Which am I? Victim or survivor? Half empty or half-full? As I was driving to work this morning, experiencing the dizziness and shortness of breath I've come to expect when I drive, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that I feel the way I feel because I'm expecting it. Everything was in my favor. The weather was clear. Traffic was good. I've driven several times now with the windows up and know for a fact the monoxide problem has been fixed, especially since I put the new muffler on and put metal plates over the holes in my trunk that were letting it in. Yet, as has been happening lately, at some point in my commute I detoured away from a long stretch of road with no shoulder or parking lot to pull in to if there was that feeling of distress and vertigo. It took longer to go the route I took, and when I arrived safely at work, albeit late, I realized I was doing two very bad things. First, by detouring, I was reinforcing the NEED, the notion that something is wrong with me. And secondly, I was prolonging the experience. If I'd just driven in a straight line, I would have been at work a LOT sooner.

Legitimately, something was wrong with me in the summer. I was constantly exhausted, and found myself feeling rotten if I didn't get ten hours of sleep or deviated from my doctor's orders and had caffeine. Repeated tests and visits to the doctor became annoying and frustrating as nothing was discovered. On my own, I began taking vitamins, eating better, and getting more rest at night. I definitely feel better most of the time now, but in stressful situations such as driving, those feelings resurface.

FDR said we have ”nothing to fear but fear itself.” As the months progressed and nothing was found, I realize a lot of my attention and worry was focused inward, on myself. One doctor early on before any tests were even done suggested trying a little Zoloft, “just to see.” Without a clear diagnosis of stress or anxiety, and without having ruled other things out, I wasn't about to experiment with mood-altering medication. The day of my high school graduation party one of my dad's sisters “accidentally” took too many pills and nearly killed herself. Italians have an interesting way of dealing with sickness or injury. The more you care about someone, the more you yell at them when they hurt themselves. Her sisters did their share of yelling at her, and I think my dad's own, “what's wrong with you?” didn't help matters either. She lived alone and had never been married, so decisions were made for her by her sisters. She had shock therapy and was put on some medications, and seemed to be doing better until a few years ago when she began acting more withdrawn and moody. Her sisters found she had somehow let her money run out and missed paying rent on her apartment. They took her back to therapists and she was back on medication. I'll never forget one holiday when they were over and she was a zombie. My aunt has always been deceptively simple, but generally good-natured. I didn't recognize this angry woman who wouldn't sit at the table for more than a few minutes, and would stare into space then suddenly look at someone and declare, “I'm sick.” My other aunts, despite me trying to advise diplomacy amid lunacy, would scold her and yell at her to stop saying that. Eventually, they put her in to a home.

She misses her apartment, but she's doing better now, despite what my aunts say. Her medication has been reduced, and she was more like herself than ever the last time I visited her. My aunts get upset when she says she misses her home and blame THAT on her being sick. I think her feelings are normal and I'm glad she's expressing emotions again. My dad's youngest sister will take painkillers for anything from a toothache to a bad mood, so she's probably the worst one to give advice to the one in the home. Sometimes, medication is needed to restore balance. But the wrong amount can CAUSE problems, and it's pills aren't magic. Personally, I've always been wary of painkillers, although my own surgery had me reaching for the morphine, at least the first day. After that, i worked through the pain. Between mental illness on my father's side and a recovered alcoholic uncle on my mom's, I'm well aware of my own potential fate genetically.

So, which am I? Victim or survivor? Am I the kid who was ambushed and had poison berries shoved in his mouth, or the one who's still here, typing? In third grade they dragged me up a hill behind trees where no one could see and beat me with sticks. I'm still here. I slipped in the deep end of a pool and couldn’t break the surface until a friend’s sister dove in and pushed me to safety. I’m still here. I was once sucked thirty feet into the Atlantic by an undertow. I’m still here. I got hit in the head with a flagpole. I'm still here. I passed out at my desk from weeks of intestinal blood loss. I'm still here. I've driven myself to work every day since I've started having these spells, and even when I had my dad with me, I drove. I'm realizing I need two things and I can beat this. Confidence, first and foremost, gained only through repetition. The more times I make it safely to work and back the more my subconscious is convinced that I'm not going to pass out. Distraction is good as well. Time was, I'd be paying attention just enough to be safe, but in thinking about my day and singing along with the radio, I'd have these moments of awareness when I'd suddenly be miles further down the road than the last time I took note of where I was. Those were good times. Every day, I'm getting closer to those times. I'm exercising every day again. The more I do, the better I feel. Back in June I went a few weeks without going to gym, and felt more and more exhausted. Once I started going again, my energy began to come back. I've yet to get back to where I was when this began, when I'd run three miles, bike twelve, and lift weights for a half hour, but I'm working up to it. Exercise alleviates stress, and that's a big part of these episodes. In the course of a competition I'm in right now, I've also tried yoga, and found that proper breathing techniques make a huge difference.

I've also modified my internet use. Back when I didn't know what this was I definitely made things worse by reading about all the things it COULD be. Once I accepted that it might be stress or panic, I found more helpful sites like this one. According to that list, I'm doing all the right things. And slowly but surely, I'm seeing the results.

Life beats us all up. It's just the way of the world to have ups and downs. The downs suck, especially when there's no end in sight, but it definitely makes me appreciate even the littlest ups. Am I the guy who climbed out a second-story window in fourth grade? Did I get in two automobile accidents this summer? Had my dad not accelerated, would the first one have killed me? I joke a lot that “I don't die; I just suffer.” IDDIJS has almost become a mantra. The fact that I suffer unlikely woes is a theme of this blog. Humor though, is an important survival tool, especially when it comes to fear. You HAVE to be able to laugh.

Who am I? Today, I'm a survivor.


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