Danger: Emotional Outburst Ahead

TSBB_Frustration-440x293This is one of those days where I get the nagging feeling I’m not allowed to emote at all because it’s going to make people a little, or more than a little, uncomfortable.

I’ve been at my job for just about a year now. I like where I work, the people I work with and what I’m doing, for the most part. But it’s in line with my grander and somewhat ambitious plans for where I want my life to go that I’ve started seeing what this year of experience can get me in the way of bigger and better opportunities.

Editorial Note: This is something I’ve learned over the years, the idea of planning ahead for the next job while you’re currently building cred at your current one. I’ve had professors and peers both tell me that it prevents being complacent and not pursuing more lucrative jobs and I tend to agree with the logic.

So I sent brushed up my portfolio, updated my resume and threw my hat into several rings for jobs I would love to have. As several of them provided me the chance to finally go back home to New England after 25 years, I would quite frankly be an absolute idiot to not pursue them like a shark goes after a seal.

This morning, I got an email from the one potential job I wanted above all the others. It was a fantastic opportunity that not only would’ve had me doing the exact type of work I got into the business of journalism to do, but I would’ve been living and working back in Boston.

Editorial Note: Yes, I am fully aware that taking such a job would also put at some 3,100 miles away from my son and no, I’m not a huge fan of that prospect. The way I see it, I have two options. I can either stay on the West Coast and be closer to him, while also being highly isolated, perpetually broke and incredibly homesick or I can go back east, be somewhere I want to be, surrounded by people I want to be with, make good money, have more access to opportunities and things to get me healthier and continue to be the best dad I can.
Making that decision is far from easy, but that’s why they call it adulting, folks.

The email said the person doing the hiring was impressed with my skills and experience, but by comparison to other qualified candidates, impressive doesn’t make the final cut.

Or, in layman’s terms: Suck eggs, Whiffle Boy. You lose again.

Now yes, I know it’s mandatory never to show anyone that their decisions or actions don’t hurt us. I know the right thing to do in this instance is to say absolutely nothing, smile and nod with my stiff upper lip, turn the other cheek and keep looking for those mythical greener pastures on the other side of the fence and those other fish in the sea.

After all, what is there to gain by having enough frustration over being in a perpetually endless cycle of this, where my mind is devising a way to construct a fully-functional transporter capable of beaming me at lightspeed to the office of said individual so I can grab them by the scruff of the neck, smack them upside the head and ask as nicely and calmly as I can, “What part of ,’I would walk through Hell in a gasoline suit to get this job!!’ do you not get?! Are you $%&!’n KIDDING ME?!”

But alas, to hold people accountable for the impact their decisions have on others is considered bad form, provided said decision doesn’t break a law, and even then, that only depends on where you reside in the great Societal Food Chain.

So here I sit, trying my best to not let my mind start churning away on the notion of there being some grand cosmic conspiracy at play to prevent me from having access to anything remotely resembling happiness and contentment, while at the same time wondering why it is whenever the things I do negatively impact someone, I can’t get away from having to fall on my sword and accept the consequence of those decisions…

…but when the shoe is on the other foot, nobody can be bothered to recognize exactly how much their decisions hurt, upset, or by-and-large mess up me and what I hope to do with my life?!

-growl- I think I need to just go hang with my heavy bag for a while.

Session IV: Second Opinions and Second Chances

Savage ISo as a matter of somewhat convenient timing, I had my latest appointment with my therapist this morning.

Yes, considering the day, we talked about Erik, but I also finally got the results of the neuro-cognitive test I took back in August and it turns out I am not as dumb as I’ve been led over the years to believe.

The results showed consistent Above Average marks in all of my cognitive tests, including memory, pattern recognition, problem solving, attention, language, etc., meaning the chances of having dyslexia or other learning issues are small, at best.

They also came back saying that based on the neurological and psychological results, the conclusion is the same as it was following my breakdown four years ago.

I am dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder triggered by unresolved issues from both growing up and my early adulthood, as well as a major depressive disorder punctuated by feelings of extreme guilt, low self-worth, anxiety, and at its worst…thoughts of suicide.

Based on my experiences with people, I have a predisposition not to trust, along with a well-developed defense/coping mechanism of isolating myself due to feelings of inferiority, guilt and an inability to connect.

Now that information can be taken one of two ways.

Either it can be marginalized, trivialized, disregarded or altogether ignored…which has happened more than once by people besides just me.

Or, if you follow the basic scientific method that states any results which can be duplicated using similar testing apparatuses means they’re valid, then it can’t be more clear.

I went to two different doctors, four years apart, took two independent tests and got the exact same diagnoses.

I have PTSD and Depression.

That is no longer a question. The question now becomes what am I going to do about it?

By being able to see a therapist now, I’d like to think that process has already started, though as it stands, I have a long way to go. It’s not going to be easy and today was a perfect example of that.

We spent the last half-hour or so talking about Erik and it was an interesting juxtaposition between being emotional, angry and simply melancholy.

I was emotional for obvious reasons, angry because I was given a mini-lecture on how unfair life is and how we have to deal with it…

Editorial Note: Just once, I’d like someone to not be so patronizing of my intelligence as to not presume I don’t know just how brutally unfair life is. In the dictionary, under the term Foregone Conclusion, I would think my awareness of that reality could fall under at least the second or third sub-definition, by this point.

…and melancholy because I get that way when I’m given a compliment or am told something intended to pick me up a little.

The compliment came near the end when she brought up the idea of Survivor’s Guilt and how it can apply to someone like me, even though I didn’t go through an accident or have some other traumatic experience resulting in the loss of a loved one.

Where it comes from is the feeling I’ve carried for twenty years that the wrong person died. That it was supposed to be me, because based on who I became as a person, the mistakes I’ve made, the times I’ve done things that hurt those I care about and the simple reality that my life hasn’t turned out nearly the way I envisioned it being when I was a naive, optimistic and ambitious kid…and not Erik.

Erik was the better one of us. I knew it from the second I met him, and had I the power to change the outcome; to decide it being either him or me who was sitting here now…I would’ve chose him every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

“And that…,” my therapist proceeded to tell me, “…is what makes you special.”

“Despite everything you’ve gone through, you still care about people so much that you would willingly sacrifice your life for theirs, if the situation demanded it.” she said. “Do you know how rare that is?”

Honestly, I don’t, nor do I think that makes me special. For whatever reason, it’s just how I’m wired. I’ve always been that way and I suspect I’ll be that way for the rest of my life.

Whether that’s a glaring character flaw or not isn’t for me to say.

The last thing we talked about was starting the process which ultimately should lead to me being able to forgive myself for all the things which have happened up ’til now. I’m not looking forward to it and frankly, the idea seems so antithetical to who I am that I might as well try filling in the Grand Canyon with a teaspoon for all the perceived good it will do me.

“You don’t it’s been long enough or that you’ve done enough?” she asked.

I know it seems like a cop-out, but again, that’s not for me to say. I can tell myself I’ve done enough or that I deserve the proverbial “second chance,” but that doesn’t mean I do in anyone else’s eyes but my own.

And right now…I still feel like I haven’t done enough and that I don’t deserve it.

“Well, that’s what we’re going to have to work on,” she said. “Because you do. I know you don’t see it and you’ve been made to feel like you don’t, and you’ve tried so hard to be as close to perfect as you can be. But you’re human, which means you’re going to screw up. You’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to do things which will likely tick off your best friends. You’re allowed to do that, because we’re imperfect beings and whether or not anyone else can accept your imperfections, you have to at least be able to accept them for yourself.”

“Do you think you can do that?” She asked.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. But at this point, what other choice do I really have?

 

Take Nothing for Granted

Erik IMy friend Erik Weswig taught me a lot of things in the three years we got to spend together. What he doesn’t know is that he taught me a great deal more in the twenty years since he died.

Today is Erik’s birthday. He would’ve been 39 years-old.

I miss him as much now as I did the day he died and this year is a little harder because it’s the first time since the funeral that I’m not able to do what I’ve always done to commemorate it, taking the drive up to the West Hills where he’s buried and spending some time with him, just him and me, looking out over Portland, the mountains and everything else that lay beyond.

Editorial Note: I fully expected to get hit with all the emotions which come with this day later on, but for whatever reason, they decided to broadside me. I don’t like admitting the fact that I’ve spent part of the night pretty much bawling my eyes out, but as the author John Green observed, pain demands to be felt.

It’s one thing to lose someone who’s lived a full life. All my grandparents are gone now and with the exception of one grandfather, they all lived well into their seventies and eighties. When you’re a kid, that’s hard to process because you’re faced with the simple reality that people do grow old and as much as we try to argue to the contrary, we are most definitely not immortal.

As I’ve gotten older myself, that reality has become a little easier to process insofar as I can accept that living that long means you hopefully got to do and see and be what you wanted. Hopefully at the end, the final thought is it was indeed a good life, which makes moving onto the next one a little easier.

For the rest of us left behind, we’ll cry and we’ll grieve for a bit, but it’s also tempered with the understanding of inevitability. With all the things in this world that can end us in an nanosecond, making it past sixty is actually an accomplishment to be celebrated and so we do, in our own way.

When someone leaves long before their time, though, that is a lot harder to process and potentially harder still to live with.

Erik was 18 when he died. There was no accident. It wasn’t a drug overdose or death by misadventure and it sure as hell wasn’t suicide.

He went home from church, sat down at the dinner table and was gone not a few moments later. It was just that quick, whatever it was.

There is no amount of life experience which can prepare you for that. None.

One night, you’re sitting in the car with your friend, talking as teenagers do about how you plan to conquer the world so when you get to be old, you can look back and know you did and saw and were everything you wanted before your time ran out.

The next, you’re left wondering just what could’ve possessed the universe to decide to take that person from you.

Editorial Note: Before you interject with the notion of such events being the design of both an omniscient and omnipotent “God”, allow me to stop you right there. I know you mean well, but I will not hear of it. I’ve heard enough for one lifetime in the wake of Erik’s passing and when my time comes and should I get proof that a transcendental deity actually exists, the first thing we’re going to do is sit down and have it out over that design for as long as it takes for me to be satisfied…and it’s not going to be pretty.

What I took away from the funeral and all the anger and grief I clung to afterwards, was a simple, galvanizing thought.

Take absolutely nothing for granted…

Truth be told, that proved to be harder than I thought it would be, partly because it often takes maturity to recognize value, both in people and experiences.

The trajectory my life has taken over the corresponding twenty years, though, brought some very hard lessons which drove that understanding home.

You don’t appreciate the value of freedom until you’ve had it both taken from you and you take it back.
You don’t appreciate the value of friendship until you find yourself all alone.
You don’t appreciate the value of strength until you have to use it to pick yourself back up one more time.
You don’t appreciate the value of love until you’ve lost it.

They’re not trivial things, because when it comes down to it, nothing is trivial. We tell ourselves things are inconsequential when it suits us, but we’re also ignoring a most basic truth.

We can live to 100 years-old or more, and yet with all our technology and our ingenuity, it doesn’t change the fact that life is just too damn short.

It’s too short. It’s. Too. Short.

The brevity of Erik’s life drove that home to me like a pile-driver and despite all the things I’ve gone through, it’s the one thing I’ve never lost sight of. It’s helped me do things I never thought I’d be able to do and keep fighting at times when I wanted to do nothing more than roll over and quit.

I will be the person I want to be in this life, I will love the people I choose to love and I will try like mad to experience all the things I want to experience before my time is up.

And I will take none of them for granted…because it could all end tomorrow.

I owe Erik that much. I owe myself that much.

If you do nothing else today, take a minute and tell a friend or a loved one (or as many of them as you want, if you have the time) how much they mean to you. If they’re close by, give them a hug or buy them a cup of coffee and just be in the presence of someone you care about.

Do that for me and do not, under any circumstances, take it for granted.

CMT Life: What is CMT?

CMT 2So I get to take tomorrow off from work and drive two hours to Spokane to meet with a specialist about what has been going on for the past few years.

When I was a kid, I could do pretty much anything and not get hurt. By my freshman year in high school, I realized that there was something wrong with both my right hand and right foot.

I couldn’t go long periods of time holding a pen or pencil to write without painful cramps shooting out from the base of my thumb, and I couldn’t really run or play sports for long periods of time because my ankle was prone to turning and after running for a few minutes, I’d get substantial pain in my leg and up to my lower back.

I didn’t know what was going on, but it was enough of a reason to get heckled by my more athletic classmates during gym classes, and worse, for the few weeks I tried to play JV football.

Editorial Note: Not that they were a great group of guys to begin with, but the jocks I went to school with were particularly merciless in calling me out whenever I did anything athletic or even walking down a flight of stairs.

By the time I was in my late 20’s, I started hearing about Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease from my dad as he was beginning to have the same problems I had on a more advanced scale and how much it’s impacted other members of my family.

To most people, CMT is the designation for a country music-themed TV network. For about three million people, including me, it’s something else entirely.

CMT 1CMT is a group of hereditary disorders which targets the peripheral nervous system (or the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord). There’s more than 70 different variations of the disease, with some targeting the myelin sheath that covers the nerve fiber, and some go after the nerve itself.

The type I have is CMT Type 1A, which erodes the myelin sheath and targets the hands, feet and legs primarily and the worst cases make walking and manual dexterity virtually impossible.

I’ve been fortunate that my hands have held up pretty well to date. My ankles are another matter altogether, because having broken both of them as a teenager, I never got them reset properly and now walking can be a rather uncomfortable thing.

And I haven’t been able to run worth a damn since I was about 20.

As difficult as it’s been at times to come to terms with the reality of having depression, this has been just as hard, if not harder to deal with because while it’s frightening to go through bad spells in my head, having it happen while my body feels like it’s irreparably breaking down is even scarier.

The worst cases of CMT leave people with hands and feet that look like this:

charcot-marie-tooth-diseaseCMT Feet

CMT is a hereditary condition brought about by genetic mutation, so it’s not like I got it as I would the flu or Mono. I was born with it and there is no cure for it yet, but it’s also not a terminal diagnosis like end-stage cancer either.

It’s not going to kill me, but it can make my ability to have a functioning life a lot harder than it currently is, and that’s not a prospect I’m really looking forward to.

Now the logical question is that if I knew about it for this long, why didn’t I do something about it sooner?

The simple answer is because in America, healthcare is massively overpriced and until about a year ago, I couldn’t afford to see a doctor for anything, let alone this.

I have no idea what the results are going to be from my appointment tomorrow, but I’m hoping I’ll figure out what I’m doing right and what I need to work on. I know that exercise and taking care of myself can slow the disease down a little, and I’m doing it whenever I’m able.

I’ve also got a feeling that I have at least one surgery to look forward to down the line, which I am not feeling good about in the slightest, but that’s because until now I’ve never had to go under the knife for anything not involving a tooth or a toenail.

Psychologically, it’s something I try both not to think about or to use as an excuse, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have CMT. In that respect, I’m no different than someone who has diabetes, arthritis, lupus, Lyme Disease or any other chronic condition.

I don’t have a reason to feel ashamed of it, because there was nothing I could do to prevent it. At the same time, I have moments where I don’t like thinking about it any more than I like explaining it to someone.

But if I’m going to live as productive a life as I can with it as I get older, these are the sorts of things I have to do now.

I guess we’ll find out where I’m at when I get back tomorrow. Tally Ho.

Surviving in the Culture of “No”

no-4The fact that it’s Monday aside, this is one of those days where my overall mood can best be categorized thusly:

I’m feeling like a rather bitter, envious and angry prick.

I don’t say that to be glib or with any matter of justifiable justification. It’s one of those days I have every so often where I wake up and my tolerance for dealing with the facades other people sling across social media like the proverbial poo-slingin’ monkey just isn’t there.

And it’s not like my life isn’t exactly terrible at this point in time either. Granted, it’s not anywhere near what I want it to be, but I’m coming off a pretty nice and productive weekend. In the world of small victories, I can honestly say I felt I earned one over the last few days.

So why am I walking around today feeling like this? It’s a good question.

The answer lies in having been reminded that there’s a lot of other people I know, who’s lives seem by all intents and purposes to be, for lack of a better term, fantastic.

I woke up this morning to find people I know walking on beaches or climbing mountains, spending time with loved ones and being otherwise able to enjoy themselves in ways I very much want to for myself…

…only I can’t and contrary to popular belief, there are many things in this life we cannot and do not have any control over.

What is fueling my bitterness and envy and frustration is this chronic feeling of always being the one who gets told, “No,” to everything he wants his life to be, while everyone else seems to be able to an endless supply of, Yes”.

Case in point:

There’s a young woman I know from college. Like me, she’s a journalist, but if you look at how she advertises herself on social media, it plays out like everything she’s ever wanted has just magically lined itself up for the taking and she goes out of her way to plaster that over every inch of space she can find.

And for the most part, it has.

I don’t really know of a time when she’s struggled for anything, and if she has, it’s never been something she’s mentioned in the bubble-gum, #livinthedream, narrative she’s created for herself online.

From my vantage point, it’s a case of one Yes following the other for both her and a lot of other people I know when it comes to jobs, relationships, money, family, and just life-in-general, while I’m trying to do the best I can with a life dictated by a constant din of No.

Editorial Note: I get how this is an overly simplistic and wholeheartedly jaded perspective full of biases and prejudices against those who’ve probably put in a lot of time and effort to get their lives in the position they’re in now. The wickedly irritating thing about that is it implies that I haven’t put in the same level of time and effort to attain similar goals for myself, as well, which is rather insulting, frankly.

For a long time, I’ve subscribed to the theory that success breeds success, and that most kids who are born into privilege thereby get chances for more opportunities to hear people, be they parents, teachers, friends, mentors, and employers tell them Yes.

Yes, they are special. Yes, they can have this opportunity and Yes, they can have a better life than the rest of us.

Over the years, I’ve been told that I should just be grateful that I have what I’ve got and I am where I am in my life, by people who I know meant well, but also did not realize how ignorant they were of my reality.

The honest reality is I was never supposed to make it this far to begin with. 

I really wasn’t and every time I set myself to start moving towards what I wanted, it was always met with a resounding, No.

No, I’m never going to have what other people have. No, I’m not smart enough to go to college. No, I can’t have the career or this job I desperately want. No, I’m never going to amount to anything.

I have heard that same word for literally my whole life. Every time I set a goal for myself or had something I wanted to achieve, the answer has been constant and unrelenting.

No.

Editorial Note: This consistency also applies to relationships as well, but as that is a much different game played under a much different set of rules, that’s another rant for another day.

When that is the predominant feedback you get from those who’s decisions can alter the course of your life, it is impossible to not look at someone else who is told Yes on a semi-consistent basis without a great deal of animosity.

After all, why do they deserve to get the acknowledgement or acceptance and you are once again saddled with the rejection? What did they do that’s so much greater than what you can do? What supposedly makes them so much better and somehow more entitled to get what they want, and you’re just never going to be good enough?

I don’t care how thick you think your skin is, if you find yourself in trapped in a seemingly endless Culture of No, it’s nigh-on-impossible to not let the frustration seep into you.

It digs into you along with the exhaustion of constantly having to pick yourself back up and try again, even though it’s already understood that the decisions are final and there is no appeals process.

So inevitably, you stop trying. You stop caring, and the anger begins to grow both towards yourself and everyone you know.

You look at the sanctimonious platitudes and cheap motivational cues other people use to motivate themselves with no small level of disdain because you know damn well they will eventually get what it is they want, even without putting themselves through that process.

At least that’s how it always seems when you are so sure that under the same circumstances, you know what the answer already is before the question is even asked.

Such is what it’s like when every time you try to outmaneuver, outsmart or outlast the Culture of No, and you find a freshly cemented roadblock standing between you and what it is you want.

I’m so unbelievably tired of always being told, No.

The problem is trying to figure out how to convince people to start saying, Yes?!

How do I find it within myself to change how I’ve seemingly always been perceived as the chronic negative into the actual positive I know I’m capable of being?

How do I convince them I’m worth the life I want?

I wish I knew. I really do.

Revisions Decisions

Terminal Offender Cover IISo aside from trying to find time outside of work to exercise, relax, cook, take pictures and read books…I’ve actually been finding little pockets of space here and there to work on revising my novel, Terminal Offender, and I’ve reached a rather sobering and somewhat disconcerting conclusion.

The first draft is about 70-80% total shit.

Now before you jump on my back for being overly self-critical, I ask that you first hear me out.

About two weeks ago, I started an exercise, writing up a synopsis of my first draft and charting it out in as basic a form as I could.

The reason for this is two-fold.

1.) As it had been more than a year since I’d finished it, I needed to reacquaint myself with what I’d written. And B.) The synopsis gives me a chance to see how the story flows from chapter to chapter, where the weak and strong spots are and which characters work and which don’t.

With about ten chapters left to transcribe, I’m realizing that what I spent those nine months and 140,000+ words putting together is a rather disjointed story with inconsistent narrative and pretty flat characters.

Now this was pointed out by my Beta reader when I got her feedback on it, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to find she was more or less right. After all…she does that sort of thing for a living.

But as the writer, it’s hard for me to look past the fact that something I put a great deal of time and energy into constructing simply isn’t as good as I hoped it would be when I finished it.

Like all creative people, I try to convey the sense of having a thick skin, but when you put in the time and energy to make something which reflects a very personal side of yourself, it’s hard not to show I’m actually covered in papier-mâché.

In my defense, when I sat down last February and started really churning it out, I didn’t have a real outline or an in-depth understanding of my characters, which I usually take the time to do before I start.

For the most part, it was total seat-of-the-pants, stream-of-consciousness mind-dumping in novelized form. Given where I was at emotionally at the time, I can’t say I’m surprised that’s how it turned out.

The thing is knew that the story needed a lot of work, even immediately after I finished itI didn’t realize it was going to be this much work, though, but I have two choices of what to do with that reality.

I could either sit here and kick my own ass over it, (which is the far easier option), or I could take some of the ideas that have had the better part of 18 months to ferment in this ten-cent head of mine and figure out how to make the story better.

I guess that’s the thing about wandering into unfamiliar territory like this. You’re not entirely sure where to go or even what to do and instinctively, you know what you would do, based on the combination of experience and instinct.

Except that won’t get you to where you ultimately want to go and sooner or later, you have to recognize that too.

So here I am, out in the middle of nowhere, knowing full well I’m out in the middle of nowhere and wanting very much to end up being somewhere again.

Which means I have to figure out how to make this story better between now and whenever I get it done this time around.

..And so it begins, again. Tally Ho.

The Most Friendly Emotion

top-friendship-quotes_17370-3Not too long ago I was up late, as I often am, talking with a friend, which I often do.

We’ve known each other for about six years now and while I actually got acquainted with her husband first, we quickly discovered that we are very much kindred spirits based on having tough upbringings and rather traumatic adult episodes and we’re simply trying to do the best we can in getting past them.

We ended the conversation as it well past midnight and I had work waiting for me in a few hours time, but about five minutes after I got off the phone, I had to call her back and I was more than a little terrified about what I was feeling overwhelmingly compelled to say.

So she picked up the phone and I told her that I loved her along with the exact reasons why.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because believe me, I thought about it too in the five minutes before I made that call. I had to have gone back and forth over it about a hundred times, wondering just what the hell was going on in my head and how this was an incredibly bad idea.

The last time I allowed myself to tell someone I loved them was four years ago and given the consequences which followed, it reinforced the mindset I’ve had that if I care about someone enough, I can tell them just about anything.

I cannot, however, say that I love them and under no circumstances can I admit to being in love with them. Because though there is a definitive difference between the two, the ending, historically, has always been the same.

They walk away and I lose them.

Eventually, you get to the point where you start preemptively keeping yourself from feeling anything approaching it out of sheer self-defense. It becomes second-nature to not only remain silent about feeling any measure of love for anyone, but the alternative of being told that you are loved is the absolute last thing you want to hear because it can only be a harbinger of the end of the relationship, platonic or otherwise.

In this instance, the realization I came to was it has nothing to do with the latter and everything to do with the former.

I’m not in love with my friend. But that doesn’t also doesn’t diminish or change the fact that in getting to know her, the conversations we’ve had, and the friendship we’ve built, there is a degree of both mutual respect and mutual trust that exists between us.

We’ve both been knocked down and written off on more than one occasion and with that comes the simple truth of knowing how to pick each other up and keep going. You cannot go through that process without forming some level of emotional attachment, and contrary to popular belief, it has absolutely nothing to do with romantic affection either.

That’s what friendships are supposed to be, as I’ve always understood them and admitting you love those people who’s existence matters most is far from the worst thing you could ever do for either them or yourself. We often wait until those people are dead before we tell them how much they mean to us.

By then, of course, it’s way too late and we find ourselves lamenting all those missed opportunities to tell them how much they meant to us as much as we do the fact that they’re gone.

Why we seem to go out of our way to make it the hardest emotion to express, when it should instead be the easiest, is something I suppose I will never truly understand.

Giving up the Ghost

where-the-magic-happens-your-comfort-zone_daily-inspirationThe other day, I had a friend text me to say she was quitting writing as the process is too emotionally painful to continue trying to go through it.

About a month ago, during another conversation with another friend, she admitted that she’d lost her passion and interest in music, even though when we met in college, it was a big part of her educational pursuits. Along the way, though, she was made to feel that she was less than what she could’ve been, according to someone’s opinion and it took a lot of that passion out of her.

 

It made my heart sink a bit to hear both because despite my longstanding love/hate relationship with my own writing, I’ve been doing it for so long that I accept the fact that I always will be scrawling things down on pages, virtual or otherwise, until I die.

I also honestly cannot fathom living without music. Even though I have the musical skills of a drunk orangutan, there isn’t a day where I am not at least listening to some form of it. I am so emotionally connected to music that to suddenly find that I can’t connect to it, for whatever the reason, is the day I will seriously considering stepping in front of a moving train or off a tall cliff.

Now, despite the risk I run by bringing these things up, I do so for the following reason.

There are few things more damaging to a person than having to abandon something they were once passionate about and the majority of the time, it comes due to the influence of other people who somehow think they’re doing them a favor.

Over the years, I’ve had everyone from peers, to professors and even members of own family lecture me on how and why I should stop pursuing my passions. Their justifications spanned the gamut of seemingly rational, irrational and downright insulting, but they were all cloaked in the guise of somehow being either realistic or motivational in regards to my future.

What it actually was, upon reflection, was incredibly hurtful.

J.K. Simmons’s character in Whiplash observes that the two worst words you can say to a person are, “Good job.” Seeing as how he is a merciless, narcissistic and downright awful human being posing as a music teacher in that film, I know a lot of people looked at that as vindication of how we need to break away from the prevailing trend of propping everyone up to think they’re both special and guaranteed to have everything they want in life at their beck and call despite investing minimal effort to attain it.

Editorial Note: For the record, I am not a subscriber to the believe that everyone is inherently special and I think the whole culture of “participatory trophies,” is both an absolute racket and a total crock of shit. I have three trophies sitting on my shelf which I’ve had for nearly 30 years, that I legitimately earned and in turn makes me quite proud of them.

But I have yet to hear anyone give me a compelling argument for why it’s right to blow a hole in someone’s passions, even if they’re not up said person’s personal standards.

I was all of eight-years-old when I wrote my first fictional story. I wasn’t out to write a Best Seller or anything. My teacher gave me the assignment to write a story that would be judged in a contest with everyone else in my grade. So I went home, wrote it out, turned it in and found out that I’d been managed to earn an Honorable Mention.

I was so ecstatic, I honestly thought it was better than actually winning. Such is how the mind of a child not yet familiar with subjective and rather arbitrary scoring systems worked.

Being as I was recognized as someone who showed a measure of talent, I got to do the same thing the following year and took Second Place. Looking back on it now, which is a rather weird feeling given how long it’s been, I can honestly say were it not for those two years, I probably wouldn’t have continued wanting to be either a writer or storyteller.

The acknowledgment that even though I was still learning how to spell most words and how to expand my vocabulary, I possessed even a small modicum of latent talent was a huge revelation.

And it wasn’t like my teachers were falling all over themselves about my work, either. It was more than enough for them to sit down, go over them and at the end tell me, “You know, Devin. This is pretty good and I’d like to see some more.”

What really sets my brain on fire then, is how as you get older, that dynamic often changes from being constructive to much more adversarial.

Now you can say it’s because as you grow up, you have to learn that adulthood is competitive in nature and success is only guaranteed to those who show both the talent and the competitive drive to claim it from everyone else who feels they also deserve to have it.

Okay. Fair enough. But where does that justify tearing someone apart in the process?

It’s something I’ve never really understood about American culture in particular because we are so fixated on the idea of attaining absolute success and are so envious and hypocritical towards those who get there, that we look at those false idols in both a sense of awe and disgust.

We awe because we put them on pedestals as the loving masses we are, and then cannot wait to knock them off it in our somehow surprising disgust when they fail to meet our continued zealous expectations.

I will never forget the moment which ultimately led to the destruction of my relationship with my brother. We were driving back to Portland from Seattle after I’d been up there staying with him for a weekend. I was 19 years-old and when he asked me what I had in terms of a plan for my life, I told him I was both going back to college and I was going to write a book that will be published.

And rather than tell me something like, “Well, that means you’re going to have to work your ass off and you’re probably going to get a lot of rejections before someone finally says ‘Yes’,” he did the worst possible thing, instead.

My brother laughed at me, and it was not the laugh of someone who may have been stunned or surprised. It was the condescending belly laugh of someone who still meant a lot to me at the time, in effect saying, “Yeah…right. Have fun with that, genius.”

When he dropped me off at my apartment, I went upstairs, said hello to my girlfriend, went into our bedroom and bawled my eyes out. It hurt that much.

I’ve had fellow students in my writing classes, some of whom had such limited frames of mind that some of my vocabulary didn’t even make sense to them and as a result, I can’t be a good writer.

Editorial Note: My junior year in college, I had a classmate call me out during our peer-editing sessions because to her, there was no such thing as blunt-force trauma. I kid thee not, and the worst part was our professor agreed with her and demanded I take it out of the piece I wrote, even though I knew exactly why it was there and why I used it. I walked out of that class so ticked off I desperately wanted to give them both a first-class example of precisely what blunt-force trauma is by smacking them both verily upside their heads.

My point in all this is while we think we’re doing the right thing in being brutally honest with someone who might not have the same skill-set or talent base to work from as a prolific artist or well-published scientist, what is actually happening is that person’s passions are being hacked to pieces with all the tact of a blunt machete.

The most obvious victims of such an approach are both a person’s self-esteem and self-worth and it can be a truly destructive consequence because if those opinions become the basis for morphing your passion into something you feel undeserving or unworthy of, then it’s arguably the worst thing that could happen.

You decide that instead of trying to get better, even if the limit of your talent is nowhere near the modern definition of elite, the simplest option is to quit and abandon it altogether.

Be forced to do that enough times and before you know it, you’re wrapped up in a comfort zone of diminished expectations and very little motivation to try anything, because you inherently know as soon as you look for that external vindication or confirmation of talent, it’s going to be another case of being told in one form or another, “You suck.”

Have it happen enough times and in true Pavlovian fashion, you learn not to even seek outside opinions because the acceptance of your own perceived mediocrity becomes galvanized and potentially applicable to absolutely everything that you care about or means anything.

I sincerely hope both my friends can find a way to hold onto their passions and get them back to something healthier. I really do. I hope the writer can find a way through the pain she’s feeling because writing is one of the most cathartic ways of expression we have as human beings.

The other is music, which is why I hope the musician can find both the voice and melodies she needs to allow for her own needed catharsis.

Life is too damn short to have to exist without those kinds of connections to whatever it is we feel so strongly about. Our passions help define us as individuals. To have them stripped from us by people who think they can dictate who should or shouldn’t be allowed full access to them is a flat-out crime.

Life as a Zero-Sum Game

Zero-SumWhen I crawled into bed last night, I was thoroughly and utterly exhausted, which I don’t see as a surprise considering I’ve worked nine days straight and have to maintain said pace for another three days before I have successfully unlocked my Three-Day Weekend Achievement.

Per usual, I didn’t sleep well, though it wasn’t for the usual reasons. We’ve been blessed with a week of very comfortable weather in the desert and the evenings have been blissfully cool after about eight weeks of sleeping in a sauna otherwise occupied by chain smokers on a cheap tobacco bender.

The problem, I’m pretty sure…is my sheets. I bought them when I got my first solo apartment four years ago and while they say they’re designed for a queen-sized bed, I wake up every morning with half my mattress cover pulled off from the opposite side and all my pillows piled up next to (and in the case of this morning, somehow on top of) my bedside table where my alarm clock is.

Editorial Note: I do have other sheets I can use, of course, but as summer is often a time where the heat saps the motivation to do much out of you, I chose the ol’ Grin-and-Bear-It method instead. Fortunately I have the upcoming weekend to address my bedding and a bunch of other stuff around my house that’s languished for the last few weeks.

I got out of bed, readjusting the sheets for the 81st time as I did, ate breakfast, got showered and ready for work and headed out the door, and it was about an hour later, driving back from the lake and covering the first day of school for the incoming freshmen that something very abruptly dawned on me.

I feel good today, though not in a,”Golly gee, ain’t the world always such an awesome, wonderful happy place where it’s all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns!?!” way. Truth be told, I don’t think it’s possible for me to ever reach that level of Pollyanna-esque optimism with the things I’ve experienced, nor do I see that as a failing on my behalf either.

That said, it was a simple moment where I was driving down an open road on a rather gorgeous, sunny and cool day, being able to see for miles around for the first time in I almost don’t know how long and I felt myself able to take a long deep breathe, both physically and emotionally, just enjoying that moment.

In using the word, good, it’s one of those few moments I get where as the smoke has cleared out of the desert, it’s also cleared out of my head.

Stuff doesn’t feel as heavy as it usually does. I can think without the impending feelings of dread, guilt, fear, envy or pain looming over my shoulder saying, “Hey chuckles, don’t be forgetting about us now.”

It’s like that moment after you’ve been dealing with a wicked migraine for what seems like forever and you suddenly realize that it’s gone. You’re reluctant to be hopeful because that next throbbing sledgehammer shot could be right around the corner and you know it. But you take a breath and open your eyes a little wider and the hammer blow never comes.

So you take another, and then another, and all remains well.

It’s a strange sensation to find myself in because it was both rather unexpected and a totally organic thing. I haven’t started taking any medication to combat my depression or anxiety yet and it’s not a matter of procrastination as much as I’m looking into a new doctor and haven’t gotten it all worked out yet.

Despite that, my brain somehow decided, in absentia of my own conscious say in the matter, to give me a bit of a break, and I appreciate it rather much.

It also got me thinking again about something that both concerns and bothers me.

There’s been a longstanding debate about not only what we as Americans should do to address the mental health epidemic in this country, but also whether or not things like Depression actually exists in the first place.

I read an op-ed in the New York Times this morning called, Psychology is Not in Crisis, following a report by University of Virginia about the inability to replicate the findings in most of 100 published psychological experiments. Their conclusion, of course, spurred an uproar which has been both simmering and boiling since the days of Jung and Freud.

On one side, you have the clinicians, doctors and theorists who have taken the time to learn about and examine the human brain, how we use it, what happens when something goes wrong inside it, and if or how it can be repaired.

On the other are those who believe the entire fields both psychology and neuroscience are completely incorrect. That they were conceived by witch doctors, snake oil salesmen and (and I’m not making this up) everything from aliens to the Nazis and the Illuminati as a means to confuse, subjugate and rob us blind.

One need look no further than Scientology to find a group of people who believe psychology is a sham run by megalomaniacal quacks, even though their own ideology of Thetans and “Going Clear” wilts drastically as well under equal scrutiny.

It’s a similar dichotomy that I’m finding in other avenues of American society. We seem to have become so polarized that we no longer care about the central issue, regardless of what it is.

All that counts at the end of the day is either I win or you lose and I’ve been on both sides of that, in various guises, throughout my life, but especially when it comes to determining whether or not I actually have Depression or if I am just some broken or otherwise mentally-deficient version of a human being.

The simple, unpleasant and at times unnerving reality is I, myself, do not know what is wrong with me. I can spitball ideas, offer conjecture, postulate hypotheses or theorize over a blog based on what I do know until I’m blue in the face and probably never get any closer to having a definitive answer…

…or I can walk into a session with my therapist and with her knowledge base to work from, maybe we can figure it out.

Conversely, I could’ve also walked into a church or a bar and asked them what they think and I’d have gotten a lot different feedback of which at least 10-25 percent may have been actually therapeutically sound.

The fact that I chose instead to see a therapist instead of a priest, brings an immediate reaction from some people, whereas the fact that I see someone at all, instead of just doing the whole “bootstrappin’ and soldiering on and talking about it in the open, because don’t I know what I’m opening myself up to by admitting I am not an absolutely pristine, super-special snowflake, which I should be falling over myself to post on every social media outlet in existence instead?” approach brings me an even higher level of scrutiny.

One would think that it didn’t really matter how I go about the task of feeling better, so long as at the end of the day, I actually feel better. But even that isn’t always acceptable for some people because it may leave them having to feel something about why and how I ended up feeling like this in the first place.

The even more insane thing is that my ability to hold myself accountable for the stupid or hurtful things I’ve done or said to those people, or perchance someone else, recognizing both the hows and the whys of said actions and the impact they had, even that is met with some level of scorn or indignity because it means, like it or not, that I’ve owned up to it.

I’ve taken the time to understand, empathize and reach both the rational and logical conclusion of being in the wrong. That leaves the other side of the issue to react, and especially nowadays, such a possibility for reconciliation is somehow seen as a defeat.

Except my goal was never to win, but to simply to seek atonement. In that situation, I gain more in both sides feeling as if something was accomplished rather than saying I got what I wanted and to hell with you maybe feeling short-changed.

What we’re left with, therefore, is a constant zero-sum game and both dealing with mental health, as well as life in general, is not and cannot be a constant zero-sum game.

There has to be some room for flexibility and accepted difference of approach to reaching the same goal, which is to simply be happy and have as good a life as you can manage. I make no bones about being an atheist, but I’m not out there smacking down people who opt for going to church every Sunday. If that’s what they need to get through the week without feeling like their world is crashing down around them, fine and good for them.

I don’t lose anything by their doing that any more than they lose nothing by my opting to sit down for 45 minutes with my therapist every month. At the end of the day, we both get what we want and need, which is just a little peace of mind and some reassurance that we’re going to be okay.

I know I can’t change people’s opinions, to say nothing of people, in general. It’s always going to be a case of perceived underlying motives or duplicitous actions because that’s how we as a culture have learned to read each other over decades of full-scale interpersonal warfare, all in the name of winning what is ultimately a zero-sum game.

Nobody wins if everybody loses. So, to paraphrase a fictional and rather obstinate Cold War supercomputer, perhaps the only winning move is not to play.

 

Anniversary

mens-black-wedding-ring-with-red-rubiesI have to admit, it snuck up on me this time around, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Fourteen years ago today, I got married.

My memory being what it is, there’s a lot I still remember about that day, even though the speed by which the whole affair had to be carried out left me rather numb even before the reception was over.

When you’re in the thick of it, weddings tend to become a semi-cacophonous blur of sensory overload. It’s a case of “Go here! Go There! Grab this! Do that! Don’t forget this! Is everything ready! Is everyone here?! Where are the rings? Where’s the Maid of Honor and the Best Man?!”

And that doesn’t even begin to include the seemingly thousands of pictures you have to stop, pose, and be part of. By the end of the day, you’re happy it’s over as much for the ring on your finger as you are for the chance to simply go grab a nap before the honeymoon begins.

I’ve never mentioned this to anyone before, but the most emotional moment for me actually wasn’t the exchanging of the rings, or the vows, or even kissing my wife after it was all official.

The most emotional moment for me, the moment where it finally sank in that I was not only in a committed long-term relationship that I very much wanted at the time, but also part of an actual family, came when my then father-in-law finished walking his youngest daughter down the aisle, extended his hand to me and then bypassed it and gave me a reassuring embrace instead.

In that moment, I no longer felt like the bastard black sheep I’d identified myself as for the previous fifteen years. I had a foundation again. I now belonged to a very strong family unit by virtue of the promises I’d made over the ensuing 45 minutes.

I took those promises seriously and they brought a responsibility I both wanted and needed. Getting married was the first major step in adulting I undertook and I didn’t have a whole lot of prior experience to fall back on either.

I’m not one of those people who got to do a lot of dating before finally settling down and getting married and finding a house for the stereotypical 2.2 kids.

The woman I married was the first person I’d ever managed to achieve any sort of intimate relationship with. Prior to that, my attempts to be with someone I’d become romantically attracted to had been quite disastrous.

The problem wasn’t so much the girls I’d found myself being smitten with as much as me being so socially awkward, distrustful and admittedly a bit possessive, that I guess I was just too damn weird to be considered dating material, really.

By the time she came along, not only was I wanting to find someone who could be with me, but also to appease the growing, yet unfounded sense of desperation which kids that age are prone to feel when you start thinking you may end up spending your entire life, meaning decades potentially, alone.

Editorial Note: The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve seen this pattern repeated with other people. Where they are seemingly ostracized in one way or another and by the time they reach adulthood, the sheer raw desire to finally be in as close to an adult relationship as we can find often overrides other things, like common sense and long-term perspective.
But when you’re 18-19 and you haven’t been able to maintain relations with a significant other for more than a week, everything feels like forever.

When we got together, we were both coming from that same basic position, so as two people no one else seemed to want, the best thing we could do was figure out if we could make it work together.

And at first, we did. It wasn’t easy because she was in college and I suddenly found myself going through all the legal stuff which set the tone for everything that’s come after, but we tried the best we could.

By the time we’d been married for a few years, however, we’d reached a bit of a crossroads moment for both of us. I had to decide what direction my life was going to go in. If I was going to keep moving from unfulfilling job to unfulfilling job or I was going to pursue the career I wanted and achieve the goals I’d wanted my whole life.

For her, it was a question of if she was going to let me pursue those goals, understanding the sacrifice it would take from both of us to do so, but once I was done and on my way, the idea was that things would get better and those sacrifices would be vindicated.

That was the plan, but when things start to come apart, you quickly find out the things you’ve never talked about, even with someone you’ve cared about enough to feel like you can say anything too.

By the last year we were together, I think it had become obvious we were simply turning into two very different people, which was even more complicated by the fact that she was pregnant with our son.

I know the hope was that having a child would somehow magically solve a lot of the underlying problems, like my exponentially growing depression and our very frustrating financial situation due to the impact of the Great Recession, which we had neglected to address.

Clearly, that wasn’t the case considering where it stands now.

No one ever gets married with the intention of getting divorced. Having been through two of them as a kid thanks to my mother, I knew from even as young as 10 that it’s a brutal process and I would do everything I could to avoid that when I got older and met someone.

Sadly, what I didn’t plan for was ending up being with someone who eventually turned out to be the wrong person to enter into that level of commitment with.

Now that’s not to suggest that my now ex-wife is somehow evil or treated me like utter crap all hours of the day or that I was somehow a helpless victim and a perennial saint in the time we were together. We both had our times when we gave each other what we both wanted and needed in terms of love, affection and all the other positive reinforcement you crave from a spouse.

Unfortunately, beneath that was the depression and anger I’d kept compartmentalizing and both her insecurities and the unyielding refusal to trust me when it came to being around other people, especially if they happened to be female.

Editorial Note: The twisted irony of my marriage and a big reason why it ultimately failed was that following the nervous breakdown I had when my son was born, my ex-wife brought in the guy she had already been grooming to be my replacement into our home to live with us. This came about ten years after the first time she’d confessed to being unfaithful to me while she was in college, which I had forgiven her for considering the very unique circumstances of being stuck in a prison cell when it happened, placing the blame for it instead on my being stupid enough to end up there.
And yet, the longstanding assumption was that I somehow couldn’t be trusted to be around my female friends, despite 16 years of never even considering the idea of being unfaithful. Not once.

Four years removed from the brutality of the divorce proceedings, I’ve had time to step back and really think about it and I realize I should’ve done the asshole thing and ended it when I had the chance as an 18-year-old.

At that point in time, I had been presented the choice by my mother to finally go back home to New England after being away for six years. I could’ve gone to college when I wanted to, started my career and been where I’d wanted to be the whole time.

Or I could stay in Portland and be with this girl I’d been dating for about three months and really liked…but wasn’t sure how long it was going to last.

In the end, and as much as I hate to admit it now, what motivated me to stay here wasn’t just the idea of keeping the relationship going. It was to spite my mother for casting me out in the first place and not giving her the satisfaction of seeing me come back with my tail between my legs, saying she might have been right to do so.

It was much more anger, not love, which kept me here and especially now I have learned to regret that decision immensely. It wasn’t fair to my ex-wife and I feel with every fiber of my being that had I chosen to go back at that time, I would be a completely different person now.

That’s not to say I’d necessarily be better. I’m saying my life would be undeniably different.

Since the divorce, I’ve had friends ask me every so often if I’m ever going to get remarried, to which I quickly respond with a hard and fast No. As I’ve stated, I am retired and will likely stay that way for a good while because once you go through that sort of relationship, you’re never the same person on the other side.

The process itself has left me very much as I was when we first got together as late-blooming teenagers. I’m back to being very socially awkward, very distrustful and now add a heavy dose of pure misanthrophy to the mix due to how things have gone since in terms of trying to establish new relationships.

The simple truth is that as much as I wish I could, I’m faced with two things which really limit my chances.

I have the surefire turn-off of dealing with serious depression and the women whom I find both the most interesting and attractive, won’t have me. That’s been made abundantly clear on many occasions both before and after I was married.

Until that changes, I suppose the best I can do is just navigate my way through days like this and try not think about the what-if’s too much.

Instead, I guess it’s better to focus on the what is, and do the best I can with that.