The Neurasthenic Retreats to His Cork-Lined Room

I started back in therapy, and a few weeks, maybe two months, after that, I started back on medication. I’m starting with Clonazepam, just as I did last time. I hope this is temporary and brief; that it doesn’t drag on and then lead to months or years on an SSRI. In some ways, I’m better off than the last time. I can see more clearly what’s happening, even at just about the worst of it; I’m still able to tell myself that whatever is bothering me will pass; and the pain doesn’t get too deep or intractable. And this does seem to have a more specific proximate cause, though it is still growing out of the same dark, twisted suffering that I’ll be addressing for the rest of my life. It seems that I’ll move from shielding myself from one unpleasantness or another.

The first time around, the unbearable proximate cause of all of my suffering was the noise of our apartment–the drummer upstairs, the summer parties on the decks all down the block, and the screaming unsupervised children in front of the adjacent community garden at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 in the morning in the summer. I went through all sorts of treatment and did all sorts of work, but we also moved. We found an astonishingly quiet apartment–not just quiet by New York standards, but quiet by any standards. It’s only when we travel that noise is a problem anymore. And the only price I seem to have paid for this is the ongoing suffering in one of my ears, likely caused by the over-vigorous insertion of an earplug at some point in the battle against noise.

The time around, the problems stem from work, though not in the usual way. Over the last couple of years, my responsibilities have escalated fairly quickly, and I’ve been struggling with what seems to me to be an exceedingly complex and ambitious project. The details are too tedious and subtle to try to lay out here, and some of them are probably confidential anyway, but the point is that I became overwhelmed. My coping mechanisms failed more and more often and more and more seriously. I started therapy, and the decline slowed. At my therapist’s suggestion, I started working out more and taking calcium and melatonin to ensure that I at at least sleep regularly, but still my coping mechanisms weren’t working well enough often enough.

The situation was, if not exacerbated, then at least made more difficult to get a handle on by my Buddhist practice. Though my practice has been invaluable in so many ways, and I do believe that it offers the ultimate means to address my suffering, the mundane walking of that can be painful at times. It offers the insight that allows me to see the impermanent nature of my suffering, and it gives me access to the perspective to witness all of this without actually being it and access to the indestructible awareness that can transcend. But in the worst moments, I find myself asking myself why I’m suffering so horribly from something that’s not real and becoming impatient with myself for not simply not doing this anymore. I lean too heavy on the wisdom it offers, and lose the ability to be compassionate with myself.

And so, with the therapy and the medication, I’ve found again the ability to be compassionate with myself, to allow my coping mechanisms to work and to stop thinking less of myself for needing them. I’ve spoken to my management and told them that I can’t quite handle what I’ve undertaken, and, not surprisingly, they were more compassionate with me than I’ve been with myself. They made sure the project with which I’ve been struggling will be completed successfully, they told me that they will discuss whatever needs to be discussed so I can continue to contribute as much as I have been without it being a threat to my emotional well-being, and they sent me off on this vacation I’m now on with nothing but their best wishes, the admonition not to give work a thought while I’m away, and the promise that everything will be taken care of. I admit to checking my e-mail once, and they’ve been as good as their word. This touches my to the point of tears.

Here I am, on vacation in the place I love most (though a bit before the weather’s quite ready) in gorgeous accommodations, with nearly a week and nothing to do. First, I was just so pleased to be here and to have Provincetown still be here. It’s just so wonderful. I went out and wandered the shops, picked up a used copy of Young Törless to read while I’m here, checked the restaurants to see what would be open, and went to Spiritus Pizza to pick up a MOP for dinner and watched someone from WOMR pick up a stack of pizzas for their fund-raising drive. When I got back to our room to eat, I listened to WOMR, and heard them thank Spiritus for the pizzas. I’m back in the small town I know well, though I noticed that my mind was still running much faster than the context demands. I’m not ready to be quiet and with myself yet.

The room we’re staying in this year is not nearly as private as others we’ve stayed in, and it’s in a newly renovated building that lacks the sound insulation that we’re used to at home. The neighbors upstairs have at least one child, and they’re not very still. The water from the tub, the sink, the toilet, sounds as though it’s running down our walls, and, once again, lying here trying to read Robert Musil, I felt my coping mechanisms going under one more time and the anxiety rising through the core of my body. And so it was back to the Clonazepam (which will require a gradual withdrawal anyway) and all this writing. In that hour, things seem to have unwound some, and I’m going to meditate. But I’m left with these questions: Will I ever be able to be happy unless everything around me is exactly as I want it to be? Do other people feel this way and just deal with it? Will I ever get away from all of the distractions and difficulties that I feel plague me so that I can just be present and with my wife now, not in some future ideal situation?

6 Replies to “The Neurasthenic Retreats to His Cork-Lined Room”

  1. Thanks for asking. It’s going pretty well, actually. Having been home for a couple of nights and gotten back into the usual routines and caught up on my sleep, I’m feeling much more normal. We’ll see what work holds for me on Monday, but I’m pretty optimistic.

    I think the point of the Clonazepam is that I don’t notice it. I’ve never tried Xanax, but I understand that sedation can be one of its effects. For me, the Clonazepam doesn’t have any real noticeable effect, it just stops the anxious chatter in my head that tends to underlie everything else. So it does help me sleep, for example, but by allowing my mind to wind down normally and drift off rather than sedating me. And I can also take it first thing in the morning and be sharp and clear and, for instance, go to work or drive almost six hours from New York to Provincetown or back.

    The hard part about Clonazepam, at least based on the last time I took it, is how addictive it is. It’s going to be very difficult to taper off of. But if we could the worst of the crazy at bay for a while (which it seems to be doing admirably), I’ll worry about that later. By then, I’m hoping I’ll have re-aligned my life a bit better so it shouldn’t be easier. We’ll see.

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