, however, when it comes to achieving most goals. My problem is I don’t know what to focus on, so I haphazardly bounce from one objective to another. I want to be a good husband and a good father and a writer and a performing musician and hang out with the guys and be in good shape and

This may sound like the mark of a very ambitious and successful person, but my experience has been much the opposite. I have spent much of my life pecking away at things and never quite becoming proficient at any of them. This tendency even led me to consider I might have Attention Deficit Disorder before I was diagnosed with Chronic Depressive Disorder. With either disorder, though, thoughts can become jumbled and priorities can be difficult to set. It’s not that I’m trying to overload myself; it’s just that every single option seems just as important as the other, and I can’t focus because it seems as if I need to complete them all at the same time.

I believe this way of thinking can lead a person in one of two directions: They can either work themselves to death trying to stay on top of everything on their list, or they can view the mountain of expectations they’ve placed on themselves and lock down and not do anything. Personally, I have had more experiences with the latter than the former. There have been times when I have felt so behind that I just didn’t even want to start, which only made things worse for me when actual effort had to be put forth.

A friend of mine has recently told me several times, “You think too much about things. Stop over-analyzing. Just take the moment for what it is.” They’re right, of course. I do analyze the crap out of everything (which you’ve probably picked up on by now from reading this blog). I have a very difficult time shutting down the noise in my brain and just doing something. I did have a brief revelation of what that might be like this weekend, however.

guardians_poster_via_marvelOne of the goals I did achieve was going with my wife to see Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Saturday afternoon. While I enjoyed the heck out of the movie, I can tell you, Shakespeare, it is not. Once I got past trying to figure out character motivations and comic book history and what we might do after the movie and where the movie ranked on my list of all-time favorite comic book films (and, believe me, such a list does indeed exist), my brain sort of entered this zone where it was simply having fun watching a darn good popcorn flick. I was there to be entertained, and I was. Simple, right?

I remember years ago hearing someone on sports radio talk about former Major League Baseball player Manny Ramirez’s ability to hit in virtually any situation. Now, for anyone who doesn’t remember, Ramirez was not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. One of the first articles I ever read about him was in Sports Illustrated and featured a moment where he and his agent were driving around one day and Ramirez (who played for the Cleveland Indians at the time) asked the agent if he could afford a house they drove by. The man literally had no concept of the money he was making.

This particular person’s perspective on the radio that day was that because basically very little was going on in Ramirez’s head when Manny-Ramirezhe stepped to the plate in a game, all of his focus was on just hitting the baseball. He didn’t have any distractions or complex goals or stats he was trying to keep up with; he was just trying to put the bat on the ball. And, even though he paved his own way out of baseball eventually because he wouldn’t stop using banned substances, he was remarkably successful as a hitter. That was what he did; he just hit.

Sometimes I wish I could be more like that, but I don’t think it’s possible for me. What I can do is dedicate myself to one decision at a time. I tried making lists for a while, and I may have to go back to that eventually. It’s odd that in an age where people seem to be trying to utilize more of their brain power I’m actually trying to shut some of mine down, but it’s the truth. I’m tired of standing in front of my closet spending five minutes trying to decide what T-shirt to wear. Some things just have to matter more than others.

That checks the blog post off my list for this weekend. Now all I have to do is go to bed and go to sleep and get prepared in my head for tomorrow and … well, actually, maybe I’ll just focus on the first two.

Self-Diagnosis

I must be getting old. I found out I was going to have about 30 minutes to kill at the library this afternoon while I waited for my oldest daughter to finish her summer reading program activity … and I was actually excited about that.

For someone who spent so much time studying fiction in school, I hardly ever read fiction anymore. I’m much more into biographies and educational books these days. And since my goal is still to return to college to study psychology, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to pay for said goal, I often find myself perusing the various titles written on matters such as depression or addiction or any mental behavior that is otherwise out of the ordinary.

I know, I know. It’s not exactly light reading, is it? That’s just the track my brain is on at the moment. Of course, one of the dangers of reading so much about mental disorders is that there is a very high likelihood you’ll run across at least one you think you might have. I mean, if you dig deep enough, there are all kinds of maladies we could ascribe to ourselves. For instance, one time after spending all afternoon trying to straighten one bookshelf, I was convinced I had Attention Deficit Disorder. Turns out I didn’t, but … wait, what was I talking about again? (Just kidding…)

brandon marshallSo today, as I browsed the 600 section of the library, I came across a book titled “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me,” by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus. The tagline for the book is “Understanding the Borderline Personality.” My only real knowledge of Borderline Personality Disorder was that NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall was diagnosed with it a few years ago, so I was curious what the authors had to say on the subject.

Of course, it didn’t take long for me to start ticking off the traits I identified with: Mood swings, impulsive actions, lacking identity, etc., etc. And then there was the kicker: The most common type of depression associated with BPD is Dysthymia, known now as Chronic Depressive Disorder … which I was diagnosed with. “Holy crap,” I thought to myself, “it’s worse than I thought!” I got through as much of the book as I could before my daughter was finished, and then I put it back on the shelf because if I took it home I would just obsess over the concept even more.

Now, do I actually have BPD? I don’t know. Self-diagnosis is a dangerous road to travel, and it’s not one I particularly want to go down. You almost become a sort of psychological hypochondriac, jumping at every shadow. Does it hurt to ask, though? Should we stop exploring, stop seeking out new information? How many diagnoses are too many? How many are not enough?

These are just some questions I’ve pondering since this afternoon. BPD is a subject I am definitely not qualified to tackle here, although I would love to hear some testimonies regarding it. Or you just could tell me if I should get a school loan or not. Maybe if I got back in school I’d feel younger and stop wandering around the library so much.