Oddly Enough, the Anxiety is Lifting, and I Think it May be Because of COVID-19

With the exception of a snarky photo I posted, I’ve written how I’ve been feeling anxious over the last few weeks, but how I knew it had very little, if anything to do with COVID-19, which I’m now using in writing, because I found out it stood for Coronavirus Disease 2019, which sounds way more official.

My last bit of anxiety was last Thursday night, when my wife came home from work and said that she heard we might want to buy a bit of extra toilet paper. She wasn’t really phased with the hype because she works at a doctor’s office and the doctor she trusts the most told her not to worry about it too much last week. Most people who visit that office have a doomsday story to tell even in the best of times, and she doesn’t follow a lot of news, so she didn’t understand the shift in a lot of people’s demeanor from “this is nothing” to “this is a very big deal” when, within minutes, the President made his first nationwide address and the NBA cancelled its season.

So she went out and purchased the toilet paper and came back telling me that she couldn’t believe how crazy things were in public. I tried to explain to her that the tone of America changed hugely in the last 24 hours, but she didn’t understand it and I actually said, “You don’t get how serious this is to everybody now.” I don’t know why, but it’s like my anxiety lifted after that.

On Friday, around lunch, she called and was audibly shaken. That same doctor who said it wouldn’t be a big deal a week earlier had changed his tune. He started talking worst case scenarios, both in Maine and the United States and the kind of lives we could potentially need to live in the next month or two, and it was bleak. It really scared the hell out of my wife. She said she’d handle grocery shopping after work but I should go buy enough pet food for a few weeks.

By that point, the grocery store was pretty empty of the large sized bags that when you have three dogs and three cats, you need to buy. So I went to the fancier pet store and paid way too much ($130) for a month’s supply of dog food, cat food, kitty litter and a few dog treats. At least if we have to resort to cannibalism, we can start with our well-fed pets.

She got home from the grocery store that night $300 lighter. What’s actually kind of funny is that we already had a month’s worth of food in the house. Her dad didn’t have a lot when he was little, so when he had a family and could finally afford it, he kept their house well-stocked and she’s always done that. But now, we have even more, and I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry although I can tell I’m going to lose my taste for Kraft Mac and Cheese if this thing goes on too long.

Since she works in a respiratory doctor’s office next door to a hospital, she’s not going to have to worry about being put off work. Even if normal patients with things like asthma and COPD stop coming in, they expect to be very busy as COVID-19 testing kits become available.

She’ll spend her days at work, my daughter’s college has gone online for the rest of the semester and today, my son’s school district called things off for at least two weeks. I have a feeling life is going to seem very, very different come Monday and its only going to get weirder as the days go on.

Ironically, I feel like I’m going to be the least-effected person I know next to my retired parents. I’ve been working from home for the last five years and my workflow doesn’t show signs that it’s going to be altered very much. Maybe that’s why my anxiety doesn’t feel as strong. For most of my readership, we’re introverted, anxiety-ridden, mentally ill, self-imposed shut-ins anyway…now the other half gets to see how we live. We’re more prepared for this than anybody! While the numbers of those who may get infected is certainly scary, I think a lot of anxiety out there is about people’s lives being disrupted. Most of the people I talk to on here? I think our lives are among the least shaken. Funny how things work out.

I can’t really say anything about COVID-19 that hasn’t already been said by that kindly gray-haired doctor who seems to be on every TV channel simultaneously. These are times when people usually step up to the challenge. Take care of each other and don’t forget the joy in life like those Italian people signing on their balconies with each other who are in quarantine. That’s true community.

And yes, I will admit that a week ago, I wasn’t taking this as seriously, like many weren’t.

I have a coping mechanism through getting through hard times aside from just detaching. It’s reframing. Try to look at these times not as scary, but interesting.

We’ve heard about these kinds of things in other places, in other times, but never thought they would happen to us, like we were too evolved with our technology and could put one over on Mother Nature. We don’t know what happens next, but we do know we’re living through history.

Whether it was 9/11, the Challenger exploding, or JFK being shot, we remember where we were when pivotal moments in history happen. This is one of those moments. Write down your thoughts, record what is happening so those after you can feel what it’s like to experience whatever we’re about to go through. Most of us live our lives with our heads down, going day-to-day with little variation. We can’t stop things like this from happening, but we can observe with fascination. Things may not be so bad, or they may get very, very bad. But we’re all about to have a unique, yet shared experience.

I hate to say this because it makes me sound more mentally ill than I am, but I think my anxiety may have been jolted by the adrenaline that things are very spontaneous and unknown right now. It’s got to be a chemical reaction and I may be singing a different tune in a few days, but for now, I have supplies, I have my family, I have multiple means of getting information. I’m ready for what’s next. Try to keep it as positive as possible.

I Can Sense the Next Bipolar Spike is About to Begin

When my mind starts to really wander into metaphysical, philosophical and quantum mechanics areas of thinking at all times of day, I know that either a bipolar high or a bipolar low is about to make an appearance. I’ve made the decision to track some of these thoughts over the next few years so I can see if there are any trends in the content of the thoughts so I can predict which way things are going to go.

I tried to explain this to a woman at rehab once. I know people get songs caught in their head. That happens to me all the time, but a lot of the time it’s as if they are songs that aren’t in a language I can understand. It’s just background noise, like when you leave a fan running at night so the room isn’t quiet.

The best way I can describe this is as getting a really complex – yet utterly pointless – song caught in your head, and then getting like two or three songs caught at the same time. It’s like I’ve stumbled across an idea and I can’t just let it go. If you’ve ever binged at something, whether it’s a TV show or video game or something else, you might also understand this. For instance, when Tetris first came out 30 years ago for the Nintendo Gameboy, I played it so much that I was rotating blocks and hearing 8-bit classical music even in my sleep.

 

Here are a few examples of these things that get stuck in my head…

 

Almost every religious text references the end of the world. I was flipping through the TV channels the other night and one of the religious channels had a guy preaching that the coronavirus was the signal of “end times.”

Then, I was driving in the car and the song “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans came on the radio. It basically talks about mankind moving toward an unknown future and considering it was written in 1968, it probably makes more sense now than then. It got me wondering if mankind will still be around in 5,000 years.

Let’s say we do something stupid and we’re not around in 5,000 years. I think that’s entirely possible. Our ability to develop technology far outstrips our ability to recognizes consequences. Disregarding our similar, yet different, relatives, the modern human has been on Earth for 200,000 years.

If we have less than 5,000 years to go, we are 39/40ths of the way to extinction. If you’re on vacation for 40 days, don’t you consider the 39th day the end of the vacation?

Maybe end times aren’t coming. Maybe we’re living in them now.

Is the head technically a body part? The head is a collection of body parts, but is it a part itself? Is it more of just a concept? Can a part be a collection of other parts?

You could say that the ear is part of the head, but the ear is just a collection of other parts – the eardrum, the tiny bones, etc., so is the ear truly a part? I’ll admit I know nothing about the eardrum, and it’s too early to go researching, but it’s possible that’s made up of other parts.

So let’s say, yes the head is a body part. Does that make the body itself a body part because it encapsulates everything or does it stop being a part because it’s a whole? If I am in an accident and lose a finger, my body is still a whole…or is it?

If you take a piece of pie, the rest of the pie is still the pie. But when there is less than half the pie left, we talk about it in the past tense, “How much of the pie is left?” It was once a whole but is now less than that. If it’s less than a whole, it should be a part.

In this same vein, what would it take to officially exhume the Titanic and not just parts of it? At what point would we say we have the boat from the ocean floor? A lot of stuff has just rotted away and is gone. How much of the boat had to come to the surface of what’s still left to be considered saving “the boat” and not just pieces?

But, if things like head, pie and boat are concepts just as much as they are actual things, what isn’t a concept. Aren’t words just concepts used to codify and identify things? If that’s true, why dwell on this?

 

Anyway, that’s just a tony look at the kind of stuff that’s clouding my head right now. I’m also thinking a lot about the fact that every person I see has a complete, complex life and if there are any types of ranking systems to determine what a good life or bad life would be.

Sometimes my head doesn’t buzz with this kind of nonsense and other times it feels almost debilitating. It’s kind of exhausting, which I guess is why I’m drinking more caffeine than I have had in a while. I’m also sleeping a lot, which makes me think things are on a downward slope, but there’s nothing concrete signaling depression on its way.

I’ve been like this forever and I know that part of my addiction was not just to cope with trauma, but to escape this kind of thinking that is just loud random chatter happening in my head. I’ve talked to doctors and shrinks about it and none of them seem too considered, so I won’t be either. The addictions helped slow my mind. I know there are things like meditation that is supposed to help, but I can’t get there. I’ve tried many times. Meditation is either me going deeper into these crazy thoughts, or falling asleep altogether.

Don’t worry about me. I can cope with this stuff. I just wonder if anybody else has stuff like this happen.

 

Ladies, Do Not Forget: You Can’t Be Afraid to Force His Hand to Make Him Face His Porn Addiction

Note: I wrote a version of this on a Reddit post the other day, but thought it deserved repeating here.

I may not highlight this enough, but pornography addiction is absolutely insidious. It will destroy some relationships and lives, but being almost six years sober and having met and known so many porn addicts and their partners at this point, I can also tell you that if he is willing to do the work, you have a decent chance of turning things around. And yes, there are many relationships that survive and get even better. I was lucky enough to be in one of these.

Unfortunately for you, the partner, you’re dealing with an addiction that affects those around the addict worse than a lot of substances and behaviors. A husband with a gambling addiction may send you into bankruptcy, but you won’t be debating your worth as a woman. A boyfriend who plays video games 20 hours per day is probably irritating, but at least you know he isn’t masturbating to those games.

Success getting through porn addiction with a partner is hard work, but if I can do, anybody can. Those of you who have partners that self-admitted their addiction or who didn’t disagree when confronted are certainly in a better position than those who have partners that are denying it 100%, but even if he doesn’t want to face it, it doesn’t mean you are helpless and it doesn’t mean you have to leave immediately.

I learned in my two trips to inpatient rehab that it doesn’t matter what the behavior or substance — if there’s no incentive to change, there’s not going to be change. If your partner thinks he can continue to look at porn without any real consequences other than you occasionally nagging, why would he change? He’s gotten by on gaslighting, manipulating, lying and deceiving for this long… in his mind history proves he’ll get away with it again.

At this point, you should be getting yourself into therapy. Whether you are just mildly bothered or have a horrible case of betrayal trauma, it’s time to start working on processing your feelings and having somebody to discuss these things with who has experience. Taking care of yourself needs to be your new No. 1 priority…no matter what happens moving forward.

Before you make any grand pronouncements to your partner, figure out what you want out of not only the relationship moving forward, but also your life. You must decide what you can live with and what you cannot and how those goals can be achieved. A professional can certainly help you with this. The bottom line question is: Are you willing to continue on with this life, with his addiction likely only getting worse? If the answer is yes, buckle up. It’s going to be rough.

If the answer is no, you need to establish what are non-negotiable things that you want. Do you need him to change to a flip phone and put browser filters on his computer? Do you need him to start to see a therapist and attend 12-step meetings at a group like Sex Addicts Anonymous? Do you want him to go to rehab or join you at marriage counseling? Do you need his big box of porn destroyed or weekly trips with the guys to the strip club to end?

Now, ask yourself if it really is non-negotiable. What are you willing to do if he doesn’t comply? Are you willing escalate things and put your entire relationship on the line? If you’re going to provide him with these boundaries and ultimatums, you’re going to need to have consequences. They can start small, like you won’t accompany him to the weekly trip to grandma’s house or he’ll need to do his own laundry (if he doesn’t.) Consequences can escalate to things like you don’t want him to go to church with you or you won’t sleep in the same bed, but you need to be prepared to bring things up to the point of asking him to leave or being willing to leave yourself.

Next, is the second-most difficult part…you have to convey your wishes. Don’t beat around the bush. If you need to put it in writing to get through it, do so. There can be no miscommunication with this. He needs to know what you expect and what will happen if he cannot comply.

It doesn’t matter what you request: YOU HAVE 100% THE RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGES. You are an equal partner in the relationship and have complete control over your life. By that token, he has complete control of his life and will only change if he wants. Here’s the thing though…once a guy is willing to admit to himself he has the addiction (whether it involves prodding or not) he generally recognizes that you are far more important than the porn. Even the addict who is trying but repeatedly fails generally understands what his priorities should be. It’s the rare one who will never admit to the problem. They exist, though.

I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in your situation because everyone has a different story, but I would urge you take a step back with every decision you make and simply be sure it’s what you want to do because sending mixed messages does not help an addict. And if what you think he did was disgusting and you don’t approve…he knows it. If you create a judgmental atmosphere, it’s not going to help recovery. He needs to feel safe to open up to you, and making him feel as bad as you feel — while it may feel right in the heat of the moment — will hurt long-term success.

Now the most difficult part. If he doesn’t comply with your ultimatums and boundaries, you MUST go through with the consequences. It is a MUST. Otherwise, this is just another message he will twist in his head that you are not to be taken seriously.

I could ramble on. After all, I wrote a book, but I just want the women who read this to know that you are better than having to live in a horrible situation. That situation can change in many instances.

In those it can’t, you are not cast to a lifetime of misery. If you can say that you tried, there is no shame in walking away. Heck, there’s not even shame in deciding you can’t try and walking away if you feel that’s the best option for your self-care. Remember, this is about you and YOU HAVE 100% THE RIGHT TO DEMAND CHANGES. No matter what happens, you can be a strong person.

Sorry, But There Was No Thrill In My Addiction

I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great resource for pornography addiction information. However, much like statistics that peg the porn industry worth anywhere between $2 billion and $200 billion (just a slight discrepancy there), I’m starting to bump into information provided from professionals that I think is just flat-out wrong.

This morning, I was scrolling through the feed and there was a short video from an Australian health professional. The video’s thesis was that “the thrill” that comes with looking at porn and masturbating makes the addiction even worse.

The thrill?

At first I thought it may be an Australian colloquialism for the physical pleasure that comes with an orgasm, but that’s not it. This person believes that there is a genuine thrill associated with succumbing to the addiction on a regular basis. Aside from the slight rush of adrenaline that came with porn viewing when I was afraid of getting caught by my parents more than 25 years ago, I don’t recall watching porn ever being a fun, exciting experience. It was a necessity. Despite trying to stimulate my dopamine receptors, there wasn’t a lot of pleasure in it.

The thrill?

Try the shame.

I didn’t want anybody to know about my addiction and in all truth, I never really faced up to my addiction or called it such while I was locked in the battle between my brain and the computer screen. There was nothing thrilling about that. It made me feel bad. I didn’t feel like I was getting away with anything. I felt like I had a dirty little secret.

Here’s my guess: This person has probably never been addicted to anything. I’ve met plenty of ex-alcoholics and ex-drug users at the rehabs I’ve been to who work in the field, but there was also plenty of people who weren’t. Usually these people love to tell you they’re in recovery and this person didn’t do that in the video.

I’m guessing they associates caving to your addiction, even though you don’t want to, as something “naughty.” There’s a big chasm between naughty and shameful. Having a piece of cake at the restaurant with dinner when you’re on a diet is naughty. Going home and binging on the cake in the fridge because you can’t stop yourself is shameful. Promising yourself you’d only lose $100 when you visit the casino, but you lose $120 is naughty. Losing $1,000 and only stopping because you’re broke is shameful. Sneaking a 5-second peek of a pornographic website at work or when other people are in the room is naughty. Waiting for everybody to go to sleep because you NEED hours to look at porn is shameful.

I know if this person was my therapist, we would not click. I also know that I would leave this person after probably only one or two sessions. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who stick with their therapists because they feel like it’s a relationship where the client doesn’t have the control. A therapist you can’t work well with is not a therapist worth keeping.

I’m sure this person probably gets through to some of their clients and I’m sure they’ve helped a lot of people, but hearing that there was a thrill to my addiction made me shake my head.

That’s not a thrill. That’s shame.

Trying to Figure Out Why Local Election Results Tweaked My PTSD

Sometimes I wonder when I’m having a legitimate PTSD moment and when it’s just a combination of anxiety and borderline nausea. Last night, I think I had a PTSD episode looking at local election results.

I didn’t feel off because of any specific results. I, more than anyone, know how insignificant one person is in the vast machine known as our government. I’m not sure exactly why I had a physical and mental reaction, but I’m a writer, so I’ll work it out on the page.

In 2011, when I made the decision to run for the city council in Auburn, Maine, I thought that I could try to move the city in a more forward-thinking direction. Between my city and the one next door, we are the second-highest population density in Maine. The first, Portland, is a progressive city where things like art, culture and a view toward the future is a good thing. Here, not so much. I think most believe our best days are long behind us. The magazine I launched two years earlier was trying to change that mindset and I thought being on the City Council would also help.

I’m not going to deny that I knew being on the City Council would also raise my name recognition if I won. I really didn’t aspire to any higher office, but then again, I’d never made many plans in life, just going with the flow and seizing opportunity where I saw it. If nothing else, running would give me a good gauge of how popular I currently was.

I won, defeating the other four candidates with only one, a long-serving incumbent, coming close. It was needed validation that I was as awesome as I tried to convince myself.

The experience serving was not good. As you have probably surmised about me, I like to be the one in control. It’s why I started companies and didn’t work for other people. It’s why I now work from home. Being an equal part of a team, especially one as divided as that City Council, wasn’t fun. I had very little respect for a couple of the members as I was going into office and that number only grew during my tenure.

With my socially liberal, fiscally conservative bent, I usually ended up being the tie-breaker on a lot of 3-3 votes. Ironically, in the voting order, I came last, so everybody saw it as me making the decision, and since I was the only one there who knew how to give a good soundbite to the media, it was always me that was quoted. I liked that power at first, but grew to hate it.

Despite the fact I showed up to most of the meetings in the second half of my two-year term borderline drunk (or full-on drunk), I didn’t like making decisions that either way, hurt people. I didn’t like making decisions that would leave one group of people angry at me and the other feeling like I was on their side. My wife knew that I’d come back from most meetings angry and sad.

With about six months left in my term in early 2013, ironically just as I was seriously descending into the worst of my porn and alcohol addictions, I made the announcement I was not running again on my Facebook page.

I didn’t regret stepping away as I secretly knew just how much my life was spinning out of control. There hasn’t been a day that I wished I was back there and with the exception of seeing the results last night, I don’t follow a damn thing they do in the news.

I’m so thankful I left the City Council before my arrest. I don’t know if it would have been any bigger a deal if I was actively serving, but amidst the clouded judgment I was showing at that time in my life, walking away after only one term was probably the smartest thing I did.

Maybe reading those results was a flashback to the night I won and was so smugly full of myself. I didn’t like that guy. I don’t attribute the City Council to my downfall, but maybe subconsciously I do think those long Monday nights contributed to my trip toward rock bottom. Maybe it reminds me that despite winning the seat, I felt like the time I served was a failure or it could be that it just shows this community marches on without me, never missing a beat, as if I never mattered at all. And while the magazine, film festival, co-workers, award ceremonies, friends, etc., are all gone, the City Council always remains.

I’m still processing why I had such a visceral reaction, but at least I’ll have something to talk about at therapy this week.