Maintenance Mode

I’m in a rut.

Those things I do for fun—my hobbies—they aren’t so fun anymore. They used to be, but not recently. Some of my hobbies, it’s been years: no longer enjoyable, but they’re still my hobbies. I haven’t found replacements yet.

I haven’t ridden a bicycle this year; I’m a cyclist. It’s what I do in my spare time… did. Years ago. Now I ride an exercise bike—a few times each week. If I ever want to get back on a real bike, I’ll be ready.

Last week, Julie Freeman messaged me from Twitter. She’s British. The Brits are crazy about Twitter. I’m not. I log in intermittently just to see if someone shared one of my blog posts. They never do. Fortunately, when Julie messaged me, I got an email alert. Email is my primary social media. If I didn’t get that email, Julie’s message may have sat unread for weeks.

Julie publishes a magazine. It’s called Like the Wind. It’s a running magazine. Not how to run… but why to run. I’ve written for her magazine several times. I’m a good fit as a contributor. I run and I write… or I did.

A couple of years ago, I sent Julie and her husband Simon a copy of my book, Fragments. As a self-published author I can buy my own copies for two dollars apiece. I use these books as promotion and to sell to acquaintances who are too lazy to buy one online. I grabbed a book from my stash and wrote an inscription to the Freemans on the title page. The message: Thanks for welcoming me into the Like the Wind family. For all your generosity, I wanted to give something back. This book is what I’ve got to give.

Like the Wind is published in England. They’re constantly sending me copies of their magazine—the ones that feature my writing and even some that don’t. This seems expensive—the magazine is full-color, bound, and one-hundred pages long, book-quality paper. Plus there’s the postage. It’s a favor to be returned.

At the post office, trying to mail my book, I was told that the postage would be forty dollars! What the…! Something about the width of the package. Instead, I bought a copy of my book on amazon.uk and had it shipped directly to them. That copy I ruined with the inscription? I tore out the title page and gave it to Eli’s drum teacher. He makes a brief appearance in my book.

Memories like this one sometimes depress me. Not because they’re sad, but they illustrate what I’ve lost. Or at least set aside. The running, the cycling, the writing. I still do them, but without much passion. A few years ago, I pursued these hobbies to the point of distraction. As a father, husband, home-owner, employee, like most adults, I have responsibilities—lots of them. Many of these responsibilities were placed on the back-burner, out of my way, giving me space to focus. On my hobbies. On myself.

You’ve heard of OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You know, the mental state that makes you wash your hands and line up your shoes by color. Hears a secret: those displays of cleanliness and order are just stereotypes. Yes, some people with OCD do these things, but many, most, are just obsessed.

I am.

Six or seven years ago, rummaging a garage sale, I found an old bike. A 1976 Sears Free Spirit ten-speed. They wanted five dollars. I got an idea to turn it into a fixed gear bike. A fixie: it’s a bike with one gear that’s “fixed” to the back wheel. If you pedal slowly, you ride slowly. If you pedal fast, you ride fast. If you stop pedaling, you stop. Immediately. There’s no coasting, just pedaling at different speeds.

IMG_0147I brought the bike home and for the next ninety-six hours I created my fixie.  I rebuilt the back wheel with a rim that wasn’t bent. I removed every single component, stripped off the old paint with a grinding wheel, and repainted the frame. I took a hacksaw to the handlebars and altered them from the classic ten-speed drop-bars to cool-kid bull horns. I reengineered the drive-train into that single gear. I’m sure I had other plans with my family that weekend, and plenty of adult responsibilities heading into the workweek, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop until the bike was complete. I recall sitting in my office researching gear ratios.

That bike’s a piece of art. Here’s the thing about obsessive tendencies—you get results. I once asked my friend Sheila, a creative writing professor at a local college, to read over some of my stories and give me feedback. Along with her suggestions on how I could make improvements, Sheila commented on how lucky I am to be so driven. She read a story about how I’ve slowly but steadily damaged my body through years of obsessive exercise. Sheila recently joined a gym and was trying to get in shape. Looking past the depressed tone of the story and my endless battles against injury, she simply focused on the outcome: the fitness she was trying to obtain.

I’m not in awesome shape anymore. It’s been two years since I’ve lifted weights. Over that same period, I’ve had more weeks without running than with. And that bike. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to get on it and head out for a ride.

It’s my medication. It’s working too well. Two years ago, I started taking medicine for Tourettes. People who are like me, we tic. Odd sounds and movements compelled by the syndrome. Not only did the medicine suppress my tics, it reduced my OCD as well. It stepped on my obsessions, which, incidentally, were the same ones that fueled my devotion to my hobbies.

I’ve spent the last two years in maintenance mode. Taking a medication that keeps me moving through life, undistracted, but it dampens a spark of my essence. Those things I love to do, run, write, cycle, I’m still doing them, but barely. It’s like I’m keeping my options open while I decide what I’m interested in.

That Twitter message Julie sent me: Jeff, I only just realised at the weekend that we had your book. 2h later, I had read it and loved it and was sad it was all over – what a rollercoaster of a Sunday afternoon. Such great writing, very relatable on so many levels, too. Thanks for sending it over and for publishing it, please do write more!

Six weeks ago, I reduced my medication. It was leaving me a little depressed. I decided I could endure a bit more Tourettes. As the weeks have passed, my tics have increased significantly. As far as tics go, they aren’t very serious, but their definitely present. Disruptive, sure, but only to me.

And the OCD has ramped up as well.

It’s been two years since I’ve felt this level of OCD. I’ve been caught a little off guard by its return. Suddenly those obsessive thoughts are back. When Julie sent me that message about my book, I wrote her back asking if she would send out a Tweet. She said sure, she had already written one, but she wanted to think about it more. I wish Twitter tracked the number of times I log on each day. I’ve probably clicked that app seven hundred times in the past week. I’m looking for that Tweet.

Just as my tics are bearable, the OCD hasn’t been all bad. Four times this week, I’ve sat down to write. And three times, I got outside on my bike.

There’s a balance to achieve somewhere in all this. When I first started taking medications for my anxiety a decade ago, I was worried that the chemicals were going to change who I am. The doctor told me that this was an unnecessary concern. The medicine doesn’t change your personality. I’m not so sure this is true. It seems like Sheila (the college prof) was right. A bit of obsession can be motivating. It might be a pretty big part of who I am.

13 thoughts on “Maintenance Mode

  1. Hi Jeff,
    I think you’ve hit on a universal experience, through the lens of the more severe challenges of Tourettes and OCD. When I read your words I thought of my own habit of striving and hunger for mastery over certain ideas. I often say I love giant hairballs–complex ideas with many start and end points all jumbled together in a wackadoo snare. i love unraveling these hairballs. But, I also get caught in the mess too. I chase unimportant ghosts out of curiosity. Sometimes I lack focus, sprinkling my attention like fairy dust on too broad a surface to have any magical oomph behind it. While I don’t feel I’m extreme, I do find myself with the desire to curb or shape my curiosity at times–to find focus and ramp down my quest for excellence to enjoy more moments of peace and frankly, boredom.
    But, I fear I’ll lose something–some essential part of myself–if I turn down the volume too much. So, I can relate to your experience. I think we all have to find balance between smoothing our jagged edges and grinding them down to blankness.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Again, you’ve written an essay that really opened my eyes. Medication can sometimes be as much of a problem as the symptoms. I was going to share my own experience, but it pales in comparison to the choices you have to make. Be well, Jeff.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have taken different medications for depression on and off for over 20 years.
    I think, depending on the medication, they can amplify or quiet certain parts of your personality.

    For instance if I completely stopped taking them, I know at some point I would have a miserable tearful episode in which I would probably pick a fight with my husband, and then make the rest of my family miserable in the process. I tend to ruminate and have a low level of anger inside about stupid things.

    I think the antidepressants help my brain stay on that track of being a functional, productive adult, that I truly want to be but depression interferes with.

    There is another part of be that I have more difficulty verbalizing that I think the antidepressants subdue. I think there is a more sexual, edgy part of me knocking at the door waiting to come out, but the antidepressants sort of quiet that part. Not necessarily in a way that affects my marriage, but how I present myself to the world. Hard to explain, but I know it is there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know exactly what you mean. But I find that I don’t see what’s lost until I make a switch that allows that part of me back out. There are definitely parts that I want to stay subdued. Anxiety for one.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I loved reading this. I just learned, at age forty, that I have OCD. I think that even doctors stereotype OCD so because mine is not often physically displayed, it was hard to diagnose. I’ve been on Luvox for about three months and have found it fairly beneficial. The writing on my blog seems to lead to the death of the father of my children, which happened last January. I wanted to tell you that in February an ex boyfriend of mine, one I dated for a year while Brandon and I were separated, hanged himself. I have not processed this death, but I am telling you this because he had Tourette’s. In fact, he was on an HBO special about it when he was little. He was also the most talented musician I’ve ever known. Look him up. Colin Shoff. His main tic was shaking his head back and forth. If you watch a video of him playing and singing, you will see the tic, but it goes with the music. He was a wonderful human being who struggled hard core with alcoholism. Okay, enough rambling. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually learned about my tourettes at age 48. This after going to dozens of doctors to find out why I blink my eyes so much.
      You’ve led an unreasonably rough life recently. I hope you have a good support network to help you through it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • My various incarnations as a cyclist sometimes surprise me. commuting, mountain biking, cross country touring, dabbling with Trials tricks, spin instructor, and eight days in the hospital after getting hit by a car. I’m really not sure what my problem is right now. I’m just not motivated to get on a bike. both of my kids are riding more and more and I just never get out. Kind of depresses me… or the depression is the problem. Not sure.

      Like

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