When the stock market crashed in 2008, my wife and I were 70. And we saw half of our retirement funds disappear. Before the crash, we felt secure in the belief that we had enough money to last as long as we lived; after the crash, we feared that we would not, and I worried about it a great deal. I had a hard time going to sleep and an even harder time going back to sleep after getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I came to hate going into that bathroom because I knew my demons resided there and would invade my consciousness immediately.
By the time the stock market began to recover and our savings were again at a comfortable level, I had become conditioned to associate my nightly bathroom trips with "worry time." I would worry about everything: home repairs, trip planning, medical issues and all the vicissitudes of old age, fears of infirmity, dying and seeing my friends and loved ones die.
One night two weeks ago, for the first time in seven years, I realized that the worry demons had not appeared and that I had gone several days without hearing from them. This was a direct result, I believe, of changes that I made to my life over the previous two months. My tools consisted of a tiny amount of the tranquilizer clonazepam and three concurrently undertaken therapies, all new to me: psychological therapy, awareness meditation and religion. I call religion new in the sense that I had pretty much stopped believing in God when I was 20 years old. I call it a therapy because it helped to heal what ailed me.
My call to action began one evening when my blood pressure reached 199. For the previous six months my blood pressure had been jumping around. I had started monitoring it myself with a home machine. For two weeks I would take my blood pressure, meditate, check it again, meditate more, etc. At first, I was able to correlate a finding that proved to me that my blood pressure dropped after meditating, but on this night the numbers went the other way. My blood pressure increased after meditating and I panicked. I checked it repeatedly until it hit 199. I rushed to the bedroom and told my wife that she might have to call 9-1-1. She recommended that I take a Xanax, lie down and try to relax, and for God's sake stop taking my blood pressure. (She has since hidden my machine.)
The next morning we saw our family doctor. He gave me a prescription for clonazepam and said he thought I would be fine. I was more concerned than he was, and I asked if he could recommend a psychologist. Soon I began weekly visits with a clinical psychologist, Dr. Henry Kimmel, in Encino, Calif. I also started meditating regularly for one hour each night, with the aid of a free online service through the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. I now had two therapies plus a drug to help arm me against the nighttime attacks in my bathroom.