How You Doin’?

 

 

From the Associated Press, 06/08/2018:

“Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef and citizen of the world who inspired millions to share his delight in food and the bonds it created, was found dead in his hotel room Friday in France while working on his CNN series on culinary traditions. He was 61.

“CNN confirmed the death, saying that Bourdain was found unresponsive Friday morning by friend and chef Eric Ripert in the French city of Haut-Rhin. It called his death a suicide.”

 

From the Associated Press, 06/06/2018

“NEW YORK (AP) — The husband and business partner of designer Kate Spade, who died in an apparent suicide, said she suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.”

 

From the Washington Post, 06/08/2018:

“Suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In more than half of all deaths in 27 states, the individuals had no known mental health condition when they took their own life.”

 

Is there anyone out there who still doesn’t see how serious a problem this is?

We’re dying, folks. By our own hand.

In ever growing numbers.

I find that both terrifying and heartbreaking.

Not to mention, completely unnecessary. This doesn’t need to be happening!

My brothers and sisters, we need to look out for one another. Where are we failing?

Well, I have one possible explanation:

The CDC report pointed out an apparently high number of suicides among people without a known mental health condition, saying: “In the 27 states that use the National Violent Death Reporting System, 54 percent of suicides were by individuals without a known mental illness.”

But Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, added an important asterisk to that statistic, saying that, “When you do a psychological autopsy and go and look carefully at medical records and talk to family members of the victims, 90 percent will have evidence of a mental health condition.” So, many of the suicides were completed by people who were never even diagnosed, and consequently, never got any treatment for their condition.

According to the report, a likely reason for that is, most people aren’t asking for help. Especially, men. 

 

And, listen, I understand the reluctance. Mental illness still has a huge stigma attached to it. Nobody wants to admit there’s a problem, because it comes with a great big Scarlet Letter.

So, rather than be negatively labeled, people will just keep killing themselves.

THAT’S why the stigma has to be eliminated. That’s why we need to discuss mental illness as easily as we do cancer, or heart disease, or any other physical malady. It’s an illness, and it can and should be treated. People with mental illness aren’t crazy; they’re sick, and they need help.

And here’s the important part: If you know them, they need you to ask them if they need help.

I know that’s tough but, many times, they’re simply waiting for someone to ask them; they just won’t come out and say it.

Look, I’m no doctor. I’m no psychiatrist. I do have an illness. It’s called clinical depression, and I sure enough need help for it. And I’m getting it. Because I deal with those thoughts that visit me sometimes, and tell me just go ahead and check out, because you’re hopeless, you sorry, no good SOB.

But then, I realize: after posting information on this blog about what some of the warning signs are in someone who may be suicidal (08/31/2017), where to go to get help (08/31/2017), and how to help someone who is suicidal (09/13/2017), and after offering personal encouragement (09/23/2017 and several other dates), it would all ring pretty hollow if I just went and killed myself, wouldn’t it? I’d be the world’s biggest fraud. (Well, second biggest; you longtime readers know who I think has a lock on first place.)

But, back to my point: We all need to learn to be more observant of the behavior of those around us and, if we notice something that’s off with somebody, ask if he or she is okay. That’s not nosy, that’s caring.

And, you never know. It could be the difference between someone getting help, or ending it all. The stakes are that high.

Please, folks, let’s get out of ourselves and our cellphones a little more, and check in on our family, our friends, our colleagues. They may be waiting for us to ask.

But for how much longer?

By the way, how are you?

 

Treading Water

 

I’m sorry, folks.

The truth is, lately, I just don’t care about anything enough to write about it.

And I don’t know when I will.

But, even if I did, I’d likely tell myself you wouldn’t care, so why bother writing? That’s due mainly to my rather low opinion of myself these days. Depression, and all that.

Besides, trying to write anything lately is like trying to swim in mud. I just bog down at some point.

I’m sorry to disappoint any of you.

I don’t know if I should even post this.

But I just want you to know, I’m still here.

That’s about all I want to say for now. I love you all.

This Is Me

 

I have clinical depression.

I was diagnosed with it in 2003. For all I know, I’ve had it for much longer.

It often leaves me irritated, angry, impatient, indifferent, unmotivated and, definitely, depressed. It leaves me with feelings of guilt and hopelessness.

It steals my concentration, paralyzing me to the point of straining to write every word on the page.

Or do anything else, for that matter. I just mostly don’t care.

I don’t care about taking care of myself. I know I should eat better and exercise, but meh. My therapist has offered me some practical things to apply toward improving my mental health, but who wants to do that?

That’s probably what I experience, more than anything: just a whole bunch of whatever.

I’m not always like this, you know. I have my good days, where everything’s generally cool, and I’m doing okay, and life feels good.

But then, there are those other days. And sometimes, those days get pretty dark.

And, if it gets bad enough, my depression will get me thinking, maybe I just don’t belong here, anymore.

Maybe I should rid everybody of me.

 

Men, does this sound like you?

Okay, well here’s the part that probably doesn’t.

I’m talking to someone about it.

I’m getting help for it.

It took some time for me to get to that, mind you. I thought psychiatric treatment was for crazy people, not me.

Maybe you think so, too. Maybe you think you’re weak if you’re depressed, or if you have anxiety. Maybe you’re embarrassed to tell anyone what’s going on with you. Maybe you think you can snap out of it, or you can overcome it by yourself.

The truth is, guys, you can’t. Ask Michael Phelps. Ask Kevin Love. Ask Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Ask me. You need to talk to someone. You need help. And the sooner you face up to that, the better.

I know that, based on what I’ve said here, it doesn’t seem like I’m any better. Unfortunately, this is something that takes time to treat; there is no quick fix. And I readily admit, I have a ways to go.

But, I also know, just the act of talking about it with someone brings great relief. It’s a good first step.

Fellas, I’m pleading with you; too many of us are killing ourselves because we wait to ask for help until it’s too late.

Please, don’t let that be you.

 

 

For the Fellas

 

Men. Guys. Dudes. Brothers.

Listen to me right now. If I could, I would grab every single one of you by the lapels on your coat, pull you right to my face, and say, “Pay Attention!!”

Here’s why: There are two professional basketball players who have something very important to say to all of us guys.

So, I want all of you to go straight to The Players’ Tribune, a website where professional athletes connect directly with fans, in their own words. Once you’re there, read Everyone is Going Through Something, by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love, about the panic attack that woke him up to his mental illness.

Then, read about DeMar DeRozan, of the Toronto Raptors, opening up about his struggles with depression and anxiety.

Go ahead, do it now. I’ll wait here.

 

Done? Good.

Could you identify with some of what you read? I sure could. I think lots of men can.

But nobody ever knows that, because to speak up about it is to admit to a “weakness”, which, of course, no real man can admit, right?

Plus, in our culture, “mental illness” is synonymous with “looney toons”, and it’s time we all get past that way of thinking.

What I hope sticks with you, fellas, from Kevin and DeMar’s stories, is that it’s okay to talk to someone about your mental health. You’re not any less of a man if you have a problem.

You hear me? You’re not any less of a man if you have a problem. And you’re not any less of a man for talking with someone about it. The fact I have to practically shout it to you just shows how much STIGMA is attached to mental illness in America. Especially, with men.

And, the way to make that go away is for more of us to talk openly about it, like Kevin and DeMar, and so many before them, and not just athletes, either. Men from all different walks of life.

Because, the truth is, big boys do cry. We just never see them do it.

Mental illness isn’t something that will just go away with time if you wait it out, and it sure as hell isn’t something you can fix, yourself; I don’t care how badass you think you are.

I’m gonna keep talking about mental illness. My mental illness. My depression. Because it’s something men need to talk about a whole lot more. Not just about sports, or cars, or politics, or women, or our physical health.

Our mental health is as much a part of who we are as the rest of it, guys. So, let’s make it part of the conversation.

I just want to remind you of what Kevin said at the end of his essay:

“So if you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through.

“Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do. It was for me.”

It was for me. And, with all my heart, guys, I promise you, it could be for you.

It really is okay.

Keep Them Tools Sharp

 

So, the reason I started seeing a therapist again last year, after a nine-year hiatus, was the hope that said therapist could perhaps provide me some tools to help me cope with my ongoing depression.

And she has. She recommended some sites for me to visit online, that gave me some practical steps to apply, and I thought the information was very valuable.

Yay, I’ve got some tools, now!

But, as any skilled craftsman will tell you, one good way to keep your tools sharp longer…

Is to not use them.

 

Why don’t I put into practice the things I’ve learned? Maybe, for a few reasons.

One, making a habit out of anything new is tough. Especially, anything good, right? We’re settled in to all our bad habits and, even though we know they’re bad, we’re kinda slow to let go of them, aren’t we? How many times have we declared ourselves on one diet or other, only to fall in those familiar traps on the path? How many newly started exercise regimens have we abandoned, not because we really wanted to, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to get up and run today, or whatever?

Maybe it’s just me.

Two, on the subject of exercise, you know how it feels when you do something physical, that works muscles on your body you haven’t used in a long while? (Stop snickering, I know what you’re thinking…) It’s not comfortable, is it? And, the next day, maybe you’re a little sore in those places. ( I said, STOP it!)

Well, I guess the mind and the emotions are like that. Let’s say, for instance, I have a “self-forgiveness” muscle, that’s pretty much atrophied at this point. (Hypothetically, of course.) When I ask it to try and function, chances are, it won’t be comfortable. Might even hurt.

Then, how ready will I be to try it again?

Three, I’m the kind of guy who likes to mark time, to hit the Pause button, get everything set up like I want it, then press Play, and continue on.

There is, of course, no Pause button. You would think a fifty-something-year-old man would have figured that out. We’re stuck in Play, all the way to the end. (Feels more like Fast Forward, though, gotta say.)

I guess I just have to do this thing on the fly, which I’d rather not.

 

Four, and this one may be the hardest to explain:

In a weird way, part of me likes being in this condition, fancying myself the classic Tragic Hero in my own, personal Drama: a somewhat virtuous fellow, nevertheless doomed to suffer. In its own twisted, perverted way, it gets me more attention which, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is a particular lifelong craving of mine.

Now, how screwed up is that, folks? The problem with that is, I’m not the only one who suffers. Which sucks for the other people.

I guess that’s partly due to the artiste in me, grouping myself with the Van Goghs and the Hemingways and the Kurt Cobains of the world. (Not that my work approaches theirs; I’m not claiming that.) Also, my uncle, bless his heart, who was a writer that had depression for years, and ultimately killed himself.

There’s something else, though: the gnawing feeling that the tragic life is the life I deserve. This is what I have coming to me. Nothing good; only bad.

I don’t know why. At least, if I do, I’m not telling me.

 

Mind you, I don’t like admitting any of this. It’s more than a bit embarrassing. But, it’s the unfortunate, ugly truth.

Dr. L, if you’re reading this, (yes, she has permission) just know that I’m holding steady. I know what I need to do; I know what I want to do.

I don’t know. Maybe I need some tools to help me get started using my tools.

That’s sorta funny, but really not.

Michael Phelps Earns Another Gold

 

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In the eyes of the world, he was superhuman.

Absolutely nobody owned the Olympics like swimmer Michael Phelps. 28 medals have hung around his neck, 23 of them gold, over the span of five Olympic Games. An athlete for the ages.

But guess what? As Phelps publicly admitted this week, during that astonishing run of championships, he was suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide.

Read Michael’s story at http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/19/health/michael-phelps-depression/index.html  If you think CNN is a bunch of “fake news”, get over it and read this, anyway.

Men, especially, I want you to read this. Pay attention when he says he realized he needed help, and how he now understands the importance of opening up and talking about depression, instead of keeping it to yourself.

Listen to me. I don’t care what you tell yourself; you cannot, you will not beat depression on your own. Believe me, I know. It is far too formidable an opponent. I know us men are supposed to be the strong, silent type, but it’s precisely that silence that could kill you.

Go to http://www.wingofmadness.com to learn about depression. I know, that’s kind of a creepy name for a website, but it’s an excellent resource on the subject. If you think you have it, please call someone for help.

It could very well save your life.

Michael Phelps, thank you. This is your hardest earned, and most deserved, gold medal. I’m glad you got the help you needed. I wish you continued good mental health.

 

 

A Descent into the Maelstrom (Apologies to Mr. Poe)

 

I tell you, friends, this depression thing just sucks, sometimes.

It can come up on me at any moment and pull me down into a vortex of fear and anger that eventually has me feeling as if I’m no good for anything or anyone.

It’s usually triggered by me saying or doing something wrong (which is annoyingly often), but sometimes, all I have to do is think of something I said or did wrong, and down I go.

In that whirlpool of darkness, I see all my failures, all my insecurities, all my wounds, self-inflicted or not, and I feel irretrievably hopeless, and I wonder, really, what is the use, anymore?

It doesn’t make me suicidal, but it does sometimes have me longing for Mr. Grim Reaper to show up.

Because, in those times, I just feel so thoroughly worn down. And I’m ready to simply give up.

And then, it passes, just like always, and I’m back out of the vortex, and life goes on.

 

Yes, I’m on medication, yes, I see a therapist, but that doesn’t mean depression keeps its distance every hour of every day. Unfortunately.

I guess, the one good thing is that, having experienced this plenty of times, I’m self-aware enough at this point to know it will pass in time, and so, I just have to be in it for a little while, and it won’t result in me doing anything harmful.

Unless crying is harmful.

 

I’m telling you this for two reasons.

One, in the spirit of being honest with you about how frightening my otherwise wonderful life can sometimes be. (And it is mostly wonderful, really.)

And two, to assure any of you out there who think you can handle depression on your own:

No, you can’t.

I got help for it, and it can still knock me down, sometimes. If you try to beat it alone, it can kill you. Please, get help. There is no shame in doing that.

BTW, I’m doing just fine, today, thanks. At the moment.

New Weight-Loss Program

 

About a year ago, I wrote about my resolution to lose some weight this year, crediting global warming as my motivation. I simply don’t wish to spend any more blazing Texas summers carrying all this additional poundage on my aging, weakening body. I know it’s weakening; just pick up a 50-pound bag of anything and carry it with you everywhere for over 30 years, and see if it doesn’t wear you down a bit.

Well, friends, at this point, I can report only marginal success, but I’ll take it over nothin’. Not due to any change in diet or exercise habits, mind you, but to a new medication I take to lower my A1C level, (ask a diabetic) that also serves as something of an appetite suppressant. So, yay, I’m still losing weight without having to really do anything.

After a recent doctor visit, though, the need to exercise and make a few dietary changes has come into sharper focus, and I find I have to be more of an active participant in the improvement of my health, or face some rather harsh consequences.

Rats. I kept hoping that, by now, we would be medically advanced enough to have a pill that, when taken, would just melt the pounds right off and, when taken regularly, would keep ‘em off. Guess I can’t depend on science for everything. Oh, well…

 

I just read a post from a fellow blogger whose work I enjoy, and it reminded me that, as this year draws to a close and a new one rapidly approaches, I have some other weight to work on losing, as well.

I don’t like to brag, but I hold a tenth-degree Black Belt in the discipline of not letting go of my past. No, really.

Every time I’ve screwed up, every reprimand I received, every time I was ridiculed and laughed at…oh, I have a trophy room full of them, folks.

Now, that…is some excess weight. Along with the 50-pound bag, I’m dragging a ship’s anchor. It’s a wonder I can even walk.

Before you go thinking this is some “poor, poor me”, Gloomy Gus soliloquy, trust me; I know where the blame lies. The universe didn’t do this to me.

Well, mostly not. It did see fit to bless me with the precious gift of depression, the gift that certainly keeps on giving. And that adds a degree of difficulty to my Olympic routine, judges.

I have been seeing a therapist this year, but any progress I feel I’ve made can easily be erased in a single bad situation that reminds me I’m still a long way from better, like the hopeful skier having one disastrous run on the slope.

It occurs to me, I’m at a physical and mental crossroad, and I can really no longer afford to f*** around with either. Not anymore.

I’ve learned many things this year, to be sure, from my therapy and from the wisdom of some insightful, inspirational bloggers.

But, you know, anybody can learn $#!t. What matters is what they do with it.

So, now begins the hard part of doing. It’s gonna be tough, but worth it, I hope. I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me success.

Happy New Year, everybody. Please celebrate responsibly. Come back and see me next year.

 

 

A Ray of Light, Part 4 (Yes, Cain, You Are)

 

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Genesis 4:9

 

For Cole

 

As I alluded to before, suicide has made its presence felt in my family, a few times.

One family member completed it.

Another attempted it. More than once.

Another decided, at the last second, to choose life. (Fortunately)

And I came really close once to attempting it. And have thought about it many times since.

So, that’s why this issue is rather close to my heart. When I discovered that this was National Suicide Prevention Month, I knew I needed to do what I could to raise awareness, and to erase some of the stigma attached to suicide. Most of us aren’t comfortable talking about it, so we don’t. Unfortunately, we may be paying much too high a price for our silence; too many precious lives lost.

Well, we need to start talking about it, folks. Especially, parents, to your kids. Suicide is occurring more and more among teenagers, as well as elementary school kids, some as young as five.

Think about that for a minute. Five. How heartbreaking is that?

The Bible verse I started with features Cain lying about Abel (who he had just murdered), then passing off any responsibility for him. The truth is, we are all our brothers’, and sisters’, keepers; one of the reasons we’re here is to look out for each other, showing care and compassion.

And that includes a health care system in this country that provides adequate care and support to anyone with a mental illness. Because, while most mentally ill people do not kill themselves, the majority of suicides are completed by people with some mental illness.

There are many homeless people who have a mental illness, but can’t get access to the treatment they need. There are many veterans who, because of snags in the system, are not getting the treatment they need, which is criminal. Who will fight for the ones who willingly fought for us?

Fortunately, there are several mental health advocates in Congress, including Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, John Cornyn and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who deserve our thanks for their efforts to effect positive change in mental health care in America.

I know, a lot of people won’t seek help for mental illness, because it’s so stigmatized that they won’t admit they might even have one. And that needs to stop.

If you have a mental illness, you’re not crazy, you’re not a nut job, you’re not cuckoo, or psycho, or looney, or any of the other derogatory terms commonly used.

You’re simply ill, and you need help. Please, don’t be ashamed to ask for it.

 

If you’re thinking about killing yourself, please read this first:

We may not know each other, but I love you. I care about you. I’m sorry you feel like that. I’ve felt like that. And I want you to know, you deserve to be alive.

You absolutely deserve it.

It’s something I have to remind myself of, often. My depression puts me through round after round, fighting the feeling of complete worthlessness, the feeling that all I ever do is screw up, so maybe, I should just put a stop to it, for good.

But no; I deserve to live. And so do you.

I know, sometimes, life just SUCKS. It’s confusing, frustrating, unfair, tragic and cruel, offering no explanation whatsoever as to why.

But, fortunately for us all, it’s also full of beauty. And wonder. And laughter. And love.

I promise you, it’s there.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, at 1-800-273-8255, if you need to talk to someone. Please.

And let me recommend one more amazing website to you: http://livethroughthis.org/

Here, you’ll find stories from 95 different people about attempting suicide – and surviving. People who were molested. People who were bullied. People who were body shamed. People with depression. People with addiction.

I’m willing to bet, one of their stories matches up pretty closely with yours. Because, you’re probably sitting there thinking that nobody has ever been through what you’re going through, but I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about that.

So, let’s live, okay? Let’s live, and see what happens.

I wish you healing, peace, love and life.