I'm Trying to Not Be an Out of Control Mess This Year—and It's Working

This essay originally appeared on Medium.


For years and years and for better or for worse, I have maintained what I would describe as manic energy. Many other people would too. And it’s come to an end.

Or at least it’s come to some version of an end. I’m not going to suddenly be a sharply dressed mute expressionist whose only contribution to a conversation is the obnoxiously loud sipping of expensive tea. I’m just going to be a different, better version of me.

See, in January of this year, I basically took on the “Summer-Winter of Jake Kilroy.” (It’s like Seinfeld’s “Summer of George” episode, except it’s more lateral than opposite, and I take my New Year’s resolutions very seriously.)

This is me shortly before blacking out at my sister’s wedding—where I was the minister.

As of last month, here’s what I’m doing with my life:

  • I go to weekly therapy.

  • I don’t drink.

  • I’m taking a break from drugs.

  • I exercise more than usual.

  • I sleep eight hours a night.

  • I make thoughtful decisions.

  • I practice mindfulness.

These, as you can likely already tell, are not exactly revelations. At best, these are things most of us learned to do as kids. It wouldn’t surprise me if a substantial portion of readers are instantly, “Yeah, dude, fucking duh. Like, forever ago, we learned this.”

Well, yours truly didn’t. In fact, yours truly really dug on a life of delirium and mania. To be honest, there was something exciting about life as a space cadet. Basic existence was dimensional voyaging. Day-to-day activity was visiting an alien world. I was between realities. All of it was thrilling and weird.

Wild-eyed hyperbole aside, I really wasn’t “here” as much as I could’ve been, and when I was, I wasn’t exactly centered. I became untethered sometime ago, and I never did anything about it.

I am choosing to fully reboot in a way I have never done before.

About every three years—thus far, at the ages of 24, 27, 30, and now 33—I investigate myself and decide who and how I should be. That has not always meant an overall healthier, calmer existence. I have absolutely chosen wilder.

This time around, however, I am choosing to fully reboot in a way I never have before.

Therapy and figuring out myself

I put off going to therapy for a decade and a half, and there was no good reason for the delay. Like a million other things on my existential to-do list, I just kept meaning to do it and then… didn’t.

The first two sessions of therapy were easy. I just rattled off everything I knew to be true about myself. I had ideas of what I wanted to explore, improve, and upgrade, but it was coming from a place of weakness and defeat rather than excitement and reward. I basically hated certain aspects of how I operated as a person, and I couldn’t figure out a way to break free from it as a conceptual whole.

Finally, I pulled on a single thread—“I don’t think I’m as present as I could be”—and that got things going like whoa.

My therapist eventually said something that I will likely carry with me forever: “You might live so far in your head that you’re taking in a distorted sense of reality.”

Now, on the surface, this reads sci-fi. But, sincerely, nothing has ever made more sense. It was like walls fell away, and I learned my surroundings were not my actual surroundings. It was all a ruse!

Okay, that also reads sci-fi.

But, in an instant, I knew she was right. It explained a lot. It was like falling backward into cool water on the hottest day of the year. The realization suddenly informed why I have trouble understanding the world, why I function as a visitor, why I don’t accurately communicate myself, why peculiar things frustrate me, why cause and effect seem off in my relationships, and so on.

For all my empathy and engagement, I wasn’t always entirely here. Or I would be deeply here in a moment and then I’d disappear into my head, and that would change my comprehension. I created hypotheticals so regularly, sitting with them so repeatedly that I practically trained myself to believe them instead. Little things evolved into big things, big things eroded into little things, and I became so familiar with my own interpretation and rationalization that I accepted it over actual truth, more or less without meaning to do so.

From time to time, up until now, I’ve encountered confusing issues with reacting to certain stimuli because so many parts of it have had to be ridiculously processed. There was such a great distance between the real world and me. It was like a postal service was carrying basic nuance from my five senses to my brain. Immersion wasn’t instant. Basic reality came to me like I was some worldly liege accepting a messenger in his court.

So my chatting skills would range from spaced-out drivel in order to survive dialogue to a dozen steps ahead of the other person in a conversation because I’d already mentally played out the things I wanted to say in their entirety. My words would sometimes come off negative when I didn’t mean for them to be delivered as such—argumentative, critical, dismissive, judgmental, pious, pretentious, snarky, tense, and the like—because I would regularly speak without thinking, leaving thoughts ill-timed, insensitive, raw, reactive, unformed, out in the open, and available for interpretation. At times, I would find myself following up with folks at great length because I was too out of it or too in my own head the first go.

Was all this annoying and frustrating? Probably. Maybe. I don’t know. What did I care? I was so far up my ass-brain I didn’t always know what was happening.

To theoretically enable some form of control, I more or less conditioned myself to consider those hypothetical outcomes, so I would have prepared responses I could mail in from afar. But I assigned different weights to possibilities, so, in strange instances, the unexpectedness of reality made me oddly vulnerable and incapable. I wouldn’t know how to deal with situations because I was so frantic and far removed from them while simultaneously being grossly concerned and unsure how to proceed. I created a sort of helplessness cycle that would make me feel hopeless until I spaced out again and then all of it felt distant and I cared less about everything.

Sanity can be relative. Control can be illusionary. What should matter is happiness. However, your gauge of joy isn’t always what you believe it to be.

For me, I was happy being in my own world. I just severely underestimated how hard it had knocked me out of the real one. I brushed it off as bumping into people at grocery stores while crafting a narrative in my head, whereas I should have been asking myself, Hey, do you ever wonder if you’re purposefully removing yourself from real-life situations in order to guarantee an outcome you prefer, one with little to no consequences?

In retrospect, I was regularly blindsided by very obvious truths and remarkably easy situations simply because I was vacationing from existence so very often. I decorated the inside of my head quite exquisitely, I must say. (The fact I was able to do this in the first place is a gargantuan reveal of my straight-white-maleness.)

I just sort of floated. Relationships came and went. Friends would be temporarily disappointed in me. Family would get mad at me and then they wouldn’t because they’re family. I coasted through life because my priority was me, and I knew exactly what I wanted and acted accordingly.

All the while, I maintained the calendar and momentum of a social butterfly, and I would still make a point to be there for people, whether to help them move, get them through a breakup, or simply ask them a million questions about their life. But I often saw each interaction as a singular moment, a blip, rather than a valuable part of a longer string or larger scheme. I was out and about in the world to get my emotional passport stamped and then return to the safety and comfort of home.

It doesn’t make much sense to me now. It actually bums me out. But it felt comfortable for a long time, mostly because, at some point, I realized I’m only on this planet for a handful of years, and if some god replays my highlight reel, I want to make sure I lived for me and had a blast. I never felt like I was missing out. I was serving my own master—me.

Thus learning that I was something of a mental and emotional ghost in the House of Jake Kilroy was legitimately terrifying. I wasn’t just absent from the lives of others; I was absent in my own life as well, and for some reason, that new context made all the difference.

My therapist is max chill and for that I am grateful because my response was, “Holy fuck, you’re right,” followed by a plague of “What in the hell?” and “How in the shit?” It was unfathomably draining at first, and then, shortly after, it became ridiculously energizing. It felt comparable to the time I found out my vision had been bad my whole life while I thought that’s just how eyes worked.

I felt alive. I was present. The world instantly became easier.

What makes you feel good in the moment is surface level. Feeling good at your core is work.

As that same session of therapy revealed, I tend to overthink and overanalyze. In theory, this should make me highly perceptive of reality, but it has the opposite effect. No one needs hours of philosophy regarding the tiniest of moments. No one needs to consider how the future may or may not unfold like they’re goddamn Donnie Darko. No one needs to ruminate on nothing forever.

So I’ve stopped.

I mean, I’m still training my brain to halt that shit as more reflex than exercise because it already feels like a much breezier way to live, but it’s a change to how I’ve come at the world for a good spell, and that takes time and practice.

For instance, since my therapist delivered that crucial line, I’ve felt my mind wandering and my presence drifting, and I’ve had to catch it like a balloon rising up to meet the big blue sky.

I’ve taken to meditating, doing yoga, repeating mantras, reading self-help books, and even naming what I see and hear just to keep from retreating and disappearing into a daydream version of reality.

With that, I’ve had to remove some control and accept that I can’t control everything. This is a basic lesson, sure, but as an unmarried dude without kids, it can prove quite easy to control what I do with my life. I make decisions that directly and immediately affect me and only me—for the most part, or so you’d think.

When you get used to control, you’re perplexed when you don’t have it. You feel anxiety you can’t put into words, and your scrambled set of actions and responses have new limitations. This all baffles and frustrates you, and it’s sourced from a bizarre state of comprehensive weakness. In therapy, I’ve learned that I am someone who, in default mode, will trial-and-error his way through things, ideally to a desirable outcome—I’m a fixer, as my therapist puts it. But I’ve had blinders on, so my resolutions have been more Band-Aids than surgeries.

The odd part of all this, of course, is that I am not known for being in control—not even a little bit. That’s, like, half my problem. I have long tended to operate in a world of chaos, but I was able to easily control what interested me—and there was a lot I didn’t care about, even though I absolutely, totally should have. (Read: “Sure, my car insurance is late because I didn’t check the mail for weeks, but here’s how I spent my Saturday doing everything I wanted to do.” That sort of nonsense shit.)

So now I’m someone who is in attendance for general existence, not just my own—someone who is actively working on experiencing reality objectively. I’m actually high on life, which sounds like an inspirational throwaway, but, come on, it’s my first time here.

Shifting toward sobriety

Giving up booze was surprisingly easy. It finally and fully settled into me that I had a problematic relationship with alcohol. Since I started drinking as a teen, I haven’t ever given serious thought to sobriety. To be frank, I never really evaluated my relationship with the substance.

This reads odd, given that overly analytical mind of mine, but it boils down to an easy personal truth: Given that overly analytical mind of mine (that truly never shuts the fuck up), booze was a shiny “off” button.

“I’m turning off this thunderous racket right the fuck now,” my inner monologue would bellow, right before a first drink would turn into a half dozen. For as much as I was in my own head, I didn’t always like it. It’s loud in there. Even partiers need to go to sleep at some point.

That readiness to drink, paired with an established distance from reality and an overall decision to not give as much thought to everyday things, brought out a pretty bunk version of me some nights.

It’s way too easy for me to become way too much to handle as a drunk. I’ve had solid moments of being a charming delight, or so I’ve been told, but I’ve also had notable instances being a fucking nightmare. No one who has gone drinking with me more than once would say otherwise.

Sure, while you and I may have once had a lovely evening of wine, finger foods, and a discussion of the nation’s two-party system (that went beyond simple teenage fist-shaking), we’ve also maybe had a night out where I wound up drinking the cocktails of two strangers on a date at some Downtown Disney establishment. (That’s a true story and it’s not a good one.)

Ultimately, you can only say, “That’s not who I am,” so many times until somebody steps in and points out, “Okay, well, whoever that other person is seems to be rentinga lot of space in your body.”

That somebody pointing it out should be you, by the way.

But I only recently did that. Up until now, each incident was considered isolated. I’d stop or cut back on drinking in response to what we in the industry call a “big fucking whoops.” For me, that could range from getting my friends and I kicked out of one bar and almost a second in the same night, to waking up and assuming my car had been stolen until looking at my phone and seeing Lyft was the last app I opened—and then later finding out my friend had to beg and bargain with me not to drive myself home.

In short, the best thing you could say about me as a drunk was that I was good or tolerable “most of the time.”

As a drinker or non-drinker, I don’t know what my plans are from here on out. I haven’t poured out my extensive bar supplies yet. I just moved them from the counter to the cabinet and replaced their former space with fruits and vegetables. (I’m such a sucker for symbolism.)

Now that I’m weeks out of the habit, I may return to alcohol at some point and come at the entire prospect totally anew. In my brain, that means a one/two-drink limit in all instances and much greater infrequency—like how I only have soda a handful of times a year, mostly at summer barbecues. Loosening the nerves is a nice treat, but it shouldn’t be the default operating system. Maybe I’ll never drink again. I legitimately don’t know. But it’s definitely only minimal as a max from here on out. That’s for sure.

Taking a break from getting high

I’m not quitting drugs forever, but it definitely clashes with my attempt at being more present. Down the road, something like ayahuasca may just deliver the universe’s plan for me. Who knows?

Weed’s been the only drug I really engage with anymore these days, and given local dispensaries, I’m basically snacking on druggo superfoods anyway. Hell, the last time I got high was cannabis-infused granola bites with almonds, chia seeds, dates, goji berries, and sunflower seeds—it was like being a college freshman with John Muir—so I figure it’s “just a phase.”

Unlike with alcohol, the most shameful things I’ve done while high is shushing a microwave and hosting a half-hour debate with myself about whether to send handwritten apology letters to the neighbors for chewing too loudly.

However, any high is still putting me out of my brain, and the rush of awareness is new to me and I’m chasing that one big time.

Exercising my body more

This isn’t a huge update. I just have the time to do it now, and I’ve changed my environment. Last October, my gym membership expired, and I took to running around my neighborhood. Huge surprise: I found jogging around a quiet, picturesque residential area to be more relaxing than sprinting on a machine beneath fluorescent lights, facing televisions.

I never wanted to spend that much time at the gym. Coming into this year, I suddenly had entire evenings available and so I took to going several miles, running because it felt great and walking because it was relaxing. These longer routes became the focus of my evening, rather than a brief component of my day.

My runs used to be late because I preferred them as the last thing of the day, working off any nonsense I ate or drank. But now I consistently eat healthy and I’ve stopped drinking, so my runs feel remarkably easy, and I find them tremendously soothing. They make for good one-on-one sessions with myself.

Getting the rest I need

It seems like sleeping should be impossibly easy. It’s one of the first things you learn to do when you enter this world. You can even do it on accident.

However, I’ve always found sleep to be utter nonsense. Until this year, I only slept eight full hours when I was sick, traveling, or depressed. Truly, I have never embraced a good night’s rest before this year because there were a million things I’d rather do and I never minded being delirious.

Prior to this year’s brain rework, I’d sleep an average of five hours a night. Sometimes, I’d stay up until nearly sunrise simply because I got into the groove of a puzzle. Surely this lack of sleep explains some things about my life before. Reading this, people who’ve known me for years would say, “Now I know why simple tasks were so very difficult for him. He was half-braindead all the time.”

But I liked that weird energy that came with modest sleep deprivation. I enjoyed functioning in an oddball way. I preferred being just slightly removed from reality. Nothing bad seemed too bad in that mode.

But that’s why simple tasks were so very difficult for me, because I was half-braindead all the time. Now I’m not, and I feel like a genius—or my version of genius anyway. Seriously, now that I’m getting decent rest, I feel like I put in cheat codes.

Putting thought into decisions

Given a well-rested body and brain, devoid of typical poisons, it’s apparently quite easy to choose long-term reward over instant gratification. To many people, this is obvious. To me, this is now also obvious, but I just always found the notion of abiding by it immensely difficult. It’s only been just recently that I took it as sacred philosophy.

I never consciously thought, “Hey, you’re only on this planet for so long,” before deciding to treat myself to takeout instead of cooking at home or buying more books when I haven’t read a substantial portion already on my shelf, but there was some spring of that step in me somewhere. Since I had essentially conditioned myself to live my “best life” at a numbing constant, the gap between “I want this” and “I shall have this” was often short-lived.

To me, long-term reward was not exactly a reward. It was homework. It was business. For all my absence of presence, I was good about treating myself in the moment. I was forever chasing happiness. Happiness was immediate. Anything later was not happiness.

But living sleep-deprived, half-drunk, and kind of high is the exact recipe for a lack of larger consideration. What makes you feel good in the moment is surface level. Feeling good at your core is work. I was coasting. I gave myself what I wanted in reflex—not what I thought I should ultimately have deep down.

Now it’s easy. Now it’s core decisions. Now it’s a life of principles. And what I want to do and what I should do are blending. It can be easy to be healthy—nutritionally, financially, etc. You just need to be in a good place.

Letting myself be mindful

Mindfulness for me is huge because it deals with the root of things.

I have never actively attempted to escape my head. I liked it in there. It was comfortable. It wasn’t great for me as it turns out, but, hey, I knew my way around the place.

I used to be rather good about checking in with myself. But I haven’t been for a long while. There are a few reasons for that, but there was definitely one big source.

In 2017, I was depressed. It wasn’t clinical depression. But it was for sure a low point that lasted for more than half the year, and I have severely underestimated its impact ever since.

Hands down, 2016 was the best year of my life. I put my stuff in storage and existed as I had always wanted to—living on the road, bouncing around states and countries, and writing for a living. Everything made sense to me and my manic energy flourished because I was game for anything. I was constantly exploring and reacting to new stimuli while doing what I loved. It seriously felt like I beat the game.

When I moved home at the end of the year, I promised myself I would take that feverish joy and put it into a domestic, more stationary existence that was just as rewarding. I was ready to figure it out. The problem was that freelance work abruptly tapered off across the board, and I had no money in savings—I had treated myself outrageously, indescribably well that year with travel. So I was suddenly broke, buying material possessions I needed in a post-duffel bag life, and I owed the government a substantial figure in taxes.

I had gone from living the dream to being too poor to do anything. I was living alone, working from home, unable to go out, and it was not a good place to be. I picked myself apart—pretty ruthlessly at times.

I became isolated. I felt like a failure. I kind of hated myself. And these were all things I recognized toward the end or shortly thereafter. Earlier on, my brain was so scrambled with anxiety and fury, I couldn’t purposefully focus on myself too long or too deep because I’d have a meltdown. I would literally tear my hair out from stress at home and then just say weird, ominous shit when out and about before drinking myself into oblivion.

In moving on, I acknowledged these destructive feelings and tendencies as relics of the past, as if they could be spotted in the distance of a bad time in my life. I didn’t realize I was carrying them with me like cursed tokens. Once I returned to an office job with a steady income, I put all my focus into feeling better. And I did! I totally felt better! Who wouldn’t after going from having nothing to root for to everything trending upward? With that, though, I more or less paved over a sinkhole I believed to be a pothole.

Looking back, I suppose without truly realizing it, I refused to look too far inward, scared of what I might see again. Instead, I projected a strange confidence, looked for solutions elsewhere, and basically stopped checking in with myself.

In turn, I made 2018 the busiest year of my life. I couldn’t slow down. I simply wouldn’t. I ensured that I was so distracted I’d never be able to sit with myself too long or too deep, from constantly checking social media to taking work home to scheduling social event after social event. Even my minimal travel last year was basically inhaled. In October, I went to a bachelor party, attended two weddings, and went all out on a business trip—Austin, D.C., Kauai, and Las Vegas, respectively—all in the span of three weeks. I’d go to work for a day in between each trip, and I came home from that wildcard stint broken-brained and still charging.

Needless to say, I was coming apart by the end of 2018, and I came into this year in tatters.

I felt the developing weight for a while; I somehow resented it without truly acknowledging it. But I had also been in that mode for so long, it felt practically standard. I found myself retreating inward without excavating or even really examining. Weird vulnerabilities were coming to the surface, I was seeking unfamiliar validation to quench uncharacteristic insecurities, and I couldn’t recognize what should’ve outright been considered a plague of outliers, novel undesirables ranging from bitter to self-righteous. My entire setup of mental and emotional processing had been damaged at light speed, and I kept the trajectory going instead of stopping for repairs. It wasn’t until everything in my life came to a head that I had to admit my entire existence was out of whack.

The curious thing is that I also came into this year with more energy than I knew what to do with—more new year energy than I’ve ever had, in fact. I recognized I wasn’t myself the last two years—one year depressed, one year distracted—and it took several life changes to break free this January and now it’s like I’m glowing.

I feel like I’ve come alive again.

No, really, for all my annoying love of hyperbole, I mean it. It’s been wild. I’ve legitimately never operated like this. I’ve looked deep within myself for the first time in years and I like what I see and love what I could see.

I like who I am. For the most part, I’ve always liked who I am. I just had spots that needed a remodel instead of a new coat of paint.

I’ve never felt this calm. I’ve never tried to be this collected. I’ve always been my version of calm and collected, which in my head (RIP), looked like a guru floating in a house in flames. (I suppose it’s just the “This is fine” cartoon dog meme, really. Ugh, how predictably millennial.)

To be honest, I feel a bit sedated. I’m not used to this, and I used to fear any sense of slowness or any hint of boredom. I’m not familiar with peace. I’m not accustomed to tranquility. I’m not acclimated to rationale. I’ve always just… spun. Part of me worries my manic energy was a source of humor and creativity, but that’s the myth that our best offerings are rooted in nonsense habituals.

I’ve asked myself what kind of person I ultimately want to be and now I’m coming up with answers. Lately, I’ve found myself doing things I’ve long put off, and I’ve functioned in a way I should have a lifetime ago.

From engaging in activities I’ve always meant to do to getting involved in local organizations I always meant to join, I’m nailing this new life. This particular part of my upgraded existence didn’t take an outrageous amount of work either. All it required was a clearer mind, a life without self-made distractions, and the decision to simply show up. For some reason, “I always meant to” never counted as a desire because it wasn’t immediate. I put things off, and it’s made for a long list.

My brain has never worked better and I’m only a month in, so I’m pretty stoked and eager to see what comes of this approach. Even now, I speak without later regret because my brain is working at full capacity; there’s a thoughtful center and an actual filter. I’m months ahead on bills because it suddenly became easy to sit down, organize my finances, and be smarter about spending. Overall, I’m exploring the world anew rather than sticking to what I know, kicking it in some oddball mental tower.

I like who I am. For the most part, I’ve always liked who I am. I just had spots that needed a remodel instead of a new coat of paint this time, and I’ll be better about maintenance from here on out.

To be honest, it feels like I just joined the population—and I feel fucking good about it, about all things.

Part of me wants to say I don’t know how to describe this feeling, but that’s a pretty obnoxious way to close out. See that awareness? That’s the new me!

And I’m thrilled to be here.