Emotional Flatline

Back in May, I started a new medication intended to eliminate chronic pain. Since I’d dealt with this pain for over 30 years, its exit from my life was so elating that it took some time to notice the drug’s unfortunate side effects, the most pressing of which has been the eradication of my emotions (or rather my positive/productive emotions, as blistering rage seems to be doing just fine). Other feelings, however – like joy, anticipation, curiosity, and determination – were apparently lined up and executed one by one.

My sister was first to point out the change. During a visit in early August, she mentioned that I seemed pretty bummed, which was strange since summer is usually my “happy time.” She also reminded me that I could talk to her about whatever was going on. The problem was that I had no idea what was going on, but I did know that talking about myself had gotten progressively difficult, as if I needed to reach down my throat to pull up the words. It still feels that way – like I’ve swallowed everything I need to say, and it’s all stuck down in my gut.

On the rare occasion that emotions do reveal themselves, they’re severely delayed. Last week, I found out that my dad had to have an emergency heart procedure, and I handled the news like a 1940s lobotomy patient. However, a couple of days after his (successful, thank goodness) surgery, I looked up to see my old dog gazing out the window and burst into tears.

The sob-fest wasn’t truly for Jasper, of course, as cute as he is. It was all about Dad, aging, mortality, loss, love, and fear. The disconnect was easy enough to detect – this isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to emotional derailment – and since I am savvy in that department, I’ve had many years to develop endurance strategies for times like this.

Rule Number One = DON’T ADD TO THE PROBLEM. While in a bout of depression during my first year of college, I took a class called Evil in the 20th Century. Essentially, I read about the Holocaust and Khmer Rouge for a full month. Here’s what I learned: if you feel like shit, don’t immerse yourself in horror. Do positive things. Along those lines, while I’m in this state of emotional death, I’ve decided to expand my vocabulary (I even have flashcards), read lots of books, walk a ton, and take edX classes (current: Humanity and Nature in Chinese Thought). Ideally, when I emerge from this place, I’ll find myself physically healthy and a little bit smarter.

A few months from now, the drug will be out of my system. The emotional wellspring will refill, the words will flow from my gut back to my throat, and I will awaken at last to feel something more than: 😐 In a dull, understated way, I look forward to that time.

Norma v. Jerkface

dsc_0083-1“What the hell are YOU lookin’ at?”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve teetered along the edge of an emotional Deep Blue Funk. Thankfully (I guess), I’m in my 40s, so I’ve had several years to become accustomed to the warning signs heralding said funk. It’s initiated by an uninvited visitor – an internal entity as destructive as she is unmotivated, whose counsel runs counter to all practical advice for a happy, healthy life. This entity does not want me to be happy or healthy. She wants me to fall headfirst into a vat of doom, ideally to drown there.

I will call her Jerkface.

Because of Jerkface’s crappy counsel, Normal Me (hereafter referred to as Norma) has to intervene several times a day, from the moment the alarm sounds and Jerkface says, “No point getting up. Sleep ’til noon,” and Norma cries, “Get out of this bed immediately!”

So I do, but Jerkface has just begun. For the rest of the day, she and Norma stage a continual debate inside my head, arguing about whether or not I should put whiskey in my coffee, shower, venture outside, exercise, answer the phone, believe in myself, etc. If I manage to drag myself out into the world and interact with humans, they have a field day.

JERKFACE: Did you see how that guy looked at you? What an asshole! Let’s hate him!

NORMA: I think he was about to sneeze. Or the sun was in his eyes. Either way, who cares?

dsc_0003Sometimes you get weird looks. Deal with it.

But when Jerkface stops giving advice and begins her apocalyptic philosophizing, Norma has to get more creative.

JERKFACE: Humanity’s rate of self-destruction will outpace its emotional and intellectual evolution. The world is doomed.

NORMA: You know what else? Kittens are cute.

JERKFACE: What?!

NORMA: And have you seen those people who use popsicle sticks to put silly faces on hedgehogs? Hilarious!

JERKFACE: Okay, maybe I need to repeat myself. Humanity’s rate of self-destruction…

NORMA: Did I ever tell you about the time I found the Skelly castle in New Orleans? When I was wearing my skeleton shirt?

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JERKFACE: No, but so what?

NORMA: That was a great day. I love southern cemeteries. And New Orleans. And fake castles. Maybe I’ll plan a trip to Disney World.

JERKFACE: You really are losing it.

But Jerkface is wrong. Norma’s not losing it. She’s just trying to stay out of the dregs of disastrous deliberation. It’s easy to board a treacherous train of thought, but it won’t travel anywhere helpful. Battles cannot be fought from within the murk of a Deep Blue Funk. If Norma doesn’t keep me positive and thankful, Jerkface wins.

Essentially, this is what I’ve learned after decades of dealing with Jerkface: don’t listen to her. Whatever she says, however convincing it seems, do the opposite. Go for long walks.  Smile at strangers. Laugh with friends. Listen to the Go-go’s. Read the Desiderata. Focus on gratitude. Take deep breaths. And remember all the beautiful moments in life.

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