Running on Empty

Love IIIf anyone had tried telling me five years ago that this is where I’d be know, both geographically and emotionally, I’m pretty sure I’d have felt completely justified in responding that you were one of those rare individuals who was apparently crazier than I’m purported to be.

And yet…here I am.

As a certain little black duck once conceded, guess I’m the goat.

Conventional cliched wisdom dictates that the one thing human beings cannot survive without along with food and water is the certainty that they are indeed loved by the people whom they love in return.

The obvious sources we tap into are family, friends, and if we’re very lucky, someone we can be open, vulnerable and wholly imperfect with. Ideally, that well is deep enough to sustain us for the entirety of our lives and the thought of what we’re going to do should the reservoir ever run out never even crosses our minds.

I sure as hell didn’t. There was no way I could’ve fathomed such a thing considering where I was at that point in time.

But then it happened.

In hindsight, I guess I have the virtue of all the time since to really reexamine where and how I brought it upon myself. After all, I remember very clearly how as I was trying to figure out the whys, there were no shortage of fingers pointed my way.

That said, I don’t think there’s a set right way to handle such a catastrophic implosion, and if someone’s managed to figure it out and write the definitive how-to manual on the subject, then I best find it as soon as possible.

If there was one thing I took away from that time in my life, it was that the odds were pretty good that from here on out I was going to have to try getting by without being sustained from the reservoir I once had.

My family and the people I could honestly say I loved more than anything were gone and there was not a damn thing I could do about that. They’d said their peace and exited stage right, which meant I had to keep going with what was left.

That meant leaning on the few friends who I’d managed to not drive off, and sometimes not for lack of trying, if I’m honest.

As I sit here writing this, it terrifies me to think where I’d be if they had evaporated with everyone else. With how bad some of the truly bad days have been, they could still have been so much worse without those few remaining connections.

What also terrifies me is the realization I’ve had for the past few years that I’ve tried to ignore.

It’s hard to articulate because the last thing I want is for those people to think they’re taken for granted. I’m at the point where I can’t afford to take anyone for granted, and I wouldn’t even if my life were the polar opposite of what it is now.

But the unfortunate reality that I’ve also had to come to terms with is that for as much as that tiny bit of love and empathy has helped carry me through these five years, it’s also not enough.

It’s not anywhere in the vicinity of enough.

Whenever I think about that, which is often these days, the first question I ask myself is why?  Why isn’t it enough?

We often try to convince ourselves that we can actually exist without being loved by people, no matter how much we care about them in return. The primary goal is to love ourselves, after all, for it’s our own internal reservoirs that ultimately trump everyone else’s and we’re supposed to strive for that independence at all times.

Maybe so, but then I have this question:

How is being sustained by the love we get from those people whose acceptance matters to us most considered unhealthy by comparison to how we love ourselves?

If anything, I’d think that would be just as important. After all, human beings are a tribal species. We all want to belong to someone. We want to matter and be allowed to express ourselves as authentically as possible to those someones.

Yet, we keep lying to each other and saying we’re not supposed to care what everyone else thinks.

We have a term for such antisocial people who act without any conscious regard for the opinions or feelings of others, regardless of who they are in our lives.

Those people are called sociopaths.

And like it or not, I’m not one of them, nor do I want to be.

Maybe I care too much about what people think of me, but I’ve always been that way and for good reason.

I want to be loved by the people I love. I want my existence to matter.

Except I know it doesn’t. Not really and maybe I do deserve that.

I can’t deny the fact that I’ve done a lot of things that have disappointed, frightened and hurt them, and as much as I would give anything to erase those things from my history book, I can’t.

All I can do is live with that guilt, keep going and figure out how to get through tomorrow with what I’ve got, and then the next day and the day after that in the fleeting hope that at some point, I’ll have done enough to refill the well.

Until then, however, I know there’ll be a lot of days ahead where I’ll honestly wonder if I have enough left to get me there.

Secret Agent Man

Secret InfoWhen I was a kid, I always found the idea of being James Bond about the coolest thing in the world.

Bond is not infallible. In fact, he’s quite imperfect on many levels, but that doesn’t stop him from doing his job and surviving in a world ruled by secrets.

And while I managed to become totally enamored with the world of espionage and spies as I grew up, I doubt there was any way of anticipating how many secrets of people I’d actually learn, or how many I’d end up having to protect.

I don’t say that with any particular measure of relish or ego, by the way.

It’s just a commonality we all share in our own way. We all have secrets and things we can share only with those exceptionally rare few people we can ever allow ourselves to trust. The only reason why we don’t have more is because at some point, that trust has been betrayed or we’ve been judged and condemned for the secrets we keep.

I certainly have mine and in the course of my life, I’ve made the mistake of trusting the wrong people to not only avoid passing judgment, but to also understand why I chose to kept them as close to the chest as I have.

As a result, the number of people I can honestly say I am willing to put any measure of real trust in is a mere fraction of what it used to be and for good reason.

And yet, for all my interest in being the person behind the scenes who knew all the secrets, when it came to actually learning them, even things that should’ve rocked me to my core…they never seemed to be such a big deal that it led to me having to make a judgment call about the person who chose to reveal it to me.

How do you define bravery? Bravery

There’s a million different answers to this question, I know. It all depends on your own particular definition of the word itself.

Over the years, I’ve been considered to have a certain measure of it by people who know me and what I’ve endured in my life. By comparison to many of those same people, though, I’m not even in the same league.

Some of the secrets I’ve been entrusted to keep even made me wonder how their owners managed to bear them, and depending on what they are, they can indeed be very hard things to bear.

Secrets take their toll on all of us, both physically and emotionally. Not being able to exist as we want simply because we have these parts of our being which we’re either afraid or ashamed to disclose to anyone is a terrible way to live and it’s all due to the fact that we are a judgmental and hypercritical bunch.

We encourage our friends and loved ones to be honest about who they are, but then we’re presented with a time where we realize that person is not entirely who we believed they are simply because they’ve kept awkward, embarrassing, shameful or painful things under lock and key.

And yet, it’s the ability to both live under those conditions and then manage to free one’s self from having to through the liberation of those secretive things which, to me, seems like the truest measure of bravery.

I’ve seen it repeated time and again by far better people than I am. People who’d had to conceal things like illnesses, injuries, scars, their sexuality, their place of origin, and actions they knew would not ever be accepted by the sanctimonious mob.

The truly crazy thing is more often than not, the presumption was I’d treat them no differently than everyone else seemed to, and their reactions when I didn’t respond in kind always made me feel worse than they did in finally conveying it to someone else.

Sometimes, I’ve been asked how I ever managed to be so tolerant and accepting.

The truth is, I’m actually not. Not as much as I used to be and not as much as I’d like.

I have my biases and prejudices. I have my things which I have very little tolerance for. I suppose I’m fortunate that the intolerance of others who are quick to condemn or ostracize anyone who’s different is one of those things I cannot tolerate at all.

I guess what it comes down to a simple question.

Is it such a big deal that I have treat them any differently than I did before?

About 99.9% of the time, the answer is No, and not because I’m a better man than anyone. I just never let those things be the lines of demarcation between someone I cared about and someone I didn’t want to associate with.

They just didn’t matter that much, but that’s not to say they didn’t matter. I appreciate that I’m given the privilege to have those secrets disclosed to me, because I understand all too well what it’s like to not be able to do so.

In many ways, I am who I am now expressly because I’ve been forced to keep my own secrets and as much as I wish I could share them with the people who matter most in my life, I also had to learn the hard way that I can’t.

For whatever reason, they’ve proved to be too much to handle, though how I’m expected to not have any problems as a result of holding onto them is admittedly beyond me.

But as someone who has been judged, and condemned and ostracized by family and those few people I dared invest my own trust in, I know better than just about anyone how hard an existence that can be, and I wouldn’t wish such a thing on anyone I’ve ever known.

So if that makes me the one who my friends and acquaintances feel they can entrust with such things, I’m okay with that. I truly am. If anything, I would rather be that kind of outlet for them than the alternative of feeling like they can’t confide in anyone out of fear.

Hopefully, enough of their bravery can rub off on me that I can find someone to finally entrust my own secrets to someday.

Odd Man Out

image20160310-12400-1y270bkI always remember being told as a kid, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Lately, I’ve had a hard time convincing myself to say anything, not because I don’t think I have anything nice or important to say, but every time I want to open my mouth, I’m so certain the absolute wrong thing anyone wants to hear is going to come out.

In a lot of ways, being socially awkward has been one of the most prominent traits I’ve ever possessed. Don’t believe me? Just ask all the people who used to be willing to either talk or listen to me, and now would rather not be bothered.

The list is rather long and distinguished, I assure you.

Were I to try and break down the reasons why I have such an apparent knack for saying or doing things that seem to go against the grain of what is considered more fashionable things to say or do, I guess the biggest factor is what is either one of major assets or flaws. Take your pick.

I believe in being able to honestly express myself, either in words or actions.

I don’t sugar-coat the truth and I don’t always tell people what they want to hear. Nowadays, I suppose that’s not the smartest thing to do, given how much we all seem to prefer lying to each other or hiding behind the facade we create for ourselves on social media.

Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to disconnect from the people whose voices may not be to your particular taste anymore or maybe they don’t add another layer to your respective echo chamber. All you have to do is click either unfriend or unfollow and -poof!- away they go.

Out of sight, out of mind, and perhaps best of all, out of earshot.

The secondary, and probably as equally important a motivator for my lack of proper social interaction, is the trajectory of my life seems to be on a totally different arc than everyone else I know.

For the greater majority of us, life proceeds along a traditional graceful parabola of birth, childhood, education, career, marriage, family, middle-age, empty nest, retirement, old age and inevitably, death.

Once I hit childhood, though, mine has gone up and down in rather sporadic intervals at the cost of considerable consequence. A lot of that, I freely concede, is directly my fault, while some of it was not.

The byproduct of that is it becomes rather difficult, if not impossible at times, to reach a one-to-one comparative ratio with just about everyone I know.

And because of that, it’s hard to shake the feeling, more often than not, that I am seen on either directly or indirectly as some sort of an embarrassment as a person, and therefore making the feeling of being socially awkward all the more prominent.

One would think I may not understand why I could be perceived that way, but in actuality I do understand rather clearly. I’ve made terrible mistakes in my life. Done a great many things which carry a rather large measure of guilt and shame and regret which will never really go away, no matter what I do to make up for them.

As a result, I’ve had to get used to living an even more isolated kind of existence than I did when I was kid who was moving from town to town at the end of every school year. I also don’t really know how to associate with everyone I’m still connected to because they seem to be in a state of perpetual motion compared my constant feeling of being relatively static.

The more time passes, the less sure I am of what to say in those seemingly rare moments where I do let myself interact with people, even ones I’ve known for the greater majority of my life.

It’s always the question of figuring out how to say what is wanted to be heard, rather than what needs to be said.

That seems utterly paradoxical, I know, but that also comes from the mind of someone who’s become convinced over a great many years that he’s seen and recognized as a perpetual embarrassment as a person by everyone who knows me.

And that’s hard to live with, if I’m honest. It’s really hard.

It has never been my intention to make anyone ashamed or embarrassed to associate with me. I honestly can’t imagine anyone would want to achieve that sort of notoriety because it brings with it a sense of limited tolerance. That what you do or say is okay only up to a certain point, and if you step over that line, then it’s game over.

The only problem is there’s no real way of knowing where the line is, so in your trepidation not to approach it, you teach yourself either convey the least amount of information possible, or else you learn how to become a very good liar.

You teach yourself how to smile and nod and put on airs and when someone asks how you’re doing, no matter how miserable you may be feeling emotionally, you always respond with being fine or okay or hanging in there.

Either that, or you do another trick I’ve picked up in the past few years called the redirect, where if someone asks how I’m doing, I make a remark about something they said before they asked, thereby taking the focus off their question and I can come back with one of my own.

I’ll admit it’s far from the best coping mechanism I could employ, but it steers me out of more potential trouble spots than you’d think.

There’s not a day goes by that I wish I didn’t feel like the perpetual stranger in the crowd, or worse, the guy everyone’s secretly ashamed or embarrassed to still associate with. Having to try and maintain a lot of those relationships through the distorted lens of social media doesn’t help the situation, I know, but at the same time, I have two major issues that complicate things even more.

I live a rather isolated existence in the middle of nowhere, which makes social media the only really viable means of connection that I have left, and even if I were able to be around everyone in person again, the feelings of anxiety and awkwardness usually become that much more prominent.

Is there a way out of this? I’d like to think so but I’m not entirely sure as to what it is. If it were up to me, I guess all I’d really want is just to be able to be honest in articulating what I’m thinking and feeling without the fear that it’s going to already make what feels like precariously fragile relationships even more unstable by providing more incentive to feel too embarrassed to continue associating with me.

Call me crazy, which isn’t an entirely inaccurate observation, by the way…but I’d like to think that’s not too much to ask.

Manic

Manic ILet’s try a little experiment, shall we?

That thing you’ve been trying not to think about all day.

No, not that thing. The other one. The one you’d rather not think about.

Nope, not that one either. The really bad one.

Well, actually…yeah, that really bad thing…and the other one…and the original one.

So those three things, whatever they are, that you’ve been consciously trying to not think about all day? I want you to think about them long and hard for the next three seconds.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

3…2…and…stop.

Now, no matter what happens for the rest of the tonight, tomorrow and Friday, no matter how many times you feel the unwavering urge to commit all your mental and emotional faculties to thinking about those three things, again whatever they are, especially the bad one…!!

…you’re not allowed to because to do so will make things even more unpleasant for you if you do.

How unpleasant, you ask? No idea whatsoever. You’re just going to have to let your imagination come up with the worst-case scenario, as that’s how this experiment works.

But you heard me, no matter how diabolically bad that itch gets inside your head, under no circumstances are you allowed to scratch it, even for a second. If you do, the potential punishment you face is beyond your current comprehension.

Now I ain’t a bettin’ man, but I’m willing to put good money I don’t have down that you’d have a better chance of holding your breath underwater while staring down the barrel of the biggest Great White Shark you’d ever seen than you do of not giving into the temptation to scratch that mind-shatteringly annoying subconscious itch.

Welcome to my world.

In the two times I’ve been formally diagnosed with chronic depression, there was never a point where either doctor said, implied, or even insinuated the possibility that I may also be straying into the realm of having manic or bipolar issues as well.

To be fair, the two are usually mutually exclusive of one another, based on what I’ve been able to understand and read about mental illness. Under the textbook definitions of depression, they classify being manic as a separate issue than dealing with chronic symptoms.

And yet, depending on whose analysis you go by, there is evidence to indicate manic behavior patterns can be an element in having chronic depression and they can last days, sometimes weeks, or even potentially longer.

The real bitch of it, of course, is that my brain likes to follow standard bureaucratic procedures in cases like this, thereby making the person who stands to be the most directly impacted by the duration of these episodes, i.e. me, the last one to know until after it’s already kicked into high gear.

The past week has not been a particularly fun time to be saddled with the faulty wiring which exists in my head.

Thanks to a worst-case scenario drawn up after looking at Facebook before going to bed one night, (because hooray for insomnia!) I woke up yesterday morning realizing there were at least two ideas which my subconscious spat out that I was going to have to ignore for at least the next 24 hours.

When I climbed back into bed last night, I was exhausted enough that I could disappear into the technicolor cyberpunk realms of William Gibson for about an hour and then segue into a state of relative dreamland.

Then I woke up this morning about 90 minutes earlier than I planned, because I got the following message on the teletype that is my subconscious.

Look, fuckstick, before I’m going to allow you to get out of this bed or do any of the hundred-odd functions which make up your already overcrowded Wednesday, lemme make this clear to you.

I will not be ignored anymore. You’re officially on my time now, so take what I’m giving you and for your own sake, you better like it, dammit. I put a lot of time and energy into this particular stress-ball, after all.

I wasn’t in the mood to play games this morning, nor am I on just about any other morning, so I rolled over and made, what I’d like to think, was an earnest attempt to get a bit more shut-eye.

So my brain decided to play dirty and bypassed the Geneva Convention in favor of just dropping the big one on me.

For what has to be the better part of three months now, I’ve had this question sitting in the back of my mind, that I can’t answer because it’s not for me to answer. Under normal circumstances, I could’ve probably asked when it came up on that first day, but that would be too simple.

Basically, the conclusion I came to is if I asked the person the question was intended for, I was certain it would only be making an already extremely awkward and counter-intuitive situation worse.

So I didn’t scratch the itch in the hopes it would just eventually go away.

Lucky me. It didn’t. Instead, it decided to camp out and throw itself a kegger.

And as I lay in bed this morning, trying like mad to come up with any other alternative to get out of said predicament, I reached for my phone, tapped out a text message with one and a half eyes open, and hit SEND.

To which, my brain replied, Now was that really so hard? Don’t worry. When you get up tomorrow, I’ll probably have a whole slew of new ones ready to try out. It’ll be GREAT!!

What sucks the most about when these manic moments kick in is I don’t know how long they’re going to last and they’re keyed into all the stress and anxiety I feel about all the things which manifested my depression in the first place.

All the guilt and shame and fear and regret and anger I carry around everyday, trying to find a happy medium where I can just live with them not sitting on my chest like the 90-ton pachyderms they are. In a way, it’s like those lottery machines that spit out the ping-pong balls with the winning numbers.

Hey folks, it’s Wednesday night and hope you’ve got a ticket! Tonight’s numbers are…?!

People tend to assume that it’s something you can just turn off and believe me, I really wish I could find that red button. I wish I could’ve found it 25 years ago, to be honest.

The only problem is it doesn’t work that way.

The thing about manic behavior is there’s no set clock when it starts. You could find yourself having a Pet Rock length sort of mania about someone or something, or you could have a Beatlemania sort of mania about it. There’s no way of knowing for sure until it happens.

The way I learned to cope with that is by not talking about it, if at all possible. I keep it to myself until the point where I absolutely can’t ignore it anymore and am forced to act on it. But of course, that brings with it a whole flotilla of extra anxiety and stress which makes me even more freaked out.

I truly don’t know if it’s ever going to go away either.

My gut tells me that a lot of things in my life would probably have to change for that to happen, but considering I’m at the point where a lot of things I never wanted to happen already have, it might just be along for the duration.

Which begs the question, I suppose, of how do I manage to handle those incredibly intense emotional situations without dragging everyone around me into it and making an already unpleasant deal potentially that much worse?

Yet another manic itch for me to try not to scratch.