Adventures in Stir Craziness

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Being physically confined, for whatever reason, can lead people to do some crazy things. It’s worthwhile learning to recognize this, so we can better understand ourselves and others when it happens.

Despite the fact that I’ve heard the term before, and even used it on a few occasions, I had to do a bit of research to be really sure about what it is and what causes it. I know I have the condition, and I probably have had it for a few weeks now. You see, for various reasons I have gone — as some are wont to say — ‘stir crazy.’ And, possibly in part as a bit of my own therapy to combat it, I thought I’d write this small piece about it. Perhaps that way, others who may have been in a similar state might not only identify with my plight, but also potentially benefit from what I’ve tried to do to deal with this malady.

Wikipedia says that the term ‘stir crazy’ derives from the slang word, stir, for a prison. A certain kind of restlessness, anxiety, and boredom can accompany being confined within a small place for a prolonged time. The agitation and anxiety a person can feel is similar to that experienced with ‘cabin fever,’ except that with the latter, sometimes folks just want to go to sleep to escape their surroundings, whereas stir crazy sufferers often get the urge to do things they might not otherwise do — impulsive things — just to break the monotony. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday and today, which is why I know I’ve gone a bit stir crazy.

The onset of my predicament is really quite simple. I’ve been home alone for the greater part of every day over the past three weeks recovering from surgery to my upper spine. The good news is that I have nearly normal feeling in my arms and hands again for the first time in a year. And I can write without pain again. The bad news is that when they cut the muscles in your neck to fix the impingement of your spinal cord, it takes a long time for those muscles to fully heal and regain their tone. You don’t realize how many muscles it takes just to hold your head up and move it around until those muscles have been cut and have to mend. And you also don’t realize how restricted your activities will be when you have to guard against straining those muscles. No full head-turning from side to side or up and down. No bending at the waist (because you use your neck and shoulder muscles to stand back up more than you would think). No stretching out and putting things up or lifting anything over 3 lbs. And worst of all, no driving, which is largely why I’ve been so confined.

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I started feeling a lot better (well enough to write some) about 10 days ago. And to keep myself from going even more stir crazy, I started doing some little chores around the house. The better I felt, the more I did. The reckoning came later. I had pushed things too far, and for my punishment, I ended up being confined to the sofa once again for several hours a day watching the most inane garbage on TV, occasionally listening to audio books and some of my favorite songs, and getting in a little walking exercise when I could. And while some of this activity has been pleasant, I’m still restricted from doing most of the things I’d really rather be doing. And I can’t stray from home base.

I know all this is temporary and when it’s over all will be better than before. And for that, I’m truly grateful. But patience is not one of my foremost virtues, and there’s still a long row to hoe with this recovery. So, it’s become apparent to me that I’ll likely be stir crazy a bit longer. I’ll keep thinking of various things to amuse myself, so that I don’t act a fool and do things that will set my recovery back again. And I’ll do my best to increase my awareness about my limits.

I know there must be others out there who have had to lay low for a long time following various medical procedures, and who probably know just what I’m talking about with respect to the stir craziness I’ve been experiencing. Hopefully, by sharing my story (probably more like commiserating), those who’ve been through a similar ordeal will find some comfort in knowing that someone else understands. And I hope I’ve grown a bit now, knowing what others in similar circumstances have had to go through.

Perhaps some of the readers who’ve gone through this might feel the urge to share their experience as well. It might help others understand. It might even make me feel a little better. Misery loves company — or so they say. In the meantime I’ll do my best to keep myself occupied. But part of me knows that what I really need is just to get out of the house and go somewhere!

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

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