24 October 2018

Open Letter to Protesters Confronting Elected Officials in Public Settings

You may have seen, Dear Reader, the report of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell being confronted at a restaurant over the weekend. You may have even seen the video footage that was uploaded and shared by TMZ. Maybe you found it cathartic and exciting. Maybe you found it distasteful and rude.

Right now, I don't give a damn how you feel about it.

There's a good chance you don't live in this area so you've never been to that restaurant, Havana Rumba and Tapas Bar. I have. In fact, I was there just a week before this incident, because it is literally across the street from where I go for my DBSA Louisville support group meetings. Google Maps says it's 500 feet away, though I think you could walk out of a different entrance and shave that down a bit. I reiterate: I go to these meetings because I have some issues with mental health including PTSD and anxiety. Write that down; it'll be on the test later.

[Side note: Havana Rumba is fanfreakingtastic and I highly recommend it! Their portions and prices are satisfying and reasonable, respectively, the food is always great, and on top of all that, they serve Mount Gay Rum. See below for more about this place.]

If you have been there, you'll know that it's an intimate (read: relatively tiny) building. There's one dining room and a bar. The bar is partitioned off with a wall that doesn't connect at either end, allowing patrons and staff to walk from one side to the other. It's not even a solid wall, for that matter, with windows spaced throughout. From an aesthetic point of view, I dig it quite a lot.

From a tactical point of view, however, I have felt exposed and vulnerable. I'm hypervigilant from PTSD and I have anxiety issues (remember those from earlier?). Being around any kind of altercation will cause that anxiety to spike. Being around one in such a confined and exposed setting as Havana Rumba would be overwhelming. I am grateful I wasn't dining a the time this incident went down because I would unquestionably have had an anxiety attack on the spot.

You really only have one choice to make. Do you try to get to the other side of the aforementioned partition wall with its windows, or do you go for the exit? Remember that there are windows in that partition wall, meaning you won't have the benefit of a solid wall between you and the altercation. And remember you may not be the only one wanting to get up and put some distance between you and the altercation, so you may well be competing with others for floor space. If you happen to be seated at a table between other tables, you're pretty much just trapped altogether unless whoever is at one of those adjacent tables gets out of your way.

Here are two illustrative photos. The first is taken from Havana Rumba's Facebook page. I've marked where Senator McConnell was seated. The second is from their official website, showing the bar. I've marked where I was seated the week before, and the table adjacent to his on the other side of the partition.

From Havana Rumba and Tapas Bar Facebook page here.
From Havana Rumba website here.
Thankfully, as volatile as this incident was, no one was physically hurt. But as I read the HuffPo account of it, all I could picture was how vulnerable everyone in that dining room really was and how terrifying that could have been. Fortunately, no weapons were involved. Had they been, the potential for injuries to anyone and everyone would have increased dramatically. The guy involved in this incident went so far as to seize the Senator's to-go box off the table, which he proceeded to dump on the sidewalk. There's no way I'm trusting my safety to the stability of that guy.

That brings me to another point. If I was there by myself, I would have at least felt reasonably confident I could navigate my way out of the place if need be. I've lost a step with age, but I can still skedaddle when I need to. But then I got to wondering: what if I had been there with, say, my favorite niece? Now the logistics expand from how I'm going to stay safe and get out if necessary to how I'm going to protect her, stay safe and get out if necessary. Getting out becomes a higher priority. Can I get her safely to the exit in time?

What if someone involved in the altercation sees movement and perceives that I'm a new threat to be neutralized? Now instead of being a terrified bystander trying to reach safety, I'm a conspicuous, visible target with nowhere to hide except maybe behind another human being.

I'm sure that every protester who has either participated in such a stunt or daydreamed about it has cast themselves as righteous defenders of the public. And I'm sure I would largely, if not unanimously, agree with their causes.

I am equally sure that every protester who has either participated in such a stunt or daydreamed about it has given little, if any, regard whatsoever to how it would affect anyone else. Havana Rumba isn't some swanky, exclusive sanctuary for One Percenters like that posh place Lara goes to confront Komarovsky in the beginning of Doctor Zhivago. It's a casual (and, again, fantastic!) restaurant frequented by ordinary people--the very same ordinary people on whose behalf this confrontation was surely staged.

Havana Rumba is nothing like this place.
To be clear: this kind of thing isn't a mild nuisance like an unrestrained toddler running loose. You're consciously, purposefully introducing an intimidating presence into a setting where none is expected. So please, if you're considering such a confrontation, do me and others like me a favor. Stop and remember that we're there, too. Take a moment to imagine how it will feel for us, to be trapped and afraid. We have no more reason to trust you to keep us safe than whoever it is you're haranguing has to trust you.

I may sign your petition and retweet your thread and like your Facebook post, but I draw the line at entrusting the safety of my favorite niece to how well you control yourself in the heat of the moment.


As I mentioned above, the place is fantastic. It's also entirely authentic. From their official website's "Our Story" page:
Havana Rumba is a celebration of the culinary genius of the island of Cuba brought to life by a team of passionate people. Owner, Marcos Lorenzo immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba in 2000 hoping to realize the American Dream. His humble beginnings included plenty of hard work and determination as he learned the U.S. restaurant business. A civil engineer by training he applies a technical approach to the daily operations of the restaurants. However, cooking is his new found passion!
I recommend the Cubano sandwich: Roasted Pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. Served on a hot pressed Cuban bread with sweet potato fries. $9.50. (I 86 the pickles and substitute regular fries because I hate sweet potatoes.)

17 October 2018

A Maze Within Itself

I got your mind twisted
Unrealistic wavelength draining on your brain-strip inflicted
Crosswords puzzling your delf
Questioning your own mental health (yeah)
It's like a maze within itself (yeah) 
-"The Riddler", Method Man
Composed by Clifford Smith, Robert Diggs, and Neal Hefti
Yes, that's the song from the Batman Forever soundtrack album. Y'all can act like you never liked Joel Schumacher's Batmovies all you want, but I was there in '95 and everyone got a kick out of Forever and bought the hell out of that soundtrack. Don't act like you didn't. And it wasn't just "Kiss From a Rose" because you could have gotten that as a single or on Seal's eponymous album. You didn't have to buy the Batman Forever album to get it, but you did, and a visit to any used CD shop will show this because there is always at least one copy on hand no matter where you go.

Anyway, I open this post with those lyrics because I've found myself living them the last few weeks. You may recall, Dear Reader, that in my last post, I shared some about having been hospitalized a month ago for yet another severe, suicidal depressive episode. Reviewing my discharge summary paperwork raised some serious questions for me, which led to me requesting a copy of the full chart. That, in turn, has raised even more questions.

I'm uncomfortable at this time going into what most of them are, but one has been weighing on me and I need to make sense of it. I hope that composing this blog post will help me process it somehow, but failing that I suppose I hope somewhere in this might be something of value to you, Dear Reader. If you identify with any of this, you have my sincere sympathy because I know the turmoil it's caused me.

Throughout my chart, my affect is marked as either "blunted" (less severe than the situation warrants) or "flat" (devoid of emotion). In a few places, it's marked "incongruous" (inappropriate for the situation).

Some of this makes sense to me. I was understandably subdued when I was admitted and I stayed in a fog the first several days, as my friends who visited me will attest. I was calm about being thisclose to ending my life and being consumed with despair. And I do often appear light-hearted even when discussing dark subjects such as being thisclose to ending my life and being consumed with despair. I'm reflexively and naturally funny, to the point that even with my physician and therapist who have treated me professionally for years, I will sometimes need to say pointblank, "I'm not being funny about this" because I've just made them laugh at how I've articulated a given subject.

But there's a problem.

See, my affect is consistently marked "blunted" or "flat" throughout the chart. It doesn't matter which day or which time of day, or who was observing me; the psychiatrist, social worker, group therapists, or nurses. I had expected to see some variation, and especially expected to see noted improvement as my metaphorical fever broke and I stabilized.

Now, it is entirely possible, as has been suggested by a friend of mine familiar with how this stuff is handled as well as by my therapist who previously worked at this very facility that these notes aren't always made with a lot of attention or diligence. Someone may just habitually check the same boxes for the sake of getting through the hassle of filing the paperwork. There were 23 of us at any given time on most days for the nurses to oversee. The social workers and psychiatrists oversee patients in other units, too, including adolescents and those in the outpatient programs. I get it.

Seeing my affect consistently marked as blunted or flat by everyone, though, prompted me to wonder: What if I only think I feel emotions properly? Or at all?

If the only thing speaking to this matter was this chart, I could easily dismiss it as being the product of a staff going through the motions of filing paperwork. I could roll my eyes at the laziness, and content myself that while I was there, every person save one made me feel that I had their full and compassionate attention. So whatever their paperwork habits are, they didn't treat me with any detachment or make me feel they were just going through the motions of providing care.

But there's another problem.

Back in February, I went with friends to a midnight screening of The Room. As I watched Tommy Wiseau's Johnny fall apart and go into a self-destructive rage over his fiancee ending their relationship because she's lost interest in him but developed interest in another, I got to thinking about how I handled my ex-wife leaving me in 2011. I had been in a depressive state for a full twelve months by October of that year, culminating in my first inpatient hospitalization.

I knew I had made things frustrating for her at times throughout that episode, but I was oblivious to the extent of the damage. In fact, I vividly remember describing how my relationship with my wife was the one good thing in my life and what it meant to me, and this made the nurse processing my intake start to cry. But then the morning I was discharged, she informed me--over speakerphone in a conference room, no less--that she was leaving. That stunned me, but I absorbed it surprisingly easily.

I remember vividly going late one night to PNC Bank to withdraw some cash from the ATM. I sat in the parking lot trying to make myself cry over it. I thought I needed to do that, that until and unless I did, that I was simply avoiding the emotional pain that I should have felt. Nothing came of it. Eventually, I accepted something surprising: I simply wasn't upset about my marriage ending, even under such shady circumstances.

It wasn't that I wanted to go around trashing a room like Johnny. That kind of violent outburst is not in my nature, and I prefer it that way. But shouldn't I have had some kind of explosion, whether anger or sadness or resentment? I felt flashes of those things, but they came and went as easily as when something happens and iTunes erases all of my playlists. Could it be that I wasn't, after all, invested in my relationship with my wife any more than I was in playlists?

I got to thinking of my other romantic/sexual relationships. Aside from her, all my other ex's bailed on me within the 90 day warranty period. There were never any fights or even disagreements in those relationships. Everything seemed good until it was simply over. No one ever explained to me what made her want out of the relationship, so I've had to speculate. I've considered sending an exit survey questionnaire. (In case it needs to be said, no, not really.) Being that I'm the common denominator, I've attributed it to them each simply realizing she could do better.

Because of my self-image being unhealthy (or so I'm told), that made sense to me. And since I knew each of my ex's could do better than me, I just figured that's why it didn't surprise me when they realized it, too, and that was why the breakups never upset me. I knew my wife could do better than me, too, but after day 91, I came to trust that she sincerely wanted me even knowing that. I put the matter out of mind altogether. I never had any instances of jealousy. Again, as with Johnny's meltdown, it's not that I want to be the jealous type. But does the absence of any jealousy not signal some kind of absolute detachment? Shouldn't there have been at least some instance of it, even if I handled it maturely and fairly and healthily and all that?

It went beyond those relationships, too. After a certain point in my youth, I severed my relationship with my dad and his side of my family altogether. Even on the occasions that we continued to interact, I regarded the relationship as closed and responded to those interactions as dispassionately as though they were with a perfect stranger.

Even with my friendships, I have never been fazed or put off by lengthy lapses. Someone can go months without any contact, and it doesn't occur to me to feel snubbed or become resentful or launch into a tirade about how you can't count on anyone and people will only ever disappoint you. I hate those rants, because they presume that the person ranting has never disappointed anyone else and that's simply impossible. (Except Willie Nelson, who is a national treasure we don't deserve.)

I used to think of these things as strengths. I can maintain my composure in the heat of the moment, which seems inconsistent with my near-constant state of barely holding things together. I worry that people now regard me as a high-maintenance person who needs to be taken care of, seeing me as a fragile mess. But at least I'm a calm fragile mess overall, I've told myself.

I can even maintain my sense of humor in almost every situation. During that aforementioned intake interview wherein I made the nurse cry with talk about what my relationship with my wife meant to me, I also made her laugh several times despite being there because I, y'know, wanted to end my life.

When I discussed all this today with one of my friends, she reminded me of what she said earlier this year when I first questioned my investment in my relationships:
I believe you are extremely invested and dedicated to your relationships, but you understand that you sometimes have to let go.
Another said:
I think you are very invested. You check in often with your inner circle, even when I know you are hurting or in a bad place.
She even showed me that she's set up reminders for herself to see and to check in with specific friends of hers to follow that example I have apparently set. It pleased me to think I had some part in that.

And my therapist has insisted that if I wasn't invested in my relationships or if I didn't process or show emotions appropriately that 1) she would have identified that by now and 2) I would not have been able to develop and maintain as many rich relationships as I have been fortunate to cultivate over the years.

I want to believe that my friends and my therapist are right. I want to believe that I feel things and don't just think I feel them, and that I am as invested in my relationships as they deserve to be. I want to dismiss the things in the chart that I disagree with. But I know that the truth is not only what is pleasant for us to accept, and I am struggling to reconcile who I though I was with who this chart says I am.

As I said at the outset, Dear Reader, I hope you don't identify with any of this. It's a troubling, surreal phenomenon. If you do, however, somehow identify with something in here, I hope that something in all this is helpful to you somehow, even if only to reassure you that you aren't the only one who has had to go through it. I wish you well with your struggle. And if you've gotten through such an experience and come through the other side, I would greatly appreciate if you might share some of what helped you.

To bookend this post, here's the music video to Method Man's "The Riddler". You're welcome.

06 October 2018

The Seven Year Itch

I shared a few weeks ago about my third, and most recent, hospitalization for suicidal depression. Today, Dear Reader, marks the seventh anniversary of my first and I feel compelled to make note of a few things.

I used to think I was highly adaptive, able to roll with the punches. I never entirely suppressed anything to the point that I denied things upset me or had happened altogether. But I did keep things to myself for most of my life. There were myriad reasons. I didn't want to admit that things bothered me as much as they did. I didn't want to risk alienating anyone by burdening them with those things. I feared that someone I shared them with would use them later to hurt me somehow. I didn't understand how to talk about them. I was too weak to even try. I deserved to hurt.

It saddens me to know how statistically likely it is that you, Dear Reader, will identify with something in that last paragraph, and probably multiple things in it. I'm not sharing any of this to prompt a pep talk from you. I'm sharing so that if you do recognize any part of yourself here, that you might at least take some comfort in seeing in print that you are not alone in being stymied by these self-imposed barriers to healing.

I've always considered myself candid and forthright. I have no compunction about sharing embarrassing anecdotes if I think they might be entertaining for someone else, or if they may somehow be of a more sincere use. When I was first diagnosed with Crohn's disease, I tried to mask it. I didn't want to show what it was doing to my insides. I didn't want to see it myself, to be honest. I remember one night a few months after being diagnosed that I threw my bottle of Asacol across the bedroom. Sick people take medication, I reasoned, so if I didn't take medication, I wasn't sick. Aha! Logic loophole! It felt good to throw the bottle. It felt less good to then have to go retrieve it from the floor and take the pills anyway because that's not how being sick works.

Then came a point where my balance was thrown off. I was frequently lightheaded and fatigued. I needed a cane. I was in the Bahamas at the time. My fiancee's father treated us to a cruise as an engagement gift, along with his girlfriend and him. It was enjoyable overall, but I missed out on quite a lot. For one thing, I couldn't drink. The medication I was taking at that time reacted violently to booze and the prospect of spending the entire time puking my guts up in the cabin was not appealing. I was too wobbly to trust myself to walk very far without the cane. I capitulated and spent $5 to buy a cheap one. I still have it to this day. I don't need it regularly, but I do still make use of it from time to time. In fact, I had to lean on it in the last couple of weeks as I pushed myself too far.

The cane held me upright, but it was also an unmistakable signal to the outside world that I was damaged in some way. I was a wildebeest with a limp and every stranger became a lioness. I remember vividly in 2012 being hosted by one of my friends in Atlanta. She took me to a karaoke bar my first night there. Some guy who didn't know either of us or anyone in her group was sitting behind me. For whatever reason, he felt compelled to ask why I needed the cane. I replied that I had Crohn's disease. "But that's a digestive disease, isn't it?" he asked, his tone and expression registering that he'd caught me trying to peddle some inexplicable lie. I elaborated that yes, it is, but the side effects from years of steroids made my back and hips hurt like hell and I sometimes got dizzy. He let it go, but here I am six years later still feeling judged, mistrusted, and looked down on for having taken my cane into public.

I've talked about the night of 5 October 2011 often over these last seven years. I'd been in a depressive episode for a full twelve months. It began October, 2010 when my wife was laid off. We were going into the holiday season. We had bills that my paltry disability could not mathematically cover. I felt useless and worthless. I wasn't just not making a valuable contribution. I was dragging us down. We had a fight, only the third in our entire relationship. (My wife admitted at one point that she picked one of the other two just to see if I even would fight with her.) She didn't come home that night, which was unprecedented. I sat down to combine a bottle of meds with a bottle of Old Whiskey River. I was thisclose to ending everything when I got the impulse to watch Batman one last time.

This was after midnight, which took me into 6 October. By time the movie was over, the urge subsided and I put away the pills. The next evening, she came home and told me I could either go into the hospital voluntarily or she would take legal action to make me go. I went voluntarily to Our Lady of Peace. I didn't know it in the moment, but that was also the end of our marriage.

While I was in inpatient treatment, I realized that I'd been metaphorically throwing meds across the room and trying to hide my cane. I reached a point of adaptation where not having succumbed to my suicidal ideation and taken my life constituted functioning just fine. I was, of course, entirely wrong. I'd been damaging all of my relationships. I'd withdrawn from everyone. I wasn't sharing anything. I was suffering in isolated silence. I was convinced that I didn't deserve those relationships. All I knew to do was to not bother them anymore. That would at least bring a halt to the damage I was inflicting on everyone. Hiding my cane wasn't making anyone think I was healthier than I was.

During my hospitalization at Our Lady of Peace, I connected with other patients. I asked and answered questions in group sessions. Other patients approached me afterward most sessions to thank me for something I'd said because it was something they wanted or even needed to hear but couldn't bring themselves to say. I didn't make a single dollar from any of it, but I did at least feel useful for the first time in twelve months.

So here I am, concluding seven years that I had intended to deny myself.

I have made new friends, and numerous new pals. I've been back into inpatient treatment twice, and months of outpatient treatment, to boot. I've been in therapy weekly. I've become involved with the Louisville chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. I've continued to work with my physician to find the right meds. Sometimes I wonder whether it's been worth all that work. My brain is still screwed up. Sometimes I remember that my mental conditions are not appreciably different from Crohn's. I have flares. I need meds. I need help. And I have to adapt.

I still resent losing a step. I used to have to slow down to let everyone else walking with me catch up. Now I'm bringing up the rear, fearful of being left behind altogether. Even if no one leaves without me, I know I miss out on conversational topics these days. I don't want to be a nuisance so I don't ask anyone to repeat anything. I'm sure there have been running inside jokes that originated while I was technically present but trailing too far behind to hear or participate in.

But sometimes I have healthy periods and I'm able to accept that there are people who want me to walk with them. And if anything has made these last seven years worthwhile, it has been to go on those walks.

24 September 2018

Wisdom Has Sent a Message

I adore texting. It can still be a thrill to see an incoming message, or at least it can be depending on who sent it. It's instantaneous. With the right person, a genuine conversational rhythm can be established and developed. Texting can also be delayed. This can have the benefit of allowing us time to get back to a conversation later without having the pressure to explain that we're stepping aside to do something else and will get back to the other party later. We just go silent until we resurface. Of course, that delay can also spike anxiety, depending on what the last message was.

What I have found to be more beneficial to me than anything else, though, is that texting allows me an immediate record of my conversations. Not for the sake of later using them against anyone, mind you, but so that I can refer back to them. You see, I've become rather clingy in the last few years. I seldom actually scroll back through to look at old texts, but there are often specific messages that mean something special to me and I like knowing that I can scroll back and see them still there in print should I wish.

Perhaps the single most meaningful message came from my favorite niece two years ago, just after she'd turned 14. She messaged me some time after midnight to ask if I was awake. I was, and I was instantly alarmed. When I asked what was up, she replied, "I need to talk to someone who understands me."

I make a point not to share anyone else's personal lives in this blog, since it's so difficult to preserve anonymity and I don't believe it fair or responsible for me to divulge anyone else's stories, so I won't be elaborating on what the matter at hand was. It doesn't matter, though. Think of how special it is to feel that any one person understands you, and how special it feels when someone else tells you that you understand them. That's not something to be taken lightly, Dear Reader.

Now consider how hard it is at age 14 to feel that anyone in the entire world understands you. But there we were, texting in the middle of the night because she was trying to process something and she needed someone who understood her, and that person was me. I realized later that at age 14, I couldn't have named a single adult in my life I would have felt comfortable approaching about something personal to me. The significance of that one text grew exponentially. In nine words, she had created a microcosm of our relationship and what it meant to her.

I could look at any given part of our text conversations and found other evidence of this dynamic of our relationship through the years, of course; you don't get to become the person who understands someone else without demonstrating it often. But there was something about that one specific text message that meant the world to me. I took solace at times just knowing that if I wished, I could scroll back and see it whenever I wanted. As time passed, and we are now two years removed from when she sent it, its value has only increased. I treasure that text message more than most of my tangible belongings.

Several of my other key relationships have also been maintained through texts over the years, too. Hell, one of my dearest relationships has been conducted almost entirely through text over the last seven years. We've gotten together in person only six times that I can recall. I think we've exchanged only a few emails and very few Facebook messages. Text is our thing. I delight in her wit and how diligently she composes her punchlines. She's one of the wisest people I know, and anyone who thinks that genuine wisdom cannot be conveyed through text messages on a phone is demonstrably wrong. We've also navigated more than a few personal crises together.

In fact, I've navigated quite a few personal crises by text over the years. I've been the one offering counsel and encouragement (I've even been known to compose a cheer on occasion). And I've been the one desperately seeking reassurance and guidance. Since mid-June, I've been almost exclusively the one seeking reassurance, as I've tried to get through this current depressive episode that recently led me into my third inpatient hospitalization. (I'm stable and making progress, but the episode has not yet passed.)

Throughout this episode, as with all the ones before it, I have relied heavily on those wonderful people I've surrounded myself with over the years. They've been compassionate and patient and supportive and understanding and accommodating and lovely in every possible way. I've taken comfort at times knowing that while they slept or were at work or were for whatever reason unavailable to me, I could scroll back and see any number of compassionate or patient or supportive or understanding or accommodating or otherwise lovely things they've said to me. Rarely have I done it, but it has become a source of security for me to know that I could. Sometimes all I have to do is remember a particular message or exchange and I can feel comforted just from picturing how that looked on my phone, with our respective movie poster contact images. [I assign my contacts a movie poster and corresponding ringtone.]

But then an awful thing happened, Dear Reader, and you're probably shrewd enough to see what's coming. I lost those messages. I was trying to replace the cracked screen on my phone and ended up destroying it entirely, rendering the phone useless. I had another phone, but did not have the presence of mind to migrate the content from the first to the next. (In fairness, I also did not anticipate being so bad at replacing a cracked screen.) I was able, though, with one friend's gracious assistance, to resurrect the old phone and transfer its contents after all! I felt peaceful.

Less than 48 hours later, however, that peace was obliterated. While updating some apps, my new phone encountered a problem. "Unfortunately, Google Play services has stopped," my phone kept telling me. I would close the message, only for it to reappear immediately. It became a game of whack-a-mole, with me trying to tap some other part of my phone's controls in between error messages. Little by little, I gained some small access, but I couldn't gain enough to do anything. I tried everything I could find online to do before finally capitulating and resorting to a full factory reset.

I lost everything.


I've been stressed by some other things the last several days anyway, on top of still trying to work through all my mental health stuff. Losing all these texts--again--was legitimately painful. I was only able to get through this depressive episode as long as I did before needing to be hospitalized in no small part to a lot of those texts. Their significance cannot be overstated.

I didn't have much time to process any of this before it was time for me to leave to rendezvous with friends for an afternoon (and, as it turned out, evening) together. I was in a foul mood in the beginning, but of course that fell by the wayside as the day progressed. After all, these were the very people who had sent a lot of those messages. They're what made those texts matter in the first place, and it's they who truly matter.

At some point, I was reminded of "The Return of Optimus Prime", the two-part finale of The Transformers original cartoon series' third season. A hate spore has spread throughout the galaxy, causing everyone affected to become relentlessly hostile and violent. A resurrected Optimus Prime resolves to seek a solution by traveling into the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, a sort of archive of previous generations' leaders' memories and experiences. Optimus has to travel all the way back to the earliest Autobot leader to find someone who had contended with the spore. The solution to fighting all that hate was not love, as one would predict, but rather wisdom.

To combat the spore on the scale that it had reached, Optimus only had one option: To unleash the totality of the contents of the Matrix. It worked, restoring sanity to the galaxy. But in the aftermath, Hot Rod realizes the price of that restoration.
Hot Rod: The wisdom of the ages...it's lost.
Optimus Prime: No, not lost. We're all a little wiser now.
In many respects, that's exactly what has happened to my texts. The guidance, support, and yes, wisdom that was contained in those texts got me through all those previous depressive episodes, including the more minor ones that didn't require advanced treatment, and through the first two and a half months of this latest episode. Plus, they were there for me in the two weeks after my hospitalization, to help me continue stabilizing and returning to working on the depression. In short, the contents did their job. It's okay that they're no longer archived.

It's the next part of the exchange between Hot Rod and Optimus Prime that I appreciate, though.
Hot Rod: But the Matrix is empty!
Optimus Prime: It's up to all of us to fill it again, with the wisdom we accumulate from this moment on.
I like that. I still understand my favorite niece. My friends are all still compassionate and patient and and supportive and understanding and accommodating and lovely in every possible way.

Yes, I do have other nieces. Yes, this one in particular is my favorite. Yes, I'm entirely comfortable saying so. It's not that I dislike my other nieces, though. I simply don't have any relationship with them. They grew up largely on the other side of the country and we've had very little contact or interaction over the years. I doubt they'd place me on the same level as other uncles they have.

21 September 2018

Actors Theatre of Louisville: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"

Actors Theatre of Louisville
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

a play by Simon Stephens
based on the novel by Mark Haddon
directed by Meredith McDonough

September 18 - October 10, 2018

Tina Chilip
Sherman Fracher
Sunny Hitt
Maya Jackson
Luis Moreno
Trevor Salter
Brian Slaten
Seun Soyemi
Alexander Stuart
Jessica Wortham

Some spoilers follow.

As I've recounted in recent posts, I opened this month in inpatient treatment for suicidal depression. I'll elaborate further in another post, but one of the two elements of that hospitalization that are relevant to this play performance is that three of my friends generously and selflessly gave of their time to come visit me during all three scheduled visitation periods during my stay. I'll paraphrase what Kristofferson said of Cash: I won't say they're my best friends, because I've been blessed to have more than them, but I will say I've never had better friends than them.

The night after I was discharged, I made my way to a group meeting of the Louisville chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. To my surprise, our social activities organizer had secured a set of tickets to this stage production for our members. Explaining that I would love to take those three as a thank-you for what they'd done for me, and understanding how crucial their support for me at such a difficult time was, our organizer graciously allotted me four tickets.

I knew going into the play only that one group member and a pal of mine who works at the library had both read the original novel by Mark Haddon and loved it. I'd have gone anyway, but it was encouraging to hear such high praise for the source material, if nothing else.

The most obvious thing to talk about is how the play presents autism in the lead character, Christopher, played by Alexander Stuart. I've known people on the spectrum and have a rudimentary grasp of the basics, but there are far more qualified people than me to speak to how the play handled this content. I'll just note that I was impressed that Stuart's performance never lapsed. At no point did it feel that Christopher was only autistic when it became relevant again. It was always relevant, and even in moments where it wasn't overtly relevant, Stuart's performance kept it at the fore, which kept anything from feeling like a mere affectation.

It also helped, of course, that playwright Simon Stephens did a fantastic job of using interactions with Christopher as a way to deliver expository information to us without being rote. The autistic people I've known all had not just an inquisitiveness to them, but there also a directness in how they ask their questions that require the kind of responses that the other characters give Christopher throughout the play. There were a few moments early where I was conscious of this and worried it would feel lazy or tedious for everything we learned to be explained after Christopher asked something of someone else, but I quickly saw in the format the truth of the experiences I've had around people on the spectrum. As I said, others are far more qualified to speak to this part of the production than I am, but I was satisfied that the balance between dialogue and character was, if not perfect, then damn near to it.

During intermission, one of my friends observed that there were a couple of moments where an actor's delivery seemed a bit stilted. It was unclear to either of us, though, whether it was a case of a line being flubbed and rescued, or if it was intended as such. The one that stands out to me is when Christopher is confronted by his father, Ed (played by Brian Slaten), about his notebook. Frustrated and angry, Ed snaps, stumbles for a second, then resumes snapping and throws the notebook to the floor. Whether this was because Slaten momentarily forgot when to throw the notebook or because he was deliberately trying to recreate the element of being angry that can disrupt what we're trying to say or do, I don't know. It was an entirely acceptable rescue if it was a flub.

Otherwise, though, the performances were engaging, delightful, compelling, charming, and moving. The aforementioned Slaten in particular conveyed frustration and anger with sympathy. We may disagree with how he decided to handle a given matter, but throughout the play, his heart was consistently shown to be in the right place. With, that is, the notable exception of having murdered Wellington. Still kinda messed up that that went unpunished, to be honest.

It was more obvious to us than to Christopher, I think, that Judy had not, in fact, died. One thing that the play does not explicitly address is that while Ed did not deliver her letters to Christopher, he did keep them rather than destroying them. That, to my mind, speaks to at least some part of Ed wanting to keep alive for his son the possibility of a reconciliation of some sorts--between them, at least. And I do appreciate that Ed and Judy do not rebuild their home together. I suppose it's possible that at some point after the story we're shown concluded that they rekindled things, but it was more important to me to see that that wasn't the ending. Ed and Judy are still broken people in a lot of pain--inflicted by one another in some cases. Their arc is not to make up and live happily ever after together. It's to be made to stop running away from the parts of parenthood they'd both spent years trying to escape, and to finally confront those things honestly.

I would be remiss not to also single out Tina Chilip for praise as Christopher's teacher, Siobhan. Her stage presence, even when standing silently to the side, was one of serene reassurance as much for me as for Christopher. I came to feel that as long as she was on stage somewhere, that Christopher was going to get through the ordeal at hand, one way or another. And I later realized that when she was not in sight, I found myself feeling a twinge bit more anxiety because without her there to talk him through things, anything could happen.

The construct of this kind of role is not new or unique, but seldom can I recall feeling it as successfully executed as here. Time and again, Chilip stood firm--figuratively, but also at times literally--while remaining calm throughout. She wasn't stoic, either, which would be an easy trap for someone in that kind of role to fall into, whether playing a part like this on stage or even trying to guide someone like Christopher in real life. Prior to developing Crohn's, I had intended to become a teacher. And as I've gotten older, I have come to value compassion above all else. So while part of me observed Tina Chilip as Siobhan as an actor delivering a warm performance in a well-written role, another part of me saw in her a reflection of what I wanted to become as a human being.

You can imagine, then, how dizzying it was for me to see Chilip on stage reflecting some notion I had of who I might become while sitting beside the Siobhans of my own life, helping me navigate yet another mental health crisis.

The final moment of the play proper (i.e., excluding the fantastic coda of Christopher walking us through his Pythagorean test question) was especially poignant for me at this exact time in my life. Christopher has summarized things he's accomplished throughout the events of the play and asks Siobhan if that means he can do anything. She says nothing. He asks again. She says nothing. He asks a third time. The lights go down as she says nothing. Is it that Siobhan doesn't want to burst his bubble? Is it that she wants him to continue exploring his self-confidence without her certification of it? Why won't she say something? Anything?

I feel that on an intuitive level, I understand that exchange--on both sides--but that I'm not yet in a place where I can consciously process it. Thankfully, just as we can presume Christopher will always have his Siobhan (if only in his own mind), I know I will always have my own. They don't always have answers for me--and they often reject the answers I give them!--but I do feel reassured whenever I can see them somewhere on stage with me.

12 September 2018

The Running Kind

In the last post, "When the Wolfbane Blooms", I recounted how it came to be that I recently entered inpatient treatment for suicidal depression for the third time. For the sake of (relative) brevity, I only discussed why I went into treatment then. It's time, then, to explain what treatment consisted of and what came of it.

I've thought a lot lately about a few songs, reading them as being about depression and/or suicide. Among them was Merle Haggard's "The Running Kind": I can't trace my suicidal ideation all the way back to birth, but I can go back to age 9 and that's still a long time to live as the running kind. The opening chorus especially resonated with me:
I was born the running kind
With leaving always on my mind
Home was never home to me at any time
Every front door found me hoping
I would find the back door open
There just had to be an exit for the running kind
A lyric from a later verse also stood out:
I know running's not the answer
Yeah, but running's been my nature
And the part of me that keeps me moving on
Except for me, running was the answer. The only question was when I'd run.

Anyway, there were three key points I had going into treatment.

Firstly, I entered treatment because I promised I would go to the hospital if I reached the point where I no longer trusted myself not to act on the suicidal thoughts. I did not go to the hospital because I believed anything would make any meaningful difference. That said, I was committed to making a good faith effort with whatever was asked of me. I owed everyone involved that much.

I needed to keep my promise because it's important to me to keep my word, which in turn is why I'm so selective about giving it. I've been asked recently by several people some variation of, "What's to stop you from deciding to break that word and do it anyway?"

There have been times over the years where, when this specific matter has been the subject, I've wished I hadn't given my word. But to break it? I couldn't do that. I can't bear the thought that my last action would be such a betrayal. Not of others' trust in me (though that certainly bothers me), but of my own core values. It's as simple as that.

I can understand why that's not satisfactorily reassuring. People break their word all the time, especially if doing it gets them what they want without having to face any real consequences. Not being alive would obviously get me out of having to face any consequences of any kind. But it would also mean that my final thought would be one of knowing I'd abandoned my principles. That's unacceptable.

I'll go ahead and answer the obvious follow-up question, of whether that promise to go to the hospital if I stopped trusting myself was open-ended, or if it was limited and concluded by having gone. I consider the matter resolved. At this point, I am no longer under any such obligation unless I make a new such promise. I have not, as of this writing, done so.

Secondly, I was not saying that there were no good times ahead in life. I knew there would be. What I was saying was that they weren't worth it. I've been overwhelmed--consumed, even--with trying to process a whole lot of big things this year. Some of them were outstanding matters left unresolved (or altogether unaddressed in some cases). Some of them were entirely new things that blitzed me. I came to see that this exhausting and distressful process would fill the time between those good experiences yet to come, and frankly, I needed peace more than I needed more good experiences. I've had a good run, after all. Hell, I've walked through Johnny Cash's house in my socks.

I had three consecutive daily meditation sessions, from Wednesday through Friday. The first two days opened the same way. The first prompt was to imagine ourselves in the future. I saw a pile of ash, as I wish to be cremated. The second prompt was to imagine our relationships and friendships in the future. I saw my friends gathered around and admitting they were relieved it was all finally over. Wednesday's session got real dark after all that, and it's best I skip recounting any of it.

Thursday's session started the same way, but somewhere along the way, rather than the darker thoughts of the day before, I found myself revisiting pleasant memories. I couldn't see anything good ahead, but at least I could still see the good behind me. That was something, at least.

I went into Friday's session anxiously anticipating those same two opening prompts, wondering how they would hit me this third time. As it turned out, I was spared having to find out because our guide/instructor omitted them. She explained when I asked later that it wasn't a conscious decision on her part, that she doesn't follow a set script, and that she hadn't even noticed herself that she'd left out those two things. Maybe it was something she did subconsciously because I'd shared my reactions of the previous days.

Whatever the reason, bypassing that prologue let me go into a calmer, lighter meditation session. Eventually, I saw an image that could only belong to the future: my favorite niece's wedding. It was in an ambiguous church setting. I was aware of a faceless minister of some kind off to the side; a priest, a preacher, whatever. I didn't see any guests or who she was marrying. But I saw her vividly. She was a bit older; perhaps mid-20's (she just turned 16), walking down the aisle in a sleeveless white dress. She wore her hair down and straight, without a veil. And she looked me right in the eye and gave me a look that she flashes me often when we're together in public and she wants to make sure I saw or heard something that she knows would be inappropriate to comment on in the moment. It's a mischievous smile, but also one that speaks to her trust that I know what she's thinking without her having to say it.

She may never get married, of course. That part doesn't matter right now. The relevant part is that 
I realized in that moment that I wanted to be there for the real thing. It wasn't that I thought, "Okay, I'll stick it out until this". I had no thought about scheduling my own life around this event. I simply wanted to be there for it. I can't remember the last time I was able to conjure any kind of imagery of the future, even that far ahead.

Somewhere in those days, I realized one night also that I was looking forward to this Friday's screening of the Ingmar Bergman film Persona (my favorite of his!) at the Speed Art Museum. I'd been excited when it was announced, but in all honesty, that was more a matter of thinking that I'd get to squeeze that in before my deadline. But now, I was simply looking forward to it with the kind of enthusiasm that I feel during a stable, healthy period. I didn't mistake this for proof that I was now in a stable, healthy period, mind you. I feel stable again, but healthy will still take a lot of work.

Between the specific immediate future matter of the movie and the more nebulous imagery of my niece's wedding, I found my certainty that none of the good things yet to come would be worth it wavering. I wasn't just accepting that good things would still happen. I wanted to experience them. That signaled that maybe--just maybe--they could be worth it after all.

Finally, hanging over all of this was my quickly-approaching 40th birthday. I can't recall how much I've discussed it in this blog, but my older friends will attest that ever since childhood, I've been incapable of looking ahead to anything in my life past 40. That's not to say that I had some kind of clairvoyant view of how everything before 40 would play out; I didn't. But I've always interpreted that consistent inability to mean that that's as far as I go. Each depressive episode has carried with it the question, "Is this where it ends? Is this the one?" After enough of that over the years, I'd reached a point where I hadn't merely accepted and resigned myself to that fate. I looked forward to it.

This was the big one.

During a group session where all we really did was review what our discharge follow-up plans were, I found my attention wandering from the others (did I really need to know, or even care, what anyone else intended to do?) and wrote in my journal. I glanced around the room periodically. Three patients were sitting at a table across the room from me. I resumed writing. I glanced back, mere minutes later. Two patients were still there, in the same postures as before, but the patient between them had been replaced. Only a matter of a few minutes had passed between glances, during which I was unaware of anyone entering or leaving the room (the sound of the door opening and closing was impossible to miss), or any peripheral awareness of movement in the room. Yet there was an entirely different patient where another had been only moments ago.

What, I'm sure you're wondering, does this have to do with my interpretation of not being able to see past 40? The answer starts off a bit ridiculously, but led me to a genuinely profound conclusion.

I was reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Parallels". Lt. Worf finds himself experiencing subtle, but abrupt, changes. A painting is on one wall, then all of a sudden it's on another. A person who wasn't in the room now is. The changes escalate, though, and it becomes apparent that what is happening is that he is shifting from one timeline to another. By happenstance, that episode opens with Worf's birthday (his 30th). I'd entirely forgotten that until just now when I went poking around for a screencap to include here.

I think I might start wearing a baldric just in case I ever find myself in a shuttle full of myselves.
I remain convinced that my inability to ever see past 40 has held significance. I am, however, now open to accepting that I misread what its significance is. I used to think of it as a door down the hallway that was locked. Now that I'm this close to it, I can see that it is only closed, not locked.

I found myself confronted with the reality of possibilities, or perhaps the possibility of realities. Maybe it's something as fanciful as this being a pivotal turning point where two timelines diverge; one in which I did not go past 40 and one in which I do. Maybe it's that I was kept from seeing what is on the other side of the door for reasons entirely unknown--and unknowable--to me.

I know how minor these things sound. The importance to me of keeping my word; an image in a meditation, a movie screening, and a reminder of an episode of Star Trek are awfully small things upon which to base a revelation. There were several other contributing things: a new perspective on the value of my support system; the development of relationships with other patients; being reminded of some of my aptitudes for engaging others in meaningful ways; and synthesizing from numerous sessions a better grasp of how my noggin works. I could expound on all of these elements and more, and perhaps in a future post, I will. The most critical parts, though, are the three that I've reviewed in this post.

So, where does this leave me?

Out from under the certainty that 40 is where I end, and wanting to experience things for the sake of experiencing them. I'm mindful that the work is by no means done. I'm also trying to be mindful that I'm now in a far better place than I was to begin doing that work, without it being set up to fail.

10 September 2018

When the Wolfbane Blooms

Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated, though they very nearly weren't.

I'm self-aware enough to know during a depressive episode when I can and when I cannot trust myself not to act on suicidal thoughts. I made a promise that if I reached the point where I could not continue to trust myself that I would go to a mental health facility for an assessment. On Thursday, 30 August, I kept my word.

The best shorthand I have for this suicidal depressive episode is The Wolf Man. Larry Talbot discovers that he becomes a murdering danger to everyone by becoming the Wolf Man. He insists upon being kept in his bedroom under lock and key (not an inn as I misremembered). When morning comes, he discovers that his proactive efforts have failed; he has killed again. There is a desperation in Larry to not be the Wolf Man; to not have his violence spread to the people he cares about.

Larry warns Gwen: "If I stay around here much longer, you can't tell who's gonna be next."
I swear to God I thought I was going to make it until at least Friday, the 31st, when I had my next scheduled therapy session. But then I went to the library for a change of scenery so I could try to reexamine my life for value and worth. I brought along my 300 Writing Prompts book, which I bought and began in 2015 during my last hospitalization. I tried to write new entries, thinking those might get me going, but my hands were shaking entirely too much for me to write more than a few. I decided to consult Past Travis to see how he'd gotten out of this. I went a little too far back, I'm afraid. I saw several entries, all from various dates, in which I had said verbatim the things I'd been saying of late. It overwhelmed me.

That's where I was. I understood that I could most likely manage to get through this suicidal depressive episode. But it wouldn't stop with this one. There would inevitably be another. And another. And another, until there were no more others. I shared Larry Talbot's desperation to just make it all stop.

I did not deny that there were still good things in my life today or that there would be in the future. That wasn't the matter. The matter was whether those things were worth prolonging the inevitable. They no longer were. I needed peace, and I knew only one way to find it. This was not something new that hit me that night. I'd been struggling with it for awhile already. But in the wake of realizing my own Wolf Man destiny, the urge to make it stop became too tempting for me to continue resisting.

As I said, Dear Reader, I am highly self-aware; enough that I had the presence of mind to get to a hospital before breaking my word to do just that when the time came. I also promised to make a good faith effort with whatever treatment plans there were. I owed those who have invested in me over the years that much. I would not merely go through the motions or fake my way into being released so I could be discharged.

Once I signed in, I began texting. Between sign-in and admission, I was up to more than twenty text conversations. I could easily have cleared that threshold if I had WiFi access and could have checked in with others. I knew as I was having those conversations that I would be in the company of other patients who would not be in the hospital if they'd had just one person in their life like any of my twenty-plus. One of my friends messaged me to say that this could happen even to somebody with better resources and a better support system. Or, as the poem in The Wolf Man puts it:
Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night;
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
I messaged back that the overall sentiment may or may not be true, but there was one part I would refute without compromise: Nobody has a better support system than me.

This exacerbated my guilt. Everyone else was doing their part; my family, my friends, my therapist, my physician, even the cat had been sticking close to me. No one failed me. I failed them.

There was no set duration for my inpatient treatment. It was all dependent on how I responded. As it turned out, I was there for a full ten days, plus my check-in evening and my discharge day. I only got home a couple hours ago as I type this.

I will expound later on what occurred during those ten days, and how I went from where I was to where I am. For now, I'm going to simply give an overview of where I am. It would be going too far to say I'm "cured" or "all better". That's not how this goes. What I am is stable enough and engaged enough to resume the work that was already in progress before things got as far away from me as they did. I'm capable again of doing that work. I've had a few breakthroughs and epiphanies that have helped me wrap my head around some big things. I'll share one of those with you, Dear Reader.

Nobody has a better support system than me.

I hope each person in it knows how much I treasure them.

By happenstance, apparently today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I could elaborate on the psychoanalytical work I've done, share my medication history, list a dozen links to helpful resources. In the end, though, the most helpful thing I know that has worked for me has been to surround myself with wonderful people. I highly recommend you look into doing that. Just know that in order to do that, you have do right by them, too. That involves a lot of things, but the most important I know of is to keep your word. I would not be typing this now if I hadn't kept my word, and I wouldn't have given my word to just anyone.

26 August 2018

A Flicker Among the Ash Redux

After sharing my most recent post, "A Flicker Among the Ash", I received a text message that simply read, "Rewrite it." Ordinarily, I would stand my ground and refuse to do that. Unfortunately, this came from the friend who was in the room when my therapist assigned me this homework and she called me out on not having followed the directions I had been given. Also, when discussing it with my therapist, she upheld the ruling that I had not, in fact, followed directions.

So, here's a second attempt. This time, I've decided instead of analyzing how hard it has been for me to find things that have been "worth it" to approach this as a sort of "My Favorite Things". I'm iffy about whiskers on kittens, after having had them used to prod me out of sleep all too often.

I was reminded as I considered this new angle of a time when I was in inpatient treatment. One afternoon, we had a guest yogi who led us through a guided meditation. I have absolutely no idea what I was supposed to have been thinking of; her voice fell out of my consciousness within mere minutes. Instead, I fell into what I can best characterize as a sort of montage of highlights from my life. It would be going too far to say that I relived those moments, but I could viscerally recall how I felt during them. Here are some of those things.

The first time I had my niece stay the night after my wife left.

This was a big deal to me because technically, she's my ex-wife's niece. I don't think anyone really anticipated or expected my relationships with my niece and nephew to continue, simply because that's how it often goes with divorces and aunts/uncles and nieces/nephews. So far as I was concerned, though, they're my niece and nephew, plain and simple. I was grateful that they both still saw me as their uncle. It took my nephew longer to adjust to everything, but my niece's first words to me when we ran into each other by happenstance a month or so after my wife left were, "I want to spend the night you!"

We made mini-pizzas, I introduced her to The Princess Bride. Later, she awoke from a nightmare at 1:30 in the morning. I calmed her down and she curled up on the couch beside me and then feebly said, "I want to watch The Wizard of Oz." A responsible adult would have point out the time and said we'd watch it tomorrow. I, of course, indulged her and we watched The Wizard of Oz at 1:30 in the morning, because that's what she wanted to do. I've spent a lot of time with her since, and some with her brother (he became an adult during all this and lived in other states at times), but that first night was the one that reassured me everything was going to be okay.

Camping out for Phantom Menace tickets.

There had been pre-sales and midnight openings for movies before and since, but in my lifetime, nothing quite like what took place for Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Fans literally camped outside theaters so they would be in line the day the tickets went on sale for the midnight opening the following week. Work that out, Dear Reader. We spent the night in an actual, honest to God tent outside a movie theater so that the next day, we could buy tickets for a movie that we couldn't even see for another whole seven days. It was glorious. We mingled with other fans, a lot of whom had come dressed in costumes (more came that way to the movie itself). I remember walking across the parking lot to Meijer to buy doughnuts and milk. Not for breakfast, mind you, but because I had the munchies around 4:00 in the morning.

Bonus: Before the movie, I had bought a Darth Maul action figure. My friends and I arrived in groups and the group I was with couldn't get seats next to the others because the others had failed to secure us seats. We spied some empty seats in the front row. When I asked about them, we were told they were being held for some people. I offered to trade the Darth Maul action figure for their friends' seats. They took the deal.

Being there that night Jose Rijo made his remarkable comeback.

Rijo had, of course, been a childhood hero, having been a key part of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds' astounding wire-to-wire championship season and MVP of that year's World Series. That he had endured five years of multiple surgeries and false starts to scratch and claw his way back to the majors was the stuff of legend. By happenstance, our seats overlooked the bullpen. Our section was the first to see him begin to warm up for a relief appearance. Buzz quickly circulated, as a wave of curiosity spread the news. Capitulating to the crowd's growing curiosity, the scoreboard flashed: "Warming Up: #27 Rijo" or something to that effect. Just that sign alone elicited a deafening ovation.

When the bottom of the inning came and Rijo took the mound, it was truly magical. I'm getting goosebumps just typing this! I've never seen anything like it at a ballgame, and I've attended a no-hitter. It was surreal. It didn't even matter how he performed. Just that he was standing there on the hill, ball in hand, was thrilling. As it turned out, he had a good outing, aided by some fantastic fielding. Here are the key plays from his outing in that game, with the audio calls from the Milwaukee Brewers team of Bob Uecker and [someone who isn't Bob Uecker].

That time I walked through Johnny Cash's house in my socks.

Same friend, different year. We were on a Johnny Cash-themed road trip, and our final stop was his restored boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas. The museum was humbling, documenting and showcasing the hardships of the colonists there more than it is an homage to Cash himself (though his family does merit most of the second floor all to themselves). When we got to the house itself, the guide instructed us to put those little blue paper booties on over our shoes to protect the floor. Understanding the principle, I asked if it would be okay if I instead just took off my shoes and walked in my socks. The guide shrugged and said that seemed reasonable enough. I don't know what protocol would have said about that, and a selfish part of me likes to think I'm the only one who has been allowed to do that since the home was last owned by an actual family.

Singing "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" with my friends somewhere south of Indianapolis.

It was 1999, and we were on our way up to Chicago for that year's Wizard World convention. We had worked out that if we left around midnight, we could make a lot more progress than if we waited to leave during the daylight hours. We made such good timing, in fact, that we had to stop and kill time. Anyway, we'd brought along some mix tapes. Just for fun, I'd thrown on Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" The four of us sang along, loudly and enthusiastically, to the whole thing. What made this stand out most was that it was the only song I can remember all of us getting into that much on any of our group trips. What's more is that, while we all liked Shania well enough, none of us would have qualified as super fans. Still, it was tremendous fun, and whenever I hear that song, it takes me back to those road trips when we were too young to worry about things like what we would do if we broke down or got mugged or replaced by changelings.

Making Christmas cards.

I started doing this in 2011. At the time, I was just clearing out stuff that my wife had left behind and had stumbled upon a box of cards. I got the impulse to dash off quickie sketches inside them, and sent them to people I knew I would not get to see in person for the holidays because they lived on other parts of the continent or even the globe. This has become an annual thing for me, culminating in last year's cards, which were easily my favorite because they were the most personal. Unlike previous cards, which had all been based on existing characters from things like Scooby-Doo and Star Trek, the 2017 cards all featured a sketch of the little origami dogs that I make.

As an added personal touch, I colored the cards using the Tombow dual brush pens given to me earlier that year by a friend of mine.

Holding a copy of my own little novel.

Starting with National Novel Writing Month ("NaNoWriMo") 2011, I set out to pen a novel. I got sidetracked with some personal life stuff (i.e., the end of my marriage) so I didn't hit the 50k word threshold in the allotted 30 days. I did, however, keep my promise to myself to finish the thing, and after doing some rewriting, I self-published through Lulu.com. I'm far more comfortable writing personal essays than fiction these days, but I still feel like it more or less turned out to be what I wanted it to be: light summer reading. It's not a sophisticated commentary on the human condition. It's just a short little story about how superficial one guy's understanding of his life has been. Incidentally, you can still help me realize my dream of getting filthy rich by buying a copy from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and/or Lulu. Digital versions are also available.

Some things that have happened since that meditation session:

Discussing the Senate's health care bill in Mitch McConnell's office in 2017.

This one took place after the meditation session I alluded to earlier, but it would surely make the cut if I did it today. The Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and were poised to make good on their years-long pledge to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Health Care and Patient Protection Act ("Obamacare"). Once the House sent their version to the Senate, that chamber's version was written behind closed doors by just fifteen Republican Senators. It was so secretive that even other Republicans weren't told what was in it. The Los Angeles Times reported that:
This week, a group of more than 15 patients groups — including the American Heart Assn., the March of Dimes, the American Lung Assn. and the American Diabetes Assn. — asked McConnell's office to meet with them next week, proposing any time between Friday and June 22. 
A representative from McConnell's office told them staff schedules were too busy, according to representatives of several of the organizations.
I, however, was able to secure a meeting with the Senator's field representative at that time to discuss that bill, voicing the concerns of my fellow members of the Louisville chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. So far as I know, I may have been the only healthcare advocate in the country to get that kind of face time with anyone on McConnell's staff. Though it did not sway his vote on the bill, it has led to what I consider a constructive and cordial relationship with his office. Last year, I was able to bring the aforementioned field representative to speak with our group and take our questions. I hope to present the Senator himself, but it hasn't happened yet.

That tree in Hopkinsville.

I had been generously and graciously invited to join friends the weekend of the total solar eclipse at a campground in Hopkinsville, identified as one of the most ideal spots in the world to observe the phenomenon. Truthfully, I had no interest in watching the sun blotted out. Science-y stuff largely bores me, if I'm being honest. I will, however, jump at a chance to spend time with people dear to me, especially so open-ended as a whole weekend.

I was in an unexpectedly foul mood when we first got to the campsite and went off on my own to calm down. I ended up finding a tree next to a lake that provided a serene enough setting to allow me to meditate. I was joined there later by a friend (the same who instructed me to rewrite this blog post). We climbed into the tree and talked for awhile about various things. I don't remember many, except the enthusiasm I had at that time about how well I had been managing my mental health then, having come out of a slump for most of the first half of the year. The next morning, I used the aforementioned Tombow brush pens to sketch the tree and the lake. I gave the original to my friend, but kept a scan of it on my laptop. It's my welcome screen image, and I still get a flash of warmth whenever I see it.

And just a handful of other things without any elaboration:

  • Walking into a movie theater auditorium, especially if they haven't already begun bombarding us with pre-trailer ads and entertainment news, etc.
  • Taking someone to The Louisville Palace for their first time.
  • Visiting Chester Harding's portrait of Daniel Boone at the Speed Art Museum.
  • Text conversations, especially when the other person starts them.
  • Mini-golf.
  • Playing catch.
  • When the cat snores.
  • YouTube uploads of clips and whole episodes of Letterman.
  • Playing LEGO Harry Potter with my Potterhead friend. I, on the other hand, can barely identify the main characters and I don't know what any of the spells are called. I play as Hermione, and my favorite spell is the Blow-y Up Spell.
  • Dry, red wine, especially paired with dark chocolate. My guts don't permit this often. Even less often do they permit me a cigar, which completes the Trifecta.
  • Making playlists, particularly themed around something in my life (like a particular road trip).

But I think maybe my favorite thing is when one of my friends doubts themselves when I have complete confidence in them and each and every time so far, they have all proven me right. One of my friends has expressed that this exacerbates her stress during those times, so I've made a point to stop saying it to her. I still celebrate when she succeeds, though.

24 August 2018

A Flicker Among the Ash

Sometimes I take requests for this blog. Today's comes from my therapist. In our most recent session, she asked me to share things that have been "worth it" for me to continue during my previous suicidal depressions. She also requested that I come up with at least one thing in the future that I can try to tether myself to during this current one.

As I've noted before, Dear Reader, Depression doesn't bombard one with all the things that suck. It doesn't need to. What Depression does instead is take the good in one's life and turn those things to ash. When I take stock of what is in my life, and look ahead to what I can anticipate coming into it, all I see is ash.

Throughout 2011, all that kept me going was my wife. At best, I did not care about anything else in my life. I was bitter and resentful of the rest. When I entered inpatient treatment that October, the intake nurse taking my stats and notes actually teared up as I described the importance of my marriage to me. We're told that the most romantic thing one can do is to be willing to die for another. Living for someone else is considerably more demanding, Dear Reader.

As it turned out, though, it was also destructive. It placed an unfair burden on my wife that I didn't see was there. She told me after she left me when I was discharged that she had lived in fear that whatever she said or did might be the thing that finally pushed me over the edge. She couldn't take that responsibility anymore. It was unfair of me to have pushed it on her. I learned from having destroyed my marriage that another person cannot be my "worth it" reason for continuing.

I have said often over the years that if I've only ever done one thing right, it has been to surround myself with wonderful people. I treasure each of them, and I hope that they all know that. I hope also that they can understand why I cannot make them my "reason"; not collectively and not individually. They deserve better than that.

You may recall, Dear Reader, that 2015 was the year I entered outpatient treatment, and then had to step up to inpatient treatment for a week because I was getting worse by September. Remarkably, I was able to tether myself to Spectre. I was surprised that I was still even capable of excitement, but the return of James Bond managed to elicit it. It was a silly, trivial reason to keep living. But there was still a twinge of enthusiasm still inside me and I felt I owed it to that flicker to reward it one last time. Besides, there was a fixed date, which meant there was a reachable objective. I just had to make it to 6 November.

By time the movie opened, I'd been able to stabilize. I stepped back down into outpatient treatment. I had begun attending regular meetings of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. And I had been set up with my therapist--the same who requested that I write this blog.

So, here I am again. I don't know that I'm going to come out of this depression. This one has a momentum all its own. It has been easier to eliminate things to look forward to enough to care about than it has been to find one. I've tried brainstorming all week, looking ahead on the calendar.

One of my friends asked me to sincerely consider joining her on New Year's Day for dark chocolate brownies and dry red wine. I love that pairing, and I love her even more. But 2019 is impossibly far away.

None of the holidays hold any appeal for me. If anything, they've all become increasingly painful for me. You may recall, Dear Reader, how I had a total meltdown at my friends' annual Christmas party and had to leave altogether. It's probably best that I just not go at all this year. Ditto Thanksgiving.

On a smaller scale, The Kentucky Renaissance Faire, holds an annual Charles Dickens Christmas Festival the first two weekends in December. I do love A Christmas Carol, and wished to attend this when they debuted it two years ago. I didn't get to go then, or last year.

My birthday (40th) will fall during the first of those Dickens Festival weekends. That will also be the weekend of the Supercon entertainment/comic convention in Louisville. My friends and I submitted two panel ideas. We may be selected to do one or both. They may have to go without me, which shouldn't be a problem. Those panels pretty much run themselves.

Being as politically engaged as I am, the midterm election should be tantalizing. But the truth is, I'm too disillusioned to care. If for some reason I'm still here by then, I will dutifully cast a ballot, but I expect the "blue wave" of "the Resistance" to fizzle and accomplish little, if anything, of substance. For one thing, the Republicans have so thoroughly consolidated control that most of their incumbents are safe regardless of circumstances. But also, a recent CBS poll showed that the group most dissatisfied by the Trump presidency--women aged 18 to 35--are also the group least willing to commit to voting at all. Marches are exciting. Voting is not.

I've been left with one thing that has my attention: The Speed Art Museum is hosting Ingmar Bergman's Cinema in the 1950s and 1960s: A Centennial Retrospective in September. This will be my big chance to see Persona and Wild Strawberries in a theater. I have promised not to act to harm myself throughout the month of September, largely because of this series. Persona is the latter of the two to play, on the 14th. Fathom Events is also running a screening of The Transformers: The Movie on the 27th, and one of my brothers said he would "adore" to see that in a theater with me, so I will indulge him.

This was supposed to have been an exercise to draw my attention to things that have been gratifying for me in the past, and to stir my imagination for things that may yet bring me satisfaction in the future. Instead, I've ended up writing a dismissal of potential candidates. The part of me that tries to follow directions wants to revise this and remove all those paragraphs, but the part of me that wants to document as honestly and as candidly as possible what my experiences with mental illness are feels an obligation to share these insights.

In the spirit of being open and honest, even my enthusiasm for the Bergman pictures has begun to wane. I'm still intent on going to see them, mind you, if only because I have made that commitment and I intend to honor it. But if I hadn't made that commitment already, I don't know that I would even care enough about those screenings now to make that promise. I will attend The Transformers regardless, though. I owe that much.

And maybe that's a better characterization of where I am. I can point to a few things I feel committed to, but I am increasingly unable to say I even look forward to them.

I don't want to hear any of that "You've got so much to live for" nonsense, Dear Reader, so if you post any such comments, they'll never see the light of day. But I do invite anyone who has been in this place to share what got you through it.

20 August 2018

These Days

I've been on a Glen Campbell kick since the weekend. I don't know why that is. "Wichita Lineman" in particular has held me spellbound. So far as I'm aware, that has nothing to do with the rest of this post. I just thought I'd make mention of something benign up front. Feel free to comment below and let me know your favorite Glen Campbell song(s).

[Incidentally, his 2008 album, Meet Glen Campbell, is available free on Google Play right now.]

In case it's not been apparent from some of my recent posts, Dear Reader, or in case you're new to these parts (welcome!), I have not been in an especially healthy place for awhile now. I can trace this episode to the day. I'd spent a day and a half with one of my brothers, joined later by another and one of my closest friends. It was wonderful and fed my soul and when I parted that evening, I felt soothed.

The next day, I had the thought to check my available balance. I was stunned and became a full blown cliche. My jaw dropped, my eyes got big, and I was frozen in place. My mother, who was sitting nearby, asked me who had died. That's how viscerally I reacted to reading the numbers in front of my eyes.

I hadn't been overly indulgent. I was only one week into that month's deposit period, but I was already in worse straits than I had been at the end of the previous month, which included a fifth week and during which I had gone on a road trip. I knew somehow, I'd pull a rabbit out of my hat and make it to the next deposit--which I did. That part didn't overwhelm me.

What did get to me, though, was being confronted yet again with a reminder of how permanently my financial limitations are. It was one thing in my healthy, working days to sometimes be a little strapped. I could always find some overtime somewhere, or run some eBay auctions, scale back to cheaper meals, or whatever, to tide me over. Those incidents were obnoxious, certainly, but they weren't demoralizing. If anything, I saw them as demonstrable evidence that I'd had an indulgent, enjoyable time.

That's not true anymore. A large part of my society openly resents the source of what income I have. This isn't a blog post about that political aspect, though, and there's only one reason I make mention of it now. The very day that I was confronted with my pathetic available funds, House Republicans presented their budget proposal, which yet again took aim to gut those programs.

Time and again, well-meaning friends reply whenever I express my frustration about this: "Fuck those people. Who cares what they think?"

I can't seem to get through to them that it's not about their opinions. It's about the consolidation of power from the highest office in the land all the way down to dogcatcher of a party forsworn to make real that rhetoric. They're in office because their constituents feel this way and want--and expect--their duly elected officials to make good on those promises. The rabble rousers writing angry posts on social media are fatiguing, but have no direct power. The people those rabble rousers marshal into power, however, do have that power.

It's true that their efforts last year failed to materialize, but I cautioned then and now against reading this as proof that it's all just talk--a refrain I hear all too often from politically detached centrists who seem to think by refusing to engage the discourse that they're keeping their hands clean. The truth is that the Republicans couldn't agree on what was cruel enough. It wasn't because they couldn't accept that their proposals were too cruel.

So there I am, still basking in the joy of much-needed time spent with people I love, and all of that dashed by the app on my phone showing me how poor I am again, and news breaking of what the House was up to again. It left me with an inescapable conclusion. This would be how my life would go. Making do with insufficient resources and having to beg and hope for those resources to not be further diminished. Having to hope that petty dysfunction among the Republicans continue to stymie their ideological ambitions. And having to hope that the general public can be bothered to care enough to weigh in on behalf of those like me. None of these are concrete enough to trust at all, let alone send me to bed each night with a sense of security.

I wish to emphasize here, Dear Reader, that none of this is unique to me. There are millions of others out there with their own such stories. You may be one of them, or you know someone who does.

Vulnerability weighs heavily on me, it's fair to say. So too does the guilt and shame of having become a burden. Make no mistake, that's precisely how millions of my fellow Americans regard me and those like me--including, I can say with confidence, my own literal neighbors, given the yard signs they post outside their homes during each election cycle.

I've also given a great deal of consideration to the burden that I have become not only on Joe Q. Public, but on my own loved ones. That aforementioned road trip I took earlier this year? That was on my friend's dime. He reasoned that he was going whether I went or not, and let me off the hook for gas and accommodations on that basis. This wasn't an isolated incident, though it's on a grander scale than a lot of the more modest acts of generosity shown to me.

I realized in the last couple months that my friends have effectively been subsidizing me. A burrito here, a movie there, a road trip for good measure. I am deeply appreciative of these acts of kindness and generosity, and I want to be clear about that. They also make me bitter and resentful of myself for not being able to reciprocate in kind, certainly not with anything resembling consistency.

One of the key reasons that my marriage collapsed is that I had devolved from being a contributor to being a burden. A little microcosm of this for me is to look at our vacation habits. There came a time after I accepted (with contempt) that I could no longer remain in the work force. From then on, any vacation we took was to visit my ex's family in Florida or Ohio. There were never discussions about whether we might want to go somewhere else, or even if there was anything in particular I wanted to do in those places. Sometimes I managed an indulgence of some sort. I remember visiting a comic book shop in Daytona, for instance, though with my ex walking briskly behind me the entire way, a reminder that this vacation was not about me. I had been reduced to being a tag-along.

You can see, Dear Reader, how and why I am alarmed about this being the new dynamic in my other relationships.

These days, from what has been shared with me by her and some others, she is doing considerably better financially now. I don't begrudge her her newfound security. I resent that I had become an albatross keeping her from enjoying that security when it was my responsibility to add to it, and instead I detracted from it.

Since that afternoon when I reviewed my financial statement, I have given a great deal of thought to all this. Some may characterize me as having become fixated, even obsessed, with it. They may be right. I don't know. What I do know is that I've already seen how damaging it becomes when I'm unable to reciprocate or be a meaningful contributor. For the time being, my friends maintain that this is not how they view me. Maybe they're being sincere. Maybe, though, they're just as unwilling to admit the truth as my ex-wife had been when I broached the subject with her in the months leading up to her leaving me.

A final matter that has been on my mind that ties into all this is the concern about toxic people. Each day on my Facebook and Twitter timelines are admonitions to avoid or remove toxic people from our lives. These are people who are unhealthy for us to be around. They may not even be abusive or directly damaging. They can be toxic simply by being "high maintenance" to the point that even just thinking about them becomes fatiguing and makes you tense with stressful anticipation. What is it this time?

As I have read and listened to more and more about this subject, the more I have come to see that the takeaway for me isn't that I need to cull people from my life. Rather, I am left with the realization that I'm the toxic one that others are better off without. I didn't mean to be. I swear to God I didn't. I don't know if that makes any difference to anyone whether I meant to become toxic but in case for whatever reason it might, I hope that you can believe this much, at least. I'm sorry. I really, truly, honestly, sincerely, and genuinely am sorry.

The cycle has to end. The circle has to be broken. I have made no secret about how convinced I am that some time by the of this calendar year that I will finally do what has always been inevitable. One thing I need to emphasize:
I am perfectly safe and not at risk of self-harm at the present or in the immediate future. This, I promise. I don't break promises, in large part because I don't make them if I have any doubts about keeping them.
I'm self-aware enough to know when I can and cannot continue to reliably manage my suicidal ideation. It's pervasive, but I do have it all still under control. In case you have trepidation about extending me that trust, I have been in regular contact with both my physician and therapist. I'll be seeing the latter tomorrow, and she has made explicitly clear how short a leash I'm on these days, and how willing she is to take whatever actions she feels warranted. Being an all-options-on-the-table guy myself, I don't begrudge her that.

For the time being, despite my belief that my end is fast approaching, I am still committed to making a good faith effort with managing my mental health. I'm still taking my meds (which we just recently tweaked, seeing as their effectiveness has become questionable of late). I'm still seeing my therapist, providing her with unfiltered information so she can do her job properly. And I am still blogging about all this, which has been a key part of how I process and manage my mental health. I'm doing what I know to do, and I can only ask that you trust me, Dear Reader, when I say that I am not merely going through the motions just so I can say I tried.

Still, there is an unmistakable momentum here that is different from my previous episodes. I don't believe I'm going to come out of this one. I've been purging a lot of my belongings the last several weeks. I've been trying to archive as many anecdotes and stories here on this blog; this will ultimately be my legacy. It's what I will leave behind.

So, if you can think of a favorite story of mine that you think I ought to record, please let me know! You can find the ones I've already written under the tag My Memoirs. Or, of course, favorite Glen Campbell songs are also welcome.