I was dizzy and anxious, certain that I had multiple sclerosis, but I was fixated on a distorted image of myself in the doctor’s third eye.
The doctor looked like Larry from The Three Stooges with a head mirror and a few dozen more IQ points as he asked me about my symptoms: increasing dizziness, tingling in my hands and a pervasive sense of doom. Then he flipped down the disc over his right eye and peered at my eyes, throat and ears through the little hole in the middle of the mirror.
I laughed at the absurdity of it. What decade was I in? Then again, everything had been a whirl since the previous September — long hours at the newspaper where I worked, a rocky economy threatening that newspaper along with the rest of the country’s stability and an uneasy sense of something about to explode, anywhere at any time. On a beautiful day, a plane could come out of the clear, blue sky and blot out the sun.
The doctor didn’t need to ask me any more questions, I thought. I was sure I had MS. Why? Because this was 2002 and I knew how to ask the internet. This was before I realized that typing symptoms in the search box yielded the worst possible scenario at the top of results. And the more I would read symptoms, the more certain I was that I suffered whatever dreaded malady they were attached to.
And in fact he did not ask about any other physical symptoms. He flipped the disc back up and asked me about my life. I was taken aback by what felt like an intrusion. Sure this guy can poke, prod and examine me, but let’s not get personal, all right?
My life then was contained in a small cabin that my wife and I had converted to a year-round residence on top of a hill next to a lake in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It sounds romantic in a tidy sentence like that.
Then add two dogs in this tiny house, drunken and nasty neighbors and slippery accessibility in the icy winter and you fill in the picture a little more. Factor in all the expenses to convert what we thought would be a cheap house into a winter-ready residence (drilling a well was $10,000 alone) and my wife losing her job to get all the makings of a pressure cooker.
The doctor asked me what I did for fun. Well, I didn’t have much time outside of the long hours and commute. I guess I liked walking the dogs.
“So, all you have in your life is stress and dogs?” Dr. Larry asked.
Finding My Way Back
Yes, he had a point there. I slumped in the realization of what my life had become.
He pulled out his prescription pad, scribbled, ripped off the form and said, “I am going through a divorce and this is saving my life,” before handing me the slip and toddling off.
It was for Zoloft. And it did actually help ease my life, although the dizziness persisted. An MRI later revealed the cause — sinus infection, which an antibiotic cleared up.
I stopped taking the antidepressant but it had helped me see that I had been making myself miserable. That was the first step in a long walk to a sense of balance.
Regular exercise helped but the most important thing I did was inhabit my life. I had been absent, too busy worrying about details and how to survive tomorrow. I saw that all the tomorrows came and I dealt with them somehow. It did not matter if I worried about the future or regretted the past — the days came and went.
Meditation helped me get in touch with that. Although it looked to me like just sitting and wasting time, it turned out that concentrating on my breathing helped me make better use of my time. The biggest lesson was that the only thing I can actually control is my reaction.
Getting acquainted with my own thinking helped me enjoy walking to work and even the drudgery we all face in working.
That is only one of the ways to find a balance in our work life and “real” life. It is all real life. If you are not happy in one aspect, you are not likely to be happy in the other.
This is the mission of a new section we are starting this year — InBalance. We will be featuring articles on well-being and living well. For example, this month we have an item on getting started with yoga for wellness, and how to get into those exclusive lounges at the airport for living well.
The term work/life balance has been thrown around for some time now. I am sure many of us think that it’s for other people and we are just fine. But dissatisfaction and dislocation have ways of bubbling up in seemingly unrelated symptoms.
A lot of life can slip by if we are not present. Kids grow up and go away, friends fade away and relatives pass away. We do not enter and exit states of flux —flux is the state. Change carries us like a boat on a river.
I am enjoying that ride more these days thanks to Dr. Larry. His prescription helped, but it was more his ability to stop what he was doing and ask about the whole person in front of him, much like advisors should be doing with their clients.
Little did I know that looking at a warped vision of myself in a mirror would lead to clarity.
Here’s to a happy, healthy new year.
Steven A. Morelli