Sudafed Blues

Dr. Spielvogel, for the last six months, I’ve been waking up at night gasping for breath. My nasal passage have gradually shut down so I have a hard time breathing through my nose at night.

This causes me to panic, which makes breathing even more difficult and sleep even more remote.

This doctor recommended sudafed to me. So for the past month, I’ve been taking it every night. Big mistake!

Thursday. 1 a.m. I get up to take some sudafed and feel a burst of energy. Not exactly what I want when I am trying to sleep.

I Google “sudafed sleep.” I find this as my first result: “If you are congested and can’t breathe very well because your nose is plugged up, we recommend the decongestant Sudafed (pseudoephedrine). We can give you a 12 hour preparation that also has guaifenesin to help you breath better. You must be careful and make sure the medicine is out of your system before bedtime. Most people will not sleep well on Sudafed and sleep is what will make you better. You can use AFRIN (or generic equivalent) at night. This spray will open up your nose without interfering with your sleep.”

For the past month, I’ve been taking a stimulant every night and then wondering why I can’t sleep.

I’m not very good at real life, doc. I’m not a practical man. My kingdom is not of this world.

I’m weak. I’m a pansy, doc. That’s why I like a strong woman. I’m a luftmensche. I live in a world of ideas. I dream. I blog. I transcribe my therapy. I don’t want a woman like me. I’m the sensitive temperamental quirky artistic type.

I want a woman with social skills. I like a woman who dresses in business suits. Someone who’s conventionally successful. One eccentric in a relationship is enough. I want a high-achiever. Life is tough. I want to tie my fate to a woman who’s a rock of strength. That makes me feel calm and safe.

I tend to have relationships with two types of women — strong ones and weak ones. The weak ones tend to be nice and sweet and pathetic. They can’t hold down decent jobs. They’re not reliable. They’re not on time. But they’re easy. They cling to me. By contrast to them, I am strong. I have more money. I have more success. I have more going on in my life. I take them into my world. And for a while that feels good to me that I am able to do so many good things for her and to take care of her.

In the end though, I feel contempt for her, just like the strong women in my life have felt contempt for me. I start to bully my weaker girlfriends just like my strong girlfriends have bullied me. I bully because I can. They bully me because they can. I’m so desperate to keep the relationship that I compromise my integrity and they lose even more respect for me and things tumble downhill.

I wonder what the middle ground is. Both of my traditional ways of relating to a girlfriend don’t work. I wonder what the alternative is to my maladaptive relationship patterns.

I hope that this therapy will help me to build up higher levels of differentiation and to increase my tolerance for living with anxiety without acting out to hurt myself or others.

I’m dating for friends right now. My social life has turned upside down the past three years. My best friend, Cathy Seipp, died of lung cancer in March of 2007. Later that year, I realized I could no longer make a living blogging. I had to find a new way.

Through 2008, my primary social circle was writers and much of what united us was the Los Angeles Press Club. I’d spend my evenings hanging out with writers.

Now I spend my evenings doing yoga. I go to Alexander Technique training every morning. I’ve changed shuls three times over the past two years.

I’m rebuilding my social life. I’m dating for same-sex friends. I feel like I am eleven years old and starting over at a new school. I changed schools a lot as a kid as my family kept moving. The transitions were hard but I always knew I’d find my level and find my friends. There was a lot of awkward muddling through. I’m just surprised I’m not operating at a higher level.

I’ve always done less well than I’ve expected. I’ve always though I’ve arrived at a higher level than I have. I’ve always thought I’ve learned from my mistakes but I keep making them over and over — largely as a result of grandiosity and a lack of impulse control.

I’m surprised to be at 44 and find that I still have the same anxiety and struggles with social competency and forming connections with others. I thought I’d get better. I thought I’d feel less social anxiety as I aged and became more competent and successful.

In every job I’ve held, I’ve had some bad social interactions that held back my progress. And after every job, I felt like, now I’ve got it. I know what to do. But the same impetuosities that led to my failures at 16 and 21 are still coming up today.

I remember I had this great gardening job at age 20 and I figured I knew how to prune but I didn’t. I just massacred my boss’s plants. And every job I’ve ever had, I’ve kept making these type of boneheaded mistakes.

A couple of times in high school, I had to take classes that were below me, such as Soph Lit as a junior, Beginning Spanish as a senior, etc. It was so humiliating and yet that is what I am doing today. I am rebuilding my life, hanging out with the kids, and trying to catch up to people my own age who have marriages and mortgages.

Facebook helps me to reconstruct a social life. When I meet a girl, I don’t have to ask her for her phone number anymore. I just find her and friend her on Facebook. In those awkward early stages with the opposite sex, you don’t want to get a “no” response because then you’re doomed. Traditionally, you meet a girl, have a nice chat for 10 minutes, and then you ask her for her phone number. If she says no, you’re sunk.

It’s like if you are on a date and you move in for the first kiss, if she blows you off, the odds are 90% that you are sunk. That you will never recover from this rejection to further success with her.

Instead, it is important to keep getting yeses.

So I was at …. This is normally a safe place for me. I was teasing a friend about his job search and he responded, “Maybe I should work in p***. You worked in p***, right?”

I was appalled. He was saying this in sacred space. There were hot young chicks around who were shocked. They only knew me as a holy man, not as a fallible man.

I quickly said, “Yeah, I wrote on the industry for 12 years.” But I felt great shame.

I want to own my past so I don’t feel so ashamed and creep people out. I want to readily admit who I am. You know how you meet people who’ve done terrible things, who’ve been convicted of felonies and the like, but they own their past. They don’t dissemble. They don’t shudder when they’re reminded of things they’ve done. Because they don’t deny themselves, other people are comfortable with them.

On the other hand, there are people like me who are ridden with radioactive shame. They get reminded of things they’ve done and they’re a mess. They are not comfortable with who they are and what they’ve done and as a consequence, other people aren’t comfortable around them and shun them.

I’ve done some yucky things. I still do yucky things. I want to own who I am. I don’t want to live in delusions of grandeur.

I’ve got this therapy-speak down.

I ran into an ex the other day. I hugged her and she was embarrassed. She was embarrassed to be seen with an Orthodox Jew. It felt mortifying to be hugging someone who didn’t want to be hugged.

She’d hit the wall. She was losing her looks. I still tried to get with her, but when she turned me down, I just said to myself, she’s hit the wall. She’ll never be hot again while I could be successful and then get with a younger woman.

It was so painful to deal with the rejection, it reminded me of all the other times she rejected me, I just kept saying to myself, she’s hit the wall. No big deal. She’s cut her beautiful long hair. She’s too skinny. She can’t hurt me no more.

Yet I still think about her every day. I have this hole in my life so I try to fill it by remembering when I was connected. When I did have something sensual going on. If I connected with somebody tomorrow, I’d forget about my ex. If I got my career going, I’d not be as dependent upon having a girlfriend.

When I was with *****, I thought more about the relationship than was good and health because the rest of my life was so poor. I’m starting on a new career path as an Alexander Technique teacher. I’ll not be a master at this for at least another ten years, if ever. So I can’t fool myself that my life is a success when my profession is just in its awkward first steps.

I was putting more weight on my relationship than it could hold. I wanted more out of it than it could give because I wasn’t feeling so great about the rest of my life. I can’t point to anything in my life and say, success!

CHAIM AMALEK EMAILS: I totally concur with you about your fall from grace, post Cathy Seipp. I remember that LA Press Club party she threw for you five years back, and its impressively diverse array of people, all gathered to sing your praises. (And I mean “diverse” in the good sense of meaning some hot white porn chicks plus journalists plus a smattering of Jews, not in the “we need more Third Worlders Here” sense.) She was your bridge to hanging out with the smart and cool kids. But she’s dead, and now you find yourself hanging out with…

Is it too late for you to become a Noahide Gentile and return to writing about and interacting with the underside of popular culture? You were good at it, and success was a real possibility. As for Alexander Technique, I know nothing about it, but suspect you would have done better to enroll in a course in welding or plumbing.

At 43, what other options have you left?

Time can never be denied.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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