Random Musings

One epiphany at a time…

Pretty proud of myself for figuring two things out today. One that Mental Health isn’t an all or nothing construct. Instead of being a 10 or a 0, for example I can be a 3 or a 7. Also, that my symptoms can be grouped into let’s being MENTALLY depressed or PHYSICALLY depressed. Mental Depression to me is when I start thinking and feeling along the lines of ending my life whereas Physical Depression can be more of that bone and soul devouring fatigue that has me wanting nothing more than laying around all day.

This is an important distinction to me because it allows me ease up on the beat down I give myself when I start to “slip”. Until today, I would take the physical signs of depression as meaning the mental signs were just a breath or two away and that could only mean that a full blown major depressive episode was upon me. NOW, however, I get that acting NOW to prevent the mental symptoms can not only prevent the mental symptoms but also another relapse of a more deadly episode.

And, to be clear, I am not suicidal. I have been. Lord have I. But now? Not at all. On the scale I use with my Doctors, a 10 is I am already dead, a 9 is me checking myself into a Psych Unit, an 8 is I’m making calls to the people I am ‘contracted’ with, and a 7 would be I’m in real-time communication with my Doctors. Given all this, I am a 6. Later today, I promise to reach out to my Psychiatrist to talk about how it’s been two weeks now and I am getting concerned.

This is new to me. Reaching out like this, that is. I tend to avoid reaching out between regularly scheduled appointments preferring the masochism of “toughing it out”.

 

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Sisyphean Crush

One of the worst things about my struggle with Mental Health is the multiple dilemmas that comes form KNOWING you should reach out and FEELING like such a shell of a human being that even trying to do so will cause the monstrous boulder you’ve been slowly suiciding yourself in pushing UP Mt. Everest will ultimately roll back on you on carrying you so very easily to your gravitational demise.

Wounds dramatic, no? Good; it should.

When I am “slipping”, or perhaps trying to be more honest with myself, “relapsing”, it honestly FEELS like I am that exhaustipated (so tired that you can’t afford to give a shit any longer) giant Sisyphus rolling the Earth up the mountain…Every arduous upward movement demands of me to brace every muscle fiber of my being, every drop of my blood, every call from my very cells to “Let Go”…All the while ignoring the screams from my body that it hurts too much, the wails of my soul that I’ve tried this too too many times now, and every drop of familiarly-fresh blood, rolling streams sweat, and bitterly-sharp tears.

THIS may be “dramatic” but it is most definitely how it occurs when I need help the most. And by “help” I do not mean taking my medications, talking to my therapist, or taking a nap. I mean help beyond which I know words to describe. I literally do not even know what help in these situations looks like, tasted like, and most life-savingly FEELS like.

I’ve been BLESSED to land in good therapy that has taught me to listen more deeply to that soft inner voice that has empowered me to make quantum leaps in decision making. These quantum leaps in choice making have lead me to be much more selective in who I let in, where I spend my time, how long people are allowed in, and when it is best to ask them to depart. As such, I have learned a new ‘concept’ that I am proud to share; the new word and world of “Support”.

Previously, support was a 7 letter word in a book of words; I could look the word up in this ‘book of words’ and discover what support meant. I’ll spare you the copying and pasting of the dictionary definition and stick with the story and say that what a word MEANS is rarely the same as what the word sounds like, tastes like and getting to the point, FEELS like. One cannot know what one does not know. This sounds redundant but there is some real Truth to it. If you never felt “supported” then how can you identify it when it is in front of you, know it when it is happening, or ask for it when you know that “something is missing?”

For me, making better decisions with respect to my relationships with people have allowed me to learn what support is whether it be from my girlfriend, closest friends, coworkers, and even family. I have learned that it IS the “something missing” that has been around me all the time, that can be identified and even asked for! Whether it be asking for a longer-than-normal hug or caress from my Lover, a quick coffee or hike with a  friend, or a catching up call with family. I may not get that support every time I ask, but the stats guy in me comes out here and says the more people I ask, the more likely SOMEONE will say Yes!

Hows’ all this support talk tie into the Sisyphean boulder? Wellllll, it might be having others helps me brace myself or even push, assure me that even if I do “fall” that I am on FLAT ground and not a mountain, or that it’s a large stone I am pushing rather than a “boulder”! As much as I hate pushing boulders up mountains, I love being wrong even more.

 

I’m evidently not crazy?!

I cannot shake the feeling that my post yesterday was very incomplete. On one hand, it was like me babbling to avoid having to say anything meaningful but on the other, it was me struggling with the competing voices to get SOMETHING out that would only materialize AFTER the babbling…NOT sure I am any more clear today, so you have been forewarned!

I have an acquaintance – friend who is published. I reached out to him and others about writing and all have said in order to be a writer, I must write. I love simplicity. It has a way of cutting right to the issue at hand dispelling all sideline antics.

I mentioned I feel at “war” with the world. Not everyone and everything, mind you, but with enough people and things to convince my already convinced mind that I must be stark raving mad. It’s simple and logical enough…Just today I heard some elected Republican in the state of PA defending the GOP gerrymandered state by saying that, while gerrymandered, the state legislature was more representative of the state’s general population. For non-Pennsylvania folks, the PA legislature has been definitively shown to be a product of gerrymandering which, by the very definition of gerrymandering, works to minimize the representation of one party at the expense of the party in power. It is therefore inherently NOT “more representative”. This elected official in attempting to defend gerrymandering said that in reference to the state of California where no districts are represented with people without advanced degrees, Pennsylvania IS represented by people without advanced degrees. Now true, not all Americans have advanced degrees and people without then ought to be able to be represented but I am quite sure that level of education is a justification for the gerrymandering vs a reasoned point to keep the gerrymandered structure in place. In a country where we vote for the most qualified candidate, trying to factor in education level would work against the less educated. YET, here is this elected official seemingly arguing that we ought have an affirmative action in place for ignorance. Here is where my already-convinced-that-I-am-crazy mind begins to further convince itself that it is spot on in thinking *I* must be the stark raving mad one. NOT this elected official, lol; ME. I can go on, citing numerous other examples of where I default to ME being the crazy one. Another conversation I found myself in today centered around education and how a well-off district can sit next to a much worse off district. In cases like this, people in the poorer district try and get their kids into the school systems of the better off districts. This is against the law and there are lots of “reasoned reasons” why. Kids from another district pull funds away from kids whose parents paid into the district. Ok, sure. AND parents who fund their own kids education ought not have to pay  to fund another kid’s education. Ummm, ok. Parents in better districts say things like, “I shouldn’t have to pay for another kids education”.

My stark raving mad thoughts? Pay now or pay later. If ‘those kids’ from ‘that district’ are offered a real education, they are less likely to resort to crime in YOUR district. Think this through…If I am a kid in a poor district next to YOU in a rich district, who am I more likely to try and steal from? Other poor people in my own district or rich people like you in that rich district? YOU can pay for an education for me NOW or pay taxes in the form of police to try and stop or catch me and taxes to jail me later if I am ever caught. Again, I am the crazy one here.

I have gotten better in this endless internal dialogue I have if being nuts. Therapy, medications, and talking to supportive people have helped. As has discovering what “support” is! More on that later though. Also what has helped has been other people affirming my thoughts. Lastly, the 6-hour neuropsychological testing I took helped me to see that I am likely much more intelligent than I had ever realized. Ends up I might not be ‘crazy’ at all and instead be a genius.

Still feeling ‘scattered’ here…Like I haven’t gotten to a “point”. Maybe this writing thing isn’t about making points? Perhaps it’s less about the points and more about the lines.

Unbecoming

I have felt as if I have been “at war” with the world for a long as I can recall. From being a kid and getting really angry at, and standing up to the older kid who bullied my Korean friend on the playground because he was ‘different’ (and boy was he in 1970 rural Illinois!) to no longer tolerating covert racism as people ‘confide’ in me, thinking I am “white” like they are…I have always had a keen sense of the absurd. Perhaps absurd is not the bet word; maybe hypocrisy would be more apropos?

I do not have this entry in any way well-thought out. More like a rough rough draft. A couple of quotes come to me as I type; one from Emerson and another from Viktor Frankl. Emerson was, per Wikipedia, was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.Viktor Frankl, again per Wikipedia, was was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of existential analysis, the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy”. OH! Cannot forget Sherwood Anderson: an American novelist and short story writer, known for subjective and self-revealing works. To me, though, all these guys are general Bad Asses.

Emerson said somewhere, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Frankl, in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” speaking to two governing forces that that effect all members of any group; the drive to fit in as opposed to the drive to be one’s Self (note, not at all “self”). From Anderson, “You must try to forget all you have learned…You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.”

Collectively, the words from these three men have shaped how I am. I say ‘how I am’ vs. who I am in short because I quite literally have no idea who I am! More on that later, gawd willing. How I am, however, is something that I can have thoughts and feeling about AND, in addition, have some influence on. For me, the snippets I cited call me to get from head to toe that I am more than I can think or feel, or know AND getting to that ‘more’ requires of me to let go of what I think, feel and know about who I am or how I “show up” to both my-self and others. I can, for example, remind myself to be true to my-Self vs. what I know of my-self, or, forget all that I have learned. Learned about my-self from those around me. What is all the my-self and my-Self? Well, end up, there’s a quote for that:

“Do not let the self lower the Self. Let the Self elevate the self. For the Self is the self’s only friend as the self is the Self’s only Foe”.

I stumbled across that as a teen to an Indian father and an American mother. Had NO idea what it meant as a teen, but man o’ man does it make sense now…

I’m fading fast here…Tons of loose threads percolating through my brain, but also haven’t been feeling well lately. Ends up my irritable bowel syndrome is flaring up and it tends to suck the Life outta me. I will say this before logging off; I am starting to reject my sense of self in lieu for what might be below that knowing of me…That if I reject the self as I “know it” and be true to who I am, then gawd only knows what may emerge in the rich soil that just might be Me.

Dots, Dots, Everywhere some Dots…

“Oh, that scares you, huh? What about this? Crack-Crack…Crack-Crack-Crack..Crack-Crack…Soul-piercing screams from my younger brother as my hands grab the dashboard in sheer desperation to stop the pick up truck from slamming into the tree quickly charging into us. The shots from my uncle continue. “Thud-Thud…Thud-Thud…” He’s laughing now as he air-shoots his rifle out the window at imagined “Gooks”. His laugh guts me now as I replay this almost 40 year old memory over in my head. It’s possessed…Demonic…Evil…and he seems to be enjoying this. “This is how we drove while shooting the Gooks in Nam” he says as he turns to face my terrified brother and I. I have no idea how old I am let alone my brother. I can say that this is one of my earliest childhood memories though. He is still smiling. His knees were under the steering wheel and he purposely jerked the pick up truck left and right down this meandering gravel road somewhere in country. “He’s going to hit a tree.” The truck skids along this road to his past as he again turns to shoot his imagined enemies.

No, my uncle was not well. By any means. It’s no longer a mystery as to why. It wasn’t “Nam” that did something to him. Nam likely made it all worse, but it definitely didn’t start it. As I have gotten older and picked up more of my mother’s birth family’s lore, it all began to slowly and painfully start to make perfect sense.

I am quite sure that I have already mentioned that I am in my mid-40’s. I was a young kid during the early 1970’s and my Uncle was likely back from his terms in Viet Nam. I never told anyone this until the last couple of years. It had flashed forward into my consciousness here and there over the years in much the same way an odd memory percolates it’s way from the depths of depths of all those cracks in our noggens. They never SEEM to make much sense  and for me, seem to come and go as quickly and randomly as the eye floaters I now get! Most times, in fact, they make about the same amount of “sense” as those eye floaters!

Now, though, I am woke, and self-awareness has this darker side that can be be as treacherous as getting driven down a country road by a Vietnam Veteran who might be flashbacking. This awareness shows up in many situations now. It showed up while living with my Mom after a crazy making divorce that left me without a job, no home, no access to money, and only what possessions my X-Wife decided I could have. It would not have been a big deal if it was “just me” back in my Mom’s home, but my young daughter was there too, every weekend.

I’m upstairs. I cannot breath. If I was prone to “shaking” I would have been. Nothing feels “real”. I am not breathing. The yelling cuts right through me. I am paralyzed. I am in my mid 40’s and frozen. My daughter and young niece and nephew are still down there. My Mom has lost her shit again. Her words are “searing” into me. I cannot breathe. The kids are still down there. Why is everything around me vibrating?

My daughter, not even 2 and a half runs into my room. Her eyes are wide with fear and she is very “animated”. I…must…breathe….But why is everything buzzing? She is talking to me. Something about her Grandma yelling at her cousins? Cannot move. Must breathe. “You’re right dear. I don’t like it either.” “I’m going to tell her to stop!” The yelling carries on outside the house. I am upstairs and my daughter, who I have spent a full year of college tuition on in making sure I get to see, is downstairs. And I…Cannot breathe.

I am, honestly, still freaked in writing this. For one, I get that I am not ready to share the details about this. I am filtering much in order to not hurt my Mom and brothers. Child Protective Services has already been called. Twice. And not by me. Abuse? Nahhhh, c’mon! She’s “just angry”. She didn’t actually HIT them; she only THREATENED to. That’s normal for Christ’s sake. I know better. Now.

It was around this point that I had my Psychiatrist on “speed-dial”. Yes, I am older. We spoke at least weekly. He was adamant that I was doing “remarkably well”. “Arjhan, you are going through at least 5 or 6 of the biggest life stressors any person can go through, and you are going through them all at the same time.” he assures me. It’s a tricky thing to hear as part of me is thinking, “Hmmm, I guess all those meds and therapy must be paying off. I must be “stronger” than I thought?” while the other part is wondering WHO I am fooling more; him or myself. I called him after the buzzing sensation would not go away for a full day or so. As I tried to breathe my way through it, or meditate it away, I one of them random memories percolated it’s way to the front burner of my brain; I know this feeling. This has happened before. The first time I can definitely recall feeling this way was in my freshmen year in college. It was as I was an some sort of autopilot and moving through my activities without really being the one doing the moving. It felt as if nothing was “real” even though I understood everything was. It seemed as if with my next word or step, I would waken in the middle of the night shaking me head, rolling over, thinking to myself, “That was weird.” as I succumbed to slumber.

Fumbling, Stumbling, and Tumbling.

Wonderful, another tipsy rider who thinks she’s funnier than she’s likely to really be.

It was late, I was cold and cranky, and she was annoying. What is it with drinking that makes people feel as if they have some sort of right to think others think they are funny? Or novel? Or for  that matter, anything?

I clench my jaw, steady my gaze ahead, and close down as I ask her if she’d like to listen to any music. She quips, “C’mon! No one listens to the radio any more; I wouldn’t even know what station to suggest.” She is now leaning over the backseat and I can smell the alcohol on her breath. I remind myself yet again that,

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

And this time go to my “Being dead inside” state since closing down just wasn’t good enough. I get that she is right, I also get that I am driving an old Scion for Lyft to pretty much fund my very existence more so than providing her transportation in style. I also get that no condition is permanent so I…will…not….be….doing….this….forever…

I am a middle aged single Dad to an amazing little girl. And yes, I get all parents think their kids are amazing. Or, at least I hope so. I am “way too smart” for my “own good”, “lazy”, an “ingrate” and faking my 30+ years of struggling with the twin beastly-beasts of Anxiety and Depression. And when I say “struggle” what I really mean is having been so consumed by one or both that I have had to go on Disability more than once. And I mean Social Security Disability, not just a “break from work” temporary disability. I have two undergraduate degrees, and one doctoral degree, a medicine cabinet stocked well with psych medications, my daughter the bona-fide Kryptonite to my struggles, and a wonderful girlfriend who has for some reason, not only stuck with me, but footed the bill of my existence for almost two years now. She is “The Rescuer” to my being a “Rescue Human”. I first heard “Rescue Human” on the “Mental Illness Happy Hour Podcast”. I joined the early part of the 21st century when I became a driver for Lyft and “that other company” by starting to listen to podcasts. Helped kill the time between rides.

“Do you have an AUX jack in this thing?” she blurts out. It’s too easy to join her in mocking my ride and life situation by saying “no”, but I’ve been really working on trying different responses and instead acquiesce with a flat, “yes”. I’m really hoping that she’ll pick up on my lack of enthusiastic response and forego expecting me to hand her the cord, but thus far, she hasn’t picked up on much…So, I fumble around for the cord I bought for the people who are convinced that I really want to hear their music, and hand her the appropriate end. She doesn’t miss another opportunity to tell me that “other drivers” have this other thing that does this so much easier…Did I tell her that I am so fucking broke that part of the reason I drive is to pay to keep my car? Or that many times, rather than caring what passengers prefer or what “other drivers do” I just want to focus on making it through another week without killing myself so I can see my daughter again and get that intravenous “Shot o’ Life” that she brings me when she simply smiles?

“So what kind of music do you like?” Me? Right now little girl, I can barely keep myself together let alone summon up the brain energy required to string along the words to communicate to you what music I prefer. This is one of the most frustrating parts of killer depression; a brain like mine that has done calculus, biochemistry, gross anatomy and dissected a human brain can get SO “blue” that it struggles with even the most most most basic questions like, “What music do you like?” I cannot remember exactly what I said to her but I do recall saying that my hearing is wonky; I cannot make out lyrics to songs so it all starts to sound exactly the same to me. She seems interested and asked me what I meant. I explain that since I was in my early twenties, my ability to make out the spoken word in a sensible way has gotten oddly harder, that I definitely HEAR people and songs, but I often times cannot tell exactly what is being said especially when there is a lot of background noise. Because of this, the only songs I actually know well enough to sing along with are from the mid to late 1990’s. Hearing this, she cues up some song on one of her playlists and asked if I knew who it was. I am starting to feel that she might actually be SOMEWHAT of a decent person and so allow myself to go from my “being dead inside” state to the “closed down” state. I tell her I cannot tell and she is clearly blown away as she tells me it was a famous band from the 90’s. I cringe a bit and wonder if returning from my dead state was well thought out.

She cues up another song and I definitely remember the SOUND of it; “Yeah, I’ve heard this one.” She gets excited and says that it too was a famous band and asks if i knew what the song was about. “No clue”. This goes on for a few more songs and I have to say that she not only seemed more and more like a decent person, but also schooled me quite a bit in my decades of missed music.

She is now chilling in the backseat like a normal rider sparing me the smell of alcohol on her breath. Perhaps she is calmer now? I mean it must be weird getting into a total stranger’s car (particularly a man’s car) at night after a work Christmas party while a bit inebriated. Ok, maybe she’s pretty normal. I figure what the hell, lemme check and ask, “So, what do you do?”. She shares with me that she is a graphic designer and I ask tons of questions partly to try and make her feel more comfortable and largely because I am secretly totally jealous of artistic types. We get to the point where she shares she is damn good at what she does but doesn’t want to work for others any longer. Part of me wants to kind of slap her because having a great paying job at something she loves and is good at is a hard thing to feel sorry for, but I hang in there…That whole, “trying different responses thing again…” We get to talking and it becomes clear that she wants to strike it out on her own but seemingly needs some encouragement. I offer what I can about daring to BE more than what we can readily see around us or even IMAGINE  for ourselves and she seems to get what I am suggesting. We talk more about her when, of course, she inquires,

“So why do you drive for Lyft? Do you do anything else as your main hustle?”

 

Honesty.

 

I’ve been taking on that my overall sense of health and well-being is directly related to how honest I am with others. That is, as I stop hiding or minimizing – or just flat out lie – about what I am going through, that SOMETHING -really ANYTHING- could be different. Radical notion for me after more than 30 years of keeping my shtuff to myself.

But this question? Can’t I just lie again? make up some boring story sure to kill the inquiry so we can just go back to our familiar and clear roles of “Driver” and “Passenger”? I have hated this question for 24 years now. It dredges up a lot of pain, shame, disgust and self-hatred. What the hell is wrong with someone who has spent more than 20 years of his life in school to get three degrees who struggles to just stay alive? Go ahead…make something up…

 

NO!

 

Bracing…For…Impact…

“Well, to be honest…”

full stop to force my throat to re-open,

“…I am three years out of a pretty traumatic divorce…”

re-re-opening throat again,

“…that really fucked me up badly…”

I won’t throw up no matter how much I FEEL I will…

“…and I am driving to raise money to pay…”

This fucking HURTS…

“…the fees to get my professional license renewed…”

Yes, I am a failure.

“…so I might be able to make enough money…”

I really am “crazy”.

“…once again support myself and get greater access to my daughter.”

Yes, I am a horrible Dad who can’t can’t even pay child support.

There. It’s over. The end. Nothing more. I am free.

Except for the absolute stillness and silence. I swear I could hear her stop breathing as she took this in. I could HEAR the panic in her soul as she thought to herself, “How do I get away from this crazy motherfucker?”. Everything in that moment was surreal. Like time stopped and the road, the buildings and the other cars were all moving by us in this car that was just sitting in one place in the middle of the highway. I was in some sort of crazy autopilot mode. It’s sadly a very familiar sensation for me. Creeps me out. My breathing falls off to a point that not even a mouse could possibly survive. But, I just said it. That thing that no one ever says to anyone. That I was broke and broken, desperate, and depending upon people like her to help me even if they weren’t at all interested in doing so. I felt naked. Defenseless. Open. I recall experiencing this sense of being consumed by fear of what was going to happen next, then being totally numb to life, and then oddly, ‘free’.

I doubt it took her the miles it felt like to respond. I also don’t really know exactly what she said. I do recall hearing that she was sorry about something…maybe that I had to go through that? She then shared that she was a recovering heroin addict. Clean for 6 years. Knowing a couple of people who have tackled their own addictions, I let out a genuine and heartfelt “Whoop!” in her being sober for so long and offered a fist bump. She then spoke of her own struggles in staying sober and dealing with Depression. Weirdest thing was she never even batted an eyelash at what I shared. It was as if we were still talking about music or some great restaurant in the city, or how I might talk about cell phones. This was just weird. I shared that although I have no clear addiction, that I felt I could relate all too well with the recovering addicts I knew; that there were a lot of commonalities. She agreed and shared that she has been working hard in therapy with her open Depression and new ways to deal with it. I told her that I knew that if it hadn’t been for my birth family’s own vast history of addictions that I likely would have resorted to drugs myself and am thankful that I was finally diagnosed and introduced to therapy. How therapy has helped me to stay afloat over the decades when the only solution that ever seemed to be a true fix was “kind of permanent”. We pulled up at her apartment building as I had said this. She was eerily quiet now. Perhaps fully sobered up? I started to regret sharing that I not only struggle with “Depression” but also with convincing myself to not kill myself. I snuck a peek at my rear view mirror and can vaguely see her eyes are teary. I hate myself. Why did I have to say that? Now, she is upset. I am such a jackass. Please just get out of my car so I can drive off and we can both just forget any of this happened?

“I admire you for being strong enough to get the help you need.”

Huh? What? What are you talking about? Just please get out. You don’t have to tip me…Just please let me go away.

“I was 11 years old when I walked in on my Dad after he had hung himself. I was the one that found him.”

Speechless. Numb. Dead. Hanging. Terror. Daughter.

The words. The image. The pain. The agony. The sights. The confusion.

Head is spinning. Cannot think clearly. My heart shattering. Feel this in the air. Palpably echoing around me.

This young woman was a little girl. Like my own little girl. She had a Dad. Just like I am a Dad. Her Dad, didn’t make it. She found her Dad. Hanging from a rope, dead.  Tore her up. Twenty years later, she is telling a complete stranger about this. Why? I am a Dad. My little girl will grow up just like his little girl did. Will my little girl be telling some strange guy that she found me after I killed myself? This will not be! When I die, it will be at the hands of some disease 40 or 50 years from now. My girl will never “find me”. My girl will have me there when she has her first date, goes to her first dance, graduates high school, college, gets married, starts her family…

This annoying drunk little girl in my backseat just opened my eyes to how horrific killing myself would be. That as little as I think about myself, my daughter thinks exponentially so very much more about me. That no matter how real it FEELS like “no one will notice” or “no one will miss me”, that people WILL notice and, worst yet, NEVER forget.

Hearing her story about her own Dad and how his decision has had life long impacts on her life crystallized instantaneously that I will never be that Dad who does this to his little girl. My little girl will never be in a backseat of any car sharing her trauma of finding me dead at my own hands. Fuck Suicide.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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