head case: leela james, exercise and experiencing an emotional breakthrough…

a personal perspective…

I was exhausted and my sleep was interrupted every five seconds by intrusive thoughts and the need to go to the bathroom. This latter thing is an unwelcome feature of aging. I had one of those nights where I was aware of each word that came to mind and I never really fell into a restful sleep.

It was dawn and the sun was starting to burst through the fog remnants. I rolled out of bed while my wife calmly continued to rest. I found my neon orange running shorts and shoes to match. The bright colors symbolized the excitement I was shooting for instead of the gloomy, tired state I was immersed in.

After checking email and Facebook, I put on my headphones and headed out the door. The Motown playlist was dialed in and You Can’t Hurry Love poured through the headphones as I jogged slowly until the first mile was completed and then the race for understanding was on.

My increasing speed combined with The Temptations emotional grooves put me in a euphoric state as I contemplated how I felt right now. I asked myself how I was now dealing with my grief issues.

I began thinking about the greatest loss in my life; the abrupt death of my father in 1966. I devoted my first book to mourning his loss and by the end of the book, I was transformed and a dark cloud had been lifted. Redemption of the Shattered was written almost twelve years ago and I was content to connect and release his spirit whenever the need to be close to him arose.

Today, as I  run through the San Francisco State campus, I have another memory of an event that took place about 4 and a half years ago. I notice a patch of grass and I remember suddenly losing consciousness and passing out.

The memory continues to haunt me during this run.

Shortly after that I made a doctor’s appointment and the medical staff told me to go home and not to worry about my health because all the tests they ran came up negative.  Oh, by the way, we are calling the Department of Motor Vehicles to have your driver’s license suspended because we have to tell them you fainted. I was in a state of disbelief; that entire week I could barely walk without feeling like I was out of breath and in danger of passing out again.

My wife took me to the emergency room the next week and I had a heart rate of 24. The doctor said that because I am a runner, I could tolerate a heart rate that low and if I wasn’t an athlete, I wouldn’t be alive today or any other day.

The surgeon and his team installed a heart pacemaker in my chest and I have been going strong ever since. I run faster and longer than before my surgery, but the emotional toll was only beginning.

Shortly before this problem with the electrical system of my heart, I suffered from other medical issues including kidney stones, the dreaded h-pylori stomach virus that caused gastrointestinal pain that would never ease up, muscle aches, joint pain and acid reflux.

Before the end of 2008, I had been a very healthy person and now all of a sudden it was one problem after another and I was emotionally ill equipped to face this new unwanted chapter in my life.

Now as I run through my neighborhood, I turn up the volume on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On?  As I reflected on my personal turmoil, I had no idea what was going on.

I acutely recall how horrible those times were.

It seemed like I went through my days scanning my body and assessing where pain was located and then worry that these aches would last forever. I could distract myself through my work as a psychotherapist and writer, but I would wake up at night with fear as my only companion. I didn’t want to wake up my wife and when I did talk to her about this, it had the tone of total submission that I would never enjoy my life again.

I started being confused about my feelings for my father again. Didn’t I already resolve this? Why were all my Daddy issues coming back; flooding me with despair?  I was angry, sad and talking to his spirit was no longer comforting for me. I wanted him for real, in the flesh where he could tell me how I was to deal with my feelings of impending doom, arching depression and amped up anxiety.

My father never knew how or saw the need to soothe me when I was a child and the desire for him to hold me and keep me safe was prominent and impossible to attain.  It is not possible because he is dead.

I learned that a new trauma can revitalize former traumas and cause you to look at them in new ways.  This second time around I learned to accept that I would never know if he truly loved me or not.  I could finally let this self-torture go and feel at peace.

Today’s weather is muggy like New Jersey and the sweat is pouring over my sunglasses. The headphones feel water logged.  My legs feel strong as I pick up the pace and return to thinking about my body mind connection when it was very negative.

It seemed that every day I experienced a new pain or illness. Sometimes these sensations were actually real, other times it was difficult to determine if they were real or not. I learned that if you allow yourself to focus on a part of the body in an intense and worried way, you will feel pain whether it is actually present or not. I thought I was going crazy and most of the time I kept all this haphazard talk to myself.

I spent most of my waking hours focusing on and worrying about what body part was going to either hurt forever or stop working. Almost all my energy was devoted to scanning my betraying body and waiting for a personal medical catastrophe to unleash itself. I was afraid that these aches and pains would lead to my impending death. I believed that I was not long for this world and this awful obsessing sometimes led me to a place of stark hopelessness.

Could it be possible that all these scary thoughts were related to the fact that I almost died?  It is hard to wrap my head and heart around that one. I wasn’t sure if I was minimizing this event or we as humans lack the capacity to fully connect with the possibility of our own demise.

Now I decide to run past the spot where I fainted over four years ago(see image at the top of this post) and see what feelings emerge.

The past memories push me to move into present time.

I remember that I was listening to Leela James’s new cd Let’s Do it again. Her version of I Want to Know What Love is was playing on my Ipod.

Now I find that song on my music playing device and listen to it as I run a loop around the grassy place where I fell.  I realized that back then I had the where with all and quick reflexes to fall on the grass instead of the neighboring concrete.

I want to know what love is as well as Leela does.  The chorus is  playing  and I cry at the joy of being alive and honoring all the pain I had been through.  If I didn’t go the emergency room, I may have died that day. I try to take all that in and my body shivers.

I no longer live in a world where I am constantly scanning my body and worrying.  Most of my medical issues have been resolved or I have learned to live with the normal aches and pains of aging.   Running while listening to music and asking myself emotional pain questions has helped me amazingly.

Loving yourself may be the essence of what love is.  It cannot be felt while surrounded by fear and self-hatred. You have to clear the space by facing all the ugliness and staring it down. This will help you feel safe and ready to follow your dreams.

I notice the flowers that seem to grow in California every day of the year.  The sun is shining through the tall trees and my feet aren’t touching the ground.  This is a new day and I am running into the light.



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Screenshot 2014-05-24 12.11.56

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