Big Questions

Point IIt’s been on my mind for a while now, either sitting in the background needling me like an annoying pest or taking up the front and center like the proverbial pachyderm in the boudoir.

It’s usually the last thing I’m thinking of when I finally go to sleep, the first thing I think of when I wake up and whenever I’m at work or out doing something, it’s always there waiting for an answer.

What really is the point of trying to be a better person when it doesn’t change a damn thing?

My whole life feels like it’s been one long exercise in trying to change people’s opinions and ideas about just who and what I am, though I am far from naive enough to subscribe to the Pollyanna Theory that every cloud has a silver lining and everyone comes around eventually.

They don’t. I’ve got plenty of evidence to back that up.

When I started seeing my therapist and taking my meds this year, I kept telling myself I was doing this as much for me as I was anyone else. That I had to change because I needed to and I was way overdue for it and no matter how unpleasant it was going to be, it had to be done.

But there was also a part of me that went through with it because I’d been given so much direct and indirect feedback from the people in my life who mattered most to me that I had to become whatever they were comfortable with me being that if I both managed to do so and was very lucky, I might finally get the sort of acceptance I’ve been wanting and pursuing for a long time.

Now the semi-rational question we like to ask at times like this is, Why does it matter what everyone else thinks of you when it’s your own opinion of yourself that matters more?

Answer: Because they both matter with equal weight and importance. After all, what’s the point of being happy with who you are if the rest of the world can’t stand you?

We have a very clear definition for people who operate like that.

They’re called sociopaths…and contrary to the opinions of some…I’m not one of them.

Like it or not, external opinions and perspectives of a person are always going to have an impact on their own internal ones. And too often, we try so hard to be whoever we think you want us to be that it can be very difficult to accept that once you’ve put in all that time and energy to evolve into that version of yourself, which is far from easy, you’re still no closer than you were when you started.

I guess what I’m trying to understand as I begin the transition into another long new year, is does the fact that I still want to be something better even really matter enough for me to keep trying?

I’m not asking rhetorically or to somehow be passive-aggressive, either. It’s a serious question that I presently don’t have an answer for.

…and it’s something I just need to know.

Silly Season

62945046There was a time when I looked forward to the Holidays, but that feels like a far and very distant memory now.

I had someone at work last week ask me what my plans for Thanksgiving was and in my well-learned behavior of deflection I said I was going to be low-key this year.

Just me, a decent little turkey and some other goodies and that’s it because my schedule didn’t allow me much in the way of other options.

In reality, it’s the same thing I did last year…and the year before that…and the year before that, too.

I spend these days isolated when in reality there’s about a billion other places I would love to be, were it not for my mind constantly reminding me that I would probably not be welcome in any of them despite what this season is meant to imply.

I really wish there was a nicer way to put this, but it also would be me continuing to deflect the reality of what I’m already feeling.

And that is the next six weeks, like they do every year, are going to be incredibly hard for me to get through. Even more so than my birthday, which I don’t even really acknowledge anymore.

This is the time of the year where all the dark things which have spent the last 315 days quietly fermenting in my head will make their presence known in rather emphatic fashion.

It’s the time of the year where my very small pieces of self-esteem tend to get drowned out by the overwhelming tide of self-loathing, self-disgust and anger because I am overtly reminded of the immense amount of rejection I have dealt with from my family and those people whom I cared for more than anything.

Historically, the majority of that rejection came through this six-week period and it is nearly impossible to not blame myself for all of it, regardless of what the seemingly rational or logical explanations might be.

Emotionally, I could care less about the how-to’s and why-for’s of it all. What I know is pretty much every day from now until at least New Year’s is going to hurt like hell because of it.

I know there’s going to be days where I won’t want to get out of bed and do anything. There’ll be days where I’ll be sitting at work and will want nothing more than to crawl under my desk and bawl my eyes out, or just get in my car and drive until I run out of gas and then just keep walking.

There’s going to be days where I’ll desperately want to pick up the phone and call someone, if for no other reason than to just hear a friendly voice tell me I’m going to be okay. But I won’t because I’ll give myself a million excuses or justifications for why I’m the last person anyone wants to hear from because I’m such an emotional killjoy.

I know that all of what I’ve just written is the byproduct of my Depression and PTSD, but acknowledging that feels like nothing more than a cheap excuse for the condescending and patronizing question, “Why can’t you just be happy like everyone else?!

Had I been lucky enough to have been everyone else, than I probably would be because I’d like to think I have a lot more reasons to, especially during this time of the year.

But unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury, because I’m me and I have to live with what I’ve experienced, which means I get to relive a lot of the most painful experiences I’ve had during these last six weeks of every year.

I don’t like it. I really wish I could wake up tomorrow and remember absolutely none of it. Instead, I just have to try and get through it as best I can and by the time 2016 comes around, I can take a breath and know it’ll be another 315 days until Silly Season comes around again.

Dispose of Properly

Disposable SocietyI’ve heard on more than one occasion that I live in a disposable society. That we’ve reached the point as both a society and a culture where there is no permanence in just about anything anymore.

As consumers, we spend tons of money every year replacing things which are not designed to last with slightly newer things which are also not designed to last. Pundits and politicians love to pontificate about a time when you could buy a toaster that would last you 30 years, while condemning us for our collective stupidity because we’re so dependent on the dreaded cheap shit.

Editorial Note: My Nana got a simple two-slice toaster as a wedding present back in the late 1940’s. I am neither kidding nor hyperbolizing when I say the thing continued to churn out perfectly golden english muffins well into the late 1990’s, when it finally gave out.
A better case of they don’t make ’em like they used to, you will be hard pressed to find.

One of the things that really worries me, and also one of the primary reasons I have been so reclusive and anti-social for much of the past five years, has been the realization that when it comes right down to it, we pretty much treat each other in a similar way.

It seems that in the Social Media Age, the people we come across in our lives are just as disposable as an old cell phone or a pair of slightly used sneakers.

And I may be incredibly naive in saying this, but I truly don’t understand why.

Were I to step back and really look at the source of my confusion, my first impression is that the reason why I have such a hard time comprehending it is because I finally learned in only these last few years how to start doing it myself…and I don’t like it at all.

I’m sure you could apply a million psychological definitions or terms for why I struggle with it. Codependency, sociopathic behaviorattachment issuesetc. The simple fact remains that I’ve always been the kind of person who does not abandon or detach myself from relationships I consider valuable and worth preserving unless I am given absolutely no other alternative.

If the person on the other side is someone who means enough to me, then I am prepared to deal with a whole lot of crap in order to ensure that the relationship is not permanently severed. It’s just the way I’m wired, I guess, either to my virtue or my detriment, but it’s what I do.

Conversely, it doesn’t seem to take much motivation for those same people to drop me like the proverbial bad habit when the desire strikes them.

Editorial Note: I realize I’m at risk of painting with a very broad brush here, so I shall tread as carefully as I can and state that this does not apply to everyone I know, nor does it diminish my role in causing the friction which has often been the catalyst for some of those relationships ultimately coming apart.
I am more than capable of being a complete idiot and I’ve demonstrated that on multiple occasions to multiple people and it’s ended up costing me a lot of friendships and relationships that I have both tried and failed to rebuild, much to my continued regret.

But I also can’t help but feel that at a time where we are so hypercritical of each other and that’s predominantly based on what we post on Facebook, what we tweet, if we reach the mythical 29 levels of compatibility on eHarmony, or even worse, the right compatibility percentages on places like OKCupid, that we’ve reached the point where I’m expected to look at my Friends List like I used to go through a fresh pack of baseball cards as a kid.

Need it. Need it. Got it. Need it. Got it. Got it. Got it. Need it. Need it. Got it….

Maybe it’s because I’ve been on the other side of the equation so many times and been left scratching my head in bewilderment for why it is that this relationship with this person who at one time I shared a similar emotional attachment with suddenly became so irreconcilable that the only logical alternative was to go our separate ways.

I get how nowadays, relationships seem much more short-lived and finite than they were in my grandparents’ or even my parents’ days. I need only check out the standard Hollywood tabloid site to see umpteen examples of people who are supposedly committed to one another, exchanging them for another flavor of the month with a frequency that could make Hugh Hefner get winded.

I guess my point in all this is that I don’t see why it needs to be this way.

I’ve been alone now for close to five years and the reality of going out and meeting new people who will eventually turn around and cast me aside for whatever arbitrary reason they can come up with is a big part of why I choose to remain as such.

Either that, or else the prospect of being considered something like a short-term remedy until a more permanent situation with someone else comes along makes me question if I actually possess any potential long-term value anymore, or is my lot in life to be that of the quick fix and that’s it?

And in the meantime, I often feel like trying to maintain the friendships and relationships I have now are akin to trying to corral bubbles. They’re seemingly so fragile that if I even breathe on them wrong, they burst and there’s no way I can get them back.

But those people matter to me. They’re not disposable strictly because they matter to me and I can’t, in good conscience, just throw them away.

Even if I could, if I were brazen enough, it’s not like I wouldn’t find myself  thinking about them again at some point down the line. I’ve had that happen more times than I can count, where in the course of my day, my mind will spit out a name or a face I haven’t seen in half a lifetime, at least, and I will find myself thinking about them and invariably, I’ll usually find myself wishing I were still in contact with them.

I may live in a disposable society, but that doesn’t mean I have to contribute to the mess that comes of it either. That could make me either a decent man or a charlatan.

…You be the judge of that, I guess.

Services No Longer Required

Obsolete IIt can be one of the hardest parts of living with Depression, I’ve discovered…

…the unshakeable and repetitive message from your mind that you are no longer needed by the people who matter the most to you.

Back in the pre-Social Media Age, it wasn’t something which seemed so prevalent because the avenues of access to friends were far fewer and we weren’t essentially advertising every aspect our lives all over the internet every day.

Nowadays, though, part of the danger is buying into the thought that as friends and those you care about continue moving on with their lives courtesy of documenting it all online that not only does it give the perception of inferiority, but even worse, it can plant the seed of feeling completely obsolete as both a friend and a person.

It may seem weird to the average person, considering how many different ways there are to connect with other people nowadays, but it’s a trend I’ve noticed over the past few years, and not exclusively to my own particular sphere of relationships.

I have a good friend from college who’s been through a similar emotional wringer to me over the last 4-5 years and like me, he’s found it hard to connect to the people around him because of the impact of those moments.

When you get to that point, the line differentiating friends from enemies begins to blur because you look at what they’re doing with a potentially volatile cocktail of envy and frustration because you find yourself on the periphery of those who’s lives seem to be moving in the direction you want go in.

But because you’re dealing with other issues which lead to questions of extreme self-doubt combined with an constant uncertainty of how those around you see you, thanks to your distorted self-image, it can become very easy to feel not only unimportant, but completely useless because the Depression has become so entrenched in your personality.

There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t want to talk to my friends, either on social media, over the phone, or even by semaphore, if I had to. After being on my own for the past year, I know I could use it and that was brought home to me when I got a visit from one of my dearest friends a few weeks ago.

What stops me is a two-fold problem.

First, is the inescapable feeling that I have nothing to offer them anymore because my days are spent struggling just to get through them without letting my issues weigh me down. The second is because I have those issues in the first place, that subconsciously makes me toxic to everyone around me and the last thing I want is to somehow infect them with it.

Writing that, I know it may not make much logical sense, but emotion and logic don’t often collide with one another. Virtually every conversation I start nowadays comes with a very real element of fear that I am going to say or do something which is going to ignite another bridge that I can’t afford to lose.

We all want to feel like we matter and have something worth bringing to every relationship we ever create for ourselves. I suppose the only thing worse than feeling like you don’t matter is the idea of being obsolete to those you’d do just about anything for.

Session V: Grief Stricken

boredomWhen my friend Erik passed away 20 years ago, I remember going to my theatre teacher and telling him that I couldn’t go to the dress rehearsal for the show we were doing at the time, because I had friends to look after, answers to get, and I was not in any real frame of mind that would allow me to go on stage and perform, with all the emotional energy that required.

In that moment, I expected him to put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder, tell me to do what I needed to, and send me on my way without another word.

He did none of that. Instead, he gave me the sternest reciting of the cliche that the show must go on I’d ever heard, and said that my problems were secondary to the needs of both he and my fellow actors.

Basically the edict was suck it up, do your job and you can cry when I say so.

I hated him for that. In some ways I still do, because it was the first time I got hit with the harsh reality that in those moments of extreme emotional duress, I’m allowed to do just about anything else, but under no circumstances was I allowed the simple and necessary act of grief.

I had my latest appointment with my therapist this morning and this was something we talked about at length, the idea of being able to grieve and why that seems to be such a taboo.

The reason why I brought it up was actually as part of calling her out with something I took issue with during our previous session, when she took a moment to lecture me on the understanding that life isn’t fair.

I get how everything we perceive about ourselves through our own respective lens is capable of being both distorted and hyperbolized, but if there is one thing I unequivocally do not need to be reminded of, by anyone, it is the reality of just how unfair life can be.

Editorial Note: In my experience, the people who find it necessary to lecture me are often the same people who’s actions, either deliberately, passive-aggressively or otherwise, reinforced the point by making me have to deal with options and alternatives I didn’t want, while they got the things they wanted at my expense, thereby proving how life seems far more fair to them, by comparison They may not like to hear that, but that is not my problem as it doesn’t change the facts, either.

Charlene asked me to document how many times I felt I’d been slighted by what I considered to be the unfairness of my existence, and I suspect she thought I would only have two or three things which would’ve been so trivial that it would’ve reinforced her position that I was riled up about inconsequential stuff.

By the time I’d covered just the past five years, I was surprised by how wide her eyes had gotten. Add on top of that all the things I had to get through as a kid, and I guess the first question she asked was the most valid.

“How are you still standing?”

I’d like to say I had a witty and appropriate response at the ready in my hip pocket. But the reality is…I don’t really know anymore.

By all rights, I should have been in drug or alcohol rehab, locked in a rubber room or taking up a slab in a morgue (or any combination of the three), at least a half dozen times already. And if I am brutally honest with myself, the only reason why that hasn’t happened yet is this.

I refuse to grieve about everything and everyone I’ve lost.

I don’t. It was a luxury when I was younger. When my grandfather died, I remember crying at his funeral for what seemed like hours. By the time Erik died, I’d begun finding ways to hide it so when I broke down, it was only in the spaces I was comfortable doing so in.

Now, I don’t let myself do it at all. When something happens to wound me enough that I know it’s going to hurt like an absolute son of a bitch, I slap the equivalent of an emotional band-aid on it and force myself to just keep moving forward in spite of it.

There’s a line from the movie, Batman Begins, that’s always resonated with me because I can empathize with the perspective of both Bruce Wayne and Ra’s Al Ghul:

But I know the rage that drive you.
The impossible anger, strangling the grief until the memory of your loved ones is just poison in your veins.
And one day you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.

At one point, Charlene pointed out that a lot of the things I refuse to accept are things which I do not have the power to change. They are impossibilities, she said, and to an extent, there is a very unpleasant truth in that.

I cannot bring back the people I lost who are dead, and as much as I want to, I will likely never have back the relationships I wanted most with the people who’ve chosen to move on with their lives.

And as I sit here writing that acknowledgement out, it makes my emotional core start to buckle in ways I do not like at all. I don’t say that to be sympathetic. It’s simply an observation which further illustrates the point.

It took the majority of the session for me to explain that my way of functioning and coping with that every day is to block it out as best I can and just follow the routine of sleep, eat and work and that the only things which have kept me alive this long is not some renowned reservoir of strength, but rather something which either makes me an incredibly stubborn optimist or an out and out fool.

Hope and an absolute refusal to accept the impossible.

I wish I had something less cliched than that, but as I’ve been told repeatedly, I am nothing if not predictable.

For what seems my entire life, I have been dictated to about what I am capable or incapable of doing. Over five years, I had a group of psychologists, whom I was mandated to work with, tell me that I was so incorrigible and mentally deficient that I would likely never function properly as an adult human being. That the goals I wanted for myself of going to college, having a career and a family and being as productive a member of the human race as I’m capable of being was impossible.

But somehow, I did the seemingly impossible. Even I’m not always sure how I did it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it happened nonetheless.

If my life has taught me anything, it’s that I bounce back and forth between anger, depression and reasoning when it comes to the grief I carry with me. Some days, I’ll be angry about it, on others I’ll be miserable and there are days where I tell myself that if I can accomplish Goal X today, then I’ll be one step closer to convincing Person Y that I am actually worthy of Emotion Z.

That’s also where the seemingly minuscule fragments of hope that I cling to become so vitally important. Without them, I would never give myself a reason to ever think that the scales can be tipped back in my favor and the things I want so badly are still possible.

Like I said, I could be a hopeless romantic or a complete idiot for letting myself believe such a thing, but honestly, what else am I supposed to do?

That keeps me going and I built that perpetual cycle for the basic reason that I know if I ever reach the point where I finally accept my existence for what it is, that’s the moment where I lose my primary motivation to continue living another second.

In other words, the moment I stop moving long enough to acknowledge all that pain, it’s going to completely annihilate me because it’ll be a whole lot more than either my mind or my body can tolerate…and I’ve known that for a long time.

Now I know the standard-issue, knee-jerk response to that is to just get over it, already and get on with my life, like there is some actuarial table I’m required to follow, which says the mandatory maximum time to emotionally recover from a divorce and the loss of a child is 12 months, getting over a nervous breakdown and the loss of self-identity is no more than six months, severing a toxic relationship with a parent – no more than 8.5 months, 36 months for the death of a best friend and getting my heart broken a secondary or tertiary time shouldn’t take me more than four months tops, because hey, experience is supposed to be accompanied by a certain degree of wisdom, but that all depends on if it’s In-Network or not.

The very unpleasant reality is that there are things we never truly get over and we live with the grief they cause for our entire lives. We all slap the emotional band-aids over those wounds and do our best to ignore them, even as they fester because no one wants to deal with them, I don’t care how tough you think you are.

Besides, if the philosophical edict is that we as human beings are allowed to grieve in our own way and our own time, how I am somehow in the wrong because it could take me longer than the average person?

Charlene asked me what it would take for me to be rid of the grief I carry and I wasn’t entirely prepared for what I said in response.

Let me have back what I’ve lost.

I know that’s impossible…and I don’t care. It’s not going to keep me from trying to make it happen all the same, because it’s what I want.

I know that’s also probably incredibly selfish of me, but I suppose wanting things you can’t have is a selfish act and I won’t be ashamed of that.

At least then, I’d be able to say life is actually a bit more fair to me than it has been, because then I’d be able to say I have a second chance to do things right.

Back to the Grind

dscf3546d1Sooner or later, you just have to get your ass to work on the things that matter.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing this year. I’ve written news stories. I’ve written on this blog. And as of tonight, I’ve managed to maintain my streak of writing a letter a day for ten months and counting.

What I haven’t been doing, though, is writing the second draft of my book.

That’s not to say I haven’t been working on it, though. I’ve spent the past few months updating my research, doing more world building, rethinking characters and plot lines and letting it do a whole lot of percolating in my head, really.

I’d like to think if you polled a thousand writers, the majority would say that there’s a fine line between knowing when to let a story rest and when it’s time to just knuckle down and start writing it again. After all, until you begin putting words down on the pages, the story remains in the aether or it’s not the story you ultimately want to tell.

November being National Novel Writing Month, there’s a lot of ambitious and aspiring authors who are spending the next thirty days trying to do the same thing. I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times and completed it twice. If my schedule were less hectic in terms of having nights and weekends free, I could probably have the freedom to do it again this year.

As I don’t, I’m left with the decision of trying to get it done on a more rigid time frame. Since I have most weekends open and during the winter there’s less to do out here in the desert than usual, I theoretically have the next six months to dedicate my weekends to nothing other than writing out the second draft.

I figure at that clip, I can do a chapter each weekend, which also gives time I didn’t have before to pace myself.

If there’s a drawback to NaNoWriMoit’s the reality that you’re moving at such a clip that you don’t have time to stop and think about the story you’re writing. It’s a sprint not so cleverly camouflaged as a marathon.

I figure since I already took the time and effort to crank out more than 140,000 words in four months last year, I can give myself a little more breathing room and approach these 140,000 words, or potentially more, without as much pressure on myself.

The goal, after all, is not to get the words out as fast as I can, but to get the right words out so the story is as good as I can make it.

To that end, I worked for six hours today and already cranked out more than 2,700 words, which is a decent day’s work for not having done in it in over a year.

We’ll see what I can put together next weekend and if I can keep this going.