Round Four

Well…here we go again.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been going into the city and having appointments at the Depression and Clinical Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and this morning, I officially started a ten-week double-blind trial related to the effects of Omega-3 on Depression.

This is my fourth attempt to try and get a grip on what’s going on in my head. During my sit-down with the supervising therapist this morning, the best I could explain it to her is that after nearly 30 years of living with it, I’m still looking for the means to, for lack of a better term, fix it.

Sitting on the subway last night heading home from work, it was hard to shake the question, Why the hell am I still doing this? and was even tougher to find an answer.

In my experience, it’s never been easy to explain to the people just how long I’ve been looking for a way out of this emotional maelstrom I’ve been caught up in. Conversely, there’s been no end of both the sanctimonious and condescending who would lecture me to no end about how my inability to either suppress or outright eliminate my Depression was making their lives more difficult and uncomfortable.

Most times, their complaints were encompassed in six unbelievably obtuse words; Don’t you want to feel better?

Let’s try something. Put yourself in my shoes and wonder how you’d feel if you got asked that question.

I’m not a gamblin’ man, but I’d be willing to put my money down on your response being something along the lines of Are you really that #$%&’n dumb to think that I don’t?!

Of course I want to feel better.

One of the things I’ve had to be honest with myself about over the past few years is the sobering reality that I genuinely don’t know how to function in a way that doesn’t involve my Depression. After living with it for this long, I can gauge with pretty accurate estimations of when I’m on an uptick or about to drop back down into the abyss for a while.

During the upticks, like the one I’ve been on for about the past week or so, I know I probably seem as normal as the next person. In reality, most of that are my coping mechanisms being able to thwart off all the things that inevitably build themselves back up and take over my state of being.

That also means that all of my friends and loved ones have never really seen me truly healthy, either physically or emotionally. They really haven’t.

The thing that worries me the most, though, what has got me trying not to freak out about going back into this again, is whether or not they can accept the idea of me doing what I need to to get healthy, or even if they want me to.

I know that’s a harsh observation and I don’t make it lightly, but for me, it’s been impossible for me to not think that part of why I’m not supposed to get better is because the few friends I still have won’t be able to handle it, and those I’ve lost and been trying to reconnect with either won’t or can’t accept that I’m not the same person I used to be.

If you believe nothing else, then believe this. It’s hard enough to convince myself that going through these processes when I have my own brain doing whatever it can to derail my ambition and actual need to get better. It’s hard enough to do it in a medical system where no one seems to have the most efficient answers or even decent ideas on how to help people like me…

It’s even harder when it feels like that whatever you do isn’t going to matter to the people in your life who matter to you.

Even so and as much as that raises the difficulty bar for me, I still can’t let it stop me from pursuing the options I have available now. It’s part of what fueled my decision to pack up my worldly possessions and drive 3,006 miles back home.

If there’s one thing Boston is known for, outside of its history, it’s the fact that there is a massive medical community out here, with doctors who are actually doing the daily grunt work in order to make life for people like me even just a little bit easier.

Is that going to happen over the next ten weeks? No, probably not, but then I don’t expect it to.

If there’s one thing I’ve really had to learn, it’s that recovery is a long game. That it’s often a case of two steps forward, one step back. I won’t lie and say that doesn’t frustrate me or test my already minuscule degree of patience with myself, but there’s also nothing I can do about that, either.

All I can do is what I’ve done and what I’m doing, which is looking for answers, taking a chance and seeking out some degree of help, even if it’s temporary.

It’s still better than nothing and I have nothing to more to lose at this point.

Tally Ho.

Confessions of an Asexual Mind

Can we talk like adults for a minute?

You know…actual mature people who can discuss the grown-up things no one really likes to talk about because venturing into such stigmatized territory makes them feel all weird and wigged out?

I promise I won’t go so far off the reservation or outside the taboo status quo that you’ll need to cleanse your mind with whatever juvenile or non-adult escape route you go with in such circumstances, okay?

Good.

So I was sitting in a doctor’s office yesterday at Mass General Hospital’s clinic for Depression and Mental Illness Research, talking to someone about why I was interested in being in one of their many study programs for better understanding how Depression and Mental Illness can be identified and treated.

The Q&A part of it lasted about half an hour and inevitably, there was the point where I was asked to describe the state of any relationships I was in, and of course, my sex life.

Having no reason whatsoever to lie, my reply to both was simply, “non-existent.

This brought the standard-issue follow up question of how long it had been since it had been even marginally existent and it was interesting to see the researcher, who was a female in her late-20’s by my guess, respond when I said it was close to six years now. Her eyes widened in momentary disbelief as she scribbled down notes, as if the idea that any guy could go that long without sleeping with someone or being intimate on any level for that matter, was about as likely as the Moon being actually made of green cheese or the Loch Ness Monster suddenly launching itself out of the Scottish water for a gratuitous selfie.

Then she asked the question which I knew was coming, but I was always reluctant to answer.

“Do you now identify as asexual?”

I didn’t respond right away. In fact, I had to really think about it for a few minutes because it was an awkward thing to be honest with myself about. Fortunately, the researcher didn’t press the issue at all, which made it easier to finally tell her that Yes, I do identify as an asexual person and have pretty much felt that way since 2011.

For the majority of that time, I’ve preferred to use the term Retired, with the proviso that at some point, my interest in intimacy and being intimate with a woman would come back. A lot of my friends who I’d talked to about it and explained my reasoning for why I’d chosen to live this way had a similar perspective.

Give it time, Dev, they’d say. Eventually, you’ll find someone or someone will find you and it’ll come back.

Except it hasn’t. Not even a little bit.

It’s worth explaining, I think, to point out that in the hyper-sexualized world we all live in, I was never one to really follow the same mindset to begin with. As a kid who was forced to discover his sexuality way before I was at an age where I could adequately process it, I started out on the polar opposite end of the spectrum from where I am now.

In that regard, I don’t suspect I’m any different than virtually any other American male unfortunately, but unlike most guys, who never really bothered to understand such behavior brings with it very real and very serious consequences if it’s used indiscriminately or in a malevolent fashion, I was made to understand it through my own experiences.

And so I did the only thing I could think of and altered my behavior and my way of thinking. It wasn’t easy and it took virtually all of my adolescence, but I reached a level where I was comfortable as a demisexual.

demisexual is defined as, “a person who does not experience any degree of sexual attraction unless the form a strong emotional connection with someone.” To me, this was about as perfect a place to sit on the spectrum as I could hope for, but I found that it was much more of a double-edged sword than I could’ve anticipated.

On the one side, there was the ability to enter a potential relationship with the focus being on forming an emotional foundation first. It afforded me the chance to get to know whomever it was that I was interested and move forward at a pace where being intimate was pushed into the background until we were both at a point where we’d hopefully be comfortable enough with each other that it became a mutually-acceptable possibility.

The flipside, though, was the idea that a man is incapable of being a demisexual and all it was was another ploy used by yet another guy who lacked both self-discipline and self-control, which to some, made me another prime example of the #YesALLMen mentality that’s become prevalent in our ongoing social discourse.

Editorial NoteFor the record, I totally get why most women are reluctant to believe that any man can be anything other than an overstimulated, underdeveloped asshole looking for the first opportunity to take advantage of them. I absolutely do. Men are egotistical, misogynistic, destructive creatures who have historically used sex as a weapon, a means of leverage, a bragging right and a measuring stick for their own machismo and Alpha standing among their male counterparts. I witnessed it firsthand growing up and have seen example after example of it since, so I am not blind to it and every time, it left me feeling both disgusted and abhorrently angry, because I know of no reason why anyone; male or female, deserves to be treated in such a bestial fashion.

The unfortunate byproduct of this, I’ve found, is that in trying so hard to establish a mutual degree of trust between myself and a potential partner, it almost invariably devolves into such a level of distrust that the foundation inevitably falls apart. Now that is as much my own fault as it is the person on the other side and I freely admit that.

The older I’ve gotten and the more bad experiences I had in feeling emotionally attracted to someone, the more afraid I got and the more hypercritical of myself I became. It also didn’t help that my one and only real relationship, which lasted sixteen years and ten of them being married, was built upon a wholly toxic foundation of insecurities and mistrust by my ex and codependency by the both of us. The lingering effects of that, no matter how much I tried it not to be, permeated into every successive attempt to forge new relationships and ultimately destroyed them, no matter how strong my emotional feelings were.

In the face of that, I guess it was the only logical reaction that my mind could go to and so it shut that whole part of me down entirely.

And to be honest, I don’t miss it all that much.

In some ways, it’s actually quite liberating to start accepting myself as an asexual person. It’s also very enlightening to be able to see how women interact and react to my presence in a given situation, like when I’m on the train going to or from work, or sitting in a coffee shop doing something like typing away on my laptop. It doesn’t take much to read the body language of apprehension and even to some degree, even fear when I sit down in close proximity to a woman.

After all, I’m a 200-lb. guy usually wearing a longcoat who doesn’t smile or project friendliness all that often. If I was looking at this from a female perspective of having been hit on or propositioned however many hundreds of times by so many knuckle-dragging guys who I wanted nothing to do with, I’d keep one weary eye on me too.

To be fair, being an asexual person doesn’t mean I don’t still have the Pavlovian reaction of observing someone who happens to catch my eye for whatever reason, and in a city of 650,000 people, I’m surrounded by women who the average guy would fall over themselves to connect with on some level.

Editorial Note: There was a joke I remember hearing from an older male co-worker who thought himself quite the Ladies’ Man, when I was younger and worked at a grocery store. At the time, I thought it was funny, but I eventually came around to realizing what an incredible douchebag he was because the joke seemed to encapsulate his entire view on relationships and women in general. The joke was, As Confucius once said; just because man is on a diet, does not mean he cannot still view the menu.

But I’m not an average guy. I don’t even want to be thought of as a Nice Guy, nor did I ever want to be. It’s not how I’m programmed.

It usually isn’t until I go into my bag and take out either a book to read or my laptop to go to work that the uncomfortable and subconscious tension drops because they pick up on the realization that I’m not interested in them, even if I acknowledge their existence for however long my eyes are distracted from what I’m trying to focus on.

I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot though and a woman came up to me and tried to introduce themselves. That somehow, for reasons which defy my own albeit twisted logic, they managed to find me interesting or, dare-I-say, even attractive enough to strike up a conversation with.

What would I do?

Honestly…? I’d probably excuse myself as politely as I can and then run as fast as my feet could carry me in the opposite direction, no matter how nice or attractive they may have seemed.

Such is what happens when you come to accept that relationships or intimacy are not essential parts of your life anymore. That it’s okay to be an asexual person and not worry so much about when you’re going to find the next person you can connect to.

After all, there are seven billion people on this planet and not all of them are in relationships either. Someone has to be the odd man out. Suppose that might as well be me, because I just don’t want it anymore.

I still think women have the capacity to be thought-provoking, intelligent, interesting and exceptionally beautiful and I always will, but I’m sorry…they’re not worth the heartbreak anymore, either.

Noir

It’s weird to try and pin down when I first became enamored with the storytelling genre known as Noir.

As a kid, I was always way more enamored with the fantastically vivid worlds of hyper-technological science fiction and classical swords and sorcery than I ever was with the gritty, dark, urban, contemporary worlds that populate what is widely considered to be Noir. If I really think about it, my interest in it didn’t really begin until I was in my early teens and I was made rather abruptly aware of just how gritty, dark and urban the world I was growing into actually was.

Unlike most people, I guess my introduction into Noir wasn’t through the hard-boiled private detective novels which came to define Noir in the postwar era through writers like Chandler, Hammett, Spillane, McDonald, Leonard and on down the line.

If anything, I found myself gravitating to it through the more postmodern takes on those stories that populated TV during the late 80’s and early 90’s. The most obvious one that sticks out to me was a short-lived show on NBC called Midnight Caller, with the time-tested premise of a former San Francisco cop, Jack Killian, becoming a late-night talk radio jockey. Each week, someone would call into his show, providing the premise for a crime that he had to try and stop.

It was hokey and cheesy and had a lot of the typical storytelling tropes that more pretentious and overinflated critical intellects like to dismiss nowadays. But to my twelve-year-old mind at the time, I didn’t care. It was can’t-miss TV every week right up to where it got cancelled.

Editorial Note: A few months ago, on a lark, I went looking for some old episodes on YouTube and was downright tickled to find they’re almost all there. I’m pretty sure I’ve rewatched them all at least twice. I regret nothing.

But what is it about Noir that I find so interesting? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for a while because, a few weeks ago, I sat down at my laptop and started creating one of my own.

The first thing that jumps out at me is Noir came about at a time where the only way to create visual stories was in black and white. Nowadays, we take the ability to see things in color for granted with our colossal 4K Ultra-HDTV monitors and movie screens. Back in the late 40’s and early 50’s, when these stories were first being written, film was still a black and white medium, and the filmmakers and storytellers of the time began tinkering and playing around with it, until they created a style which fit the narratives they’d been given to translate.

In Noir, the darks are somehow darker. The lights, somehow lighter. You know who a person is by the clearly defined silhouettes they create as they pass from scene to scene, page to page.

The other appeal of Noir is that there is no real hero and no real villain. Even though the world is black and white, the characters themselves are very much varying degrees of gray. Sometimes, the protagonist is allowed to and is even encouraged to don the black hat. The antagonist may do something unspeakable or they could be the most corrupt people in existence. Yet they could have perfectly sound reasons for embracing that corruption or for doing the unspeakable things they do.

A woman can seem completely innocent and above reproach, only to reveal themselves as the Femme Fatale and someone who can be even more dangerous to the protagonist simply through the lure of temptation. In this world, trusting anyone is often the most dangerous play because a wrong move leaves you exposed and vulnerable to those who will derive no guilt at all from putting a knife in your back, or worse, square in the center of your heart.

I think that, at the heart of it, my fascination with Noir comes from the fact that at some point in their lives, the characters who populate it became exposed to a world that the rest of civilization tries its best to ignore. The world where morality is flimsy and malleable. The good guys don’t always win and the bad guys don’t always lose.

Where there is no such thing as “They all lived happily ever after,” because each new story leaves lasting marks on those who populate them. If anything, it’s more of a case of the best you can hope for is “Life goes on,” and be glad enough for that, because one wrong step or one miscalculation of the person on the other side can determine life or death, happiness or despair.

Once you’ve gotten your first real-world exposure to that, it’s virtually impossible to unsee it and for myself, I got that exposure far earlier in life than I ought to, I suppose. That exposure both as a naive child and a jaded, cynical young adult shaped me, whether I like it or not, into who I am now and while I would never dare compare myself with Marlowe, Spade, Archer or even James Bond, who is very much the epitome of a Noir character, even though he’s an implacable superspy, it’s next to impossible to not view the world I occupy as very much black and white, while the people who occupy it are all various shades of gray.

So far, I’m only two chapters into this story and it’s been interesting to feel how easily it’s coming to me. My grand plan is to have this be the first in a series, though how many, I couldn’t say.

That’s one of the things I love most about writing, actually. Those decisions are up to the characters who come out of the aether and introduce themselves to me and ask me to tell their stories, even if they’re dark enough that they can only be thought of as Noir.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda…

Forty.

Well, I made it.

I’m not entirely sure how, but somehow, some way…I made it.

Like most kids, I grew up thinking forty was an ancient number. It meant that you were old and life, by and large, was over. And, like most kids, I grew up also thinking that what forty was like for my parents or grandparents was not going to be how it would ultimately be for me.

I had this rather romantic and naively optimistic notion that I’d reach this somewhat dubious milestone, having reached a position of accomplishment that I would be able to enjoy it to the fullest means I knew how.

There would be a party at my house, because by forty I’d have had a house. My friends and loved ones would be there, as would my wife and kids, and it would be a chance to simply enjoy life for a change.

That’s not going to happen, obviously.

As I write this, I’m 3,000 miles away from virtually all of my friends and loved ones, having packed up myself and whatever worldly possessions I could haul across the country in search of anything resembling a life worth celebrating in any way, shape or form.

I’d like to say I found it back home, but after six months of looking…it doesn’t seem to be here, either.

Getting older offers many an opportunity to reflect upon the life you’ve had in all the days leading up to this one. I know we do this, at least on a subconscious level, because once you reach this point, it’s hard not to do the mental math and realize there’s a very high probability that not only are your best days behind you, but no matter what you do to delay the inevitable, there’s also fewer days ahead of you.

If you ask most people who’ve been blessed with even a marginally long life, chances are they’ll offer the cliched response that they wouldn’t change a single day.

That all those moments, both good and bad, can be taken away as valuable enough that they still balance out to a life well-lived, meaningful and ultimately worth something both to themselves and those to whom their existence matters.

I’d like to sit here and tell you, now that I’m forty, that I’m another one of those people…but I’d be lying so badly that were I Pinocchio, my nose would stretch from here to Pluto.

It’s the old line of woulda, coulda, shoulda. Knowing all the things you’d change, if only you had access to a TARDIS or some other metaphysically transcendent device capable of altering history or changing the future.

So the question then becomes, Okay, what would you change?

The answer to that, is EVERYTHING.

Stepping back and looking at it as a whole, there is not one single aspect of my life that, if given the power to, I wouldn’t change in a nanosecond.

I would change the family I was born into and where I grew up.

I’d change where I went to school and how I was treated by the kids I went to those schools with.

I’d change things so I wasn’t exposed to so much hate and anger that it grafted itself onto my DNA.

I’d change it so I never saw the West Coast unless it was of my own volition.

I’d absolutely change it so I went from being about twelve to about sixteen, as it would spare me and a few other people a level of grief that none of us truly deserved to endure in the first place.

I’d change it so I didn’t get married when I did or pursue the relationships I so badly wanted to have.

I’d change it so I never knew any of the women I’ve ever fallen in love with.

I’d change my dreams of the career I’d wanted for something more fulfilling.

And to be completely honest, if I absolutely had to, I’d change it so I never made it to the age of forty.

Why would I do all this?

Because it’s impossible for me not to think if I was able to do even one or two of them then maybe, just maybe, my life wouldn’t feel like it has been such a waste.

Now the counterpoint to this all, of course, is what about the friends I do have now? What about my son? What about the fact that I’ve managed to make to this point, knowing full well that I was never supposed to make it to forty in the first place?!

It’s a hard scale to balance and there is considerable truth in the unpleasant reality that my existence being what it is, rather than what I wish it had been, my reaching this age defies both logic and common sense.

Taking everything into consideration, starting from the second I came into this world which, believe it or not, I DO remember, even now. My first memory is of ACTUALLY being born, which I have to say, is a serious mindjob, I have been living on what equates to borrowed time for about thirty years, by my calculations.

I absolutely should not be here walking, talking or breathing right now. I was supposed to have ended up in a pine-board box, serving as worm food for any number of reasons, based on nothing more than how these forty years have unfolded.

Drugs? Yep. Suicide? Yep. Homicide? Yep. Death by blatant stupidity cleverly cloaked as misadventure? Yep, that too.

And yet…here I am, just trying to do the best I can while living with the weight of understanding all that.

As for my friends, would I exchange them? Not on your damn life.

My friends have sustained me in ways I can’t even begin to accurately quantify. They’ve been my family when my actual family couldn’t really be bothered to give a damn about me. I freely admit that living on borrowed time is a hell of a lot less frightening had I been made to go through it without people to lean on and enjoy the rare good times I’ve been lucky enough to have with.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to woulda, coulda, shoulda back some of those friends who I’ve lost, either.

There are those who I’m more than content to let go of because we became so mutually toxic and destructive to each other that coexistence isn’t an option anymore. The rest though…those I feel a degree of responsibility towards in sabotaging the bridges which connected us.

Those people I’d like to have back, if for no other reason than a chance to see if I can put things right.

I don’t imagine there’s a great many people who reach this point and not do the woulda, coulda, shoulda, so I don’t feel like I’m much different in that respect. That said, I know when I wake up tomorrow, there will be the moment where I’ll be hoping I’m still dreaming and that if I close my eyes for another five minutes, then when I open them again, I will find myself in the place I always wished I’d be in by the time I reached this age.

I would have a good life with the people whom I love most in the world.

I’d be at peace with myself and who I am and I wouldn’t hurt anymore. Not physically, emotionally or spiritually.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.