Great Expectations




Enough of this mental wellbeing crap! I’m begging you, just order me to buy a friggin’ mountain bike. Or how about a, “Drop and give me 38 burpees!”


Sorry, not sorry. You can try to worm your way out of it, but that last chapter was getting you prepped for more of the obvious. Like birds of a feather, the mind and body are tied together.


That said, mental health and spiritual crises aren’t exclusively for fat fucks. I am floored by the millions of people who take body fitness seriously, who carefully prep meals and the intake of every calorie, who plan and perform workouts for every muscle group, who yet treat the mind and psyche with marked indifference.


Your body might look like it belongs on the cover of Men’s Health or Women’s Health, but if you neglect your mental and emotional needs, I hate to break it to you: you aren’t fit.


No matter your socioeconomic background, your family history, or any of the zillions of other factors that make up every human being, achieving balanced mental health takes work. Even if you feel like you have lived a “normal” life, you still need a mental health routine. Let us visit the opening lines of Anna Karenina:


Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.


Sound confusing? Don’t worry. Literature professors have been pondering these words since Leo Tolstoy published them in 1878. The long and short is: It takes everyone a lifetime to work out childhood and family ties.


Anyway, at least there are no blank lines to fill out in this chapter. Here is where I disgorge some of the darker bits of my health recovery journey.


Let’s think of it as a bit of Hero’s Journey Show & Tell. Often, there is a dynamic relationship between the state of one’s mental health and all that depressing blubber and neglected muscle. My life of late happens to be a pretty good example of that.


Also-also: please do not read my mental health condition into your own issues. These are my problems. You have your own. Maybe some of them overlap. But a good mental health professional is key to helping you diagnose your own unique situation.


Lean back, grab a refreshing Zevia (no calories!), and enjoy the show.


Here is a brief text exchange I had with my daughter yesterday:


HER: Thank you.


(I was bowled over. And naturally suspicious. A ninth-grade teenager thanking her parent?)


ME: Why?


HER: IDK. Because.


ME: Rarely does The Creature thank its Maker. I must confess I am honored, nearly breathless. Now, do you need money or Funyuns?


I could imagine my daughter rolling her eyes at the reference to Frankenstein, but I laughed pretty hard.


That’s where we are, now as I write this, in January 2023. But 6 months earlier…


Last August, things seemed good enough. I had recently met a woman who seemed to fit me nicely as a companion. My daughter and I took a road trip to Washington DC to see Lady Gaga in concert. We stopped in Charlottesville, Virginia, to visit good friends.


If you looked beneath the surface, however…


For almost two years, I had been suffering from chronic insomnia, a condition triggered by COVID. I consistently went three or four nights without a single hour of sleep—on several occasions, almost an entire week. To make matters worse, I was allergic to a host of sleep medications; they gave me waking nightmares about strange reptile humanoids that looked like Sleestaks from Land of the Lost and which enjoyed the taste of human flesh.


Insomnia at that level is dangerous, even deadly. I was desperate. I started self-medicating at night, drinking enough alcohol to knock myself out. It was either that or find a neighbor who would be kind enough to punch me in the face nightly.


Plus, I was overeating, especially in-between episodes of tossing and turning at night. Despite diddling about for an hour or two at the gym most days, I was on the verge of cracking 300 pounds. I consumed whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and was gaining weight at the rate of several pounds per week.


Eventually, the line blurred between the effects of sleeplessness and self-medication. I lost my job as a public librarian. (To be clear: I never drank on the job.) Then the woman I mentioned above cancelled a special trip we had been planning. For whatever reason, this was the last straw in a lifetime rife with bales of hay.


I went on a 72-hour weekend drinking binge that ended with my daughter courageously grabbing a handle of whiskey from me and dumping it on our front lawn. It was the first time I openly drank in front of her, and it was the last time I saw her for several months.


Somewhere in all that, I broke my foot and took a photo of it covered in a pool of blood. I have little to no memory of this or the rest of that catastrophic weekend. Although I somehow remember digesting a world’s record number of Klondike bars.


Wait! Rewind!


All this has the potential for a great Netflix movie starring Joaquin Phoenix in a fat suit, but how did my life unravel just because someone decided not to take a trip with me to Nashville?


Yeah, that. So my problem isn’t really alcohol. I mean, it certainly was. And can be. But it’s all about Great Expectations.


Throughout my life, I’ve given myself, availed myself, to all sorts of problems—often seemingly hopeless causes—convinced that I alone can swoop in to save the day. Some call this a Savior Complex. I prefer Skydive-Giving Without a Parachute.


Let’s just say I have an unhealthy habit (ahem, compulsion) of diving into an oceanic issue with all my energy, then drowning in unfulfilled expectations. In short, I give until I’m empty, often to a cause or person/people incapable of returning in-kind, then fill the unmet void, the Pain, with something unhealthy like alcohol.


Back to August: Once I sobered up and found myself on dry land, my first step of recovery—after bandaging my foot and washing the floor—was recognizing that I willingly, and often, neglect my own needs over those of perfect strangers, or individuals who haven’t earned my giving and/or expectations.


I also realized that, for me, alcohol wasn’t the real enemy. Even if all the adult beverages on Planet Earth dried up, my essential problem would remain. Until I learn to give in a healthy manner, and without expectations, alcohol is easily replaced with some other unhealthy Pain Relief du jour. After all, I didn’t get to 290 pounds by way of whiskey barrel alone.


My condition was loaded with conundrum. Aren’t we supposed to give of ourselves? Aren’t we supposed to help others? I mean, isn’t that the foundation of every religion and humane philosophy?


Every religion and humane philosophy responded: “Giving to the point that you are destroying yourself? Um, no. Self-care first, then everyone else. No exceptions.”


Me: “What if someone throws a hand grenade into a preschool?”


Every religion and human philosophy: “Then fall on the grenade. Now stop being a dick.”


Thus began my health recovery journey. My second step was committing myself to a daily self-care routine. Hello, new gym. Hello, new diet. Hello, new lease on life. Goodbye, 70 pounds. Goodbye, shit show.




Excerpt from THIS IS NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK, Arik Bjorn’s tenth book, published August 6, 2023. THIS IS NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK, is a “Jesus take the wheel (of cheese!)” health recovery journey memoir. (Hell, if you’re going to lose 85 pounds, might as well write about it.)


THIS IS NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK is available at Amazon.



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