Charmed Life

Robot Brain

I can’t sleep and technically it’s Wednesday, 2am EST. Time for another journal post. Yesterday, I did it again. I’ve been doing it every nice day for the whole summer. I wake up in the morning no problem. Put on some coffee, start cooking lentils, start sipping coffee. I text my mom because she is the only one I know who is awake and she spends as much time alone as I do. It makes her happy. She is funny. I asked her how she is doing and she said, Awesome! Your brother went back to work today. He had an 8 day vacation. He was making me miserable! Around 8am I text something to my daughter for her to wake up to and I hope she likes. I text her mom something positive because she is depressed as fuck. She can’t work but they won’t approve her for disability. They tell her to suck it up and get a job. I was surprised she was awake so I copy and pasted my mom’s text and sent it to her. hahaha. I told my mom it was party time and she sent me back a giphy of an old woman doing that happy dance where you swing your arms and your hips go left and right. I sent a copy of that to N____.

I asked my mom if my brother went on one of his week long solo bass fishing retreats? (He won’t reveal his secret honey holes, somewhere in the deep woods where he pitches a tent, starts a fire and drinks beer and smokes dope for a week. He usually drops his phone out of his kayak into the lake trying to take a picture of the bass he caught to post on Facebook. He does catch some big fish… I guess?) She said no, not this time. Two months ago he had a 10 day vacation and stayed home. She quit smoking that week. Said she almost couldn’t take it. She quit smoking after 50 non stop years! I told N____ my brother really is a miserable cunt. She knows.

Then my thing kicked in. My thing was where can I buy a pair of shorts out of season? I wore holes in the bottoms of my sneakers, and my one belt shit the bed so my pants fall down. (I lost a lot of weight but I can’t go down a pant size because everything else gets tighter.) Doesn’t matter I know where to get a belt. My mom thinks she is the only one who has heard of Google so she texts me results right after I look them up and I tell her but she doesn’t get it so she wont stop because she is so into it.

Coffee is gone, ate the lentils, an apple, an orange. A couple three hours have gone by and now I start to freak out. It’s only 11am but I think I’ve wasted the whole day. I gotta get going! Why? I only have to walk a mile, go into the store and walk home. The whole point of walking is it is so fucking nice out I want it to take as long as possible. If I was in a hurry, I could take my bike. I can’t stop myself. I’m out the door. Halfway down the street the side walk was covered with some kind of four foot tall weeds that weren’t there last week. I brushed through them got across the big intersection, looked down and I was covered in fluorescent green pollen?

Into the Goodwill store. They won’t have shorts. Winter is coming. People will donate warm clothes. There it is… Four long racks of long pants. But, there in front of me is one pair of shorts. My style, my size, eight bucks. Something is going on here… Okay? Meanwhile at Walmart, it is winter seasonal. I guess I could use a pair of jeans. Levi’s, 20 bucks, 4 shelves packed. Only one pair in my size. That’s good. I only need one pair. The belts are right over there. Millions of them hung on millions of long metal hooks/rods. They all have a plastic hanger with a number on it. The size, right? Who the fuck is shopping at Walmart? 48? 55? 56? No organization. Just jumbles of numbers. I don’t care what the belt looks like, I just want it to be black. One tag, 36… That’s my size, right? No… You don’t buy belts in your pant size. It’s different. What is it. I never buy belts. Fuck it, 36, that’s my number. It’s black, its mine. I gotta get outta here. I don’t want to use the self checkout because I don’t want them to think I’m stealing the shorts I bought at Goodwill. There is a real person! nice… I bought these at Goodwill, they don’t give out bags, can you just put them in with the other stuff? She won’t do it… ??? Spins the turnstile toward me and I have to put the shorts in the bag. I bought an energy drink because it was called “Bang”. I thought it was funny. That got it’s own bag? Got home, everything worked! Success!

I was all jacked up because the day before the forecast said rain all day. But no, 85 and sunny! I gotta get on my bike and go. No. This is what I do every time. I rush out the door and I can only ride so long and I get home way to early. I’ll try to wait till four. It’s going to stay this hot until after the sun goes down. Screw with the computer. Time to get ready. Go slow. Don’t forget anything. Eat something. I bought five peaches the other day, now three left all ripe at the same time. Poor me I have to eat two peaches. Yum!

Pack my bag. Don’t forget the keys to success. My keys, my wallet, phone, mask. Three bottles of water. Put my rain jacket in there. They said rain but I doubt it. Even remembered sunscreen on my face. I am hitting all the right notes! Out the door, It’s a furnace! I love it. Go my usual route and how the hell did I get down here so fast? Phht! My tire went flat! Come on, man. I got a small hand pump. I can hear the air coming out as soon as I put it in. It’s shit. I’m not too far away from my daughter’s house. I just gotta get up to the end of the breaker wall so I’m at a landmark. I text N____. 911… What up? Flat tire about a mile from you. I’m home without a car. I can walk, it will take me about a half hour, is that okay? I’ll get an Uber home.

I needed some shade. The concrete breaker wall is concave on the ocean side and blocked the sun. I sat on a flat rock and pulled out a water. Some old drunk dude comes walking around the corner. Mind if I light up a joint? Go ahead, I can’t smoke but I don’t really give a fuck what you do. I lost 200 bucks at the casino… I won 5 so I broke even. ??? I retired when I was 40, 17 years ago. Okay, so he’s 57. I worked hard, 7 days a week. I been growin weed since they made it legal. Made 12,000 last year. You know where Winchenden is? No, I heard of it but I dont know where it is. Way up north, in the middle of nowhere. I bought a house in 1989 for 50 grand, it’s worth half a million now.

He kept repeating himself. The numbers changed every time. Kept getting bigger but somehow he still owes more on the house than it is worth? He only sells weed to his neighbor. A bag every other week? How much is his neighbor paying him for a bag? If he’s so rich what is he doing down here in slumtown playing five dollar tables in the casino? Sorry dude, I gotta long walk, nice talking to you.

My negative thinking kicked in but I’ve been practicing on my own. It’s a flat tire, you been fixing your bikes since you were 6. In a few minutes you are going to be there. It’s not the end of the world. The fuck? Remember all the horrible shit you been imagining? And when the time comes it all works out better than you could even wish? Life has been going fantastic for a couple months. You can’t even remember half the horrible shit you thought you were worried about. You could be stranded 20 miles from here. All you gotta do is walk a few minutes. You are halfway there already.

I don’t know how I got so good at that so quickly. And why have none of my therapists ever worked on that with me. It’s obviously a huge problem for me. It’s a huge problem for a lot of people. My biggest problem was it was the end of the world. I can’t get anywhere without my bike. How am I gonna get it fixed. I can’t push it ten miles home? I got there. Sox was home. He’s got a small air compressor in the shed. He filled up the tire. It emptied. Yep, It’s flat. My bike is a commuter with tall thin tires. It needs an odd size tube. I don’t know where they sell them. They got bikes at the house but none of them are in any condition. He says wait a minute. Pulls the tube out of one of the mountain bikes. I don’t think that will work. My tire is two inches taller and way thin. He started wrapping that fat ass tube around the rim and it fit! No fucking way. We put the tire over it. It’s not working. Wait, yes it is. Turn the compressor on. Fixed! No way that should work.

I rode it around the block and it held air. I guess I’m gonna try to make it home. Sox was standing there and I said I wanted to thank him, but not for fixing my tire. I wanted to thank him for being so good to my daughter all these years but especially now. I’ve been thinking about it. Since she got her license. I have never seen her so happy. I was so happy for her I cried. He had to leave to bring a kid back home. I told Nicole, She said I already said that to him. I said I know but it was years ago and I was shitfaced. I’ve been meaning to ask for his number cause I never see him. Now I have his number.

I pedaled the short way home. The first mile I worried about every change of feeling. Then I forgot all about it. I knew I was going to make it home. I did. I got to my door at sunset. Texted I made it and thanks again. See? Shit worked out again. I have the original tube but we couldn’t find the leak. Today I might put it in some soapy water. Should probably have the right one in there. A couple weeks ago I cleaned a bunch of shit out of my closet and found the tire patch kit that came with the small pump. I forgot I even had it. First thing I did was order a self sealing replacement tube. I don’t know why I never bought one. I know tires go flat.

Gonna be 90 today. Hotter than yesterday. I still want to ride down to the seashell and listen to music and watch the fireworks. I got all day to screw around with the tubes. I think I can make it as is but afraid the bigger tube could pop the tire off the rim if I hit something with pressure. Still solid now. I can only walk three miles an hour and the beach is ten miles. I don’t think so. I’m doing something. Labor Day is less than two weeks. End of season. I said I wasn’t going to waste any nice days this summer. A couple nice days coming up.

Almost time to wake up and make coffee. 4am. Twilight zone. Up too late? Up too early? Don’t feel like lying in bed wide awake. Coffee now schedule would start way too fast. I don’t know what to do. Besides everything at once. Maybe my mom will be up. My brother makes her stay in bed until he wakes up for work. If I text her in the middle of the night and she doesn’t have her phone on mute, he yells at her. He really is a miserable cunt.

Meditation by Distraction

Rubic's cube

I stumbled upon this technique after my weight ballooned to over 260lbs. I ignored the warning on my medication that listed weight gain as the main side effect. Instead I went to the gym. I didn’t really know what to do at the gym since I had been naturally athletic my whole life before I started taking meds. I knew walking was a good form of exercise so I started with the treadmill. That is where I accidentally found my kind of mindfulness meditation. My therapist had been trying to get me into mindfulness but I couldn’t grasp the concept. My brain was too chaotic.

Here is how it happened. I set the treadmill at a faster than normal walking speed with a slight incline and doing that caused me to exert myself to the point of sweating my balls off. Even though the gym had air conditioning. I also had to concentrate on walking fast enough so I wouldn’t slide off the end of the treadmill. While I was doing that I listened to my favorite playlist with earphones in at a pretty good volume. In front of me were 10 televisions suspended from the ceiling in a row. They were all muted with subtitles and I would pick a channel to read. Along with all this were the other people working out. I didn’t like that there was only one other fat guy there in the pretty large gym. A lot of people seemed to go there to socialize. They didn’t need to work out, they were in perfect shape. But it was good eye candy for during the television commercials.

With all the above happening at the same time, I would get into a zone. There was so much external noise it took away the noise in my head. It seems unorthodox but with the treadmill in the back of the room and all the action going on inside my body and directly in front of me, I could really focus. I would do the treadmill for about 45 minutes then switch to the weight machines. I did light weights but concentrated on the muscle movements and the music. It usually took me about 45 minutes to do all the machines I liked. Then it was back to the treadmill and another 45 minutes of pure distraction. I forgot to mention that during this gym phase I was manic so I never got tired. Lucky me.

After the gym I would drive home and I could enjoy about 3 hours of peace. I was calm enough to eat lunch and sit still on the couch. I didn’t know I was practicing mindfulness at the time (I did associate it with a kind of Zen) but it was the only time in my life that any form of meditation worked for me.

I enjoyed all this for about 6 months until I had to move and could no longer get to a gym. At least not the cheap one at $10 a month. I was still manic and still felt the urge to keep moving. Luckily I had a bicycle to burn off some excess energy. It wasn’t until I started doing long 2 hour bike trips that I discovered it was happening again. I would get a respite from the voices and be calm enough to take care of myself for a few hours.

Biking is different than the treadmill but I have a lot of the same methods; just different distractions. I have to concentrate on my leg muscles propelling me forward, keeping the bike upright and avoiding cars. I live near the seacoast so there is a lot of wind to struggle against. Because of all the traffic in my area I don’t dare to wear earphones but I have a constant earworm repeating in my head. This is all enough to give me the distraction I need.

I could never do the traditional forms of meditation where you focus inward. It caused intense anxiety and made everything in my brain worse. Now that I am no longer manic and slightly on the depressed side, I only ride about once a week to my daughter’s house. But that is a 2 hour round trip and I get the extra external stimulus of talking to people and the happiness of being around my daughter. These days are markedly different than my usual routine of just sitting around the house. After a day of riding I find I need less of my anxiety medication as my mood is naturally lifted.

Writing this with music or television in the background is another form of mindfulness I practice while I am stuck at home. It only works in the moment and doesn’t give me a lasting effect. I need a lot of external distractions to get me into the zone. It seems like it doesn’t make any sense. Everything I’ve been taught about meditation has been about being quiet and focusing inward. I don’t know why but I never get a better natural calm than I do after these exercises.

If this wasn’t long enough for you, I found another blog post from Amy with The Bridge that explains it better than I do.

Alternative Transportation

This is my bicycle. It is a Schwinn. It is my main form of transportation since I suffered a brain injury in an accident a few years ago. It was a good deal because I bought it in the winter and it is also a cheap model. I’m not complaining, this bike is perfect for me. It really cruises with 21 speeds and I can average about 10mph with the extra weight I carry in my backpack or on the included rack above the rear wheel. It also came stock with disc brakes to help prevent another accident. It also has large, thin tires for less resistance. Above those tires are nice fenders that keep the water off my legs if I hit wet roads. Like I said, it was a pretty good deal. I went into the store looking for most of these features and came out only slightly above $200 lighter.

My first real bicycle was a Schwinn Stingray. It was tricked out with the fat rear tire, banana seat and “ape hanger” handlebars. It was unique to the bicycle world. I’m not proselytizing Schwinn bicycles. They are not even made by the same company anymore. Somebody bought the name and makes them in China now. I am just relating a happy coincidence.

Yesterday I rode my bike to my daughter’s house. It is how I get to see her in the warmer months. The trip is 12.5 miles there and 12.5 miles back. I can do it without raising my heart rate. I’m in pretty good shape for a fat, old man. My daughter lives right on Hampton Beach so it is a great ride. I take the long way around for the ocean views. It also brings back a lot of memories of my childhood. I used to live off the beach in the winter with my family. It was low rent because nobody wanted to live there. A lot has changed with large condo complexes going up and new bars and restaurants. When I was looking for a new place to live I found I was priced out of the area.

I have always liked riding. When I was a teenager I had a mountain bike and I loved to take it out in the winter. I would try to see how long I could keep it upright on an icy road. I took a lot of spills. I would also drive it full speed into freshly plowed snowbanks. It would stop me immediately and I would go upside down over the handlebars and be buried. I did some pretty dumb shit when I was young.

My previous bike was a Trek, on/off road, hybrid. It was basically a mountain bike with street tires. I got it from a former neighbor. He was going to bring it to the dump because the tires were low on air. (Rich people’s problems) I took it to the pump at the gas station and BOOM! Brand new bicycle. At the time I was hypo-manic and I would ride that bike everywhere. I was putting on 25-30 miles a day. My longest ride was about 40 miles and the chain was about to give out before I did. Like I said, I’m in pretty good shape for a fat, old man.

I live in a semi-rural area. The small towns are about 10 miles apart so I can get anywhere in about an hour. Luckily I live in a destination town so I can get to the grocery store and other chain outlets in a matter of minutes.

The bane of my bicycle existence is rain. (besides being run over) I don’t wear any special clothing to protect me. Not even a helmet. (I know, I know) I made a fortunate discovery online. If you type the name of your town and “weather” into Google, it comes up with a very useful app. It shows the temperature, precipitation and wind speed and direction, broken down by the hour and day. I find it very useful in planning which days I can ride. Next to rain, wind speed is an important calculation. A 10mph breeze can make it feel like I am pedaling uphill the whole distance.

I also like biking because it is great exercise. I plugged my info into an online calorie counter and found I was burning about 750 calories an hour at my average speed. That is the most of any exercise I have tried and it sure beats walking in place on a treadmill.

It is also a great way to deal with my mental health. The level of concentration it takes to stay upright and moving forward is a form of meditation for me. It also distracts from all the things going through my head.

Here is a link to another blog post about bicycling which relates to other topics I plan to blog about in the future. ShankJoeJoe