There's a six-lane traffic jam in my head!

My thoughts run in circles! I'm all mixed up!


Cary Tennis
October 19, 2009 11:03AM (UTC)

Dear Reader,

Remember that letter a few weeks ago from the person whose neighbor put a stick in her yard?

The letter writer says I got something factually wrong and asks for a correction. "Just print a paragraph," she asks, "clarifying that we NEVER trespassed on her property, never presumed to cut her grass! Never stepped on her property or touched -- literally -- one blade of grass on her property."

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I went back and looked. She's right: Her husband never mowed the fourth house's lawn.

You know what I think. I think it's time to let go of who mowed whose lawn, who was right and who was wrong, and just appreciate the grass. But that's just me. The correction has been duly noted.

Now for today's letter.

Hi, Cary --

I don't know how to explain this, but I feel like I have an emotional traffic jam in my head. It has been here for a year.

Last fall a lot happened. One of my colleagues was a jerk: He dumped beer on my head, put me on speakerphone in front of clients, overslept endlessly, and was over an hour late on three occasions, and told others he "didn't have to do shit because mama is taking care of it." He did no work. As a contractor, I opted without pay to not work with him and got a threatening call from my supervisor that "I better be kidding."

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The same time, the guy I was dating and fully trusting went on a vacation. He contacted me regularly while away and I was waiting for him to return to tell him about my co-worker. When he returned, he dropped off the face of the earth, and some girl he had met while on vacation was writing all over his Facebook wall. I chose to ignore him and deal with the company stuff, and pressed harassment and bullying charges, and my office suggested I take "unpaid leave." Later, I found out this girl had not hooked up with him, had a boyfriend at home who she "didn't want to cheat on" but then stalked (my words) my boyfriend from 20,000 miles away, by moving across the world.

It was all too much. I couldn't form a thought in my head. People would talk at me, and I could just only go over things in circles. I decided to travel. I've been to so many countries, met so many people. People were entertaining me, taking me out, showing me things. It almost feels like it was all a TV show and not my real life. I came home.

I've been job hunting, and recruiters and headhunters all love me, though I've had no permanent (or even long-term) hits. I've been asked out by three different men in the past two weeks (I said no to all of them because I don't feel like I could try to date when I don't feel like myself). I've had interesting conversations. I just feel like I'm not in reality. Sometimes I go, "I want to cry" (I haven't cried in the entire year). I've decided to seek therapy, but I have two big issues: No job means no money to pay for the therapy, and the possibility of a job means I might have to move.

I am living at home. My friends are spread about the country. I feel I've lost track of who I am. I used to feel that everything I did was important, and I loved it, and now I don't even know who I am, what I want ... I really just want a job and to move into a nice apartment and for my head to clear. I seriously feel like for the past year I've been watching my life on TV. I have a nearly constant headache and can't seem to not space out no matter how hard I try. People say, "What are you thinking about?" Literally, nothing. My concentration is gone, although when I have worked I seemed to be able to get everything done effortlessly, just disconnectedly.

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I don't know why I am writing to you. I just love your column, and connect to it and thought maybe you and your writers could help me out. I've been like this for a year and I don't know what it is. Help?

Stuck in Mental Traffic

Dear Stuck,

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Thank you for writing with candor and honesty about what you are experiencing. That is encouraging. Obviously you can think about what is happening. You can do something about this because you can recognize it. So I suggest you do something about it. I would begin by ruling things out.

So my wish for you is that you find the courage to first go see a doctor to make sure this isn't something organic, such as a tumor. Then see a mental health professional and get completely checked out. "Mental health professional" can be someone with a professional degree in counseling or therapy, or it can be a psychiatrist. It just has to be someone who is accredited, who follows professional guidelines and will refer you to the right person if their own expertise is not sufficient.

After you get checked out, follow the recommendations of the professional but also weigh them against your own intuition and your own values. If the professional says you are suffering from this or that malady, you will want to follow their recommendations but also study the history of that malady and how people have treated it in the past. You would also keep in mind the inevitable inexactness of all such diagnoses, and remember that this stuff sometimes goes away seemingly on its own. It may indeed be something as simple as exhaustion or anxiety. But you need to know.

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There is also this: No matter what is going on with you, and no matter what a mental health professional says, you can always start today living a life designed to maximize your mental and physical health. That way, no matter what else you find out, you gain something. You improve your life. For instance, today, regardless of what else you do, you could start a two-month-long program of eating three healthy meals a day, getting to bed at the same time every night, exercising three times a week and cutting down on recreational drugs and alcohol, as well as cutting out any foods that you suspect you may have an allergy to.

The point is to combine complementary approaches. Much is known by scientists about the human body and mind. Doctors and mental health professionals have studied large numbers of people, and they know what often works, and to what degree, and what is dangerous, and what is the right dose, and what should be avoided. But in the realm of the mind, or psyche -- though we exist along a continuum of norms and extremes -- each of us is unique. So the point of having you visit a mental health professional, and also begin a personal program of enhanced care and attention to your own needs, is to combine the best of what Western medicine knows with what we might call your deep soul knowledge, your own capacity for taking care of yourself and healing yourself.

It's important that these words be read carefully. I am not saying do one thing instead of the other. I am saying do both. I am saying do everything you can.

I say this because much of what you say I find personally familiar. I have felt this frightening mental traffic-jam thing, along with mild depression, a baffling fear that I am going mad, etc. I have found help in many places including traditional medicine, cognitive therapy, meditation, diet, exercise, creative endeavors, 12-step groups and soul-centered counseling or soul craft.

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Good luck. Thank you for writing. I admire your courage and honesty.



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Cary Tennis

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Mental Illness Since You Asked

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