graduate school, sober lifestyle

Compensation

This week has been all about making up for lost time. I don’t know if one can actually do that, without injuring themselves…but dadgummit, I’m trying!

It’s like every moment I’m awake, I want to cram it to the brim with activities I enjoy. I want to take full advantage of my freedom and experience life on my terms!

So, I’ve basically been walking/running around Bucks County like a madwoman for days on end.

When I entered Tyler State Park on foot Friday afternoon, eyes fixed upward at the pure blue sky (when they should’ve been checking the path for those little round ankle-killers that fall from the trees 😬), I’d already run from Washington Crossing to Bowman’s Hill Tower on the canal path earlier that morning, then flowed through my usual yoga program on my deck shortly after breakfast. On Thursday, I walked in the park twice, in addition to working out in my basement and doing another hour of yoga. On Wednesday…

OK, Jen; they get the point. 🤐

Am I having a manic episode? The thought crossed my mind Saturday morning in my therapy session, as I sat there, eyes wide, hands gesturing wildly, describing in full detail how I genuinely feel like Andy Dufresne in “Shawshank” when he finally makes it out of the tunnel of shit.

Overcompensate much? 🤣

That’s what this frenetic energy is all about: compensation. My psychology textbook would call it “organismic self-regulation.” If getting cinematic about it seems overdramatic, you need to understand: There is nothing more vital to my mental health than fresh air and movement. (See also: “Nature,” “Activity,” “Spirituality,” or any original picture I’ve posted anywhere in the past 800+ days.)

I had a lot less of the above in my life this past spring and summer. Between full-time work and full-time grad school, I spent nearly six months sitting in a car, an office or a classroom, leaving the house at sunrise and returning home after dark. If I didn’t get up to exercise at 4AM, all I had was that half-hour they gave us for lunch to stride hurriedly around the office park before plopping back in front of the computer for four more hours. Classes run from 5:30-8:30PM. The homework never ends.

This organism was not meant to sit on its ass inside buildings, and I’ll admit, I was bitter about it. I’d be driving through my neighborhood at 6:40AM, and I’d squint my eyes and grumble at all the usual walkers I used to greet in passing every morning when I worked from home last year…for a “company” that stopped being able to make payroll, necessitating a rather desperate defection, a bit of a leap before looking…

Anyway, this candle-at-both-ends shit was the life I chose. And I would’ve kept on living it, army-crawling through the tunnel, ad nauseam, until I got my Masters degree and came up for air as a rookie counselor ready (at least in theory) to work in the recovery space. But the universe had other ideas.

I got laid off, as fate would have it, the same week that DelVal scheduled its Fall Break.

And all week long, the weather has been beautiful, and I’ve been trekking around in the woods looking like this:

…except, more casually dressed and at a much quicker pace. 🏃‍♀️

“Slow down,” my therapist said, an oft-repeated refrain in the two years I’ve known her. She didn’t seem fazed by my sudden burst of euphoria; extreme emotions are pretty on-brand for this veteran counselee, particularly since I quit drinking.

She’s seen me on the flip side of this spectrum, too, and it’s even less of a pretty sight. See: “Momentum,” “Composure,” “Discomfort,” “Survival”…)

Between July 2019 and present day, I’ve been down a lot more than I’ve been up. There’s a part in one of those old blog posts where my therapist actually takes the DSM-5 off her shelf and reads me the definition of Major Depressive Disorder, her way of holding up a mirror and trying to coax me toward exploring an RX intervention.

So, she’s talked me through the tunnel when shit was up to my eyeballs…but thus far, she’s never had to talk me back from a relapse.

It’s just as big a danger when you’re flying as when you’re drowning — maybe even moreso. I mean, I was mostly a happy drinker who relied on alcohol to smooth things out when I spiked too high, to make the mania feel less maniacal. I’m reminded of the last time I was between jobs, back in the fall of 2018 (it was, quite literally, “The Fall” toward rock-bottom alcoholism). I was feeling this same kind of jailbreak adrenaline rush, and instead of hitting the hiking trail, I beelined to the bar.

Take me today and add a river of tequila:

I can joke about that now, and it’s a beautiful thing. I can deal with a huge trigger — clearly, unemployment is a huge trigger — by wandering around in nature, trying to soak up every bit of sunshine and work in every bit of exercise that I missed. Recovery has given me the strength and support I need to ride these tidal waves of emotional energy without getting completely carried away. To let my engine go full throttle without:

Or…

You laugh, but pouring a poisonous depressant on a mental health problem is very much like playing Thelma & Louise with Toonces The Driving Cat.

I know that I’ll never truly be “out of the woods” when it comes to addiction. I know that resisting the urge to self-medicate intense mood swings will always be a challenge.

I also know that my “escape” from the workforce is only temporary, and while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying “life on the outside,” unless someone has hidden money in a box under one of these trees for me (👀)…I will eventually have to start burning that other side of the candle once again.

(Maybe this time, I can afford to be choosier about the structure of my daily schedule.)

More than anything, I know that sobriety and therapy are as essential to my well-being as The Great Outdoors and exercise. No amount of income or “success” at work or school can compensate for spiritual bankruptcy.

1 thought on “Compensation”

  1. Thanks Jen. Glad to hear you’re able to get your spiritual battery charged outdoors again and I hope you find a box of money under one of the trees as a bonus!

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

    Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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