Archive for category Mental Illness

Getting crap out

Warning: this article is very emo and whiny. Part of me is disgusted for publishing something that sounds like it could come from some angsty teenager’s spiral bound notebook. Consume at your own risk.

I’ve never been one to plan. There’s no master checklist for my life. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years” questions always left me with a blank. Everything that’s happened in my life I’ve just stumbled into. Part of this stems from growing up with ADD, where planning something inevitably ended in disappointment (typically because I’d fail to follow through). Also because I’m just lazy and making and adhering to a plan is so much work.

What I’ve discovered lately is that, even though I haven’t planned my life, there are things that I have been taking for granted that they would just happen; things that I haven’t explicitly planned to happen but that I have grown to expect that they would always be there. Interestingly, when these things fail to happen, when things don’t end up like I expect, it invokes a similar emotional response in me as when my plans fail. It turns out that I have been unconsciously “planning” how my life would fall out. Confronted with the stark evidence of the failure of life to match up to my “plan”, the familiar depression sets in.

I really thought that I had been approaching life with a very open attitude, trying to be accepting of the random directions it can take. “I’m easy” has been my motto. As certain things shift in my life, I realize how I’m only “easy” within a pre-assumed spectrum of situations and events.

I’ve heard it said that suffering happens when reality conflicts with one’s expectations. When a reality slams head-on into an assumed expectation that has formed the bedrock of you’re life to date, well… let the suffering begin.

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Death, depression and delight

I’ve been fairly silent lately on the intertubes. For once it’s not my own laziness that’s caused my brief absence. On Friday May 8th my wife’s 29 year old cousin died unexpectedly. My wife comes from a big close-knit Greek family; this was a huge tragedy for the whole family. We immediately left for Atlanta to help out where we could and just to be there for the family. He was survived by both his parents and his 5 siblings. No parent should have to go through the death of a child. Parents are supposed to die first, that’s just the way it is, the way we expect the natural order of life to progress. Unfortunately, life and death don’t always comply with our wishes.

It was amazing and shocking to experience the emotional shock this event produced within myself. I have a not-so-secret secret to tell: death scares the living crap out of me. The daily anxiety that I deal with is nothing compared to the existential dread that washes over me like an ice cold waterfall when I try to contemplate my own demise.

I really didn’t intend to make this about myself. At times like these we try to be there to support loved ones.  But I think it’s also quite natural during these circumstances to imagine what would happen if you were put in the same situation. When a death occurs, people think about death and about life and what it all means. And since I can’t peer into others’ brains and know how their thinking about it, all I have to go on is how it affects me.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have chronic clinical depression.  I take meds everyday to bring my mood up to an approximation of what a “normal” person must feel like. I envision it like a line graph charting the mood of an individual. You can kind of  find a baseline “happiness” level after normalizing the variable highs and lows. My own baseline is significantly below the standard. My peaks don’t go as high as others’ and my lows are much lower. The meds are supposed to bring my baseline up closer to where the standard is. But it seems like sometimes depression can overwhelm the meds and plummet me back down to those depths. I was shocked at how quickly the death of a close family member dropped me down there. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose. After all, we’re talking about the ending of a life of someone in my family. It’s supposed to be depressing. I guess I just didn’t realize how it would trip me over the edge of what I consider emotional depression into clinical depression. That’s how I think of it, anyway. I’m no neurologist.

At any rate, the most surprising thing was probably the anxiety. I’ve been lucky enough to get to deal with anxiety on a daily basis, so I thought I had a pretty good handle on it; what it felt like, how to deal with it, what kind of effects it would produce, etc. But this storm took me by surprise. By that Sunday I was on my way to a full-blown panic attack. And the sucky thing about it is that one little intellectual part of my brain kept functioning, analyzing my reactions, trying to understand and deal with it but unable to take control over the rest of my brain, which was running around screaming inside my skull. I had never before experienced that kind of deep pain and panic, not even in the past when I would have panic attacks almost regularly. They didn’t have the same almost stabbing sensation of exquisite fear crystallized in the center of my brain.

The human spirit has an amazing capability for recovery. We posses all sorts of mechanisms for getting through traumatic events. My own crisis didn’t last for more than a couple of days. Not to say that his death doesn’t affect me still. I only mean that the irrational fear subsided after a couple of days and I was able to process things more like a real person. The existential dread has gone and now what remains is the sadness of knowing that I will never see him again and the empathy for his family who now have to put the pieces back together and maintain that sense of family with such a large part of it taken away. Even after all this introspection I’m no closer to understanding how I would manage to get through something like this happening to one of my children.

And so, delight. My wife’s aunt, the mother of the deceased, raises dogs. She had a litter of 14 week old puppies just waiting for new homes. Seeing the delight of children in the presence of a puppy has to help to start healing the pain, in some small way. So we came home with a new family member, a four-legged fluffy cotton-ball called Happy. And her presence does help pierce the veil of depression and bring back some of the joy in life that seemingly gets ripped out when a family member dies. And every day a new sun rises, new experiences come our way and it would be a shame to miss them, even the painful ones. They are what remind us that we are alive.

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Will you marry me?

Tomorrow will be my 12th wedding anniversary, so you’ll forgive me for the somewhat maudlin post. That’s a long time to spend with someone these days. Our marriage is almost a teenager! So in honor of this auspicious occasion, I’d like to entertain you with a little story.

Once upon a time, there was a boy and a girl. Their paths crossed when they were in the 6th grade. By the time high school rolled around, they were fast friends. Throughout high school, the boy would call the girl his best friend. Girls, of course, had multiple best friends, each ranked through the secret female algorithm of friendship, resulting in best friends, best-best friends, bff’s, etc. But she secretly thought of the boy as her best friend, too.

During their senior year, something in their friendship changed. The realization that high school was ending and that the girl was moving away to go to college cause the normally stoic boy to begin to think. And the thoughts he had were of companionship, friendship, loneliness, desire…and love. He realized that he loved the girl. These thoughts overrode his normal anxieties and fears and the boy kissed the girl. And confessed his love for her. The girl was overwhelmed and gladly returned his love, telling the boy that she had loved him for years but had abandoned any hope that the boy would return her feelings.

So the girl went away to college. As the poets say, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and their love for each other continued to grow. On a cold December evening, as the girl was back home visiting the boy, they went on a date. Nothing fancy; they strolled around downtown. The boy bought the girl a rose from a street vendor. And he led her to the park on the shores of the lake in the center of town. In this park was an outdoor amphitheater, annually a host to a Shakespeare festival, now silent, its stage bare. But it was a lovely place where one could walk through and sit in the audience seats under the stars and enjoy the feelings of being in a theater. This was something they both could appreciate, the girl being a theater major, the boy a former theater tech geek.

The boy took the girls hand and led the girl to the stairs leading from the audience to the bare stage. He guided her up onto the stage, right to the middle, the soft ambient lighting of the park making it feel like they were in a nighttime scene in a Shakespeare play. The boy got down on one knee and asked the girl to marry him.

As you have probably guessed, the boy was me. The girl was the Goddess. She accepted my proposal and, four years later, we were married. And 16 years later, we can still tell this story to each other and it still generates those little flurries in our tummies reminiscent of those heady days full of new love and the prospect of the coming adventure of a life lived together. An adventure that goes on to this day.

I love you, little darlin’. And I’m extremely happy that you agreed to share your life with me.

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