About twenty years ago, I had a portable spa in the back yard of my first house. One day, the heater stopped working, so I called a repairman to come out and look at it. He told me that there would be an $85 charge no matter what, and I told him that was okay. When he got to my house, he opened up the access panel where the heater, pump, and filter lived. He looked inside, then looked back at me.
“Did you try pushing the reset button?” He asked.
“Um. No,” I said.
He pushed the reset button, and the heater came back to life.
“That’ll be $85,” he said. I paid him.
This post is about realizing that I was sitting in cold water, and not doing anything to turn the heater back on. This post is about how I hit the reset button.
I had this epiphany at the beginning of September: This thing that I’m doing? This series of choices I make every day? It isn’t working. I don’t like the way I feel, I don’t like the way I look, I don’t like the things I’m doing. Things need to change.
So I took a long, hard, serious look at myself, and concluded that some things needed to change.
- Drink less beer.
- Read more (and Reddit does not count as reading).
- Write more.
- Watch more movies.
- Get better sleep.
- Eat better food.
- Exercise more.
All of these things are interconnected in ways that are probably obvious and non-obvious, and by making a commitment to do my best to accomplish these things, I’ve been able to do a soft reboot of my life.
The hardest part of this was not drink less beer, which surprised me. The hardest part has been writing more. The easiest part of this has been exercise more, which also surprised me. I thought watching more movies would be easy, but it turns out that time is not a renewable resource, nor can time be stretched out in any real way that lets me get, say, four hours of movie into an hour of linear time.
In fact, if I’m being honest with myself (and I have to be, because being honest with myself is the only way this is going to work; I’m making major life changes here, remember), all of these things are hard to a certain degree, and that’s okay, because everything worth doing is hard.
So let’s go down this list and talk about each thing a little bit:
Drink less beer.
I love beer. I mean, I really love it. I brew it, I write about it, I design recipes of my own, and I’ve structured entire meals around what food will pair with the beer I want to drink. The thing about beer, though, is that it’s really easy to just keep on drinking it until it’s all gone or your brain goes, “um, hey, man, ithinkthat … imean … I mean, sorry, hold on. I th- think that youvehadneough.” Excessive drinking isn’t just tough on my liver (which has been a fucking CHAMP for years), it’s also tough on my brain because of my Depression. It’s tough on my heart, too, it turns out, because
alcohol the carbohydrates are metabolized as sugar* which drives up insulin which makes my cholesterol go up which is bad for my heart thanks a lot genetics.
So I just made a commitment to drink less, drink more responsibly, and keep the intoxicating effects of the beers I love to a minimum. The first two weeks of this were really tough because I was habitually drinking two or three beers a night, but once I got used to it and broke the habit, it became as easy as I think it’s going to get (and that varies from day to day).
Read more. Write more.
These go together more closely than any other things on this list. Stephen King says that writers who don’t make time to read aren’t going to make time to write and holy shit is that exactly, perfectly true. I need to read so that my imagination is inspired. I need to read so I get an artistic and creative hunger that can only be fed by writing. I need to read so that I feel challenged to scrape ideas out of my skull and turn them into words and images. I need to read because if I don’t, I’m not going to make time to write, and even though I’ve had a lot of success recently as an actor and host and Guy On The Internet, all of those things are ultimately in the hands of others. I became a writer ten years ago because I not only loved it, but because it was a way for me to express myself creatively in a way that ultimately gave me control over my own destiny and my own life.
I struggled as an actor for years (it’s all in my book, Just A Geek! You should buy it!) and I was doomed to a future as a Former Child Star with occasional, humiliating, soul-crushing reality TV gigs if I was lucky. But I made a choice about twelve years ago to stop chasing the big film career I always felt I deserved (and maybe would have had, if I’d made different choices and had better advisers when I was younger) and start telling stories. By writing those stories and embracing the love I’d always had for creative writing, I made a second act in my life (take that, F. Scott Fitzgerald!).
Now this could sound like I’m complaining, or ungrateful, but I promise that isn’t the case. I am totally aware that a combination of hard work, privilege, and luck have all come together for me and put me in a very good place. But I worry about things. A lot. When the night is darkest, and it seems like the sun may never rise, I worry about how long I can sustain this life. I worry about what will happen when the people who choose to hire actors decide that they don’t want to hire me any more. I worry about how I’ll support and provide for my family, and on and on and on.
I am profoundly and completely grateful for the success I had and continue to have, because of the hard work I did in those years. I’m so lucky and grateful for the things I’ve been able to do on TV, and I’m really proud of the things I’ve created for Geek & Sundry. But even Tabletop and Titansgrave aren’t mine the same way a story I wrote is. In fact, the show I did with my name in the title was probably the least “mine” of anything I’ve ever done, and that didn’t feel particularly good at the end of the day.
But writing and storytelling always feels good. It’s truly mine, whether it’s awesome or shit, and nobody can take it away from me. For all of this year and most of last year, I hardly wrote anything of consequence. A few blogs, a couple of columns, and some small creative things that were always well received by the audience, sure, but never consistently and never in a way that fed the creative hunger that constantly makes my stomach growl. Going all the way back to last August, I swore that I’d take more time away from other things to focus on writing and taking the pages and pages of story ideas I have in my little notebook and turning them into actual stories. The thing is, when I took that time off, my health and mana were so depleted, I couldn’t find it in myself to do the work. Every few months, I’d take a week or two off, and instead of writing like I wanted to, I’d play video games and do nothing else, because I was just so goddamn tired. Then I would look up, realize a couple of weeks had passed, I hadn’t done anything, and I needed to get back to “real” work. I would feel frustrated and empty, and the whole cycle would start all over again.
I’ve been reading this book called The War of Art. It gets a little churchy at points, but I can skip over that and focus on the stuff that helps me: identifying all the barriers we create to give us the excuses we crave to not create. It turns out that if I were as good at sitting down and writing as I am at coming up with all the reasons I just can’t do it today, I’d have written ten novels this year.
So a big part of this Life Reset I’m doing is being honest with myself about why I want to write, why I need to write, and why I keep making excuses for not doing it. I won’t go into it, because it’s either too personal or too boring, but if you’re reading this and starting to have the glimmer of an epiphany about your own creative process, maybe pick up this book and check it out. It’s been very helpful for me.
Yesterday, I wrote over 3000 words. I only stopped because it was time to leave for a hockey game (there’s that privilege again), and I felt so goddamn good about myself when I walked out my door. I couldn’t wait to get back to work today, and I’m having so much fun writing this story, it may not even be fair to call it work.
Reading is an important component of this entire process for me, and making time to nourish my creative side has made a big and positive difference. Whether it’s comic books, magazine articles, fiction or non-fiction, I’m reading every day, and finding inspiration in everything I read.
Watch more movies.
Thanks to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and a billion movie channels, we have access to more movies than we can ever watch, and that is amazing. Watching movies is, for me, similar to reading books. It’s part homework (as an actor and writer) and part inspiration. I have the opportunity to make short films with Nerdist and Geek & Sundry, so watching movies — good movies, not disposable trash — just makes sense. It also engages my brain in creative and intellectual ways that are important. I need to watch things and feel like I can do that, too, or feel like if that thing got made, there’s no reason I couldn’t make one of my own things. Hell, in this room where I am right now, I have everything I need to take some sort of simple creative idea and turn it into a movie. So why not? Why not watch movies as varied as the true classics (Sunset Boulevard, Chinatown) to the weird 70s experimental (The Trip, Scorpio Rising) to the epic blockbusters (Star Wars, Jaws) and get inspired by them? This is something that I need to do, because sitting in my office all day and looking at the Internet isn’t making me happier, more creative, more productive, or more inspired.
Related: listen to more podcasts like Lore, You Must Remember This, The Memory Palace, Welcome to Night Vale, The Black Tapes, and Unfictional. Those all inspire me to learn more, focus on pacing and storytelling and narrative, and make me want to be a more interesting person.
Get better sleep.
Maybe this is a strange one, but hear me out: for months — most of this year, in fact, now that I think of it — I haven’t slept well. I’ve had the hardest time, ever, falling asleep and staying asleep. I’ve had nightmares that terrify me from the moment I finally fall asleep, well into the following day as they haunt my memories. I’ve lived with the constant dread of waking up in a panic attack, and then waking up in a panic attack. It’s been terrible, and has contributed tremendously to my inability to get motivated, my reliance on alcohol to relax and go to sleep at night, and a general feeling of exhaustion, laziness, pessimism, and futility. I talked with my psychiatrist about it, and we tried sleep medication, which only made my body feel tired, while my brain was still racing along at the speed of terror. After several different attempts and failures, we tried changing up my brain meds, and about six weeks ago, I finally started feeling like a human again. I won’t go into the deep science of it, but we think I just had too much of some chemicals in my brain, and not enough of others. And it turns out that drinking alcohol to help you go to sleep does not result in good sleep, but does result in feeling like shit when you wake up.
So by committing to getting better sleep, I have changed up my evening and nighttime routines. I eat earlier, I drink less, I read more, and I’ve been able to slowly adjust my circadian rhythm from wanting to sleep at 2am to wanting to sleep around 11pm. I’ve used some great apps on my Droid to help me monitor things and determine what patterns work best for me, and while it’s still a work in progress — this entire thing is a work in progress, actually — it’s definitely getting better. When I don’t have nightmares all goddamn night, I’m more rested when I wake up. When I’m rested, I feel better in every aspect of my being. When I feel better, I am more creative and more willing to allow myself to take the risk of feeling good about myself.
Isn’t that strange? It’s a thing that I do, that I’ve done for my whole life: I don’t want to take the risk of feeling good about myself, because I’m afraid that I’ll get complacent, or arrogant, or someone will discover the Truth that my Depression tells me: I’m not that great and I don’t deserve to feel good about myself. I’m reading another book, called Trapped in the Mirror, that’s really helping me get through that, though.
So I take the risk of feeling good about myself, and more often than not, I actually do feel good about myself.
We all say we’re going to do this, and we always make excuses for why we don’t. Now I’ve been very lucky. My whole life, I’ve been able to stay at a healthy weight and body type without much effort … then I turned 40. In the last couple of years, I gained almost 30 pounds, my cholesterol went through the roof, and my whole body began to hurt, all the time.
There’s no excuse or rationalizing, here. I just wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t eating right. I wasn’t getting good nutrition. I wasn’t thinking of food as fuel and nutrients. I wasn’t making an effort to be smart about this, because I didn’t particularly care about myself. I didn’t really like myself, I didn’t feel like I could do anything about getting tubby and slow and out of shape, because I was just getting older and that’s the way it was.
That’s all bullshit. Here’s the thing, and this is pretty much the whole reason I made a choice almost three months ago to hit this reset button and really get my life together: I didn’t like myself. I didn’t care about myself. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s the two things that exist the most clearly and form the root of the last few years of my life. In fact, it took my wife, who is the most important person in my whole universe, telling me, “I feel like you don’t care about having a long life together with me, because you don’t care about taking care of yourself.”
Well, that was ridiculous. Of course I cared about having a long life with her! Of course I cared … didn’t I?
I cared about her, and I cared about our kids, but I didn’t really care about myself. And my Depression was doing a really good job of making sure that I didn’t really think about my choices and my actions affected the people I love and care about the most in this world. That was what made me look up, take my head out of the darkness, and commit to doing all of these things.
It turns out that eating well, consistently, isn’t as easy as just eating what I want, when I want. It turns out that it’s really hard to break out of bad habits, but it also turns out that, once I made the commitment to do that, I started feeling better almost immediately. I got an app that makes it easy to track my nutrition, calories, and exercise, and in a very short amount of time, I lost almost all the weight I’d gained. I’d still like to lose five more pounds, and that five pounds is really keen on sticking around, but it’s slowly coming off, it’s staying off, and it feels great. Also, having a digital scale that lets me track precisely how much I just pooped is probably the pinnacle of technology in the 21st century.
And a super bonus that comes with this? My body doesn’t hurt like it did, because I’m not schlepping around extra weight. My joints are healthy, my muscles are stronger, and my skeleton is just in better shape, and that leads me into the last part of this.
My son, Nolan, is a personal trainer. He’s in phenomenal shape, looks like Thor (for reals), and trains both me and his mom. So I should be in great shape, right?
Well, if I’d stuck to a good diet, taken better care of myself, and felt like I actually deserved to feel good about myself, then yes. But as we’ve seen, that just wasn’t happening. I worked out a couple of times a week, I did good, hard workouts, but then I’d feel sore and tired and wasn’t getting the results I wanted (mostly due to poor diet) and I’d come up with reasons not to do it. Then I’d make the mistake of seeing myself in the mirror when I got out of the shower, and I’d really hate myself.
I think that lifting weights and doing inside stuff just isn’t for me. I get bored easily, and I don’t fully participate in the workouts. But I love running. I used to run marathons and 5Ks all the time, and my entire self felt amazing when I did. So why not give running a try again? The excuses wrote themselves.
I was working on Con Man with Sean Astin. Sean told me about the Ironman Triathlon he was training for, and I complained that I couldn’t run anymore, because my body always hurt. Sean talked to me about the diet aspect of it, and then suggested that I use a method of mixing running with walking to work myself back into shape.
So I bought an app called Zombies, Run 5K for my phone. It uses recording and all the various sensors in my phone to let me imagine that I’m a runner in the zombie apocalypse. While I am being trained by a doctor, I listen to my music (Taylor Swift and Tove Lo accompany me on most of my runs) and a story unfolds in my ears. I’m three weeks into the training, and while it’s starting to ramp up from challenging to difficult, it feels great. I look forward to every run, I challenge myself to go as hard and as long as I can (that’s what she said) and the benefits to my self-esteem, my physical and mental health, and overall quality of life are incredible. If I was looking to quantify the value of this, it would probably be like spending five bucks to get ten thousand dollars of awesome. (Does that make sense? I’ve been writing this for a long time and the words are starting to get blurry on the screen).
I deserve to be happy. I deserve to feel good about myself. I can do the work that I need to do to accomplish these things.
If I tried to do just one of these things, and I stayed committed to it, I’d probably feel better about myself. Doing all of them together isn’t necessarily easier, but it isn’t necessarily harder, either. Every one of these things supports the other in a sparkling geometric structure of awesome that is making my life significantly and consistently better.
I just did a word count on this, and I’m at nearly 3500 words. I didn’t intend to write this much, and I suspect that most people will tl;dr it, but I’m glad that I spent the time thinking about these things and writing them down like this. I’m sure I’ll revisit this, rewrite it, and revise it, but I’m going to publish it now without a lot of editing. This is raw, and I feel like it’s supposed to be.
* Note: I got the science on this wrong. Per a comment: “In case it matters, consider the inaccuracy of your thoughts about alcohol and what it does to your body. See the Oracle of Wikipedia for details. It’s not the ALCOHOL that hurts your circulatory system (I have the same hypertriglyeridemia genetics problem BTW). It’s the simple carbohydrates that become sugars alkalize immediately. That is, it’s the carb filled beer not the ALCOHOL in it that causes the problem. I’m not a carb hater or fad dieter. But I do believe in studying science and trying to understand reasons for why I need to change my behaviors. That helps with motivations. After all: who would argue with scientific facts?”