23 January 2019

A Kidnapping Toy Story

There are some things in my life that I don't talk about much because they're difficult. There are other things I don't talk about much because I don't think I really understand them. This post is about one of those. The year is 1984. Ronald Reagan is up for reelection. Springsteen releases Born in the U.S.A. The Macintosh personal computer goes on sale. And my parents are getting divorced.

I was 4 for most of the year, as my birthday is in December (the 1st, for anyone looking to get me a card or steal my identity). I can still remember the day that things blew up, though my point of view was poorly informed so I can't say I know much about who said what or what anyone knew at that time. What I remember most vividly is being with them in their room, their arguing escalated into shouting. I was between them--physically. And then it escalated into both of them trying to hit the other. My sense of it is that there weren't "real" punches being thrown, but they were definitely swatting at one another. My parents even at that time were not small people. I, however, was. I was 4, remember? And a scrawny 4, at that. You don't forget arms flailing on either side of you, going over your head.

Eventually, this ceased. My dad directed me to get my things, that he was taking my infant brother and me somewhere. I didn't want to go. My mother objected and said not to get anything, that he was leaving and the rest of us were staying there. I liked that a lot better. But things persisted and escalated, and this dire momentum took over. I have this image in my mind of watching my dad put my brother in the car seat and begin to drive away in my mom's car, but I'm pretty sure that was just what I had in my mind as I tried to imagine how this was going to play out and not something that I witnessed, if only because I ended up going, too. And as best I remember, he didn't take my mom's car. He had his own truck.

I remember none of the drive. I have no recollection of what was explained to me, if anything. I don't even remember what I thought or how I felt in that moment. I don't even know where we went. He had a mistress, and I think we may have gone to her house, but my sense of it is that we didn't stay, if we went there. Eventually, we landed at the home of one of his brothers. I had several cousins there, all much older than me. I think the youngest was in his teens, with most of them already adults.

One night--and I have absolutely no idea how far into this ordeal that night was--an expedition was organized. Some of my cousins were being sent to get into the house and retrieve specific things. I don't know what those things were, or what else they were tasked with doing. I know it was debated whether I should go with them. I remember pleading that I wanted my toys. Ultimately, it was agreed that I would be part of the caper.

I've long had a fascination with heist movies, and I have no doubt the origin of that fascination was this night. Under normal circumstances, this would have been my home and my cousins would have been visiting as guests. Instead, I was the guest on their operation in my own home, where I was not presently living.

We used flashlights, rather than turning on the lights in the house. I remember that vividly. When you're a kid, using flashlights is really neat. Even if it's under conditions like these, it's still neat. One of my cousins was assigned to me. We went into my bedroom. My toy box was inside my closet. She helped me fill a garbage bag with my He-Man toys, and I think she may have grabbed some of my clothes.

I remember there being a moment when everyone stopped because they thought my mom may have come home. I seized on the opportunity. My cousin had all my He-Man toys in that garbage bag, which meant there wasn't much in my toy box. I went into my closet and got inside the toy box. All I had to do was stay still and stay quiet, and let them run out without me. By time they discovered I wasn't with them, it would be too late. My mom would be there, and I would be safe again.

Unfortunately, she hadn't come home. When I heard that, I gave up and came out. I remember worrying that someone had noticed that I'd been hiding, and resolving that if they'd asked, I was just going to claim that they'd simply missed me because we had the lights off and I was being quiet. (Both true!)

I don't know how long we stayed at my uncle's home. I asked my mom recently, and she thought maybe a week. She and my grandmother had searched for us all over. Eventually, one day they found us. I'll never forget that day. It was a warm summer day. I had a cheese sandwich. Not grilled. Just bread and cheese. I still kept all my He-Man toys in the garbage bag we'd used to collect them in the break-in. I don't remember even playing with them. I did, however, lug them outside in that bag. I don't think I was even going to actually play with them. I just wanted to have them with me.

A small black car I didn't recognize pulled up into the gravel driveway. My cousins were all either off in the tractor garage working, or were inside the house--where my baby brother was. The garage front was open, so they all had a clear line of sight to the driveway.

Someone got out of the car and approached me. It was my grandmother, who had dyed her hair a new color since I'd last seen her. I was confused by that. She ran up and grabbed me, picked me up, and ran back to the car, which it turned out belonged to my mom's friend, who was driving. My mom was in the back seat. My grandmother handed me off to her and got into the front seat. I remember my mother clutching me and sobbing.

I also remember that my cousins took notice of all this and came running.

Now, in case it wasn't clear from there being a tractor garage, we're talking about country boys here. Big ol' country boys. I will never forget that one of them reached the car, but just too late as my grandmother had already closed and locked the door. He was an absolute hoss and started banging on the window beside my mother. I was terrified, but even in that moment, there was something oddly comforting that he'd gone to such lengths (running like he did could not possibly have been comfortable). I didn't want to be there or stay there, but I knew that in his mind, that cousin was simply doing his best to look out for me as he knew how to do it.

We went to my grandmother's uncle's house. There, my mom gave me a Prince Adam action figure that she'd bought for when she got to see me again. It was the only toy I had, and the only toy in the world that mattered. I pictured my garbage bag with the rest, sitting in my uncle's driveway. I wondered if I'd ever see them again. I resolved that I was okay with it if I didn't. I thought also about my baby brother, and wondered if I'd ever see him again. I resolved that I was not okay with that if I didn't. It was made clear, though, that I absolutely would see him--and my toys--again. I trusted that.

I listened as the adults plotted and planned around me, playing with Prince Adam. I remember being fascinated by the material of his faux crushed velvet vest, and why was his sword pink? I also remember piping in to report what I'd seen and heard, including my firsthand account of the break-in. I can't remember if I recounted my attempt at hiding. If I did share, I have no recollection what was said to me about it. I don't think anyone had expected me to know enough to have anything to report, but I most certainly did, and I felt helpful and important for reporting it.

The narrative is that if a child is with a parent, then they aren't kidnapped. My life was not imperiled and I am not suggesting otherwise. There is a significant difference between my experience and that of, say, Elizabeth Smart. And, I'm acutely aware that at least I got the happy ending I wanted. My heart breaks for all the children out there who don't, often because one parent has greater resources than the other.

Still, somewhere in the spectrum of kidnapping experiences is a place for mine and those like it. I hated being where I was, and I hated the future I could project based on that. I longed to get back home with my mother, and to the other kids in my neighborhood who were my friends. I was consumed with doubt and uncertainty. I had a lot of questions and no answers. My world was completely wrong. I had to fabricate a cooperative outer shell in order to navigate it, because I knew that complaining and trying to make things miserable would only lead to me being punished, not rewarded.

I imagine those of you who know me well can see how this experience influenced some of the key things of my behavior, like being able to make nice in the heat of ugliness, and the duality of holding on to belongings as a tether while also being perfectly capable of letting things--and people--go without remorse. And my compartmentalization skills began here, obviously.

I've been a collector most of my life, though I've often purged my collections as I've taken on a new enthusiasm. I used to own a whole lot of action figures from several lines. There aren't many I regret not still owning, but that Prince Adam is at the top of the list. At one point about 20 years ago, I considered looking on eBay for a replacement, but decided that that would be insufficient. It was that very specific Prince Adam that I was given the day I was rescued that matters to me. As I recall, he ended up being taken to my mom's consignment shop. I hope he was as reassuring to whoever has owned him after me as he was to me.

24 December 2018

2018 Christmas Cards

'Tis the season, y'all! As in olden days (dating all the way back to 2011), I've dashed off some Christmas cards. I seriously stepped up my game this year, and I gotta say I'm pleased with the way these turned out. Here's an example card:


So, here's the story behind this year's cards:

To begin with, this is the first year I haven't used manufactured cards and simply sketched inside them. I bought a package of Colorbök Smooth White A2 Cards & Envelopes from Walmart. I was partly excited and partly intimidated by this. It did mean that the card was 100% my work. On the other hand, it meant that the card was 100% my work!

I elected to forego writing a greeting because I was making 24 of these. For one thing, my hand becomes sore easily after writing long these days. The inconsistency on my signature alone illustrates how unreliable my handwriting has become. I worried that if I tried to write a greeting in each card, I ran a high chance of botching some of them and losing some of them in the process. I'd have written the greetings before bothering to illustrate them, so that part wouldn't have been wasted, but it still would have cost me the actual cards themselves. Also, if I'm being entirely honest, I just wasn't up to thinking of something to write for each recipient, and a universal greeting just felt impersonal.

Now, then, the elements themselves. I suppose I'll start with the coloring. I knew when I worked on last year's cards that I would again use Tombow Dual Brush Pens for this year's. I wrote about how I got into using them in a post earlier this year, but the relevant part is that a friend of mine introduced me to them by gifting me a set of the Bright Palette last year and they've become central to what I like to characterize as my current creative renaissance. The hallmark of my sketches in this time has been that I've finally gotten away from subjects like comic book and movie characters and instead focused on more personal imagery. Even still life pieces feel personal to me, as I've chosen subjects that are part of specific experiences of mine.

Tombow recently released a Holiday Palette. I discovered I already had most of the pens in that set, so I couldn't justify purchasing it. Still, I decided that I wanted to use only those pens. I ended up buying one of the pens I didn't already have, Crimson, at Michael's. I did ultimately stray outside the colors in this set, though, choosing Process Blue for the sky rather than the True Blue that Tombow selected.

Pens Used

  • 249 Hunter Green
  • 452 Process Blue
  • 847 Crimson
  • 947 Burnt Sienna

To help create the horizon, I used Scotch 3M Blue Painter's Tape, a little idea I picked up from this YouTube video:



So that brings us to the origami penguin. To begin, we have to go back to 31 August when I entered inpatient treatment for suicidal depression. I shared some of this in previous posts "When the Wolfbane Blooms" and "The Running Kind". The pertinent part is that I had promised I would go in for a consultation if I stopped trusting myself not to act on those thoughts. When I realized I was tempted to use an X-Acto knife to sever an artery, I realized I had lost that trust in myself and made good on my promise. Here's a new bit I haven't already shared.

Three of my friends visited me a few days into treatment. I shared with them how bleak things were, noting that to that point, I had made no effort to engage any of the other patients. By this same point in previous hospitalizations, I had connected with at least a few. Those connections had been critical to my recovery. That I hadn't even cared or made any effort three days into treatment this time struck them as disconcerting.

To try to break through and reach me, my friends went out and got me some art supplies. These included Origami: A Step-by-Step Introduction to the Art of Paper Folding and a package of 100 Colors Origami paper... along with a request list of five specific critters.


One of the requested critters was an Allosaurus. It took me four days to figure that one out because I just couldn't understand one of the early steps. When I finally did put it together, I made half a dozen just out of spite. (For more about these five origami animals, check out a piece I sketched inspired by when I presented them to my friend that I shared on DeviantArt.)

Last year's Christmas card featured a sketch of the little origami dog that I've made over the years. I decided to up my game by including an actual origami piece with this year's card. I originally wanted to feature the aforementioned Allosaurus, but after folding one, I realized that I was not up to folding another 23 of them. It was something of a cop out, but I elected to go instead with the penguin. Here's the Allosaurus prototype:


Notice that I originally had margins around the sky before deciding to fill the top of the card. When I decided to go with the penguin, it made sense to move the tree to the opposite side.

I did try to fold a full size penguin. To accommodate that, I had to use the interior of the card standing upright. The penguin dominated so much of the card, though, that I decided it was preferable to scale down. This meant quartering each sheet of origami paper. Instead of cutting it, I folded and tore it by hand. I did this specifically to contribute to the hand made aesthetic. As mentioned, I made a total of 24 of them, six sets of four. Behold, my penguin army!


I made them in the following order:

  • Orange
  • Pink
  • Brown
  • Purple
  • Red
  • Teal
The penguins can be removed and set up on their own. With a little finagling, they can even be hung as an ornament. I wish I'd realized this before I sent them out, because I could easily have rigged something to make that more obvious and feasible, I'm sure.


To insert the penguin into the card, I had to cut a slash. Partly because it was just practical, but also because of its symbolic value, I used the same X-Acto knife that I was going to use in August to end my life. I figured others would concur that it was a more acceptable use of that instrument than what I'd considered using it for earlier in the year. My therapist concurred with that, anyway.

One of my favorite things to do each year is plug in all the destinations to Google Maps and just look at where around the world(!) someone likes me enough that they want one of my little cards. Here's where they went this year:



Lastly, there's the music that I played while crafting most of the cards. On average, they each took about 20 minutes.
  • Garth Brooks & the magic of Christmas [1999 First Edition], Garth Brooks (orange cards)
  • Let It Be Christmas, Alan Jackson (pink cards)
  • Merry Christmas from Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band, Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band (folded brown, purple, red, teal cards)
  • Merry Christmas Strait to You, George Strait (brown cards)
  • Merry Christmas, Mariah Carey (purple cards)
  • Original Sound Track and Music from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Burl Ives (two of the pink cards, addressing of envelopes)
So there you have it, the story of how this year's Christmas card design came to be. These are easily the most ambitious cards I've made to date, and I think they're the neatest.

Other cards:

17 December 2018

"She-Ra and the Princesses of Power" Season 1


She-Ra and the Princesses of Power - Season 1
Developed for Television by Noelle Stevenson
Released 13 November 2018

I go way back with She-Ra. Like, seeing The Secret of the Sword in a theater back. Last July, I wrote what I'm pretty sure is the longest thread I've ever written on Twitter about She-Ra. I botched a reply at one point, so here's Part 1 and Part 2. What's relevant is that while it would be disingenuous for me to suggest that I've been an uber-fan my whole life, it is fair to say that She-Ra, Princess of Power was a key influence on me as a child and I do feel invested in it and its legacy.

I was intrigued when I heard of Netflix's plans to revive the character, especially as it would be presented without any He-Man/MOTU context. What would She-Ra be like if it was just She-Ra, and not "She-Ra, He-Man's Twin Sister"? Mostly, though, I was excited because this meant a new generation would have their own She-Ra. Yes, they were always welcome to enjoy "mine", but it's not quite the same.

When the first promotional image was released earlier this year, and then the first trailer, it was obvious that this She-Ra was aesthetically more akin to anime than to its forebear. This She-Ra and her companions are younger than mine had been. By presenting grown characters, mine had been a model of who we might grow up to be; this one reflects more who its audience is today, trying to navigate their ever-changing lives, reconciling the increasing demands placed on them by adults and their own desire to push against the boundaries around them.

She-Ra's brother can be a bit of a jerk, honestly.
I only really had one concern going into the series, and that was how She-Ra would behave. One of the things I came to realize in recent years when I revisited the original series was that She-Ra did not talk a lot of smack to her opponents, and on the seldom occasion when she did, she rarely instigated it. I wasn't conscious of this until I started paying attention to He-Man's behavior in his guest appearances. Even to her adversaries, she is compulsively compassionate and merciful. It's who she is.

I was relieved to find that the series' developer, Noelle Stevenson, clearly understood that and placed just as much value on that part of the character as I had. Everything I admired or enjoyed about the character and her world is recognizable in this new version. This isn't a generic action cartoon wearing She-Ra's clothes. It's She-Ra.

Yes, they've tweaked things. She-Ra is no longer a secret identity for Adora to hide (a contrivance even less convincing than Clark Kent's), but instead a sort of title, with there having been a long line of She-Ras before Adora. I loved this! The secret identity thing was convoluted and unconvincing, and ultimately didn't add anything to the original series. Having Adora find her place within the legacy of She-Ra, however, presents something identifiable for all of us. We've all had to follow in someone else's footsteps at some point in our lives.

Much has been said elsewhere already about the show's diverse cast of characters. Glimmer is a teenage girl with what I guess is a "stocky" or "chubby" body type. Bow is now a person of color, and decidedly less masculine. Frosta is an 11½ year old girl who appears Asian or Inuit. Netossa and Spinerella are a lesbian couple. Kowl is a pillow. Sea Hawk is...well, he's still full of himself. Some things never go out of style.

Glimmer only appears giant because she was elevated in the foreground. She's actually shorter than the other two.
Personally, I love all these changes. She-Ra was about fairness and individuality. These character changes are a meaningful realization of those values that goes beyond what Filmation did 33 years ago. I was never a macho guy, and relative to the male characters on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, neither was Bow. But he was portrayed with dignity and respect, and allowed to be competent rather than a buffoon to make She-Ra look good. Today's Bow is just the next step in that direction. I hope these updated incarnations of the supporting cast hold as much significance for today's kids as Bow held for me.

[I do have one exception; I miss Kowl and was disappointed to see him relegated to being an Easter egg decoration.]

As for the narrative of these thirteen episodes, Stevenson and her staff have done a fantastic job of using the source material to tell a meaningful story with important and universal themes. I chuckled when I first heard about this series being revived because if any generation of American children could benefit from a series about protagonists rebelling against a brutal authoritarian regime, it's this one. In particular, I appreciate the way that we've seen Adora reckon with the disinformation and propaganda she'd been indoctrinated with by the Horde. The original series did a nice job of that with the character's introduction in The Secret of the Sword, but thereafter she was presented as having worked through all that. Seeing Adora confront, and confronted by, the legacy of that brainwashing feels realer.

It's one thing to realize you'd bought into something untrue and awful. Difficult as it can be to make that break, it's even harder when someone you love (and yes, Adora and Catra do love one another, whether Catra cares to admit it or not) sees everything you see but doesn't take that last step with you. I ranked all thirteen episodes as I went, and my #2 is the eleventh, "Promise", which is dedicated almost entirely to Adora and Catra facing one another and their memories of growing up together. It's a genuinely compelling episode, and one that I imagine will resonate on a deeply personal level with a lot of viewers.

I did find it interesting that this year saw reboots of She-Ra and Murphy Brown, two female-led series from my youth that are about challenging people in power. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power could easily have felt like a dusting off of something old to make a timely political statement, as I'm sorry to say Murphy has. Instead, what Noelle Stevenson has developed has been an exemplary expression of the core values of its predecessor. My inner 6-year-old would have loved this version just as he loved the original, and I hope that the 6-year-olds being introduced to this universe by way of Princesses of Power get as much out of it as I once did...and still do, it seems!

Things I Miss

  • Kowl
  • Shuki Levy's funky disco synth music, especially She-Ra's transformation cue
  • Members of a fandom who could just say, "Eh, not for me" and move on instead of launching a whole crusade against something

My Ranked List of Episodes

  1. The Battle of Bright Moon
  2. Promise
  3. No Princess Left Behind
  4. Princess Prom
  5. The Sea Gate
  6. Razz
  7. The Beacon
  8. The Sword Part 2
  9. In the Shadows of Mystacor
  10. The Sword Part 1
  11. Light Hope
  12. Flowers for She-Ra
  13. System Failure

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.

ABOUT HAVANA RUMBA

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.

Again.

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.

Footnote
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

Featuring
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.