Mementos

DSC_0081This little patch of paperwork isn’t much, I know, but it’s all that remains of my life before I turned 18.

My original birth certificate, some report cards and paperwork from elementary and middle school, a few highly regrettable class pictures, the program I kept from my “brother” Erik’s funeral and two yearbooks I haven’t opened since about a week after I got them. They’ve mainly taken up space on the bottom of my bookshelf, out of sight and out of mind.

Everything else I had was thrown away about a year after I graduated high school twenty years ago. There were some things I lost which I still lament to this day. I don’t miss the rest, though. For the most part, they belong to a past I’ve been trying every day since to both outrun and forget.

My class reunion is coming up in about three weeks and while I’ll be back in town when it takes place, I have absolutely no intention of going to it. I didn’t go to my tenth and I won’t go to any future ones either for both high school or the college I went to.

The reason is not because I’m angry or bitter or spiteful. It’s because those times in my life are simply too painful for me to even approach, forget walk back into them and stay a while.

Over the years I’ve been told I spend too much time living in the past, often by people who do not understand and cannot empathize with the weight of the past I carry around with me. That being said, the insinuation may seem accurate in the sense that I deal with constant reminders of those days whenever my subconscious decides it wants to have some fun at my expense.

When I pulled that manila folder out of its box tonight to take this picture, it took about 60 seconds of looking through those pages, seeing the kid in those pictures and all the angry, rueful memories I have hit me all at once like a train.

I don’t live in the past. If anything, I try at all times to disregard its total and complete existence. My problem is that I have not, as of yet, figured out how to escape it and it both has not and will not let me go.

One of the main lessons I had to teach myself over the years was the simplest way to not get stuck in where you’ve been is to find the polar opposite direction, start running as fast as you can and do not, under any circumstances, look back.

So you tuck those chapters away in convenient boxes. You compartmentalize them. You take those ferocious emotions and you channel them into the engine which is going to hopefully take you as far away as humanly possible. You just keep going and going and going. Never slowing down. Never stopping.

There is nothing good coming to meet you if you do.

Perhaps, someday, my perspective will be different and I’ll be able to look back on those times in a better light. I honestly don’t know. Anything’s possible I guess.

For now, though, these things will go back in the box and onto my shelf and there they will stay.

Out of sight and out of mind.

 

Flashbacks

post_traumatic_stress_disorderI was sitting in my local theater on Saturday, waiting for Inside Out to start, when we got a delay because the projector bulb went out.

Whilst dinking around on my phone to pass the time, I got hit by something which has been all too familiar in my life for a long time.

It’s hard to talk about this because articulating it isn’t simple. I can say this is the most consistent element of living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Even writing those four words down fills me with a sense of dread and unease, because I know I’m stirring up a potential hornet’s nest by invoking what’s seen as a big taboo or some cheap excuse hypochondriacs or so-called weaker people use for why things can be so difficult.

Editorial Note: For the record, I never diagnosed myself with PTSD. I was diagnosed by supposedly qualified doctors following a full psych evaluation, following a full-scale mental breakdown four years ago. You may not like it, but it’s what it is. Kindly take it up with them if you have issues with it. I’m just the messenger/test subject in this case.

Someone once accused me of having a subconscious mind so flooded by my conscious mind that it often overflows, making me a potentially dangerous individual.

From my perspective, that may well be true. I honestly do not know. This much, however, I do know.

There’s not a day that goes by where my subconscious doesn’t dig up some random memory for me to have to relive for up to hours on end. On rare occasions, like what happened Saturday, they can be tamer flashbacks, like a friend singing a song in the last theater production I ever did 20 years ago.

Or I’ll remember a moment from a concert where I was seated at my drum kit and got the intro wrong. To this day, I still cannot listen to Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” without my gaffe playing out on repeat for a good long while.

It embarrassing and makes me feel self-conscious and marginally stupid, but I can roll with those.

What I can’t roll with, though, are the ones that I get more often than I like to admit. Flashbacks of moments where I was being attacked physically or emotionally by someone. Flashbacks of times where I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help, wondering how the hell I was going to get myself out of the situation I somehow had been dumb enough to put myself in.

And worst of all, flashbacks to being confined in an 8-foot by 8-foot box for nearly half-a-year. The sounds, the smells, all hitting me like a sledgehammer and almost always at the absolute wrong time.

For years, I’ve been told to get over a lot of these things. To just forget them and move on. I would like to. Very much, I would. Here, however, is the kicker.

I can’t. No matter how much I force myself to, I can’t. My subconscious mind simply will not let those memories go.

Since I was about 20 years-old, I’ve had this chronic, horrifying nightmare that I will go to sleep tonight and wake up back in that box. That everything I’ve done from then to now was all one extremely graphic and intense dream, but it vanishes in the way such dreams do when you wake up. And when I realize where I am, there’s a voice that always accompanies it.

It’s not mine and it asks a simple question, “You didn’t really think we’d ever let you go, did you?”

Having to fend off spontaneous outbursts of intensely emotional scenes on a constant basis is exhausting. It really is. When I get them sometimes, I have to literally close my eyes and clench my entire head like I’m fighting off a major league sneezing fit.

If I’m lucky, they dissipate just as quickly as they arrived. If not, then I can go almost a full day trying like mad to ignore the stonking great pachyderm in my very limited cranial space, and not always succeeding.

 

It’s not an easy way to get through a day, let alone an entire life. If you believe nothing else I’ve said here, I hope you’ll at least give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. I’ve been doing it long enough to know.

 

Miracle Mile

MiracleAt the end of my first meeting with Charlene last week, she asked me the standardized conundrum she asks everyone who walks into her office.

“Suppose between the time you went to bed tonight and when you woke up tomorrow, an actual miracle occurred. You won’t know how it happened other than you’ll feel it. Your entire life is different and you feel it. What do you feel?”

It’s a intentionally broad question designed to illicit answers similar to “What would you do if you won the lottery?” You’re supposed to be optimistic and play to your hopeful side.

Miracles, after all, are meant to change your life in drastic and profound ways. You’re supposed to think in broad strokes to not just what’s possible, but what also seems impossible.

And that, therein, lies the rub.

I gave it an honest go, saying I’d feel happier, calmer, peaceful. All the shame and guilt I’ve carried since childhood would be gone. I wouldn’t feel so tired and unmotivated. I could wake up knowing the recurring nightmare I’ve had for twenty years wouldn’t come back.

I could honestly express myself in the ways I need to, both in terms of what I do and who I interact with. My mind would be free of everything that’s gummed up the plumbing, allowing me to think and feel more fluidly.

As nice as it was to be able to consider those possibilities, there is also a very unpleasant reality that makes these sorts of mindwalks unbearably frustrating.

The frustration comes not from recognizing what we think is unattainable, but what we know is unattainable.

There are things I want desperately and would give anything to have, except I have absolutely no control over them and no matter what I do or how much I try, I can’t make them happen.

I can’t make people forgive me, though I will never stop trying to convince them I’m worthy of it.

I can’t make people love me as much as I do them, though I’ll never stop loving them anyway.

But if we’re talking about being given the miraculous, the things we covet and seek the most beyond all other things which seem almost trivial by comparison, those are what would change my entire life in an instant.

That’s the miracle I seek and I would go a million miles to earn it.

Self-Made Armageddon

DSC_0022-2So…anyone seen where they put the end of the world?

I know it’s supposed to be around here somewhere and a lot of people are looking for it, but damn if I haven’t a clue where it could’ve run off to.

This has how the world’s looked from my view since the news that a lot of people’s lives have changed in the past week.

I went to bed last night curious to wake up and find the landscape reduced to salt and scorched earth. The sweltering head aside, I awoke and saw not a spot of apocalyptic fire or a whiff of brimstone to be found.

Still, it hasn’t stopped social media from blowing up with the notion that Armageddon is indeed nigh, and it’s all because marriage, healthcare, housing and opportunities were made available to more people than they had been before.

Homosexuals can now be legally united. Minorities can hold property owners accountable for denying them a place to live do to discrimination. Ex-felons who’ve done their time and gone through the grueling process of rehabilitation now have a better chance of getting a decent job.

People like me can continue to get healthy because we have access to more affordable healthcare.

What is the world coming to, indeed.

I’m the first to admit that I struggle maintaining a positive attitude or perspective on things. Platitudes and pretentious notions of how the world is actually a better place than it appears, quite frankly, irritate the shit out of me.

A big reason I abandoned the Christian/Catholic ideology was the ludicrous theories of what will bring about the end of humanity. Gay marriage, gender equality, gun control, preserving the environment, maintaining the separation of church and state in schools, the Red Sox winning the World Series.

You name it, there’s some nihilistic trigger attached to it, and therein lies the heart of the problem.

Armageddon exists more in the mind than it does in reality.

Now that’s not to suggest it isn’t a possibility. In the past century, we’ve shown ourselves plenty capable of bring about our own extinction. As both a culture and species, we have to adapt and evolve in order to ensure our long-term survival.

When we take those steps, however, it often brings the clanging of sabres and gnashing of teeth by those who are simply afraid that we are evolving in a way that flies in the face of both scripture and convention.

An outspoken Texas pastor declared he would set himself on fire if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. Other religious pundits and politicians have gone on the record making all measure of comparison, conjecture and pontification that “God” is very unhappy right now and wants some measure of punishment imposed post haste.

Except it never comes. After 3,000 years of human existence, give or take, you’d think “God” would be a little quicker on the draw, if these people’s declarations were to be believed.

Being as negative in my perceptions as I am and have been for a long time, even I’ve managed to never subscribe to the idea that progress is a destructive thing. Progress is never a bad thing, though it can be frustrating when it doesn’t come in portions big enough to appease the appetite of those who crave it.

Changing your perspective to view things more positively also takes time and a willingness to evolve away from such a closed-minded mindset. I know it will take me a long time to get there, but I can at least say I’m willing to make the effort.

If only more people were capable of doing the same, I suspect the world would feel a whole lot more beautiful.

 

 

Step Two

Two-stepI met with my therapist this afternoon.

Her name is Charlene and she specializes in both cognitive and behavioral therapy.

We sat down and talked for about an hour. WELL…I talked. She mainly listened and scratched down page after page of notes, only pausing long enough to ask the occasional question.

In my experience, I’m very used to therapists making instant judgment calls and drawing immediate conclusions based on what I disclose to them. That’s always annoyed me because it feels like it limits me to just what I say and not the emotional or logical rationale behind why I say it or how I came to that conclusion or point of view.

Having lived with the constant perception of being viewed as a singularly dimensional being, that’s a frustrating way to try and communicate.

She didn’t do that, which was refreshing.

Her questions were logical, based on what I was presenting her with and she agreed that a neuro-cognitive exam is worth going through to get a better analysis of what’s going on in my head.

We’re going to start meeting once a month for now and see how that goes and the exam is scheduled for the same week in July.

I’m not any medication as of yet, which is also refreshing. If I need to take one at some point, I’ll do so, but I’m not naive enough to think I can deride happiness from a pill alone.

The last thing Charlene said to me was that I was right in that this process is not going to be easy and yes, I’m going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting.

But based on her impressions, I’m “a very intelligent man who’s had a lot of people tell him who and what he’s supposed to be. That I’m someone who’s handled a lot of hurt, a lot of loss and has just kept going the best way I know how.”

Now, I can learn to do it in a better way, which is a good place to start.

…And so it begins.

Off Balance

I didn’t get to sleep until about 4 ‘o clock this morning. A tall order when I have to be at work by 9 a.m. every day.

I can’t remember the last time I fell asleep at a decent hour, but it was a long, long time ago.

As is my yearly custom, I engaged in a friendly exercise with some of my college friends to see how many books we can read in a year starting on New Year’s Day.

I bailed out and quit after the first of May because I’m struggling to maintain my focus long enough to get through the books I started.

Once upon a time,  I burned through 1,000-page books with ease, despite my busy work and home schedule. I don’t think I’ve read more than a thousand pages so far this year. By comparison to my friends, I figured there was no point in embarrassing myself further.

Very few things excite or stimulate me physically or emotionally anymore. I haven’t really been in an environment which allows for that since I was in college.

Things I liked passionately don’t have the same appeal they once carried.

People even less so.

I’m halfway through my fourth year of Retirement and as much as I achingly miss the feeling of being part of a larger collective of friends and being both wanted and needed by a singular individual, the part of me that actively pursued those things is long gone. It either burned out or I learned to simply shut it off.

Either way, the process is simply too painful and I no longer see the investment of my time and emotional energy to be profitable for my well-being.

In short, my life is incredibly out of balance. It was already long before I got to this point, but the past few years have only tipped it further off-kilter.

Tomorrow afternoon, I sit down with a behavioral therapist to hopefully start figuring out what I can do to get some of that balance back. I am under no delusions that it’s going to be easy, nor do I think it will be something which will be done quickly.

Undoing a lifetime of learned behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and coping mechanisms doesn’t happen in a day or a week. It also doesn’t happen in a vacuum or a bubble.

Not too long ago, I admitted to myself that there are conversations I’ve been afraid to have with people whom I know I’ve hurt deeply and who also have hurt me just as much.

I have things about myself which I need to find a way to reconcile and find some measure of peace with, even in the absence of forgiveness. I have a lifetime of negative thinking which was reinforced and strengthened by countless experiences which I have to find a way to discard.

I’ve got a whole lot of scars and still festering wounds I need to stop tearing open and let heal.

And as I sit here at my desk, typing this out, the fear running through me is intense and palpable. I am afraid…scared beyond belief.

I don’t have to do this, you know. I’m not required to. No one is ordering me to. I could stay exactly the way I am now and no one would be the wiser and I doubt a great many people would care either way.

I’m doing this because I want to and because I need to. It’s my choice and I also cannot do it alone.

So I ask that those of you who read this and know me personally…I ask for your patience, your understanding and every once in a while, a bit of your time. Interaction is going to help me a lot in figuring out how to get used to doing things differently, but it cannot always be me who initiates it either.

I’ve been an initiator for far, far too long and it’s not a healthy habit to maintain. Even if it’s just something as innocuous as, “How are you today?” you’ll be helping me out immensely.

The thing I have to keep reminding myself is that regaining balance requires a willingness to accept that until I get it down, I am going to land on my ass a great many times and I have to keep at it despite my frustrations, anxieties, fears and doubts.

Hopefully…I can finally get there this time. I truly do hope so.

Tally Ho.

Aggravation

AggravationI’m knocking on the door of 40 years-old. Conventional wisdom would have me believe that I’m too old for toys and games and that any attempt to indulge in either makes me a poster child for the vaunted Midlife Crisis.

I personally think that’s a crock of shit, by the way, but I digress.

Whilst out getting some groceries on Saturday at Walmart…

Editorial Note: Before you rip into me for doing my shopping there, out here in the desert, there’s only Walmart and Safeway in terms of grocery options. No WinCo, Fred Meyer, Whole Foods or the nice stuff I had back in the city. Safeway has better fresh stuff, but they’re also more expensive, so yes, for the time being, I am a predominantly Walmart customer.
I don’t like it, but I don’t like starvation much either, and there are certain levels of survival I am willing to accept.

…I made my routine foray back to the Electronics section to do some window shopping. Usually, I’ll grab a DVD I want if it’s on sale, but by and large, my impulses are kept under control.

Then I hit the Clearance table.

If there is one thing (and only one thing) I will give Walmart credit for, it’s when they want to offload something that was once expensive, they don’t muck about. On this occasion, they had a bunch of HDTVs and Monitors all sitting on tables like pound puppies begging for a good home.

After perusing the litter for about 15 minutes, I found one that was simply too good to pass up. A 32″ HD screen in ideal shape…for about $90. After a quick perusal of Amazon to see what the same size computer monitor goes for there, the cheapest one I found was $520.

SOLD, and let it be known to all that I am a BA-Deal Finding-MF.

After bringing it home and setting it up, I pretty much spent the rest of my weekend in my office, only leaving for food, potty breaks or sleep disguised as a cat nap.

Now I’d like to tell you that those hours I spent were doing really productive stuff like photo/video editing, putting a new episode of my vlog together, or -GASP- working on the revisions of my novel.

I really wish I could tell you that, but no. Instead…I did this.

IMG_0588

That’s right. An entire weekend spent playing games I have always wanted to play, but couldn’t because they never came out in the U.S. Thanks to the awesomeness which are emulators, however, I now can.

Editorial Note: For the record, yes, the games are still in Japanese. No, I don’t have the foggiest damn idea what they’re saying, nor do I particularly care. I still love them and so I soldier on.

By the time I woke up this morning to go to work, however, I was not particularly pleased with myself.

It wasn’t because I’d spent the money to buy the thing which allowed me to indulge my quite resilient inner 6-year-old boy who became absolutely enthralled watching anime with giant robots beating the everlovin’ snot out of each other with the fantastical wonder that exists in the mind of most 6-year-old boys.

It was because I didn’t actually do anything I felt to be productive.

At this point last year, I was putting the finishing touches on the first draft of my novel. I’d spent most of the previous four months hunkered down at my desk, whether I really wanted to or not, churning it out.

It wasn’t perfect. Hell, it’s not even all that good. But I put the time in to get it done.

A year later and it’s hung out on my desktop and in my thumb drives, waiting for me to get back to it. After moving out to the desert, I’ve loaded it up and done some halfhearted fiddling around with chapters and plotlines, but I can’t get myself to focus on it like I did when the sense of urgency was there.

My lone Alpha Reader told me that I could really turn it into something and it’s not as bad as I like to tell myself it is. That something has the potential to change a lot of things in my life, if only I can find the motivation to get the damn thing done.

Instead, I sat on my ass all weekend, playing a game I couldn’t read, to appease a part of me that hasn’t existed in about 30 years.

Hence the aggravation I’m feeling today.

 

 

Father’s Day

IMG_0345If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my sabbatical from Facebook it’s that you quickly figure out the times where it’s easier to be around it and there are days where it’s the absolute last place you should be loitering around in.

This is most definitely one of those latter days.

Father’s Day has always been awkward for me going back to when I was the age my son is now. While I undeniably have a father and two other men became stepfathers to me, that is not entirely the same thing as having a Dad.

My father was mostly absent from my life until I was shipped out to the west coast to live with him when I was twelve. My first stepfather was an abusive and belligerent son of a bitch who taught me how to hate and distrust people more than anything.

My current stepdad is a genuinely stand-up guy and he did try to establish a relationship with me as a kid. I never really gave him an honest chance, though. I was simply way too angry and obstinate to do so.

I remember very distinctly, starting from the age of ten, I began telling myself that when I got to be an adult and had kids of my own, that I was going to be a Dad. I was not going to let what happened to me be repeated.

Turned out that’s exactly what happened and when you dedicate yourself to doing all you can to avoid that kind of fate, it’s very hard not to see yourself as an outright failure when you end up there anyway.

Having to be an absentee parent in the modern age is slightly more tolerable because I have things like Skype that allow me to both see and talk to my son, which we do every chance we can get. That doesn’t make it easier, though.

Daniel’s four now and I’ve already missed out on a lot of things and I know I’m probably going to miss a whole lot more, which is a hard thing to take. It makes me angry at myself because I remember all too well how I felt and how that void in my life helped shape me as I grew up.

I never wanted this for him and it’s all the harder when I feel the passive-aggressive and subconscious blame I get from those ignorant and condescending people who would say, “Well, you should’ve tried harder. You should’ve sucked it up and you shouldn’t have broken down and gotten sick. Real men don’t do that.”

With respect, I did the “Suck it up and deal” method exclusively until I was 33 years-old. It’s one of the primary reasons I’m in this situation now, thank you very much.

I said last year that Father’s Day feels like being at a party that you were invited to, only to find yourself being asked to leave because suddenly no one wants you there. It still feels like that in a lot of ways.

I miss my boy. I miss him a lot and the only way I know how to get to the point where I can be a Dad to him, rather than just a father, is to go through the process I just started.

Call me crazy or whatever you want, but to me, that’s what a Real man does.

First Steps

FirstStepImage1The cliche’ dictates that every journey begins with a single step.

Mine began this week.

I took the hour drive to Wenatchee and sat down with my neurologist. The meeting lasted about a half-hour and I didn’t try to hide anything from him. I laid it all out, no matter how trivial I felt it might be.

I’ve long passed the point where letting my pride or fear of potential embarrassment dictate my well being is an asset and not a profound detriment.

He put me through a series of cognitive and physical tests, focusing on my memory, motor skills, coordination and balance. And while I was hoping to get a more in-depth test like an MRI done to verify and rule out any other potential physical issues, based on the results, it appears that everything I’m dealing with is a byproduct of both the depression and anxiety I was diagnosed with four years ago.

Because of that, I’m going to have to undergo a full neuro-psychological evaluation next, and as much as I know that these are not the same people or the same situation, it’s hard to not to fall back on past experience as a potential indicator of the future.

This is the third time I’ll be going through this process. The previous two came in no small part because the State of Oregon demanded it when I was a teenager and again following the birth of my son.

The first time left me extremely disenfranchised with the concept of psychotherapy, in no small part because the clinic I was mandated to interact with had a treatment model actually designed to make me worse and not better.

That may sound preposterous and understandably so, but I did not know that until I went through the second experience and was informed of it by another state-sponsored evaluator. That same evaluator went on to inform me that what I’d managed to do in terms of forming coping mechanisms and compartmentalizing all the things I needed to in order to keep moving forward was completely insufficient.

I had to start all over again from square one with him, but he and I also had history, and I didn’t trust him with a single ounce of my being.

The natural byproduct of going through that sort of process is you quickly learn and accept not trusting anyone except yourself, what you know and what you can prove to be factual.

Distrust, in many ways, is like a muscle. The more you have to use it, the better it inevitably functions. The drawback is it also becomes a crutch which can often be abused or somewhat addictive.

I have to actively remind myself that these are not the same people I’ve dealt with previously. They have both a moral and ethical obligation to help me recover and function more efficiently.

At the same time, though, it’s very difficult to go back on all the experiences which have reinforced the level of distrust I possess.

I guess learning how to change that is step two.

Anxious Anticipation

neurologyIn about 48 hours from now, I get to take a long drive to Wenatchee for the first time and sit down with a neurologist, also for the first time.

If things go as I hope, then by the time I leave, I will have gotten a thorough examination of my brain to see what condition it’s in, thereby either confirming or removing any physical issues from the equation of how to fix me.

A lot of things go through your mind when you’re on the brink of getting what you hope are definitive and conclusive answers after a whole lot of years of asking “What’s wrong with me?”

All the nights lying awake in bed, wondering about it. All the times you lose someone you care about, beating yourself up because of it. All the times you to the point you want to tear your hair out in exasperation, because try as you might, you don’t know how to fix it.

All the times you think the relentless pain you feel can’t possibly get any worse and it somehow finds a way, to the point where even the faintest sensation of feeling loved or cared about becomes the absolute last thing you’ll allow yourself to experience.

As hopeful as I am, that feeling is interspersed with very real and palpable fear for three reasons.

The first is what if they find something wrong? A tumor? A clot? A disease or virus? The second is what if there’s nothing wrong…but I still don’t get any better?

The third, and most horrifying to consider, is the idea that I finally get in a position where I start feeling better, but nothing in my life changes along with it?

Those fears are very real and justified. When you’re as desperate to just feel something anywhere near the vicinity of normal, you’re willing to try just about anything to get there.

People have told me for years that I needed to go through this process to get to where I need to be. I’ve known that if I want to be the best version I can be for the people I love most in this life, I had to put myself through it.

Now I’m here. It’s happening. And now I only want two things.

I want to know that those people will still be here while I undergo this process…

…and that I’m finally going to be okay.