Dear M,

Hi. I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked/texted/emailed/communicated at all, and I wanted to apologize for that. Actually I want to apologize for a lot of things, the biggest is being a lousy friend. That didn’t start immediately after we broke up, but soon enough.

I know we weren’t together for all that long, but the break up stunned me. Even after talking to death about it–how you weren’t ready for a relationship, how we both wanted different things, how we were better of as friends–it’s not something I wanted. But if I pushed harder I’d lose you as a friend. So I talked myself into staying a friend even though I wanted to be more. But even that was, to be brutally honest, cynical on my part, because somewhere in the back of my mind (the reptilian part I pretend I don’t have), I was hoping you’d “change your mind” and take me back. There was a flicker of hope that kept me going and kept up a “friendship.”

I think I was angry that you got over thing so quickly and I was stuck. You lived your life, and I couldn’t go forward. You got married, had kids, look even better now than you did 15 years ago, and I only grew bitter. That wasn’t your fault, but I resented you like it was. Still, to be your “friend” meant ignoring my feelings; so I did and blamed you for it. I became the jerk I was trying not to be.

That changed recently. I was driving a delivery when a song I never heard before came on the indie station. It was “If I Loved You” by Delta Rae. Great song and the final chorus got me bad:

“But I don’t love you much as I want to
I don’t love you, no it would be a lie
And you deserve love, you’re better than a good day
And you’ll find it but just not in my eyes
‘Cause it ain’t here love…”

It’s simple, powerful and everything you were saying to me 15 years ago but I didn’t want to hear.  It finally sunk in and yeah I get it. I was angry for stupid reasons fueled only by my own ego, and held you responsible for nothing that you did. I’m sorry I’ve been such an asshole and sullen and resentful and not considering your feelings. You deserve better that my attitude and I’m truly sorry for that.

I hope you can forgive me for all this, but (I finally realize) that is your decision.



Solidarity for Paris

November 14, 2015

Stand with Paris as they stand up against terrorists of ISIL. I offer my favorite scene from “Casablanca” for obvious reasons.

For the second week in a row I am participating in the church services from the pulpit, this time as part of a group. The concept is an interesting one: the title comes from the last line of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” (“what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”). Nine people were chosen to speak about the decade of life we are in and take 2-3 minute to talk about what is important to us and what we plan to do. Mine is more abstract because I still feel caught up in all the shifting going on, but my reflection is below.

As a writer we’re taught not to repeat ourselves if we can help it. It takes on an ugly sound quality and looks sloppy as well. Pop psychology backs this up when they say insanity is repeating the same action over and over expecting a different result; although analytical psychotherapy is based on talking over the problems you continue to repeat over and over in hopes you stop repeating them. Somewhere in between that lies my issue with this reflection.

It seems your forties is about change; about leaving behind old habits and ways of doing things for new ones. It seems simple enough, but it isn’t. You spend almost all of your young adult life trying to forge an identity and values for yourself and living them out. By this time you should be stable in how you behave, how your life is going, and where you are heading. Instead, as I have been experiencing for some time, the butterfly effect of the universe conspires to completely shift the way you have to look at things in order to survive. Managing the shift depends on your ability to perceive change as a good thing and not bad. This is where I have trouble.

Even as I am sometimes forced to change habits I’ve learned over my life, I find the change excruciating. It shouldn’t be like severing a limb but it feels that way to me. Even if the dreams I had or plans I made are of no use anymore, I found comfort in them enough so that the choice to leave them behind is painful; the act of doing it even more so. So it is basically a decade of this process of leaving things behind and learning to do new things. If it were one or two things to change or to do it in a few months, that would be all right. But to change many things that once held you up or have those seismic changes happen over years, it is almost impossible to deal with. Almost.

It is hard not to see the loss, but it helps to realize the opportunity behind it. There is a chance to make new pathways for yourself that are simultaneously exiting and terrifying, but if you only concentrate on the terrifying you cannot move forward. The changes made can be liberating as well. A chance to do a project you never had the time for before. Time to spend with people you want to instead of have to. New responsibilities to take on that you never imagined but are suddenly open to you. This isn’t possible if things stay exactly the same.

I should be personal in this reflection, but it is hard to say exactly what changes I am trying to make when I am still in the middle of the transformation. A friend of mine once told me that as a Pisces, like me, the hardest part of the journey for the fish is to change directions in the current. Once you make the transition it is okay, but it is that turn with the waters hitting you at all sides that is hard. I will say that I am trying harder to see the opportunities rather than the loss, embrace the exciting rather than focus on the terrifying. I need to do this so I can move on. Yes change is scary, but stasis is a slow death. It is better to move forward than to keep doing the same things over again.

A little while ago, a comedian committed suicide. He was hilariously funny on stage, had his own sitcom, made movies and was living a relatively charmed life. But he suffered from mental illness—depression among other things—and that meant no matter what he had in his life—work, family, money—he would never feel whole. And one morning after making an irrationally rational decision, he killed himself. With the outpouring of emotions and tributes, his girlfriend urged people to learn about mental illness and to help others. That comedian was Richard Jeni, and he died in 2007. This last week we lost Robin Williams in the same way. While the death certificate would never list depression as the cause of death, it was the mental illness that made the decision to take his own life the only logical option. While we didn’t heed the words of Richard Jeni’s girlfriend, more people have taken the death of Robin Williams to heart and are opening up about their own battles with depression and to better educate people on mental illness.

I have written and spoken out about my own dealings with mental illness, but with all the misconceptions and misplaced emotions/accusations about Williams’ death, I felt it necessary to add my voice to the national conversation.

Depression isn’t a state of being sad. As Freud pointed out, it’s anger turned inward. But that’s only clinical talk from someone who reads too many articles and thinks he knows everything. As someone who deals with depression, it’s more than that.

A couple of weeks back, I was in a bad state. A lot of pressure and not medicated properly (missed a few doses and awaiting another prescription to be refilled) pushed me further inward; as I like to say, I hide under a desk in the fetal position waiting for things to go away—all inside me. I vague-blogged a post on Facebook, and of course people were scared that I might really hurt myself. One of my friends said I should try to remember the love I have for my daughter and that she feels for me, and of course that nearly sent me over the edge; because one big problem was that I couldn’t feel that love at all at the moment. It’s not that I didn’t want to feel it or that I didn’t love my daughter; not that at all. I did, but because of the way my depression works, I wasn’t able to feel it (or had access to those feelings).

The void people with depressive disorders often talk about isn’t about having something physical or emotional in their life or enough of something material to feel good; the void is the distance between the emotional receptors of my brain and the correct synapses needed to feel emotional truth. Sometimes the serotonin doesn’t build up enough so we feel empty and stretch for anything to feel something, and other times the serotonin builds up too much so we go into emotional overload and need sanctuary from the flood. Either extreme is enough to put me in a state of confusion. When people ask me what I could use, I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know myself. I’m not trying to push people away; I literally don’t have an answer and it’s frustrating—which only adds to the emotional turmoil. That’s one thing that makes it hard to deal with people who are depressed: we don’t have the answers to how to solve the problem no matter how often you ask us. Unfortunately this gives people the idea that we want to be like this, or just are negative people, or get annoyed because they can’t help us with any magic words. So instead of hanging in there—which we really do need whether we can say it or not—people walk away; sometimes blaming us in the process, which continues to shame us and exacerbate the problem.

The thing is we don’t know what can bring us around, but when it does come it’s good to know we have people in our corner. When I was 17, I had a particularly bad day and was trying to do a mental inventory of what was in the bathroom medicine chest; I was hoping to figure out what was lethal in there that I could swallow. At that about that time, I heard John Cougar Mellancamp’s song “Scarecrow” on the radio, which gave me a vision of my own funeral. All my friends, past and present, were there mourning. What struck me at that moment was how many friends I did have. I cried the rest of the evening before going to sleep. That stopped me from suicide. What kept me from attempting it after that was what a friend of mine said the next day when I told him about the dream. He said “I would never come to your funeral if you killed yourself, because you threw away all your potential.” For decades I was able to have that phrase in my mind when times got that hard and it kept me from trying or considering the unthinkable. That is until last year, when things were so hard and overwhelming that those words couldn’t stop me from thinking that there was a butcher knife only a foot away from me in the SRO I was about to get thrown out of and how easy it would be to use it. I happened to pick up on that and make a call to the Samaritan’s hotline. I wasn’t an urgent case as I wasn’t going to do it at that moment, but the guy stayed on the phone to get me though a little bit. He asked me if I was reading anything lately. I told him “I was reading Hamlet, which, considering my current state of mind, was probably not the best choice of material at the moment. ”He said it was good that I still had a sense of humor about things. We talked another minute or two and then he had to hang up. I wasn’t suicidal anymore but definitely still depressed. Later in the winter when things calmed a bit, I called that same high school friend who helped when I was 17. I told him what he said to me all those years ago and how it helped, but that it was tougher to hear this time around. He told me, “Okay, if you do kill yourself, I will show up to your funeral. And sing.” That’s kept me going a while now as well. It was vitally important to absolutely know I had a friend in my corner, and he knew how to talk to me and let me know he was there.

I was lucky because not everyone has that, and some don’t know exactly what to say or how to hang in there. But that’s something a lot of those with mental illness absolutely need: persistence. People who are persistent in sticking with someone who suffers from mental illness; persistence to find the right combination of medication and therapy; persistence to live with an illness that is equally persistent as it is devastating. It’s treatable, but not easy. We see that with the death this week of someone who could make the world laugh but had little joy in his own mind. If anything can come out of the tragedy of Robin Williams’ death, it is that more light can be shone on the problems of mental illness and bring people out of the shadows of confusion and stigma to be treated. Maybe then we can heed the wishes of Richard Jeni’s girlfriend from years ago.