Deja Vu/Vuja De

It was a year ago, around this time on the calendar when I finally admitted to myself and to my psychiatrist that everything was most definitely NOT fine and a change of venue was in order. My doctor, being the good doctor that he is, referred me for psych evaluation and an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) to deal with the immediate concerns and to eventually get my mood rightened and myself back to the land of brilliant Technicolor, instead of the shades of black in the world I was living in. Well, fast forward a little over a year and guess what? I’m back in the same place, with the same therapists and doctors, cafeteria style lunches and rooms with uncomfortable chairs, lots of Kleenex boxes and people with stories, like me and very much unlike me. My immediate thought upon having to tell my doctor YET AGAIN that I was losing my s**t was not one of “Atta Girl!” but more like, “Seriously? Didn’t we JUST do this?? WTF is wrong with you, loser??” because my first thoughts are always from a place of extreme judgment and an unrealistic goal of perfection, no matter the circumstance.

Now, I wouldn’t say that to my worst enemy anymore than I would say it to someone who was doing another round of chemo or radiation in an effort to destroy that which is trying to destroy them. Treatment is treatment; the disease may differ, the course of treatment may differ but the goal is the same, to provide relief of symptoms and improve the health of the individual, thus improving the quality of life. Mental health is really no different, although much less one size fits all. Mental illness and those who battle depression, mania and other disorders are as different and varied as any selection of human beings can be; one person’s burden is another’s blessing. There is no absolute 100% guaranteed course of treatment and whatever course is selected, the patient must be able and willing to follow subscribed course of treatment, which often if not always includes eliminating substance (pick a poison, alcohol included) abuse and implementing a medication program that includes a cocktail (pardon the pun) of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and perhaps a little Antabuse thrown in for the hard core alcoholics. The patient must be willing to give up those self-medicating methods and switch to the psych meds, which usually come with a hefty side of side effects, weight gain being at the top of the list and covering all manner of ailments including, but not limited to: psychosis, permanent facial and/or body tics, blindness, headaches and possibly (of course) death by suicide, because some of these drugs have induced suicidal tendencies in certain groups, such as adolescents and the elderly. Go figure. Seems kind of counter-intuitive, but every rose has its thorn, as we learned from Guns ‘n Roses/Poison.

If you’re still reading and still awake, I commend you. 

Back to the present time – I am back in the land of black and bleh, trying to find my way to the light and a coherent, relatively calm mind so that I can make some decisions that will hopefully keep me from having to return again at this time next year. I have a great many decisions to make at some point in time and I want to choose wisely and make choices that are good for me and my health. It’s easy for me to say that (I’ve said it over and over again) but the execution is where I falter. I guess if I’m thinking about what I SHOULD do instead of what I NEED to do, that could lead me to an unwise choice.

For all of you who have sent happy thoughts, well wishes and in reached out to me in general, I want you to know I feel the love. Seriously. Those of you who are thinking about me but haven’t reached out, I assure you, I still feel the love. You are the difference between me giving up or carrying on; your belief in me is my sword of truth, fighting against the lies and untruths that hold my spirit hostage, trapped in a dark and dismal mind. Your love and support brings a light to the darkness, a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow to come back to the land of the living and love. I have talked to many people who have no family, no friends and oftentimes it is because their mental illness/addiction issues have exhausted the supply of people willing to lend a hand or support that person. Some people have a limited time only offer of assistance and once that window is closed, there are no more. I understand the reasoning behind this; if you are trying to save a drowning person, but don’t know how to swim yourself, you will both most certainly drown. Dealing with mental illness is neither pretty, Facebook post-worthy or fun. It tests  your limits, your love and your own mental stability. It’s like a fire you can’t get too close to or you end up with some pretty serious burns. It’s a rollercoaster ride you don’t remember buying a ticket to ride, a storm that was born of sunny skies and fluffy clouds; sunny and bright one minute, dark and destructive the next. It can tear apart the closest family, take away your best friend and leave a wake of destruction miles wide and years long. Knowing this makes you and your continued support all the more precious and appreciated.

Shooting thoughts of love and gratitude to you. Wish we were there (Half Moon Bay)

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Swim

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim”Tyler Knott Gregson

My big little brother sent me this quote via Pinterest and as always, it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, as if in answer to the questions I’ve been yelling at the Universe lately. I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy many things because I have been solely focused on trying to cope using ways that (obviously) have lost a degree of effectiveness. I have been so focused on just “keeping it together” that I have turned blind to simple things that I had once remembered to seek out; tiny moments of everyday miracles happening all around me. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a baby is born far too early and fights to draw each breath, yet he fights, and he lives. People die, yet their spirit and the essence of who they were live on; the deaf can hear, the wounded heal and rise to fight another day. A mother does the impossible everyday, bringing food to the table, keeping her children safe yet aware of the dangers in this world. A father works himself into an early grave so that his children can have a better life than he did. So many miracles, unnoticed when I’m so deep into myself, my “troubles” and my rollercoaster of emotions that are as much a part of me as my curly hair and my tattoos. Living with mental illness, addiction and temptation are my trifecta of Troubles. But there is so much more to the world, to me, to what I want to accomplish and who I wish to become. As with anything, I must adjust, adapt and/or accept what is happens to me, around me and within me, but that doesn’t mean that I should disregard the beautiful insanity that is my world. A world where people are still my friends, even after I have proven myself to be less than perfect and wholly human, a world where a man knows me, good and bad, happy and sad, sane and mad and still loves me. Where I have a son who has every reason to begrudge me happiness, yet wishes it for me abundantly and repeatedly; where a friend sees the crisis and helps in the the best way possible, giving me sanctuary from stress, mental exhaustion and emotional bankruptcy….next stop Complete Shutdown. I was able to avoid that next stop and it’s due solely to my friend’s generosity, which I will try to repay, but can’t imagine how I will be able to.

These last few days have been an effort to get back into the River that is Life and swim, just for the sheer joy of it. Spending time being creative, whether it’s writing, coloring with crayons or just seeking out beauty and capturing it in a photo, stealing a moment in time and keeping it forever, unchanged and unspoiled. Just walking through a park, on a trail, really looking at the trees, majestic and tall, decorated in Autumn’s colors and waving to me with the crisp morning wind shaking their leaves. This brings me back; this slowly cleanses away the grime and dust of depression, that black dog who creeps in and lies on your chest until you know you will never rise again. Nature fights that, gives you light and beauty and life, but we need to be aware, to reach out to it and let its goodness in.

Oh – and swim. Just for the love and the sheer joy of it.

 

There’s No Place Like Home

I’ve enjoyed my time in Scotland very much and have met some very kind people who were strangers when we met and friends by the time we parted. The one thing about leaving home and going out into the world is that it provides a different view of life, of how one views oneself. Away from the comfort and familiar of home, we tend to find out not only what we are capable of when we break away and stretch our proverbial wings, but we also realize what means the most to us and it usually ends up being something other than our big screen TV or California King bed or even favorite restaurant; it’s the people that make our lives richer, more meaningful and give us a reason to believe that we are important, relevant and cherished. That is why I believe Dorothy had it right when she said, “There’s no place like home”.
On the last night of my first visit to Scotland I want to thank all of the people I’ve met on this trip for their kindness, their willingness to open their hearts to me and give me that feeling of home as well as my friends and family who encouraged me to take this trip and discover myself. I treasure and value you all.

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Giving Thanks

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.  ~Jean Baptiste Massieu, translated from French

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you will have a day filled with not only food and thanks, but family, friends and community. It’s very easy to let this day be the only day to reflect on our lives, the blessings and bounty that we have. Just as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day shouldn’t be the only day we let our parents know how much they mean to us, giving thanks should not happen only once a year. I have gotten in the habit lately of running through all the things I am thankful for each morning before I get out of bed. The simplest things we tend to take for granted are the often the things that mean the most. Our health, our home, family, faith and of course, our means of making a living. Material things often are represented as the most treasured, when in reality, they mean nothing if you have no one to share them with or if you are sick or dying.

I feel that it’s very important to not just run through the list of things I’m thankful for, but to actually give thanks to those who I’m grateful to have in my life. All too often, people are starving for words of encouragement, gratitude and just to know that they matter. So, first and foremost, thank you to those who have served in the Armed Forces, their families who all too often have lost their loved one, not only to death, but to the trauma of war and the devastation upon their psyche. Without them, we would not have the luxury of freedom to speak, to live, practice our faith or to even have a choice. Thanks to the teachers who accomplish the impossible on a daily basis; educate and encourage young minds. Often, they are the role models who make the most difference. The rebels who refuse to settle for mediocrity and dare to be different, to challenge what defines them; they keep us from growing complacent. Thanks to those who have had the courage to share their stories of struggle with mental illness, who have faced discrimination and ridicule, yet still found the strength to speak up and demand to be heard. Thanks to those who have fought for equality, who cast a light on the oppressed and downtrodden. Thanks to the dreamers who shared their vision of the future and thanks to those who see the good in all mankind and refuse to believe that all is lost. Thanks to you, my dear readers, for your encouragement and your continuing support of me and my writing. I couldn’t do this without you.

Take a minute today to share with someone how thankful you are to have them in your life and what they mean to you; it could make a world of difference to you both.

Moving and Doing and Being

Moving – Sorry I’ve been lacking in posting here, but I have been keeping busy packing, moving, unpacking and sorting, etc. for the last few days. I am officially done and couldn’t be happier to say that. My new place is much closer to work (reduced freeway time – yay!!) and closer to most of the family, which is always a huge plus. Speaking of family, I would not have been able to move, had it not been for my siblings. They were absolutely incredible, hauling and loading, never complaining and helping me yet again. I am so fortunate to have such fantastic and generous brothers and sister. I think that family is one of the reasons why I have been able to work through so much unpleasantness in my life. Family is the safety net that’s kept me from falling from great heights to my death; they have supported me when they didn’t agree with my choices, told me when I was being unloving towards myself and encouraged me always to speak up for myself, communicate what I am feeling and share my gifts, whatever they may be. I have never felt that I was unloved or alone, thanks to my family.

Doing – I am looking forward to celebrating one full year of alcohol-free living in November and am more excited about that than I am about my 45th birthday the following month (although I am pretty excited to hit 45, come to the end of the Mayan calendar and celebrate Christmas all in the same week) I feel much stronger in my recovery and am again so thankful for everyone that encouraged me to make the change in my life and find myself in the process.

Being – growing up in a large family sometimes feels like you are never an individual, only one face in a sea of many. I always wanted my own space, my own room and my own toys. What I failed to realize is that all those people around me would be my best friends, my therapists, my champions, idols and counselors in the decades to come. I can always have my own space when I need it, but as I grow older I have come to value the company of others that I truly love, admire and enjoy. None of us know how long we have to walk the Earth, but I do know that I will spend as much time as possible telling the people I love how much I love them and how grateful I am for the gift of their friendship. I am working on being in the present more, looking back less and not worrying about the future so much that I miss right now. I am working on balance in every aspect of my life and I believe that is a never-ending, constantly changing job.

There’s nothing quite like a fresh start to get me feeling confident, happy and open to change. I hope those of you who are able will come by and check out the new place, have a glass of juice, coffee or tea and make some new memories in my new home. In the meantime, keep on keeping on and thanks for stopping by.

My Heroes

As I’ve said in previous posts, I do love my comic book superheroes. I admire their strength, their dedication to fighting crime, protecting the innocent and being extremely awesome, all around. But I also have some real-life heroes that I have always looked up to and loved. I’d like to share with you a little about them and the reasons why I consider them heroes.

My very first hero was my mother. She faced many challenges long before I was born and it wasn’t until much later in my life that I learned of a few of them. She was patient with me, (which was a superhuman feat, considering just how far I tested that patience and how often) gave me unconditional love, tried to educate me about morals and faith; she represented to me what it is to have true faith. Her strength of personality and her dedication to her family was amazing. She has five sons and two daughters and to say she had her hands full would be a gross understatement, but she handled it (I thought) with grace and always with love. I’ll never forget the time that I was freaking out (that’s putting it kindly) having a grand tantrum and she very quietly got up, went to the kitchen and came back with a large pitcher of very cold water, which she proceeded to throw in my face! Exit tantrum and enter shock. It had that effect. Stopped me cold and only then did I look into her eyes and see the anger and frustration. But she never raised a hand to slap my bratty face, though I’m sure the thought crossed her mind. She was the first person to show me love, real love and faith.

My second hero was my father, for altogether different reasons. He treated me like an adult, told me all about computer programming, his day at the office and all sorts of other things I couldn’t understand at my pre-teen age. I inherited my love of books, of logic and of the study of the human condition, as well as my work ethic. I worked for him when I was thirteen and learned data entry, along with how to consume insane amounts of coffee throughout the day. He was a complex man and as with most complex humans, was never truly appreciated for his gifts, as they came with their own set of complications, for lack of a better word. He was a man who was sick with alcoholism, but was somehow able to heal himself and emerge with his True Self in tact, having battled and successfully slayed the beast through his own strength of will and enormous faith.

I have admired all of my six siblings, for different reasons at different times in my life, but they all have one common trait that I am so grateful for; they never gave up on me and to this day, encourage me not only with their words, but with how they live their lives and meet the challenges that Life presents to them.

My sister has been my second mother for all of my life, as well as having to share a room with me when I was an absolute and unadulterated slob. She visited me during my hospitalization and talked to me as if I was a normal person, not in a mental hospital for suicidal idealizations. She has been that kind of mother to not only her three children, but to all of us. I know she had to sacrifice a great deal of her childhood to shoulder the responsibility of watching over her siblings, but she did the impossible, with grace and love.

Brother #1 (birth order, not order of favor) is the most responsible, down to earth, loving man I have ever met. He watched out for me and watched over me all through my childhood and when I first heard the expression “still waters run deep” I immediately thought of my brother. He is father to two gorgeous children, husband to a woman who is his equal in kindness, love and faith. He is the hardest working family man and I still feel like a little kid whenever I’m around him. He is quiet, but his strength is there, always.

Brothers #2 & #3 are the closest in birth, with only 18 months between them, if my math is correct. They are totally different in personality, one quiet and retiring; the other, outgoing, outspoken and in constant motion. Both of them have been great older brothers to me, allowing me to tag along with them and assault them with a barrage of questions and requests, but guardians and partners in mischief. I can’t imagine any of their friends thought it was a treat to have a younger sister constantly showing up, but they never said a word.

Brothers #4 & #5 are also very different in personality, but as my younger brothers, they were alternately tortured and picked on by me, but God help the idiot that tried to mess with them; I would make certain that said idiot would see big a mistake they were making, trying to mess with my little brothers. They have always been there for me and always and without fail, provide support and love to me. They have given me courage to overcome so much and I count them as my “big little brothers” for they look out for me as well as my big brothers.

I could go on and on about my family; I love them all and admire them for their strengths, their ability to survive, adapt and overcome all that they encounter. We are a tough bunch and although we don’t always agree, we never stop loving each other. This is no small feat and is a rarity these days.

My best friend from forever ago has watched me kiss the edge of insanity, come back and then go out again so many times, I would think she’d be able to write a book about that itself. She has been a single mother from a very young age, yet is the best mother to all four of her children and represents the best example of unconditional, unwavering love. She has stood by me through thick and thin, been my partner in many adventures during our younger years and has stayed the truest friend I have to this day. She is my hero for being a strong woman, but also for thinking for herself and not letting ignorant people’s opinions stray her from her chosen path. She is unconventional, unapologetic and the most beautiful woman I know, inside and out. She has dealt with disappointment, heartbreak and obstacles with a determination that makes steel look weak. She has my friendship for always and forever and is my soul sister.

These are a few of my heroes; I have many more and perhaps one day I will write about them. For now, I will have to leave you with this thought:

You are a hero to someone; you may not know it, but by your actions or your words, you have given someone the strength to carry on. By your kindness and praise, you’ve given someone hope for happiness. By your unconditional love, you’ve given life to the realization of someone’s potential. By not walking away when things get tough, you’ve given someone the most precious gift of all, your time and your faith in them.