If I Can Just Manage to Brush My Teeth for Seven Days in a Row, I Will Be Happy

Okay so when we last left off, I’d just been put on Cymbalta. I was now 40 years old and taking a handful of pills a day, which is exactly what I didn’t want to be doing. But that was before the pain had gotten so bad that I would have sold my soul for sweet relief. The fact that I’d gotten my pain at least 75 percent managed for the first time in three years made me deliciously giddy. I went nuts. All of the sudden I was day drinking, chain smoking, and cramming all sorts of bad things into my face. Life was a party again, and I was the belle of the ball. 

At first I thought it was just the relief of being somewhat “back to my old self,” as they say. Suddenly I gave zero fucks about whether my dishes matched the living room, whether dinner was in the oven, whether the laundry was done, hell, whether I was still sober by 5:00. I WAS BACK, MOTHERFUCKERS!!! 

Needless to say, The Wife was über pleased over these developments. 

And now, three years later, the pain is still holding at about 75 percent managed. I usually run around a three on my pain scale most days. I spent about two years in that party phase. I’m still not sure whether it was the Cymbalta that changed my brain chemistry or whether I was just so thrilled not to be in pain anymore. 

But here’s the thing: after a couple of years of the constant partying, I felt as empty and cold as Dick Cheney’s heart. And I didn’t understand why. Hanging out with my friends and abusing myself is what I’d been doing for the past two decades. Why was it not bringing me the satisfaction that it once did? This had once been enough for me. It used to be my goddamned raison d’etre. What happened? This time period happened to coincide with a time when we moved across the bay, away from most of our friends, and most of our friends had babies as well. They weren’t into partying anymore–it was all about family now. They had found something rewarding to replace all of the partying. But I didn’t want kids…so where was my rewarding thing? What was my next phase?

Most importantly, perhaps though, was that being in such pain for so long had changed me too. That shit was no longer enough, not because we were more geographically distant or because a passel of crotchfruit had entered the mix, but because I was different. It had become almost impossible for me feel a sense of contentment and happiness now, no matter what I stuffed in my face or who I was hanging out with. It took me a while to figure it out, but my old ways of keeping myself happy were no longer working. I had to figure out something different. 

And so now here I am. Mostly pain-free and trying out new avenues of happiness with a ruthless intensity that sometimes perplexes my wife. My first step was trying to set up good habits for myself to counter-balance all the crap I was doing to myself. Some of it was basic. I hunted for a good tracking app to track how many times I drank a week, how many times I did drugs, how many days I’d watched my meal portions, how often I’d brushed my teeth, or flossed, or washed my face. But I also set some goals for myself and gave myself measurable metrics. 

I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or not, what I’m doing. I tend to get obsessive as fuck about it, constantly revising them, developing new ones, deleting things, finding new apps. (“My name is Kdub, and I have a productivity app problem.”) I always try and get beyond the usual “lose 25 pounds and quit smoking” types of goals, preferring to focus more inwardly. The goal, for me, is all about BALANCE. I want to live a life in balance. For me, that means emotional, physical, and social balance. I want to grow emotionally, becoming a more evolved person in the way that I see and think about the world and how I react to those things. I want to take care of myself physically by eating better and swimming again. I want to have balance socially, which means focusing on having real and intimate connections with my wife, my mom, my friends, and the world at large. I look at the larger goals first and then spend time thinking about how I’m going to achieve them in small, measurable ways. 

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s a good approach or a bad one. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in it, checking off little tick marks in some app on my iPad to feel a sense of pride and progress. And it seems silly. But for now, it’s helping build better habits and seems to somewhat curtail my appetite for self-destruction. I’m still very much not out of the woods when it comes to depression, but I look at all of this emotional tallying as a lifeline of sorts. 

Remember that old cartoon where the elephant is about to fall off the cliff except at the last minute he grabs a lone flower with his trunk, and in true cartoon magic, the flower holds him and prevents him from plummeting into a million pieces of leather and ivory below? Well, this happiness experiment is my flower. That shit is holding my fat ass up right now.