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Daily Routines, Anxiety..(Saturday, July 18, 2020)

The question of how to establish the most sufficient daily routine, not as an inflexible absolute but at least as a reasonable set of guidelines for how to budget one’s time throughout a day, is one which has lingered in my mind for many years. When did I first start consciously experimenting with possible routine planner/schedule/templates?

I’m not sure but presently the earliest clear memory I have is of my senior year as an undergraduate as I descended into raw and stormy anxiety over not just maintaining my GPA but putting enough time and effort into narrowing down my list of graduate school programs, trying to optimize the writings in my portfolio and that damn statement of purpose.

(Strange that one of the hardest of intellectual and introspective challenges I’ve pursued in life was composing this not more than two page commentary on, essentially, WHY each selected graduate school program should admit me, pay my tuition, and offer me a graduate or teaching assistantship.

I believe one of the reasons I took the rejections so hard was because I spent so much time on it. Not only that but I had at least 11people – a mix of professors, co-workers at the tutoring center, fellow students, and professional writers critique the vast array of iterations. Maybe among the mistakes was putting too much time into the statement of purpose and not enough on my portfolio materials?

I mention this only because I never did figure out what other applicants offered that I didn’t. One of the unfortunate parts of college application processes is that you don’t necessarily get feedback if you’re rejected. [When you think about it, wouldn’t that make for useful means of holding academia accountable and transparent; is it practical though?]  That and, at least one person on an admissions board confessed “on record” blatantly, that his decisions are often so subjective that he didn’t even know why he chose and rejected who he did and could have made an entirely different decision the day before or after. Specifically, I’m referring to McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisana Creative Writing professor, who, for Inside Higher Ed goes by the name Oronte – the reason why is not mentioned but why must be it be? Also interesting, Insight Higher Ed says nothing about this initially mysterious John Griswold, not even where he’s a professor, begging the question why one must read his advice with such confidence…surprising, in my opinion, from a publication about academia since academia stresses information, facts, et cetera but I can’t say what I’m missing about the rationale—he wrote:

“The difference in quality among the top dozen or more candidates is often so small that choosing is more of a hunch, a hope, a wing and a prayer. On another day, I might have chosen slightly differently” 1)A Guy Who May Have Read Your MFA Application Speaks; March 28, 2014; https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/education-oronte-churm/guy-who-may-have-read-your-mfa-application-speaks  

2)Are you wondering why I included the web address AND the hyperlink? In my opinion, documenting/attributing/citing sources receives its most due and worthy pay when as much of the relevant publication information is available. Supposing for example 3)(as is sometimes the case) the hyperlink rots, at least, from a historical records preservation point of view, the web address that had existed speaks a bit more to the story of where the alleged source once was before rotting away. Also, I find web addresses interesting to look at. They bring out the depths and expansiveness of the internet’s thing-ness. “Cyber space” is such an interesting dimension or mode of space the way it’s like expanding digital space we ourselves create. Makes my imagination regarding possible nature of a deity or universe space creator or whathaveyou sort of buzz like my slight caffeine buzz

What was my routine back then? …Back in…goodness, 2018! Typically, on a weekday, I woke up at 5 or 5:30 AM, ate a quick breakfast (almost always eggs back then)) and wrote for two hours—then, specifically for the graduate school portfolio and application materials, walked for 15-30 minutes, did homework, then went to work (I worked two part time jobs then, by the grace of the mysterious creativity of the universe I was blessed to have two jobs on the same campus 4)!!!!!!!!!!! so I didn’t have to spend extra time driving here and there. I think I usually got home at 8 PM, ate dinner, watched TV, drank my liquor while relaxing and reading in bed.)

This is one of those periods of my life I remember relatively well. That surprises me though because they were busy and somewhat tumultuous times. Really the whole period of time from late April 2018 into January 2019. That April my eyes started wigging out so to speak, and my vision grew increasingly blurry, and though I wouldn’t discover until a few months later, my esophoria—which Dr. Michael Garin explains in an article: “is a tendency of the eyes to want to turn more inward than necessary when an individual is viewing an object at near or at distance which may cause the individual to experience eyestrain and other symptoms” (“What is esophoria and exophoria?” ; Burman & Zuckerbrod Ophthalmology Associates P.C., ; September 25th, 2017; https://www.2020detroit.com/esophoria_exophoria/  )

Alas, those “other symptoms” were quite unpleasant, especially when I hadn’t known yet what the hell was in fact wrong with me or if it was even my eyes as opposed to my eyes simply being affected by something else. As I wrote in an unpublished and incomplete fragment

[when I insert a bracket into text this will be my approach for the time being to annotating or further explaining, clarifying, something already written. Since I don’t plan to publish this rough draft in any other context and want to preserve, nonetheless, as much as I can, what I wrote as it was last touched, I’ll be otherwise citing it directly]

 a few weeks ago about it: the symptoms often began flaring up most intensely and discernably while driving. It would start with:

 “floods of negative thoughts (of which there was increasingly more and more, for some reason I could not stop thinking about how everyone I most loved was mortal, myself including, so all I would think about when driving was death, death, death, death…)

[For which I come to learn the cause to be more than mere esophoria. But first of all, the negative thought patterns were present because I not only had untreated (or diagnosed) esophoria, but anxiety and depression as well…along with general lacking awareness of my own pessimistic tendencies and tendencies to ruminate; moreover, nearing the end of what would be my second to last semester as an undergraduate but still uncertain as to what I ought to do after college and feeling as if, to quote the Bee Gees from the song ‘Staying Alive’:

                                        Life goin’ nowhere

                                        Somebody help me

                                        Somebody help me yeah

and]

“…it was as if it was becoming more and more blatant to me that spatial thinking—sizing up my sense of sight and navigating through it—was extraordinarily difficult for me.

[I suspect this also brought cause to thoughts of death…when one feels one’s capacities for sensation and perception beginning to falter in inexplicable ways I think that’s not a necessary explanation to jump to but reasonable especially if you may be the depressive, anxious and pessimistic sort]

“Especially moving my eyes around to check the rear view mirror and steering without slight swerves. My eyes began almost to have felt like mini-seizures while I would drive—the eyes could not fix or focus on one spot and would shake around and cause me immense dizziness, vertigo and anxiety. Then there was the grocery stores which was perhaps the most terrifying on the surface because not linked to driving where my eyes usually experiences the spazzing. At the grocery store I would break into sweats, feel inexplicably dizzy, as if the world itself were shaking, swerving, my heart would race, and I would begin to fear I must be dying. The first time I figured it was just an ordinary panic attack. The second time too. But on the third week I felt sure something was wrong because in fact, I could not even walk for periods of minutes.

[That is to say, I would have to explicitly inform my wife that we had to stop walking or I might fall because I was struggling to keep myself held up. So I’d try to stand still while leaning and holding onto the grocery card…reminding me, now that I think of it, of my father, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and when his muscles began trembling and tremoring more he used the grocery carts for support in a related but much more severe situation]

“I began to note to along with the anxiety there was a common element of my eyes often related to these incidents. Was it eye-strain? Was there something wrong with my eyes? The first optometrist tried to assure me there was nothing wrong.

[From Pearl Vision I believe]

“But the problem persisted for months so I did my own research and grew convinced I suffered from some sort of ‘binocular vision’ problem. I brought this to the attention of an optometrist especially familiar with such eye problems and he diagnosed me with esophoria which is a sort of binocular vision disability.”

Around the time we pursued my esophoria we also began first seriously addressing my anxiety. I say “seriously” because at various other points in life I sort of dabbled in addressing it but never took it “head on” as if with utter determination to eradicate it.

As a kid I don’t think it was ever openly suggested that I had any sort of chronic or abnormal or specifically disruptive “anxiety” as such. Instead, the prevailing theory among at least two of my parents was that I may have had ADD or ADHD. Very briefly, like before I had yet reached my teenage years (if my memory serves me right) I saw a child psychologist to vent about feelings concerning my biological parents’ divorce but for whatever reason that didn’t last. What I do remember is that this was at my mother’s insistence. Or…if my father had anything to do with it he wasn’t the one who took me and joined me.

But years later when I was 16 or 17 I believe, my father started taking me and joining me to see a therapist whose name is Larry.

In neither instance can I recall a head on identification and plan of attack concerning anxiety or depression. The child psychologist I recall nothing about. But during the Larry sessions the most discussed topic was my inability to pass the written driver’s license exam. I failed it six times. (So speaking of my broader effort at taking on my self-esteem, to the extent that looking back at the past and certain episodes where one might note impactful factors…there’s one). It was so mortifying.

Now, not to digress so much from what was already a digression but I need to explain something about my struggles with things like “tests” in those days. Put simply, 1) I was never taught explicitly HOW TO LEARN. (In 2014 when I returned to college and took a 5 week summer course on psychology I researched the topic on my own 5)you know, autodidact style and turned myself from fuck-up drop out to a straight A student 6)boo yea! As some might say, ha ha. Add that to the mix of depression and anxiety and all the various streams of specific sources and ruminations, daymares, et cetera, it would probably only be rational to assume that school and tests were very difficult for me!  

Back to retracing my tepid attempts at acknowledging my anxiety and depression. My freshman year of college at Kean University in 2004, interestingly enough I don’t recall much —-conscious—- and deeply felt anxiety so much as depression and so I saw a counselor there to address it. Together we decided, instead of dropping out, which my depression and other sloppy though patterns and philosophical ideas had tempted me to do, that I would apply to a college where I’d find it more pleasurable. So, in love with the geography of South Florida I transferred to Florida Gulf Coast University. If there was just ONE THING I should not have done that year (other than dropping out) it was trying marijuana. Anxiety stirred up and brought anxiety (and paranoia) out of me like the ferocity of male or female ejaculation but without the pleasure. Prior to this I’d had precious few full blown panic attacks (the worst being so unpleasant that I fainted—this happened twice. Praise the mysterious creativity of the universe but never again… “knock on wood” as they say).

But the FEELING of being high, probably three fourths of the time, resembled those two instances when I fainted, so I would come to believe I was either dying or fainting and would experience brutal panic attacks.

This I did not at all address. In fact, it was around the time I started increasingly smoking pot that I had stopped seeing the counselor at Florida Gulf Coast University where I spoke, again, more so about depressive feelings.

It was around that time when I actually suffered from severe erectile dysfunction. Increasingly anxious about everything, sex was no exception. Unable to “keep it up” not only did my anxiety and depression levels increase, but so did my self loathing. As this was well before younger guys spoke as openly about ED as they do now, I felt like an utter freak. And…I couldn’t figure out the cause.

I entertained the possibility that I could have been a homosexual but…I mean…when one’s sexual orientation is blatant, indeed it is. As opposed to having any evidence of being gay I felt actually, quite “pervertedly” heterosexual. By that I mean…perhaps not so different from plenty of straight young fellows, I could not stop thinking about sex and pining for it. I remember one of the most visceral and memorable feelings of lust and sexual frustration as it would arise at the sight of girls’ thighs and legs. Being at a university where the weather is almost always hot, girls wore short shorts often enough. And…a virgin as I was, I sometimes felt such desire for this girl and that girl, and felt such excitement over their legs, it was as if my soul was the image capturing spirit of a movie camera permeating their legs, indulging in the sexual energy they emitted. My point is, I didn’t feel gay. I felt—and I hadn’t known this word then—painfully polyamorous. With no offense intended towards a girl I hoped most ardently to have sex with, there were particular girls I crushed on quite intensely. One in particular stands out as I recall one day—it was just one of those perfect Southern Florida days, perfectly warm but with a gusty but not quite aggressive breeze, she was wearing this long dress, and we were sitting by the manmade lake and I was very stoned, and actually what I felt for her was a bit more complex than generic lust. I mean, as I did not know her all that well, but enough that here and there we talked a little…she was what I would describe as stunningly beautiful and with a very healthy seeming personality. There were a few other specific girls I felt intense lust for. All of that by the way, stirred extreme guilt within me. Now add this to the bizarreness of not being able to sustain an erection, despite feeling so passionately hopeful of losing my virginity…what could explain it? As I slowly began researching ED I did discover a concept referred to as “performance anxiety.”

I did very little to address this anxiety other than reduce my marijuana and Diet Coke consumption, quitting on my vegetarianism (maybe I just needed more protein?) and see a doctor who prescribed Zoloft and Viagra. The Zoloft I chose not to take. Someone had told me they heard bad things about psychiatric medicine and I believed it—without doing any research.  Funny, my mind was so wrapped up in anxiety, I kid you not when I tell you that I could not even succeed, when experimenting with Viagra while attempting to masturbate, to achieve an erection. You must understand…this wasn’t an isolated incident. Sometimes I could manage to masturbate but not so often. I was considerably impotent for months and I’m to this day perhaps ignorant as to what that may or may not have done to part of my psyche. I am glad though that I can openly share that this happened to me without hiding behind a character in fiction.

One of the hardest things about creative writing, for me, is writing about one’s self but not wanting to attribute this or that to one’s self, and similarly, writing about others. Especially others! Also, there’s the ethics angle and the legal one. From a more ethics related and practical perspective: advice from the man tied as my favorite personal essayist—Dr. Phillip Lopate (tied with Montaigne)— on this matter:

                                        First with perhaps a little more “seriousness” (?)

  1. Never write to settle scores. Enter into the other person’s point of view, and be as fair minded as possible; (2) Try to write as beautifully as possible, because well-wrought prose invites its own forgiveness

[ha ha]

                            –from you yourself, if not from the offended party.”

And then with a greater dash of  humor:

  1. Befriend only people who are too poor to hire lawyers to sue you.
  • If you plan to write about friendship, make lots of friends, because you are bound to loose a few.
  • For the same reason, try to come from a large family.

(from the book To Show and Tell: The Craft of Literary Non-Fiction by Phillip Lopate, pages 83- 85, Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster Inc., 2013).  

For a more legalistic point of view, I cite a Writers Digest article written by an attorney specializing in intellectual property and publishing law, Amy Cook:

“The takeaways: Be truthful. If you’re going to negatively embellish events involving a real person, be sure the person absolutely cannot be identified. Don’t mention private or embarrassing facts about others unless you can honestly say they are of legitimate public concern and essential to telling your story. Ditto with bringing up a long-passed crime. Do include a disclaimer that this is your recollection of events, that you’ve related them to the best of your knowledge, and that some identities have been changed or are composites.” (“A Writer’s Guide to Defamation and Invasion of Privacy,”

January 22, 2016; https://www.writersdigest.com/publishing-faqs/defamation-and-invasion)

Cook also suggest a disclaimer more or less like this: (I changed very little of the wording) ****Where others are mentioned I can offer only my recollection of events, which I put into writing with the best of my knowledge. Some identities have been changed or are composites.*****

Eventually I did regain full functioning of my erection which was nice. Unfortunately, not only did I totally neglect my anxiety and depression issues, but by the next year (2007) I was contemplating suicide.

It took me until maybe 2014, and only after I drank so much alcohol that attempting to stop put me in a dangerous state of withdrawal, to mention to a doctor…well, not even a doctor…exceptionally poor in those days as a grocery store worker, the best that could be done at the time was a Physician’s Assistant. Not that that’s a bad thing. But nonetheless, it’s nether a General Practitioner Doctor, psychiatrist, nor a psychologist. The PA put me on Trazedone and Buspirone (sometimes I mix up Buspirone and  Bupropion 7)Welbutrin). Neither of which worked so I simply considered it a hopeless cause and drank to fall asleep. Until 2018.

I began this entry by discussing routine and then descended into anxiety but what I do think is especially interesting is that it was just as I was starting to see the effects of Effexor which I started taking in late summer or early fall of 2018, when I started working more meticulously on trying to create a practical daily routine. Though correlation is not causation as they say, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to draw a connection between reducing anxiety and getting a better handle on one’s day.

I don’t want to end today without acknowledging the loss of Georgia Representative John Lewis. I do not claim to know much about him. I never read up on him. And people who receive much less attention than him no doubt also passed away today. But I suppose those of us who don’t mind being to some degree “in the public,” naturally it is likely that a public person’s death will likewise be public and there is a spiritual element to it. This person being “public,” what did she or he or ze or ze or she or he bring to the public consciousness? Of the late Rep. Lewis, the New York Times writes:

“On the front lines of the bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, with blows to his body and a fractured skull to prove it, Mr. Lewis was a valiant stalwart of the civil rights movement and the last surviving speaker from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

“More than a half-century later, after the killing in May of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis, Mr. Lewis welcomed the resulting global demonstrations against police killings of Black people and, more broadly, against systemic racism in many corners of society. He saw those protests as a continuation of his life’s work, though his illness had left him to watch from the sidelines.” (see the article “John Lewis, Towering Figure of Civil Rights Era, Dies at 80” written by Katharine Q. Seelye; July 18, 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/us/john-lewis-dead.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage   

Also, since I am mentioning public deaths, this week, actress Kelly Preston passed away. Similarly, I never did delve much into her acting career, not as a testament to her talent or lack thereof—I think, for whatever psychological reason I just never did, though her husband John Travolta used to be my idol and hero during the days when I used to want to be a movie actor. (It was John Travolta who led me to Saturday Night Fever   which led me to the Bee Gees which led me to song lyrics which led me to poetry which led me to literature more broadly and deeper philosophical contemplation) It is strange to learn that one’s former hero lost such a cherished and loved one. I may never know John Travolta or meet him—he may never come to know the name Sean O’Connor (but one does never know!) but…my condolences, sir. I am sorry for your loss.

****Where others are mentioned I can offer only my recollection of events, which I put into writing with the best of my knowledge. Some identities have been changed or are composites.*****

References   [ + ]

1. A Guy Who May Have Read Your MFA Application Speaks; March 28, 2014; https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/education-oronte-churm/guy-who-may-have-read-your-mfa-application-speaks
2. Are you wondering why I included the web address AND the hyperlink? In my opinion, documenting/attributing/citing sources receives its most due and worthy pay when as much of the relevant publication information is available. Supposing for example (((as is sometimes the case
3. (as is sometimes the case) the hyperlink rots, at least, from a historical records preservation point of view, the web address that had existed speaks a bit more to the story of where the alleged source once was before rotting away. Also, I find web addresses interesting to look at. They bring out the depths and expansiveness of the internet’s thing-ness. “Cyber space” is such an interesting dimension or mode of space the way it’s like expanding digital space we ourselves create. Makes my imagination regarding possible nature of a deity or universe space creator or whathaveyou sort of buzz like my slight caffeine buzz
4. !!!!!!!!!!!
5. you know, autodidact style
6. boo yea! As some might say, ha ha
7. Welbutrin

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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