The psycho-pharmacologist asked me, “so what can I do for you today?” and I said, “The only thing you can do for me is write me a check for one million dollars but I doubt you are going to do that.”
He laughed. I had been sent to him by a psychologist who couldn’t write prescriptions and was perhaps overburdened by my stress, my stomach aches, my constant complaining about money and lost love, my insomnia, and on and on – things I can’t even talk about here.
The psycho-pharmacologist (note: I hate typing out that word but for the life of me I cannot remember my name which would suck if I ever needed him again) said, “how about we talk for a little while”. He was very nice. I remember thinking how comfortable I felt talking to him. In the end he prescribed for me several drugs. “Try them all,” he said, “and we’ll figure out which ones work best.”
Drugs are very specific. Are you suffering from anxiety? That’s one drug. Depression? That’s another. Bi-polar? Another. ADHD? ADD? PTSD? Borderline whatever? Another. And if you are really anxious, one doctor once prescribed what I think was an elephant tranquilizer (Seroquel) which would knock me out for a week (I only took it once).
But after a few weeks (the average time it takes to figure out what drug might help you is eight years but it was pretty clear what was bothering me – money) we concluded it was klonopin, which is like a long-lasting xanax. Xanax is an anti-anxiety drug that lasts about 2-3 hours so people take it all day long. Klonopin (I’m making this all up without taking the two seconds to look it up on wikipedia) seems to have a half-life of about 8 hours. Because I’m a medically licensed doctor (not) I decided to smooth it over with some Amitriptyline which comes advertised as a muscle relaxant that has a side effect of being an anti-depressant (with the weird warning (in good faith) that some people who take it kill themselves.
In any case, it all worked. I would sleep 12 hours a day. Sleeping a lot has the mixed benefit of raising IQ but also shortening your lifespan depending on what scientific study you believe in. I’m opting for the first one.
Klonopin is extremely addictive. Within a year my tolerance had gotten so high that even though I didn’t need the drug anymore, I couldn’t get off of it. Nor was it doing anything for me. I was able to reduce but not get off of it. And no matter what dosage I took it no longer had any effect on my body or mind. I simply couldn’t stop taking it. Or else I would go crazy. By day three (it stays in the blood about 48-72 hours) I would just be sitting in the room in the middle of the night crying for no reason. I was stuck. More on this in another post. It sucks to be addicted to something that is not even doing anything for you and you sincerely want to get off of it.
But it did reduce my anxiety in the short-term. I wasn’t really depressed. Clinical depression happens when, for no real reason, you are depressed even though things seem like they are going well. Your brain chemicals are misfiring. Mine were also, but more because I was obsessively thinking about money and my responsibilities surrounding my need for money.
I was really scared.
Nothing changed. I didn’t suddenly make a lot of money. But I got sleep. I stopped waking up at two in the morning and scribbling numbers on napkins. Everything would be abbreviated and I would never be able to piece together whatever mystery I had written down the night before that would’ve finally calmed me down enough to get me to sleep. For an hour. So the next night I would repeat.
Until I got to sleep. I wish it hadn’t taken a drug to get me to sleep but it did.
But here’s what I learned. And here’s what enabled me to finally take a step back and get some money.
It was the first thing I said up top: “Write me a check for a million dollars.” I thought that would help me. It wouldn’t. There are plenty of times money has made things worse for me.
I’ve written, half-jokingly, on this blog that “money doesn’t solve all of your problems, it just solves your money problems.” This is not really true. It does allow you to pay your immediate bills but that’s it. But then suddenly, if you are half-insane like I often have been, it only creates new problems:
– you worry how you are going to suddenly keep your money
– you worry about inflation. You would think that broke people would worry more about inflation than rich people. Whenever I’ve been broke I could care less about prices. I was broke! Who was spending all this money? It’s only when I’ve had money that suddenly I would worry about inflation. Because inflation triggers this need to put your money to work so you can stay ahead of it. And guess what? When you put your money to work, you could lose it! That sucks.
– you worry more about your health when you have money. What’s the point of having money if you die?
– your libido is out of control when you make money. Trust me on this one.
The only times I’ve ever made money (and I’ve been on this roller-coaster quite a bit) is when I switched from “goals” to “themes”. Instead of having a goal: “I need to make money”, I switch to a theme: “I want to help people with this product”. Or…”Forget about money completely. I want to help people by writing a blog about honesty, failure, myself, entrepreneurship, and whatever else I can write that people will relate to.”
Many people write me and say, “I have no goals”. Or…”I have a goal but I can’t seem to make progress towards it.”
Write down your goals. If you don’t have any, make some up. Now cross them out. Replace each goal with a theme.
Remember a goal is usually something you achieve only once. “Make a million dollars,” for instance. Or “write a novel.” Or “get a job at a bank”. But a goal is fleeting. You get there, you feel happy for a second, and then the worries begin again. Or you lose the million. Or the million creates new worries. Let’s say you want to date the most beautiful person in the world. You get the goal. Now you are worried you will lose him or her. Or you get jealous or insecure or whatever. Or you have a goal of a specific great job. You get it. Now you are worried you will lose it. Or you have to kiss ass to your boss. Or you have to impress your colleagues. And you go to bed stressed on bad days. Even though you achieved your dream goal. Goals are only the seeds that grow into problems.
Having goals is no good.
Goals, in an extreme, mean you aren’t happy until you get your goal. And then what? How can you reduce suffering right now. The suffering of striving, of fear, of worry, of the pressure that you have no goals.
Have a theme. You can build your days around your themes. I want to learn more. I want to be healthy. I want to be good to people. I want to help people feel good about themselves. I want to be creative. I want to depend on my inward self instead of the outer events that throw from shore to shore.
An important theme for me is to every day focus on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health as much as possible. For me, I know that works. Works for what? Who cares. It just works. Whatever your theme is, check it throughout the day – Ask: am I living by my theme?
In the short blink that thins out your life, when you reach the point where goals matter no more, the themes of your life will still shine bright. And when it comes time to measure your immortality, it’s the themes you leave behind that will have more impact than the goals, money, loves, lives you’ve lived.