Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stuck In A Rabbit Hole

In the saga of my life, the last two weeks will hereafter be known as the Digital Ash In Underground weeks, because I've been listening to the Bright Eyes album, Digital Ash In a Digital Urn in a constant mini-loop. I've been jumping over the first three songs, mainly because "Arc of Time" is so upbeat it's distracting.

I've been starting my loop with "Down in a Rabbit Hole." It's dark, intense, and kind of sad and the perfect backdrop against which to make scads of tables and charts. The lyrics start with, "I heard you fell into a rabbit hole, covered yourself up in snow. Baby, tell me where'd you go for days and days? Do they make you stay up all night? Did they paint your face that pasty white?" Lyrics are very important to me, almost more important than the actual sound of a song. This song has been speaking to me, because that's how I feel, like I've fallen into a rabbit hole for days and days.

It's dark and cramped in the rabbit hole and there's only room for a few things including work and the pro-bono work I've been doing for my two young friends. The rabbit hole is deep and it's hard to climb out of it. Instead, I've used any down time in the rabbit hole to fatten myself up on candy, yogurt covered pretzels, and disgusting quantities of junk food, as if there was a siege coming on that I had to be prepared for. Anxiety is like that, it fills you with fear about what is to come, and makes it very difficult to exist in the present. Anxiety in a dark, super intense rabbit hole is even worse because there's no counter-balancing influences. A few of my friends and family have tried to call, but it's been too much effort to stop what I've been doing and to reach out to them from the depths of the hole.
Not that this is necessarily bad. It's definitely not like when I was working at my old firm, and instead of rabbit holes I was constantly adrift in a toxic, putrid sea of despair and frustration. Here, the rabbit hole is not the product of evil. It's just a place I've fallen in to while trying to get everything done that I need to (with the exception of the ridiculous jaunt to Fire Island which only worsened things by making me hungover, sick, and so tired).

I'd prefer not to have to sequester myself in rabbit holes when in super-stress mode. I'd prefer to be able to take breaks, do yoga, and eat healthfully, while working around the clock. But, that's so hard for me right now. It's been hard for me for a while. It's so hard when I'm in the middle of a mountain of work to force myself to take time to relax. It's actually basically impossible.

I think it's one of the reasons I've been eating more than usual. I think I've been using food to force myself to relax. I think I've been using it as a coping mechanism to sooth my anxiety. Do any of you do that? I've been toying with this idea for a while, but the more I think about it the more I think there's some truth there. For example, during the past two weeks, other than my brief, drunken jaunt to Fire Island, I've taken no time away from work and I've been working very late, and I've had almost no time at all where I felt genuinely relaxed (I also wasn't relaxed in Fire Island, just inebriated).

For most of the two weeks, I've been a ball of anxiety. It's been hard to get to sleep. I've had intense dreams and have had to rely on sleeping pills to get my mind to quiet down. I've been going at this constant level of intensity, and again, it's not bad, I don't feel at any kind of breaking point, but I do feel kind of exhausted. And, I'm just realizing how difficult it is for me to relax in the midst of all of these demands. It's hard to relaxed when immersed in a rabbit hole. Particularly, when teenagers are depending on me, and when I don't have a bath-tub.

I leave for California tomorrow and will have an intense 5 days of work there. I'm taking the red eye back in the middle of the week and am already internally cringing at the amount of sleep I won't get that night. Thursday and Friday will be rough, mainly because I'll be sleep deprived and I might have to play catch-up at work.

However, next weekend, things should be better. By next weekend, my two young friends will be resettled, Sven will be gone, Rumi will be back, and a series of deadlines in my cases will have passed. I can't wait. I just want to relax.

But, I want to really relax (like I was supposed to be doing right now in Detroit). I want to run and be healthy and enjoy my time sitting still. I'm so sick of going, going, going until I have to drug myself to shut down. That's the dark side of the rabbit hole. I'm thinking of cutting out caffeine and alcohol, starting a gratitude journal and fasting. My friend Simone said I am capable of change and that it is only me who is holding me back (I thought that was slightly unnecessary, though true).

Ok, I've got to go jump back down into the hole. When I poke my head out next, I would be very interested to see if anyone has any non-drug and non-food related ideas for how one can force oneself to relax in the midst of work-related anxiety and stress. Please don't say meditation. There's no where to sit comfortably down here.


wordnerd said...

No magic answers buddy...I tend to self sooth in the same ways.

I would probably suggest that you do what you have to do to get through the next couple of weeks and look for small ways to improve your wellness....think of shortcuts that will make you at least a *bit* healthier until you have time to focus on you.

For example, try to eat as many salads as possible in Cali and stock up your hotel with healthier snacks as soon as you get there...for late nights (I foudn that helped alot when traveling for work)....when you get back, buy some pre-made salads and meals for your'll be less likely to binge on other stuff.

Try to leave for work 15 minutes early and hop off the subway one stop early....or...if there's no time...walk around at lunch or mid-afternoon...minimally.

Use your assistant to make your life a bit easier (if that is permitted at your firm)...I know that sounds trite and lame...but really, there are probably ways in which she/he can help that you're not thinking of....

And dont be too hard on yourself if you fall into bad habits...stress and anxiety are tough monsters to face...if you fall down and eat at bag of candy for lunch....NO biggie...try to grab something healthier for supper.

Good luck!

Miss S said...

That's an amazingly accurate way to describe anxiety... anxiety is what causes me to be obsessing over the future so much that I have sleep disorders as well.

Obviously I don't have a magic answer either. But -

Some things help me:

1) the reason that I am doing all these crafts for my dorm is that I am insisting on surrounding myself with things that make me happy this year. Colors, images, etc.
2) Showers/baths. With candles and music, if possible.
3) Quick (or not so quick, if you have time) mani/pedi.
4) A book, just a few minutes before bed. Or, more importantly:
5) Shutting off the computer at least 15-30 mins before bed.
6) Bedtime routine.

That's what I can think of now. If any of these work for you, or you think of ideas, definitely let me know.

Miss S

Greg said...

Let go.

Why do or did you do yoga? Why meditate? Why do people exercise? Why read? Why learn? The answer answers your question.

Tension comes from resistance. It comes from fighting. Those things I mentioned are not the end game; they are the maps for the game. At some point you learn the map so well that you can let go.

If you close a book, then you have never really read it. If you have read it, then it will always be open to you wherever you are. These things ought to bring us closer to life, but more often they take people farther away.

gravelly said...

Everytime you want to eat candy or non-healthy snacks, grab your water bottle instead: water is filling and makes one's complexion beautiful. This anxious time will pass soon, just get through it and then you can get back to a healthier routine. Manga kramar!!!

wordnerd said...


Greg said...

In reply to Wordnerd:

We often separate those things we do that are supposed to help us with life, and often we see those things as ends in themselves. So we might do yoga or exercise or read and in our mind this is different than our daily lives.

The real purpose of those "extra" activities we do is to guide us during the time life runs its course. We run or read repetitively so those things become part of who we are so that when we live the rest of our lives we can just let go and let what we learn take over.

This may be easier to understand when we apply it to a particular sport like baseball. We might learn to run, learn to swing a bat, exercise with weight to make our muscles stronger. But when we actually play the game we do not focus on practice, we let go and let what we learned from repetition take over. We focus on the game.

This is true with life. Our practice is when we exercise, do yoga, spend time with someone we love, take a vacation, read a book, or anything that expands us in some way. If we have practiced properly, when life pitches the ball to us, we should be able to let go and allow who we've become to take over.

Occasionally we will miss because our timing is off. Maybe we need more practice, or we need to understand the connection between our practice and the rest of our life.

When we separate practice from the game and see the practice as an end to itself, it leads to more confusion. A person creates two lives when he/she used to have only one and now has to try to cope with them both. Each time they move to one, they close the book or their mind to the other. That's escapism.

So when you read a book it should follow you everywhere you go. When you take a vacation it should become part of you and come back with you. You should never leave a part of yourself somewhere else because then you are not whole. Who you are depends on everything you do not just part.

So once you learn to stay open to the different aspects of yourself, it becomes more a matter of letting go than struggling with life.

bug said...

i really like what greg is articulating... not only is it a beautiful idea but it rings true to me. as you said, buttercup, it's just a rabbit hole. you'll come out soon. you are already strong and do know those roads that greg is talking about. i can't imagine you were ever weak or gave in, even if that's how you're describing yourself now. you're trying to cushion that rabbit pad with quick fixes -- perfectly logical. why really decorate when you're going to be out of there soon anyway? if it's food that's providing a comfort, maybe (as i think wordnerd said) you could surround yourself with healthier choices... more to relieve guilt than anything. if you're in the rabbit hole, you're in the rabbit hole. they're all over the damn place -- it's not your fault you fell in. and it's already dark down there, so you don't need to beat yourself up while you're in the dark. you can bully yourself next week when you're back in the sun.

Gypsy said...

Hang on. Next week will be here before you know it.

Bubbles said...

You may have gotten this reccomendation already-- I don't have time to read the comments, but (I think you know what I am going to say) EXERCISE always is a tension killer. I know you like the pilates and yoga, but I think that hard core intense arobic activity (like maybe doing the elipitical really hard for a shorter time or doing sprints) works best. Do you ever do aerobics classes-- that also works and you feel like you are having a social life at the same time. Also, my second reccomendation is KITTENS. They are quite relaxing...

Bubbles said...

Also, I have never heard the song before, but when Alice fell down the rabbit hole she found an exciting new world she didn't know was there. Also she had some mind-altering experiences when she found some psychedelic drinks, cookies and mushrooms. Just food for thought.

Plus, Alice like KITTENS. Although that was Through the Looking Glass-- Not in Wonderland.

gravelly said...

Don't get a kitten, Buttercup! You would probably be allergic anyway, the the Lord!