How To Unsuccessfully Diffuse a Bomb

What am I supposed to do when my heart is beating so hard?

Hoeing radicchio and escarole in the full sun of a high desert afternoon.  Heat seems to fold itself around me, and I feel the unsettling pressure of something I can’t identify.  It’s warm, yes, but mid-May temperature.  So much worse is coming in another month.  I’m tired, riding off unideal sleep and three months of hard labor to make this profitable month.  But so what?  People my age run their bodies ragged, don’t they?  They love to push it.

And here I am, 30, doing some simple hoeing in 85 degree weather with beautiful clouds and a breeze, and my heart is beating out of my chest, making me feel panicked, making me feel dizzy, making me feel insubstantial and broken to the last sinew, waiting for a strong gust.

My current mindfulness exercise would have me write the following in the little notepad I keep in my carhartt overall pocket:
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The Things that Kill Us: Pt 2

For a brief period of time, I thought my retainer might be killing me.  I took it from my mouth one morning and considered it in the bathroom’s peach light.  I was feeling particularly strange: skin vibrating, my nerves shifting in palpitating clusters, my mind releasing its chemical signals to warn of a “vague disquiet” on the floor.  Yet the previous morning had dawned on a healthier Me, one who’d risen without a retainer in his mouth.  By detective logic, couldn’t I reason that the retainer was the only variable at play?

My $700 piece of plastic bears the face of a dog, striped like a skunk with googly eyes that spend a few nights a week staring blankly into the floor of my mouth.  Watching the occasional spider slip in while I slept.  Wondering, maybe, why the orthodontist had cursed them with sight.

Unidentified white plaque covers its surface like thin plaster.  However many years I’ve had this thing, shoving it over my teeth whenever I get the notion, and I’ve never cleaned it that well.  Just the precursory brush, but a suggestion sourced either from memory or a mislabeled dream tells me to soak the retainer in a glass of mouth wash.  A suggestion I’ve never taken, as a part of my broader neglect of hygiene etiquette, including daily showers and cleaning toenails.

It could be the retainer, poisoning me slowly in the night.  The fact that I’d sunk so low as to pinpoint my retainer as the killer in the shadows just illustrates how desperate I was to put a face on my persecutor.  Medical technology had marked off cardiac, respiratory, and gastro-intestinal issues, and I had little left to rest the problem on.  “I’d rather it be you,” I said to the jiggling eyes of my retainer, “than a stranger.”

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The Things That Save Us: Pt 1

Sebaceous activity best characterized my teenage years, so that I remember in brightest detail the glare of oil off my skin in my bathroom mirror.  I took to shedding my glasses at the door.  A fuzzy perspective soothed my whining self-esteem, and I genuinely found that seeing the oil slicks of infected zits through blurred eyes made me feel better about them.  That, or I simply couldn’t face the reality of excessive teenage hormones.

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Sick People on Sale!

“I felt like who I was was entangled in being ‘a sick person.'” -a testimonial from Will Reiser, on 50/50

Creation Enterprises, a subsidiary of Cosmic Cruelty Inc., would like to inform you of an exciting opportunity.  You could be… a “sick person.”  In the past, this exclusive product has been reserved for the physically and actually sick, but no longer!  The healthy public will be over the moon (or under the weather) for feeling like sick people, and Creation Enterprises has just the right package for you at an unbelievable price!

Let’s hear from Sam Hedges, a thirty-year-old, healthy white hipster living in suburban Albuquerque.  Until now, Sam has lived his whole pathetic life devoid of obstacles, in a state of horrific assumptions.  “I just always assumed I had to be healthy unless I was actually sick.  I didn’t know I had options,” says Sam, loyal customer and proud “sick person”.  Go for a run? Sure! Laugh so hard you feel light headed? No questions required!  Stay out all night drinking? Okay!  Have rough sex?  Automatically!  Push your body to its limits? Sounds fun!

No, Sam.  It’s horrible.

Like so many, Sam’s sense of freedom was incredibly limited.  He had a disgusting, trusting relationship with his own body.  Now, thanks to Creation Enterprises, he can affect the cautious phobia, nay, the ENTIRE identity of a sick person!

Creation Enterprises, subsidiary of Cosmic Cruelty Inc. and its semi-demonic overlord Cold Indifference Co., has opened the millennial floodgates.  Want to squander your youth chasing down mysterious symptoms and obsessing over imaginary health issues?  Ready to rob your own life of its ability to be enjoyed?  Creation Enterprises is here for you!

How about adopting the identity of a heart attack survivor?  Imagine in gruesome detail having a heart attack: the uncontrollable squeezing of your chest, the perspiring, the seizing, the world falling away from you as you die.  Splendid!  Now picture surviving that, only to sit around, avoiding exertion and waiting for another heart attack to take you!  Rapture!  LIFE, undisturbed by bliss, now a perpetual state of fluctuating anxiety and depression and a total absence of normalcy!  On sale for the small price of a regular therapist who accepts Medicaid!

That’s not all.  Cold Indifference Co. and its innumerable branches are offering an exclusive bonus not available to actual sick people.  Sign up in the next 20 minutes, and you get Invalidation to go alongside your Collapsed Lung, free of charge!  The actually sick are burdened with basic recognition of their problem, not to mention treatment and social support.  Not for you!  You will enjoy freedom from acknowledgement for the pain you’re enduring.  Those poor cardiac survivors attend appointments with health psychologists, love from their caring families.  Poor, affirmed bastards.

With this bonus offering, the selling price of a Clonazepam stolen from your parents’ medicine cabinet, you’ll receive the symptoms AND the estrangement!

Just ask Sam Hedges, loyal customer and avid health freak.  “I rarely thought about my health.  Since purchasing the Cardiac-Respiratory Package for the bargain price of life’s pleasure, my brain has basically totally rewired itself!  The process is simple and safe, and there were technical staff always ready to answer my questions, like, ‘Am I dying?’ The answer was always ‘Yes!’  While my neighbors walk their dogs and enjoy the fresh air, I drown out everything with the screaming of my own heart and lungs!  It’s like being a different species! Thanks Creation Enterprises!”

This is just the beginning for customers like Sam.  As a member of our exclusive Health Anxiety Club, he will enjoy our lifelong benefits, such as frequent opportunities to upgrade with new packages at discounted rates.  Just wait til he sees our Cancer products!

Creation Enterprises, Cosmic Cruelty Inc., and its dark, terrifying demigod Cold Indifference Co., are not responsible for any lapses into mental stability and wellness.  Customers who accidentally accept their pain or comes to term with their health anxiety as a path towards a calmer, more mindful life are not our problem, nor is anything else, because nothing matters, and we all die alone.

Putting Organs on Leaves: a mindfulness exercise

So I recently got this new therapist, my first since the last ineffectual therapist who guided me through my developing panic disorder by casually suggesting I try things like “breathing.”

Ladies and gentleman, therapists are not like spouses.  They are like Christmas trees; shop around until you find the right one for you.  Then keep it around until the life has been dried out of it.
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Life Becomes A Dream Becomes A Nightmare

The Hilarious World of Depression is a podcast in which public radio host John Moe interviews other comedians and humorists about their depression.  Maybe not the most obvious correlation, but the more you pay attention to comedy, the more you’ll see mental health as a major theme.  Comedian Maria Bamford has made her bi-polar and OCD disorders cornerstones of her comedy and new Netflix show Lady Dynamite.  Watching her audience’s reactions to jokes about suicide and psychiatric wards, you get the feeling that there’s a release in there for everyone, and I get the same listening to the Hilarious World of Depression.  As John Moe says it, laughter undermines the disease’s power a little.

And the more you pay attention to mental illness, the more you’ll see it.  Everywhere, in everyone.

In a particular episode, John Moe starts sharing some of the commonalities he’s found in interviewing people about their depression, and one (actually a lot more) of them is mine.

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Civilization!? You Done Fucked Up.

Imagine a college student who’s told in her Freshman orientation by a kindly professor with a corduroy jacket and elbow patches that if she studies hard, she will succeed.  We’re not talking Harvard here, just a state university like University of Arkansas, a place that reliably rewards the effort.  The student does as the professor advised, more, in fact. She even makes sacrifices.  Good for her.  Four years later, the student walks the aisle and takes her diploma.  Did she make magna cum laude?  As she’s guided offstage, she opens her diploma. No Latin, or her accomplishments.  Only the words, “Sorry.  You’re dead.”

Is that a confusing example?  Well, civilization is to blame.

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Technophobia (why I’m Scared of fitbits)

When I developed technophobia, I was standing in line for The Genius Bar at humble Albuquerque’s Apple Store, our only nice thing.  With my phone broken, I was left with no option but to stare off into space like a caveman.   Every surface was a screen of some kind, and all were advertising same thing:

Smart Watches.

People of all shapes and colors wearing watches and looking the part of a successful modern human.  Nice sweaters, yoga pants, coffee, blogs.  The videos rifled through the watches’ features: texting, phone calls, step counting, and…? Heart rate monitoring.  Just standing in line, watching young people in Lululemon sprinting and reading their watches was more than I could handle.  Heart rates.  Beats per minute.  150 beats per minute, sprinting up bleachers.  That’s not fast enough.  Not nearly fast enough.

Three waves rose on the horizon.

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The Caffeinated Heart

As I sit down to write this, I am cuddling a small cup of coffee, 1.5 tablespoons (down from 2) of beans I ground and placed in a camp filter perched on top of my mug.  A little puddle of half and half below, something for a nice tan finish.  Drinking pour-over, writing a blog, and wearing a knitted beanie indoors.  The very image of hipster perfection.

When I went into the doctor four years ago complaining of something, anything really, whatever they wanted to find, Dr. Doctor put the tip of his pen between his teeth and said, “Well, it may be anxiety, Sam.”

To which I replied, “Ok.  What else might it be?”  To which  he replied, “Anxiety.”

The first thing he suggested in dealing with anxiety was to cut out caffeine and alcohol, for the reason that they both disrupt the brain’s delicate chemical balance.  Thus creating Anxiety, the fear of anything.

His second suggestion? Therapy.  If the alcohol and caffeine thing didn’t take care of it.

Which it wouldn’t have.  Or maybe it would’ve.  Or will.

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The Interesting Heart (how Face/Off is like Anxiety)

: “…to remind us that the only interesting things happening to them aren’t real…”

A quote from a film review for the movie Cake, starring Jennifer Aniston, which I haven’t seen.

Apparently, Jennifer Aniston’s character suffers from fibromyalgia and spends a lot of the film looking like she’s in pain, which, according to this critic, is boring.

The moment I read the aforementioned quote, it resonated with me, and my first thought was, “Oh my god, everything I think is interesting about myself isn’t real.”

Does that sound dramatic? Well, I’m usually one cough away from driving to the E.R.  So.

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