Autumn Leaves / 5 Year Anniversary

In January of 2014, I stopped taking Adderall.

After taking it daily for so many years, I had become completely tolerant to the drug and the amphetamines no longer provided the stimulation necessary to live my life. Nothing else had ever helped me, so I figured this was the only thing I could do. I didn’t know how long it would take to undo the tolerance, but figured I was in for at least 8 months of withdrawal.

2014 was a very dark year. Back when everything hit me at once as a teenager I ended up spending a couple weeks in a psych hospital, but since then I’ve had a grip on things and although I may have some depression or anxiety, I could always keep myself within the realm of rational thought. However, if you’ve ever read anything about the psychological effects of solitary confinement, you know that it quickly turns sane men crazy and crazy men well, crazier. I spent every day sleeping for 12-15 hours, only crawling out of bed for a single meal. I had grown apart from old friends by this point anyway, but not being able to get out of bed meant I was further isolated from the many online friends I had at the time.

In April, I received a large package in the mail for my birthday from a good friend that kept my going. I pushed through, and after many months of this I recognized that I had plateaued. It was time for me to dip my toe back into the waters of stimulants, very carefully. I started taking Adderall 2 days a week, giving me just enough time to get through a single college course.

By this time I had already achieved my Bachelors in Psychology, but wasn’t sure where to go from there. I realized I couldn’t work, so I figured all I could do to maintain some semblance of progress would be to continue going to school. My plan was to go for a Masters in Computer Science, but in order to be eligible to switch I had to take a couple computer courses in the interim. I signed up for Assembly Programming and was on my way.

As I was walking to class one day from the parking lot, I noticed something strange… I felt something. I noticed the colors all around me in a way I never had before. For my entire life those around me have been pointing out scenes in nature: snow, trees, leaves, etc. I’d look and sure, it looked nice, but I never understood why people made a big deal about it.

For the first time, I understood.

I guess it had been years since my brain’s dopamine receptors weren’t completely fried because I hadn’t felt anything like that in a long time. In fact, a big reason why I enjoyed getting shit-faced in my early 20s was because it allowed me to feel. I’d put headphones on and music would sound so good some nights it nearly brought me to tears… but that wasn’t sustainable. Alcohol would provide a few hours of comfort at the price of a day and a half of hangover. This was the beginning of me figuring out a healthier way to treat my symptoms.

Autumn 2014 was the beginning of me finding things to enjoy in life. Years ago, my girlfriend described me by saying I “openly dislike everything,” and she wasn’t wrong. I was miserable and wanted to drag everyone else down to my level. That’s no way to live, though. To this day I am chasing the experiences I enjoy and making up for lost time.

 

 

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The view from the parking lot to the computer building.

The leaves looked nice enough on this day but weren’t as striking as I imagined so I took some additional photos, first around my old neighborhood and then my current one.

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The street I grew up on.
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Driving back to my current home.

Constipation 10/28/2019

Every time I think I’ve figured out all the ways my body can work against me, it always throws me a curveball.

I have photographs sitting in folders ready to go for more elaborate posts but I’ve been laser-focused on Halloween stuff this month, so they’ll happen in a bit. For now, here’s an impromptu post about number two.

I’ve never understood people that spend an hour in the bathroom. They read books, they play on their phone, they have entire experiences in there. Me? I’m there to conduct business and that’s it. In and out. Despite the fact that certain meds I use are known to cause constipation, I’ve always been locked and loaded and ready to go. In fact, in recent years I couldn’t have held back if I wanted to when nature calls.

Every week, it was the same story: I’d take my first Adderall dose after a couple days off to rest and give my brain a break. It was very obvious to me when it started kicking in. It wasn’t the alertness, it wasn’t the physical energy, it was a sudden need to get to the bathroom. This feeling was so desperate that I had to plan my life around it. In the early years of my “revival” I learned the hard way that waking up and leaving immediately was asking for trouble. I’d be driving to an allergy shot appointment a mere 10 minutes away when things started “kicking” in. I didn’t know if this place had a bathroom but I figured it out quickly – bottom floor. I became well-acquainted with this bathroom before learning to allow for enough time at home before taking matters on the road.

Over the past couple weeks, I don’t know what happened. Sure, my diet has been awful but it’s been awful for most of the year. At some point since getting j-j-j-jacked last year I thought I’d take a weekend off my healthier diet, well that weekend became several months. Actually this is great, it gives me an excuse to show off that pic of me at peak beefcake:

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~September 2018. You’re damn right I’m proud of this. After a lifetime of trying and failing, I figured out how to exercise consistently without wrecking myself. I had to stop and start again a few times, but eventually overcame. It took much precious energy to continue, but this remains an accomplishment and I’ve maintained much strength to this day, resulting in less muscle pain.

Back to present day (as long as I have this pic, people will assume I still look like this under my shirt), at first I was still having an easy time in the bathroom but the urge was striking me at hours I wasn’t used to. Then, it was taking me minutes… and effort… to get the job done. Tonight was the worst I’ve ever experienced. I spent 45 minutes in there earlier feeling like this thing was never going to resolve itself. Before you constipation pros start giving me tips, I tried everything: relaxing, pushing, leaning, bending, everything. I eventually made as much progress as I was going to but knew there was work left to be done. I downed a bottle of Magnesium Citrate I’ve had in a drawer from before I stopped taking Tylenol #4s. Those prescription painkillers would result in awful constipation and stomach pain every time. Kratom dulls the pain without any negative effects, maybe some mild constipation but nothing I couldn’t overcome. I didn’t know if I was ever going to need that bottle, but I’m glad that I did.

Hours later I felt confident enough to go back and finish the job. I hope things never get to this level again, and I’ll probably have to make some changes. This cannot continue.

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I wish I had a clip to share, I re-watched the debut of Undercover Boss last week. I only ever watched that single episode when it debuted but it stuck with me. The boss of the Waste Management company went undercover as a new employee to work several entry-level jobs to see how things really were in his company. Among the people he interacted with was this guy Fred. Fred’s job was sucking the shit out of porta-potties with a huge vacuum attached to the truck. Yeah. Sounds terrible right? Fred had the boss smiling and laughing him while training him to do this. He had some great quotes, one was something like “I call it ‘The Battlefield of Poop. We’re soldiers. Sometimes you get wounded, you get a little splatter on you, but you gotta keep goin!” Well Fred, your words rang true for me tonight.

…that pic of me above looks even better surrounded by this shitty story.

NJPW NYC & Insomnia 9/28-9/30

See those dates? I’ve been awake this entire time.

I talk a lot about the fun experiences I’ve been having as it’s a still big deal for me, but sometimes these trips come at a price which is important to understand. This (amazing) trip’s price was what will be 40 hours without sleep.

Those that haven’t taken stimulants can’t relate to this. Why not just close my eyes? It doesn’t work like that. It’s not until ~36h from the last dose that the “wakefulness” will wear off and start to fall asleep. You hear about meth heads staying awake for a week at a time or whatever, so whats a couple days? I’m dosing to take as little as possible in order to function, they’re taking as much as possible without dying. It’s enough to keep me awake, not enough to make me content staring at the wall for a week. As soon as a few hours have passed I’m strapped into another 30h that suuuuuck.

The good news? This used to happen every couple of weeks, but now it’s been years since I went through this. I made a mistake packing and didn’t have what I needed, a mistake I won’t repeat.

Time goes on, I discover new treatments and behaviors, recognize patterns, tackle symptoms. For example, a few years ago this type of insomnia came with fairly severe muscle pain… but now I’ve got my pain quite under control. Discomfort? Hell yeah, I can’t wait until this is over. But for now, it serves as a reminder of progress. This sucks, but I used to go through much worse so I’ll be good. Plus… there are things to look forward to now.

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It was all worth it for this view.

 

My point: the risk of paying the price is absolutely worth it. I made some great memories. But it’s important to know that I don’t post pictures of myself shaking with a brains-shaped jello mold nearby in case I need something to puke in. That’s part of the story too.

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If the Rock & Roll Express can dive out of the ring at 63-years-old for 3 nights in a row, I’ll be fine.

How I Quit Smoking via Vaping (Then Quit Vaping)

With all this vaping bullshit in the news lately, I feel compelled to tell the story of how I quit smoking – something I thought I’d never do.

(Note: I originally typed this up to be a Facebook post before deciding to post it here. Keep that in mind if anything’s worded strangely.)

I was 14 years old and had just been through the wringer. All of the ME/CFS symptoms started hitting me hard, one after another, quite severely. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong and without a label for the illness, I was treated like some punk kid that just didn’t want to go to school. The physical discomfort, lack of sleep, and the way I was being treated messed me up and I need a distraction… FAST. At that time I didn’t use drugs, didn’t drink, wasn’t having sex. Hell, I hadn’t even discovered masturbation until years later! With no way to escape, I started doing anything that would take my mind off of things for even a minute which usually manifested itself via self-harm. I found it cathartic to take walks in the middle of the night and one night, I stole one of my brother’s Black & Mild cigars, a couple cigs, and tried them while on my walk. I liked it so I started smoking when I’d go to the mall every week, too. Before I knew it, I was hooked.

For the next ~15 years of my life, every day I awoke to the same dilemma: Where was I going to get the money to pay for today’s pack?

Smokers are very particular about their brand and I got myself hooked on expensive, brand name Marlboro 100s. I could find the $5 needed by picking up cans at Ted Williams’ Park (if someone recently threw a party there, jackpot!), grabbing loose change, or selling some of my CDs. However, MA started taxing cigs heavily and the price kept skyrocketing.

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A portrait my ex drew of me titled “Ignore the Smoke.”

To those around me I became an annoyance at best and a burden, liar, or thief at worst. Usually people only resort to lying/stealing when they’re hooked on more expensive hard drugs like meth or heroin, but since I was too sick to work, I had to lie/steal to fund my nicotine addiction. I stole money from my parents’ stash, grabbed any loose change left unguarded at friends’ hoses, whatever it took. If my current pack was running out and I had no money, I’d try to space out my cig breaks but the anxiety just made me want to smoke even more… and those times when I did run out, I was completely miserable.

I didn’t realize it at the time but it turns out my addiction was extra strong because of my meds used to treat the fatigue/brain fog. Adderall is a mic of dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine, and amphetamines flood the brain with dopamine making you want (NEED) to feed your addictions even more.

I hated dealing with the daily anxiety and being a dick to those around me but I was certain that I was going to keep smoking until I died. I tried Chantix and while it helped reduce my smoking, I was still heaving 1-3 cigs a day and couldn’t bring myself to stop completely. Nicotine gum didn’t help. Cold turkey was out of the question.

After yet ANOTHER tax hike brought the cost of a pack to $11, I realized I could no longer afford it and had to change something. I had 2 options: start rolling my own cigs or switch to vaping. Luckily, there are some startup costs with the former which I couldn’t afford. My friend Amanda had switched to vaping just a year or two prior and offered to send me an e-cig in the mail. She was a good friend in many regards, but I consider mailing me that e-cig the biggest favor she ever did for me. I didn’t switch immediately, but I’d use the e-cig to reduce the amount of cigs I was smoking. Plus, if I ran out of cigs, I knew I at least had the vape.

I decided I was going to make the switch for good. Like breaking any habit, it felt weird for some weeks but I got used to it. Not long after that, I couldn’t have smoked a cig if I wanted to without feeling sick. This was a step in the right direction but vaping had its own challenges, the biggest one being that there’s no “end” to a vape break unlike cigs have a physical end to them. As a result people end up vaping all day. I worried that this might make my nicotine addiction worse but hey, at least it was safer and cheaper.

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I smoked Marlboro 100s, a lengthier version of the classic Marlboro Reds formerly known as King Marlboros. For this reason, I was referred to as the “King Smoker” by my friend Dan.

I started vaping juice with 16mg of Nicotine since this was closest to what’s in a normal cig. Over time, I would buy juice with lower nicotine content – 16mg, then 12mg, 8mg, etc. I never noticed any difference. I knew from experiences with certain prescription drugs like Effexor that the hardest part was going to be taking that last step to 0mg. To ease into it I started by mixing 3mg juice with 0mg gradually until I hit 0mg. I vaped 0mg juice for a week and realized I had done it… I had weaned off nicotine!

Now all that was left to do was break the habit of bringing a stick to my mouth and puffing on it. I vaped 0mg juice for months. Then, while packing for a trip to my cousin’s wedding in Indianapolis, I decided to leave my e-cig behind. I didn’t miss it and I never looked back.

It also helped that I hated being seen vaping. Once I took a vape break outside of Rick’s and this kid comes up to me all excited “HEY BRO, WHAT KINDA MOD IS THAT MAN? SICK!” I was like “I don’t fucking know I’m just trying to quit smoking!” It’s funny, cigs are unhealthy and smell gross, but were considered cool because they were associated with rock/movie stars. On the other hand, vaping is relatively harmless, smells nice, but is very uncool due to who it’s associated with. Some people need to realize that blowing a big cloud doesn’t mean you have a big cock.

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Look at this chump and his excessive vape cloud.

I’ve found when it comes to quitting smoking, everyone’s different. Chantix works for a lot of people and that’s a useful tool. Some people can’t quit gradually, they NEED to go cold turkey. Others, like me, are best off doing the vape+taper method.

I did a ton of research when I started vaping, much like I do when I research different meds. Long story short, there’s little if anything to worry about. The chemical causing popcorn lung used to be in certain dessert-flavored juices but once that became known, companies stopped selling those or using it. All the scary stories in the news of e-cigs exploding in pockets were due to those people using custom/modified batteries and didn’t understand what they were doing. The only cause for concern at all really is the nicotine. If someone new to vaping chooses to vape anything but 0mg juice, I’d consider that a stupid decision. Don’t believe the bullshit. Don’t believe “gut feelings.” Believe the facts, the science. The “vaping deaths” that occurred were all from the use of black market THC cartridges. Banning vaping completely because of that would be the equivalent of banning coffee because a few people took too many caffeine pills and had heart attacks.

I cannot overstate how much I appreciate being free of that fucking burden. On days that I feel shitty and find myself starting to bitch, there are a couple things I think of to put things in perspective and remind myself that things aren’t too bad:

#1: At least my balls don’t hurt.

#2: At least I’m not addicted to nicotine and smoking anymore.

Things On My Mind – 3/5/2018

I’ve felt like shit for over a month now. As I walk through the living room and kitchen to driveway to go somewhere, my parents sometimes greet me or ask a question but I can’t answer due to the fatigue. I feel like I’m out of breath and can’t get enough oxygen. I suspect this is due to 3 factors: the fact that I’m more active than ever before, nagging sleep apnea symptoms disrupting my sleep, and tolerance to Adderall building up once again. I’ve since I can’t always get things done at home (as explained in my “Environment” article), I’ve taken my ME/CFS books to the library to consider my options.

Regarding those 3 factors:

The biggest problem for me with regard to being active in hobbies and business is that the more I do, the more I have to do and the more I want to do. For example, despite feeling shitty lately I’ve increased my eBay earnings due to some new strategies and effort I’ve put into it. Buyers don’t wait for me to catch up on sleep, when they click that “Buy It Now” button I need to get that stuff packaged and shipped out. In addition to my personal eBay sales, I’m also helping a local music store sell some of their stuff online which is even more complicated. I need to always keep my eyes on things to respond to questions very quickly and communicate with the store owner to make a deal. I then need to get my ass to the music store, package up that big guitar, work with one of the guys that works there to print out a UPS label for me, and then I go drop it off. For my personal eBay sales I can wait a day or two if I really need to, but when guitars in the 4-6 figures are being purchased from a legitimate 35-year business I need to get the job regardless of how sick I am or if I’m off my meds.

As far as sleep apnea goes, I was disappointed to see symptoms return after losing weight. At my heaviest I was nearly 240lbs. I started tracking my foods last year to drop weight after struggling with a CPAP machine. When I got my weight down to about 205lbs, I suddenly (literally overnight) stopped waking up and slept through the entire night. I thought that was it – I’d heard that weight loss was a “cure” for sleep apnea. Unfortunately, symptoms returned. I spent sometime reading about sleep apnea and its causes and learned that while weight loss will improve symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily cure them. I’ve been about 190lbs for a while now and just started the process of tracking my foods again. I’ve read that even 10lbs can make a difference when it comes to sleep apnea symptoms (and blood pressure, too) so I’m hoping that will do the trick. I don’t understand why I slept fine for weeks at 205lbs before symptoms returned, though. I need to read more about sleep apnea if things don’t improve because I really don’t want to do another sleep study and bother with a CPAP again. Some people are cured by strapping something to their back which forces them to sleep on their side (I already sleep on my side), some cured their symptoms with weight loss, some find relief with a CPAP, and others are cured via surgery.

Regarding the last one, Adderall tolerance, this one’s tough. When the brain has become tolerant to stimulants like amphetamines and you spend some time without the drug, the next time you resume using, tolerance will occur much more rapidly. It’s difficult to tell how often I can use Adderall and get away with it. I’ve been generally following a 5-day schedule for a few months now (Adderall on the weekdays, rest up on the weekends) and this might be pushing it unfortunately. Like I said earlier, the more I do the more I want/need to do so it’s very difficult to take a break and say “I’ve got all these things I want to do and people to talk to, but instead I’m going to lay in bed all day without being able to think.” It needs to be done an I’m ok with taking a couple days off per week when I have no plans, but there are times where I have to decide if I want to risk a 6-day week to participate in something. Last year I spent over a month researching and then trying a peptide called BPC-157 (I should write an article on this) which may be able to repair damaged dopamine receptors but I did not notice a significant improvement. This could be due to the fact that those that see improvement are generally former addicts to meth and other amphetamines and no longer use the drug. The only other way to lower tolerance is to spend a significant amount of time away from the drug (months) so if things get too bad I’ll have to spend some time away from Adderall again. After the crash which occurs over the first few days I wind up in a state where I don’t have much energy and can’t think, but I could go through the motions of packaging up my eBay sales and shipping them out. I’d also have to figure out arrangements for the weekly open mic livestream I’m responsible for running.

There’s my current situation. The meds I’m on got me to where I am now which is great and more than anything I ever thought was possible… but I’ll need to discover some new things if I’m going to get to where I want to be.

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Things On My Mind – 1/26/2018

We’re a few weeks into 2018 and the things I’ve done so far are incredible, but it has come at a price and I don’t know if this level of activity is sustainable.

When 2017 started I thought I was ready to crank things up to the next level. I had things I wanted to do, ideas… I wanted to finally take a shot at stand up comedy, play music at different venues, start writing in a regular and organized manner, look for part-time work, and many other things. I still had a pretty good year, but I had to postpone a lot of those goals when some health setbacks occurred. One year later in 2018, I’ve gotten those issues under control and am armed with more knowledge and tools in my arsenal to take that next step forward. I’m almost where I wanted to be last year.

All the things I listed above, I’ve been doing. I’ve been having a lot of new experiences in new places with new people, and with new peo ple comes new opportunities. I have some exciting plans later in the year that have given me that kick in the ass to get to the gym to try and get my body – a body that still spends many hours a day laying in bed in front of a laptop – in better shape. Every day I get up, head to the post office to ship out my latest eBay sales, work on some wild mild music idea (like trying to figure out which genre of music I’m going to play drums over a medley of next), do some cardio and lift weights, meet with friends, and discuss plans.

It’s really taking a toll on my body. For the last few months, I’ve been able to maintain a Mon-Fri schedule, and sleep through the weekends to rest up. At first, I would start getting pretty tired by Friday… then Thursday became difficult too… and now this week, I was already feeling exhausted on Tuesday. The symptoms of exhaustion have been nearly constant, and as soon as things start wearing off around 9pm-11pm I have a couple of choices: take more meds, or drive home before the dizziness gets worse and interferes with doing so safely. There have been a couple occasions so far this year that it gets to the point where extra meds don’t even help and all I can do is lay in bed. This would be fine if I could just sleep it off, but I can’t sleep well until these meds get out of my system.

I didn’t start this blog to bitch about fatigue, you can find that in plenty of other places on the internet. The exhaustion I’ve been feeling is a positive thing, it’s the result of doing so much. I can live with the daily fatigue and there are ways I can distract myself from it. Staying engaged socially helps a lot – I might be tired but I can remain in a good mood if I’m in the right company. My worry though is that I constantly feel like I’m tiptoeing on the edge, that hour I’m just a decision or two away from rendering myself unable to stand up or drive home.

One thing has remained a constant during the last few years… if I have a symptom that’s really bothering me or I’m not happy with the way I’m feeling, I can figure something out if I set my mind to it.

Next week, I’m going hunting for answers.

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The Importance of Environment

Think about the way your dentist’s office smells. When that smell is in the air, how does it affect you? Do you start to feel anxious or uncomfortable like you Would rather be anywhere else? Does it trigger memories of previous appointments, maybe that one time when the dentist poked the wrong spot and stabbed you in the gums?

Our environments have a much stronger influence on our feelings and behaviors than we often realize. Even when we’re consciously aware of some of a particular environment’s effects, there are others at play that we don’t realize. Personally, if I’m trying to accomplish something, the worst place I can be is the spot I wake up in every day: my bedroom.

I’m very comfortable in my bedroom. I have a large bed with plenty of room for both my 6’1″ 200lb body and my laptop. Distractions are few and far between living on a quiet street surrounded by trees which muffle most sounds emanating from the nearby highway. Inside the house is equally quiet, as I live with my quiet, predictable parents. To get even more comfortable with my surroundings, I recently covered my plain white walls with images that excite and inspire me:

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I’ll write about my walls in this blog at some point, but for now you can read more in this Reddit post.

However, laying in bed in front of my laptop is the way I spent most of my time during my worst years. After spending so many years feeling like crap wasting time on my laptop while laying in bed, I’m now conditioned to do exactly that: feel like crap and waste time on my laptop whenever I’m laying in bed. I browse Reddit, check Facebook, and search YouTube. The only productive thing I regularly do while laying in bed is my daily moneymaking routine which usually consists of an hour’s worth of whichever marketing jobs are available for the day, earning me a few bucks.

It’s hard enough dragging my ass out of bed on days when I feel relatively fine, but if I’m behind on sleep or otherwise dealing with additional fatigue it can be a real challenge. I started becoming aware of the fact that I subconsciously look for any excuse to stay in bed a little longer, fooling myself into thinking I’m being productive. For example, I have a set of tools I developed to complete those aforementioned marketing jobs more quickly and efficiently – I’ve made buttons to copy-and-paste email addresses and social media links, take pictures of the screen, etc. If I think of a way to improve that program by adding a new feature or improving an existing one, I can stay in bed for another hour while I write some code.

My solution to the problem of my room is simple: get the hell out of it. Not only do I bring my laptop somewhere else, but I have a separate user account that I log into while using my laptop out in the world. This account looks like a fresh install so there are few desktop icons and no programs that start automatically to minimize distractions. I originally created this account to use when I do the Rick’s Music World open mic livestream each week. I wanted peace of mind knowing that I could leave my laptop unattended without my personal files being accessible. Over time, I realized that this account is also a great way to separate myself from my routine.

The library down the street has free WiFi and quiet rooms that can used for up to two hours per day. I’ve yet to explore any other options, but there are plenty: libraries in surrounding towns, restaurants like McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, local cafés, etc.

The only way I was able to write this blog entry was by getting myself out of my unproductive environment.