Little Thoughts on Paper Posts – my Mother’s Facebook.

Every night, almost invariably, my mom will leave me a note on my bathroom counter.

Little things – like thoughts, factoids, ads, that she shares with me.

She’s going to be eighty years old, and she’s becoming forgetful, but she always remembers to write me a little note, a small reminder, for me.

She keeps me updated.

It’s a such a sweet simple act – at times silly, surreal – but it always makes me smile.

Tonight, though, the realization hit me –
these little notes are my mom’s own version of Facebook.

I’m seeing it being created in real life, and in real time.

And, when she is gone, I will have this big collection of little thoughts, and I will be able to hold these paper posts in my hand, and know, that once, her hands touched them, and I will still have that physical connection to her.

Time taken, thought given, to write a note by hand, meant solely for one person.

Who does that these days?

Who still gets notes written by hand, from a loved one?

Why do I feel, somehow, that this is better?

Awake, Alive, After a Year of Swamps and Shadows.

I’m awake now.

After living the last school year in a state that felt like a long sleep filled with dreams of murky swamp water shadows, me sitting down beneath, looking above like someone sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool in one of those movies or shows, though without wash of summer sunshine, looking up at lily pads floating overhead like alien intelligences whose designs I cannot fathom.

I lived my life, underwater. I did my job, underwater. I spent my weeknights and my weekends, underwater.

Occasionally I’d have phone conversations with family, friends, underwater. I’m surprised they could even understand what I was saying, speaking thickly through swampwatersludge. Sometimes they didn’t. Most of the time, the people I’d talk to knew I was underwater. They were very understanding.

Teaching was the easiest thing to do underwater. I’d been doing it for so long, it was all muscle memory. Things looked clearest when I was teaching. It still had it’s challenges, however.

Paperwork.

Paperwork was hard. So was communicating with my colleagues, my administrators. Paperwork and communicating with my colleagues, that was pretty difficult for me. Sometimes, I hate to admit, I’d snap at people, speak defensively, I thought I was justified. I’d behave in a manner that was not collegial.

I was being a dick, basically.

I got some write-ups. I couldn’t help myself sometimes. They didn’t know. They didn’t understand how difficult it was to work underwater – especially swamp water. They didn’t understand, and it was hard to explain.

Neuroplasticity, my psychiatrist called it.

My ADHD medication was rewiring my brain from randomly spouting flashes and spurts of half-completed ideas to producing clear, organized and orderly rational thoughts, complete with beginning, middle and end. The medication was basically acting like a brace for my brain. And it made me feel stupid. But my struggles at work are another story for another day.

Once in a while, my friends would come and stand at the swamp’s edge.

They yelled out to me, trying to reach out and get my attention. We’re going to be having a get together this weekend, would you like to join? You know we’d love to see you. This band is coming to this bar, we’re all going, would you like to join? I’ll try, I said, lying mostly.

I never went.

Again, I tried explaining to them about the whole it’s-kinda-hard-because-I’m-sitting-down-here-at-the-bottom-of-the-swamp situation and now I’ve gotten pretty used to it. Then there’s the whole swimming back up to the surface. I didn’t have the energy. And honestly, I didn’t want to. That’s the closest I can get to try and describe how it felt this past school year.

I was taking my prescribed medication regularly. I was not, however, exercising or eating right. I’d written some previous blog posts during that time describing how I felt. I stayed home all the time. My lethargy was so utter and complete that I would give my older brother money so he could buy my groceries any time he and his partner went to the store.

I wouldn’t even try to talk to women, because first, it required too much energy, and second, I wouldn’t want to go out. I had no energy to be personable or charming. I couldn’t make it to concerts from bands that I had already paid my ticket for and that I desperately wanted to see, like Snail Mail, and a few others. I didn’t even make it to see the Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque show, even though I bought a VIP front section table. I never bothered with refunds.

None of my hobbies or loves or passions or desires would get me up and out into the outside world. I stopped going to the poetry slams. Even practicing with our band wouldn’t happen. I even missed most of the meetings for our Laredo chapter of NAMI.

I had mentioned before that it felt like all the energy I’d expend on teaching my students left me completely and totally drained every night, and come the weekend, I felt totally spent from the work week. My body needed a lot of recovery time.

Then a couple of events occurred in rapid succession:
I went the weekend before Spring Break without any of my medication.
And my brother told me that he and his partner had decided to move back to San Antonio.

Due to some miscalculations on my end and some miscommunications on my pharmacy’s end, I spent all of the first Saturday and Sunday of Spring Break deep in a depression sleep. I told my brother. I told my mother. And I slept. All day Saturday. All day Sunday. I finally picked up my medication on Monday. I went to bed early.

Then the strangest thing happened.

I woke up at nine AM Tuesday morning. Without an alarm. My eyes just popped open.
I had rested, a good, long, deep rest. I felt recharged, so I got up, and for the rest of the week, as I began taking my medication regularly again, I was actually doing chores, running errands – it was such an amazingly strange sensation having energy.

I began feeling restless on weekend nights. I started craving going out again. Being around people – my friends. Our band began practicing regularly again. Even my work relationships improved.

Then my brother told me that he was going to be moving back to San Antonio.
I admit I had a moment of selfishness, but it came and went like a Laredo summer shower. Three years of self-reflection, meditation, and medication had finally given me rationality and balance.

My brother had stepped in when I needed him the most. He uprooted his life with his partner in San Antonio, after years of living on their own, to come down and help me out, moving into his bedroom, with his mother. I knew what that felt like. I knew how hard it was. And it was hard, but we tried to make the best of it. And as hard as it was, it was hardest on his partner, who for those three long years would apply for countless jobs and never be hired. He had his own mental health issues and it was taking a toll on him.

So I understood. They were living a half-life. I wouldn’t have survived the first year after my father’s death without him. My oldest brother stepped in and shouldered the burden, along with his partner, of feeding my mom, balancing her checkbook, fixing up the house.

My brother and I had made an agreement, when my father was ill: I cared for our father and did my best to see him through to his passing, and I would do the same for our mother, when the time came, while during that time, he would see to the day to day running of the household. He allowed me time to recover and to rest.

And I did.

He gave me that gift.

I’ve said before that meditating – along with the medication – had allowed me to get in touch with my body. I’ve said that I learned to listen to my body, learned to surf on the crest of it’s ebb and flow. I knew my days of resting had a limited shelf life.

Then, weeks later, my brother and his partner went to San Antonio for a few days to scope things out. When they came back, they both returned with secured jobs. Now if that isn’t a sign from the Divine, then I don’t know what is. It was meant to be.
Our lives were about to change drastically once again. Gone would be the days of me lazing about.

My mind knew it.

My body knew it.

Then the wheel turned, as it always does, and summer came.

And on the first Saturday of the first weekend of summer, I began doing my laundry, which had piled up in layers of strata months old. I cleaned my room. I cut the back and front yard grass. I grabbed a saw and I began to trim the branches of my Three Sisters out in the backyard. I began working out again. I went back to drinking my protein shakes.

I was asked to be in a play and I said yes – the first play where I portray a character that has the most lines I’ve ever had. I went to a cast party.

I hosted a birthday party for myself. I actually grilled fajita and chicken, after not cooking anything for almost a whole year. I helped my brothers organize and pack for their big move.

That last week before they left was a hard one – for all us.

The boxes gathering like the accumulating gray cloud gloom of a coming downpour.

I broke down twice.

But we talked. I told him how much I’d miss him, and I thanked him. But my room was clean, my brother saw me getting up early, saw me work out a daily routine.

Before he left I told him not to worry about me, or mom, that I would be able to take of everything now, that I could manage it, and he knew it, because he got to see it before he left.

Am I cured of my mental illness? Of course not. There is no cure, only management. But over the course of these three past years, I learned to manage my depression in positive, healthy ways. I know I will have bad days, but I know that I’ll survive them.

Today marks the third official day of me and my mom being on our own, and we’re doing fine.

We slip into routines easier now. I spend time watching TV with her. She colors. I write. We talk. I’m out and about now. My mom will be around for a long time, so I definitely need to stay in shape in order to keep up with her – but it benefits me as well.

The murk is gone now.
My mind and body purged it – as soon as my brother had told me, everything cleared up almost instantly. My body knew, and it was ready, and snapped to. I’m ready to shoulder responsibilities again – mine and my mother’s.

I am her companion, her guardian, her protector – and honestly, I know that this is how it’s supposed to be. I know that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

I’m happy.

I’m at peace.

I’m not worried about any problems in the future.

I know it’ll be okay.

I know I can handle it.

My energy is back.

My eyes are open.

My head is clear.

I’m awake now.

What Fat Thor Taught Me About Being Okay With My Weight and My Depression.

The uproar over Fat Thor in Avengers Endgame was, to put it simply, idiotic.

Quite the contrary, Fat Thor was brilliant.

Methinks the mindless twits on Twitter with their groupranthink doth protest way too damn much.

Apparently, the fact that Thor having a gut was too offensive for their delicate sensibilities.

Added to that, their accusation that some of the remarks the surviving members of the Avengers in the film made at his physical appearance was a form of “Fat Shaming” is beyond ridiculous.

The Avengers are comrades, they’re friends, they’re like an amiable bunch of athletes. You are going to dig on your friends for two reasons, because they love your quirks and because they call you out.

They did it with Captain America in Age of Ultron with the running “language” bit. They also did the same thing with Hawkeye being old in the same movie. They always dig on Bruce Banner for being geeky and socially awkward.
It’s par for the course.

Before I continue, however, I feel I should be as transparent as possible and establish my bonafides.

First, what qualifies me to talk about the subject?

I’m fat.

I know, it’s a shocking revelation.

I’ve lived most of my life heavier than thinner.

Currently, I’m hovering around the two hundred and thirty pound mark.

According to the height ( I’m 5’11 ½” ) and age chart at my doctor’s office, I am considered clinically obese.
Last year, I was around two hundred and fifty pounds.

There were a couple of years were I weighed a lithe two hundred and twenty pounds.

At my heaviest, back in the mid-nineties, I weighed two hundred and eighty-five pounds.

I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life.

I’ve worked out more often than not for the past ten years, so there is some muscle, but more strength.

Oh, and I still bear the scars of childhood bullying from mean little assholes. The trauma is gone, but the memory is not.

So I feel that definitely qualifies me to talk about this particular subject.

Oh, and I guess I should have prefaced this blog with the words *SPOILER ALERT!!!!!* typed in all caps, bookended with asterisks, followed by a slew of exclamation points, in bold, and underlined.

But really, if you haven’t seen the movie already, then what in the hell is wrong with you?

So, back to Thor.

When I saw Avengers Endgame in the theater, and Fat Thor first appeared, the first of two thoughts shot out into the night sky of my mind and flared like a Fourth of July firework:

Holy crap – that’s me!

That immediate gut reaction was to his physical change.

That was me up on the screen.

I was represented.

Granted, I looked nowhere near as handsome as that damned Chris Hemsworth. His body shape was also slightly different than mine – my gut is not so prominent and my arms are not that muscular.

Nevertheless, I felt the strangest sensation watching him. In a way it was like being home. Like I could breathe comfortably.

Then there’s the scene where Hulk and Rocket Raccoon go to Thor’s home in New Asgard and try to convince him to rejoin The Avengers. There is a lot of comedy in that scene, and it’s easy to miss if you’re viewing it on a purely superficial level, but the mess, the bottles of beer and pizza boxes strewn everywhere, the way Thor’s dressed.

Then there’s Thor’s demeanor – the look in his eye, the way he talks, the way he carries himself. Those are all the telltale signs.

And this is the pure beauty, the sheer genius of Thor’s story arc:

Thor is sad, Thor is beaten, Thor is bruised, Thor is broken, Thor is depressed.

This was the second firecracker of a revelation I saw.

I saw and I understood.

That’s how depression looks like for some people. That’s how it was for me.

Not note for note, of course – because everyone’s battle with depression is different. But it always has to do with slowly being unable to things that others do with no problem, or even with things that you were able to do before with ease that seem impossible now.

Depression can come suddenly with the loss of a loved one. Depression can come with a sudden and drastic life change. Or depression can hover over you like a specter since birth, and wait, biding its time to slip into the cartilage of your joints.

During the course of Phases 1 through 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we saw in his struggles, pieces of him hammered, cracked, then chipped away, but he persisted.

He had a duty. He felt it was his job to solve all the problems that were destroying his world and the ones he loved. Only he could do it. He shouldered everything. He didn’t ask for help. Then when the killing blow was struck, it was not he who had won – it was Thanos.

And that was it.

Thor crumbled.

He tried as hard as he could to hold himself together, to put on a brave face and soldier on. Then when he tried again one last valiant time – nothing.

To me, Thor was the image of my depression. In Thor, we see a god-man, once bright and beautiful and unbreakable and unstoppable just pure focus and vision and charm and wit, just the very best of how we see – or want to see – ourselves, and we see him simply break in two.

And the sad genius of it was that it was laid out well in advance, and it happened over time – since The Dark World. We saw him slowly crack. And it’s a scientific fact that if you hammer away at an object with the right tools, in the right way, it eventually cracks.

He lost his mother. Crack.

He lost his father. Crack.

He lost his friends. Crack.

He lost his hammer. Crack.

He lost his home. Crack.

He lost his brother. Crack.

He lost his half his people. Crack.

Then he lost half the life in the Universe. Crack.

And then, finally, he simply lost. CRACK.

Thor lost everything that he thought he was. He lost everything that he thought defined him. He tried everything, and nothing worked.

We all saw it onscreen. We saw the result:

All that was left was a man, only a man, a scared man, a raw, vulnerable, frightened human.

It was frightening to see onscreen. It’s even more frightening when you are actually going through something like that.

When you have a job, a task, a responsibility, and the weight of carrying it for so long, in silence, without asking for help, or refusing any help given, but with each step forward you can sense the small cracks underneath you like being on a frozen lake that you can feel breaking, but you ignore it, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

And that is the devil hidden deep in the details when it comes to depression – especially with male depression. We bear our burdens silently, because asking for help is admitting weakness, and admitting weakness is a Cardinal Sin for many of us. It is the fatal flaw in our own, personal Greek tragedy that destroys us in the end.

For me, it was starting up a brand new relationship just eight months after being divorced to my high school girlfriend, the last five years of which was highly toxic. Crack.

My new relationship with my ex-girlfriend, who needed special attention because she struggled with so many mental health problems. Crack.

My trying to be a good man and a good father to her daughters. Crack.

My trying to be a good, responsible son and care for my father who went from having severe Crohns disease to getting terminal cancer of the gall bladder and the liver. Crack.

Me, trying to handle all of this on my own, by myself, not talking to anyone about it. Crack.

My slow-slipping down into reckless behaviors, behaviors which caused my girlfriend and I to break up. Crack.

My father passing away. Crack.

Fortunately, I finally sought help. I saw a therapist, who then said I should see a psychiatrist. I went to my doctor, who referred me to the man who saved my mind.

Almost five years later, I’m still around.

Thor survived, and even fat he stepped up. Even after breaking, with the help of his friends, and his anger and his courage, he helped his friends, he helped them win. Greater still, he overcame his fears.

And though I’ve had days where all I’ve wanted to do was stay home and stay in bed – even with medication – I’ve stepped up and helped those friends and family who needed me. I’ve failed them sometimes, but I’ll never stop trying.

And I will continue to step up, grow stronger, grow calmer, because I have a little eighty year old mother whom I love dearly who, like my father, will need me to see them through to the end.

I know it will be hard.

I know it will devastate me.

But I have friends now, who stubbornly insist that I not slip into the Darkness.

I have family who I am no longer afraid to ask for help.

And I have Fat Thor, beautifully portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, with pathos, grace, and humanity.

Thank you, Chris.

Thank you, Kevin Feige.Thank you, Russo Brothers.

Thank you, Stan Lee.

And thank you, Fat Thor.

Thank you for showing me – this fat, broken, socially awkward old geek –

that I am worthy.

Feeling Nothing Feels Great: Letting go of everything and cutting off everyone leads to me to a refreshingly odd sense of balance.

Letting go of everything and cutting off everyone leads to me to a refreshingly odd sense of balance.

I’m a bastard.

A cold-hearted son of a bitch.

Heartless, cold, detached – removed from everyone and everything.

If you ask some people what they think about me, that’s what they would probably respond.

Asshole, I believe, would be another fitting epitaph that belongs in that Top Ten.

Why?

Because I’ve let a lot of people whom I’ve met recently go.

I’ve cut them off from my life.

Pointless relationships that have added more stress, more drama, more baggage into my life – a life that has already been overloaded by stress, drama and baggage.

How have I come to this decision?

What led me to this?

Nothing.

Feeling nothing has lead me to this decision.

What do I mean by that?

Ever since last summer, it’s been a constant ritual of mine to go out to my backyard, listen to music, have a drink, smoke, and think. Recently, however, I’ve noticed something. The ritual hasn’t really changed, but the motivation behind it has.

I don’t feel anything anymore.

And I mean that in a good way – in the best way possible. The pain is gone. The sadness is gone.
I’ve realized that I’m no longer grieving. My father, my breakup, my cheating.
The grief has gone.

I’ve accepted.

I’m at peace.

I’m balanced.

And that is such a damn good feeling to have.

Fine, but strange.
I’m not used to this.
I’m not used to feeling even.
The rituals I have created to help me process and manage the pain are have now become the rituals I perform to simply unwind. It is now a ritual of relaxation, a ritual to enjoy simple pleasures.

I still think.

I still ruminate.

I still take mental and spiritual inventory. I practice being in the now, being self aware.

I’ve started smoking pipe tobacco.

I love it.

It suits my contemplative lifestyle, my fetish for collecting objects with I can physically interact with. But it is also a way for me to stay connected to my past – my dad used to smoke pipes. So it’s a ritual with a spiritual aspect, and I need those practices in my life.

It was during this time, when I was taking mental inventory and feeling at peace that I was able to pinpoint other, much smaller, but no less significant areas of stress and anxiety in my life. It was in that state that I was able to itemize the personal relationships in my life.

I’ve been striving to achieve peace. Now I have it. And it’s allowed me emotional distance and clarity of thought.

My life has been a constant struggle to balance a life of solitude with a life filled with having relationships with people whom I always feel I need to validate my life to, with whom I seek constant stimulation from.

I’m tired of that.

I’m tired of trying to impress people.

I’m tired of trying to actively have people in my life who don’t really want to be there.

I’m tired of trying to show people all the good about me that they don’t even have the eyes to see.

I’m tired of having people in my life who feel the need to remind how they don’t have to be here, how they could be doing other things – that their spending time with me is a sacrifice their making.

Who the hell says that to another human being?

Because I never have.

I’ve given my time up freely. I’ve accepted people into my life as is: broken, whole, mental illnesses or physical illnesses. I’ve accepted them because I’ve enjoyed their company.

And I don’t feel that any friendship should come with an asterisk, or with micromanagement. I don’t tell people to stop telling me about Zodiac signs, because I don’t believe in that. I don’t tell people to act this way when they themselves act that way.

I don’t tell my friends how to live their lives – I make suggestions. I’ll bring up the subject – but that’s only if they constantly vent about something in their lives. I tell people how to live their lives as a general statement more on a social media post than I ever have in a one on one personal relationship. And I do that to provoke thought.

And after the life I’ve lived, the mistakes I’ve made, the damage I’ve done, I know that I am no one to tell someone how to live. I can offer advice, that’s all.
I’m tired of trying to make friends I don’t really want and I’m tired of trying to impress or get the attention of women I don’t really care about.

So they’re out.

Gone.

I’ve deleted, unfollowed, disconnected everyone who isn’t important to me, who hasn’t made my life better.
Is that cold, heartless? I don’t think so.

I’m not a fool, nor am I delusional.

I know that anyone that I’ve cut out will be as glad to be rid of me as I am of them. I know that anyone I’ve cut out already has too much going in their lives where they will barely notice my passing. Or if they do, they’ll get over it soon. I know no one I’ve met depends on me.

I know that no one I’ve met would be devastated by my absence. Because most of the people I’ve met and have formed any sort of bond of friendship with since my father passed away have been in their mid-twenties. Any twenty year old is not going to be all broken up by what at best would be considered casual friendships.

Even one whom I considered my best friend for a time, but with her unchecked depression, I would invariably be the one she would dump on. She would tell me not to send her memes on my being a Gemini – I mean flat out text me back, “I don’t believe in that. Stop sending me that.” She would always feel the need to remind how busy she was, and that she didn’t have to be here in my life.

I’m sorry, but who the hell is anyone to tell anyone that they can’t do the little things they do because it’s part of who they are?

Don’t check me like that. I don’t correct your spelling. I don’t tell you not to parrot your college professors – or at least not on the daily. You are as you are and I accept you as you are. Isn’t that real friendship?

I definitely do not need people like that in my life.
I’m sorry, but I feel only two should have the right to correct me – and that’s my mother and my mate – and she was neither, so I forced her out of my life.

I felt nothing when I cut her off, no grief, no sadness, no regret. Actually, I felt good, I felt light. I felt free. Now what does that tell you?

There are some people who I’ve remained on good terms with. People who I would like to have friendships with in the future, if possible. But these are relationships that have been maintained at a constant temperature, with people who are more even-tempered.

But right now, all I feel is the need to put myself first.

I’m still working on being me.

I’m still working on solidifying the relationships I’ve already had with the people who have been in my life. I have my relationship with my oldest brother and his partner. I have my relationship with my mother. I have my relationship with my best friend all the way back since our elementary school days who just had a child. I haven’t visited yet, and he expects me too. I need to prepare myself to be more of a presence in his and his son’s life – which he also expects.

Then there’s the relationship with my ex-girlfriend.
I reconnected with her. Things between us aren’t a hundred percent, but it’s the best they’ve been since we fell apart. The space and distance and boundaries I’ve set have helped. We’ve talked. We both know that we may never have the same relationship before. We may never be able to get back together as a couple at all. There’s still so much to work out before that, and our lives are still so different. But I do want her in my life.

I love her.

I always will.

Having her and her daughters as some part of my life is important to me. And after all that has happened, I’ll take whatever I can get.

I’ll be in their lives in whatever way she’s comfortable with – even if that means she doesn’t. It’s her call. After everything, she’s earned that right.
It’s worth it to me. It’s my decision, and it’s a decision that I choose to make, and it’s a decision that I make on a daily basis. And I’ll change it if it’s not beneficial to me, if it hurts me more than helps me.

Who I keep in my life, who I cut off – it’s my choice.

I decide.

And if I no longer see any value or benefit for me, then I’ll cut you off.

I can do that, because it’s my life.

I can do that, because I’ve wasted too much of my time on people who just used me.

I can do that, because I know that I’ve either given, done, or tried something to make that person’s life better.

I have given them something of worth, of value. I’ve given, not taken.

And at least I announce it.

I’m not a coward, some indifferent person who simply ghosts you – that’s simply inhuman.

Every relationship begins with an introduction, so if that relationship must end, then there must be a farewell.

It’s the geometry of life – circles and lines.

I believe in closure.

The equations of relationships, the balance of my life.

Everything must be equalized, calibrated, on the scale of my life.

It’s what allows me to sleep at night, free of guilt, remorse, or what ifs.

I’ve put good karma out in the world. Now, some might say that karma will leave me alone in the end, that karma will have people I care about leave me on a dime, without a word, for the actions that I’m doing in the present.

That’s fine. It’s been done to me – plenty of times. But if they leave me, then they weren’t really good for me in the first place, were they?

If I’m left alone, good, I prefer solitude – especially now that I know who I am and that I’ve learned how to enjoy it.

Life’s all math, isn’t it?

It’s all odds and percentages and additions and subtractions.

Risky behaviors done repeatedly increase your chances of an early and ugly end.
Positive behaviors and habits increase your chances of a longer life.

Then there are those random one thousand-to-one occurrences – like car crashes, terrorist attacks, mass shootings – that come out of nowhere and in a few second’s time rip your world to shreds.

Funny how numbers rule and determine our outcomes.

Odds.

Percentages.

Additions.

Subtractions.

Age groups.

Demographics.

Time, told in seconds, minutes, hours, with it’s ironclad multiples of sixty.

Days, months, and years – dictated by the Gregorian calendar, with its multiples of 12.

Your geographic location – longitude and latitude.

Some numbers we can’t escape.

Others we can proactively do something about, to change our predicted outcomes.

So, yeah, in a way, I am being calculating.

And if you consider that cold-hearted, then I’ll own it.
I play the long game. I follow my in-the-moment, short term-gut intuitions to increase my chances of the best long term life I can have.

Because in the end, that’s all we really do have, isn’t it – ourselves?

Dispatches From the World of Depression: A Bad Decision, an Even Worse Detour, and the Film Annihilation – A Contemplation of Self-Destruction via Confession – or is it the other way around?

I drove into that neighborhood last night.

It wasn’t with the old intentions.

I put myself into a position where I had no choice.

There was no right so I had to turn left. I had to turn left to cool off after an aggressive driver began making me lose my cool.

Taking that left was instinctual, out of necessity. But it wasn’t from that old, feverish, infected instinct.
It wasn’t under the pretense of going on a cruise and then just happening to pass by her house. It wasn’t after another long weekend night ending with me and you getting into another drunken fight, me giving up, getting into my car and driving off, running away back to my parents’ house, wanting to escape what was becoming an increasingly tangled mess, driving myself into that neighborhood, driving past her house, in the ridiculous and desperately vain hope that somehow, she’d be up and outside at four in the morning, and we’d somehow end up talking, and that I could find comfort in her lying words, in a world inside my mind, where our relationship was eighty percent in my mind and twenty percent her using me to escape her own, fucked up world.

Driving through that neighborhood last night literally made me sick to my stomach. I was filled with such an utter and raw revulsion – the strength of it took me off guard, especially since I was on my medication.

It was the memories.

I have told you before that all that time was like living in a fever dream, like remembering a really bad, drunk night, where you made all the wrong decisions, and you’re left with fifty percent of the memory of what happened, but you’re filled with one hundred percent of the sickly cold vomitsweat feeling of guilt that no shower will ever completely wash away.

Do you believe me?

I really wonder if you believe me.

But it’s true.

It was the first time I had been in that neighborhood since … the end.

But I guess I should have known better.

Every stupid, reactive, hurtful thing I had said and done when my depression was at it’s worst had scorched the physical earth with psychic scars, creating emotional ghosts leaving many places haunted by the sticky and sickly sweet memory of my self-destructive cycle of hate-filled action followed by the inevitable reaction of sorrowful feelings – regret, guilt, disgust and self hate.
The after-feelings never went away.

Every time after I drove past a particular part of town, every time I entered a particular room, stood in a specific geographic location, the memory wave of what I had done along with all the accompanying feelings hit me and filled me, leaving me forced to experience the feelings of that emotional event all over again with cruel, startling clarity.

It was like an emotional crime scene.

It happened with you.

It happened with my ex-wife, too.

Laredo, McAllen, Edinburg, Alamo, South Padre Island, San Antonio, Austin.

South Texas was littered with haunted landscapes.

And the worst part was even with all of that, all of those constantly running, self-perpetuating crime scenes that ran viscerally in my head, in my emotional memory, those constant reminders, those “Ghosts of Bad Decisions Past” everywhere around me, serving as cautionary reminders that left me devastated and swearing and promising – to myself, and to you – that it would never happen again, I would still find myself repeating that cycle.

Again.

And again.

And again.

I would never learn.
I could never control myself.
I always found a reason to self-destruct and sabotage myself and my relationships, scarring my loved ones indelibly. Scarring you.

I promised you that I would never hurt you.

I assured you that I wasn’t like all those other guys.

And for a while, for a wonderfully beautiful long time – three years – I wasn’t.

Until I was.

Until all the pressures mounted, all the have tos.
Until my father getting sick.
Until knowing my father was never going to get better again, he was only going to get worse.
Until being a father to your girls.
Until having to care for you, with all your own mental illnesses, your needs.
Until there was nothing left of me because I gave everything I had to everyone I loved.
Until I realized how foolishly unprepared I was for the many responsibilities I took on.
Until all the things I loved began to turn into all the things I hated, leaving me bitter.
Until I started to feel misunderstood.
Until I started to feel trapped.
Until I found myself unable to talk to you anymore.
Until all I could do was shout, so I kept my mouth shut instead.
Until the constant beehive buzzing in my head and the blurred vision I had every time I saw you.
Until I got frightened and told you I couldn’t see or feel our love.
Until I started talking to her, who was all-too-willing to talk to me.

Until the end.

Until you found out.

Until I realized what you had already knew – that no matter how much your mind could understand, your heart could never forgive me.

And that was it.

Until in a vain hope to find out why I had done the things I had done, why I was the way I was, I found a therapist, and that lead to my finding a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and ADHD with mild OCD that I self-generated instinctively, to give my consciousness some sense of control.

I was happy then. I was relieved then. At last I had an explanation for all the whys of my life. The whys that made me repeat the same self-destructive cycles. The whys that made me hate myself, that filled me with self-loathing.

And I was prescribed medication to treat my illnesses. The medication was right for me. It worked. I changed my diet, drank less, exercised more. I was finally able to sleep, to finally sleep early and long enough to feel rested, balanced. And with the pain of my father passing, along with the slow-building clarity and self-control that came with managing my mental illnesses with consistently taking my medication, I got better.

But my heart was broken, because even though I got better, even though we both tried for awhile, our relationship was ruined. I had killed it. And my betrayal opened up all the old wounds and traumas you had tried to keep packed away. And I finally came to realize that even love can’t heal all – that some scars just run too deep. And finally I realized that you weren’t going to change, and that even though we still had love in our hearts, the illnesses in our heads would never allow us to be together again.

I realized that I had to let go.

I realized that the only hope I had left of us ever having even the slimmest chance of a possible reconciliation somewhere out in a vague future, was to cut myself off from you.

I realized what all the literature was saying was true: that we can only save ourselves.

I realized that now we are both on separate journeys.

Now, all I truly hope for is that you find your way, that you can use all your strengths to heal yourself.

So with time, medication, reflection, meditation, talking, writing, and thinking I achieved clarity. I saw clearly what my depression had done to me, what depression had taken away from me, how it tricked me and beguiled me and tortured and tormented me.

I had tried to be a good man. I tried to lead a good life. I tried to be a good boyfriend and friend to you. I tried to be a good father to your daughters. I tried to live the life of a gentleman.

My depression grabbed up all of that in one sweep of it’s oppressive, diseased, hallucinogenic hand and laughed blackly, looking wild-eyed at me like Frodo looking at Sam in the red heat of the Sammath Naur and told me, “Oh, you think you’re a gentleman, a good man? I’ll show you what you really are, motherfucker!” And with one squeeze my depression showed me.

It’s a dark moment when you truly see yourself for what you are, for all the things you’ve done, all the hurts you’ve caused yourself and those you love.

They say you are not your illness.

They say it does not define you, that it’s just a part of you.

It’s true, but it takes a lot of time to come to terms with all the things that I regret. I don’t feel the darkness in my mind anymore, though I’ve learned to accept it’s presence and respect the power it has. All of those haunted places, and the amassed baggage of negative emotions they contained, they’ve all faded away thanks to the medication.

And, if I do the math right, it’ll be three years come this September that I’ve been medicated.

Two months ago my psychiatrist told me that he was no longer worried about me. Last month, despite some tragic news of the death of someone who was dear to me, my psychiatrist told me that he was shocked. When I asked why he responded because despite the obvious pain I was in, not once during our follow up appointment did I once talk about me or what I was going through. I was talking only about others.

So it was a shock that by making that left turn into that neighborhood that I relived those feelings again.

But in reality I shouldn’t be surprised.

That place was ground zero for the worst part of my life.

It shook me.

So once I found myself in it, I drove as fast as I could. I tried to face forward, to not see too much in case every detail I’d glimpse would fill my mind with more memories, more emotions.

I made it out.

I made it home.

The feelings lingered there for a while.

I had just seen Annihilation earlier that day. It imprinted on me all of it’s surreal hallucinogenic and phantasmagoric beauty and terror, it’s sense of mental, emotional, and physical dislocation. It lingered with me long after I left the theater.

A line stuck with me, from a scene in the film where Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are talking, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who portrays a psychiatrist says, “Almost none of us commit suicide. And almost all of us self-destruct …

I found it a curious thing that the line from the film and my near-disastrous detour coincided with one another.

The mind, the heart, the body, the soul – all need to be tended to carefully, and with love, lest our illnesses give power to our desire to self-destruct. The only way to avoid that is through self-care, nurturing, and growth gained by self-examination.

Next time, I’m driving straight.

This Christmas, the Greatest Gift I Gave Myself Was the Gift of Solitude and Rest.

I’m lying here in the den of The Last Homely House. 

I am alone.

My brothers have taken my mom to spend Christmas Day with her sister and my cousins in San Antonio. 

There are no lights on.

Only the darkening whitewashed water color grayblue of the fading light of the setting sun penetrates what windows it can and serves as the only major light source. 

Aside from that, the Christmas tree lights are on, as well as the lights around the Nativity, the scene of the Christ-child in a manger, sleeping in swaddling cloth upon a bed of straw, with his mother Mary, Joseph, the step-dad to be shepherds, sheep of the flocks they keep, the Three Wise Men, and various livestock that would live in said manger. There is also the soft glow of the candles I’ve lit.

The light is warm, cozy.

I feel safe, calm, at peace.

The TV is off. The music I had been listening to on my headphones is off. Right now, there is only the constant whishing whisper duet of the central heater unit and the overhead fan as they work together in keeping the temperature in here a nice balance of warm and slightly chilly.

My head is free of thoughts.

I’m only focusing on the sound of the AC, the fan, and the gently wavering glow of the candlelit Nativity as it flickers softly.

The family plan was to drive up to San Antonio today, stay tomorrow, and leave Wednesday further north up I35 to Pflugerville, to visit my Brother and his family at Moore Manor – what we call the Pfluggervillian post of the Moore clan –  His daughter – my baby niece – has a birthday coming up, and they were going to celebrate it Wednesday. I think by then I’ll be rested up enough to drive, spend the evening there, and then head back early Thursday morning. 

I was also less inclined to leave due to the fact that I was up late last night from going to the Catholic midnight mass at La Catedral de San Agustín downtown. I haven’t gone since I was a child. It was beautiful. And worth it, but because I normally don’t stay up so late, it really took a toll on me this morning/afternoon. My mom woke me a little after noon, and I said my goodbyes. 

Now it may sound bleak and depressing to you, maybe it sounds like a punishment even, but my depression doesn’t work that way.

To me, this is bliss.

Even though I am and can be a very social creature, who loves spending time talking and being in the company of others, it can also be exhausting – a characteristic common to both introverts and people with depression.

You see, I’m very empathic, I can sense the moods and tensions of those around me, and it physically affects me. I act like a human emotional sponge – I’ll soak up some of what you’re feeling and I’ll feel it too. It can be helpful sometimes, but others, it can be too much, so I have to pull in my sensory feelers and put up a barrier. And maintaining that requires an exhausting amount of energy. So, an empty house means a free me – no additional emotional energy to absorb or block. My shields are down. My guard is down. My sensory feelers can be fully extended and feel nothing.

All I’m feeling right now is a sleepy, relaxed state of bliss.

This is how I recover from my mental stressors: silence, calm, music, resting.

This is how I recharge, restore balance in myself.

But I’m not altogether about living the life of a monk. I began last Christmas building up my talismans, my weapons, my rituals for self-care: my skin care products, my soaps, my beard balms. I invested in that as well as my writing desk and my shelf to create my study. 

Over the summer I did a lot more decorating to my room, and now, finally, I end this year with treating myself to the last of the items I wanted off of my list that I would enjoy. I bought a great pair of wireless Sennheiser over the ear headphones. They’re an excellent brand for audiophiles and I find the gentle pressure of over the ear headphones calming. I got a great deal on a 32″ Samsung Smart Hub TV. It’s HD only – not state of the art QLEV or anything like that, but it does have all my subscriptions: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

I also bought myself a wireless sound bar plus a subwoofer, along with a Chrome book, but those haven’t arrived yet – also Samsung – also great deals since they were mid-range items and not top of the line. 

And I didn’t even spend a thousand on all that. I love quality, but I’m no snob and I’m not stupid. I research and find the best quality I can get for the lowest possible price. With that, I can finally, fully enjoy my time at home, when I’m not reading, writing, painting, or playing the drums.

This is self-care. This is how I take care of myself. These are not substitutions for happiness nor are they status symbols signifying that I have “arrived” at some vague and unimportant level of “success,” showing that I’ve “made it.” No. These are merely the tools I choose to use as entertainments, as diversions.

These are the tools I choose to use to keep me even.

Tools that I was lucky enough to have some money for and that were just the right price for me to afford.

Now I’m forty-two. I’m single. I have no children, and I’ve been blessed to have a pretty decent paying career for almost fourteen years now. I can afford this.

But I have friends who are starting out, in college, or just finishing college, or just beginning their lives. Just like I have friends my age who are married and have kids or who are single parents who have kids, and you’re thinking, “I don’t have that kind of money.”

That’s not the point. The point is what feels good to you: 

What recharges You? 

Your spirit? 

Your soul? 

Exercise? Quilting? Crossword puzzles? 

My point is, it could be anything – as long as it does the trick.

Take care of yourself.

 Put yourself first. 

Now that doesn’t mean you get a green light to become totally self-absorbed and narcissistic, no. That just means that you must make time for you, so that your mind, body, and soul are refreshed and sharp, so that you may be able to properly take care of others. And even if you don’t have the terrible privilege of caring for somebody, still, don’t forget to make yourself a priority.

You deserve it.

These items that I’ve been blessed to treat myself to, they are all great gifts. But the greatest gift I’ve given myself this holiday season – as someone battling Major Depression, as a teacher to twenty-three sharp and intelligent students, as the past caregiver to my father, and as the future caregiver for my mother when the inevitable eventually happens – the one truly greatest gift, and the one I’ll get the most out of, the one I will remember the most, is an opportunity for silence, for rest, and for solitude. 

You Are Not Alone: Death Rebirth Rest Change Nature Cycles Depression and the Christ child – or A Nativity Story for Non-Natives. 

“And the sleepiness kicks back in, this time more from sadness, the lethargy from my exhaustion from work is there, too. This very paragraph is where I’ve started writing, because I wanted to try and accurately describe how it feels, what I’m going through right now.

I simultaneously want to cry and fall asleep.

My eyes are closing while tears collect around the corners of my eyes.

And the feeling of falling away into the deep blue state of oblivion comes back strong.

This sucks

I have to put my phone down now eyes can’t stay open.”

I wrote this yesterday, when I was grieving after receiving the news that another dear, sweet, older coworker had passed away from a heart attack. 

Yes, another. 

About two weeks ago this evening I attended the memorial service that was held for a coworker, s kind, sweet, positive older woman, who finally succumbed to her six-year battle with cancer, leaving her husband – another coworker at our elementary school – and three children here on this plane of existence. 

It was hard going to the service. 

You see, lately I’ve been having a problem with funerals or memorial services for the deceased since my father lost his battle to liver and gall-bladder cancer. 

I’m getting drowsy again. I wonder, is this my depression, wanting me to shut down and go to sleep because it’s too much to process – especially when my body is already recovering from the physical exhaustion of working too many hours at my campus? Is it just the physical exhaustion? Or is it a combination of both?

Depression is funny that way. Even medicated, it’s hard to tell where the depression ends and you begin.

Can’t keep my eyes open anymore.

Time to sleep.

My mom woke me. 

I think ten-fifteen minutes have passed.

Right now I’m in the study/Music room in The Last Homely House, listening to a mix of modern throwback Christmas music by Pearl Jam, Sufjan Stevens, Dave Matthews and other Alternative, Indie, and singer-songwriter, along with some Beth Orton.

The study is filled with the clean gleam of gentle, natural sunlight, a sharp contrast to the midnight blue dark of my bedroom yesterday.

The grief has left for the most part, the lethargy has departed as well. Now it’s mostly a cozy church mouse sleepiness I’ve been feeling.

I got up at seven and did my Christmas shopping. I was done by 9:30 a.m. 

So, slowly but surely, my forced bed rest is helping my energy to come back. 

I live my life by the schedule of my sleep now.

Ever since I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and I discovered that lack of sleep really does cause a lot of damage for anyone with a mental illness – especially an untreated mental illness – I get as much sleep as I possibly can. And somehow, I knew this. As I grew older, it became harder and harder for me to be fully functional on five hours or less of sleep. My ex-girlfriend saw this firsthand. I became very emotional, very negative. I would joke that being in that state would make me suicidal – but that wasn’t far from the truth. I just wanted to drop everything and go to bed. I was a person who needed eight hours – seven minimum. 

Now I’m a teacher. I have to be on campus by 7:30. My daily commute is thirty minutes. But I like getting to work early, even knocking out a kettlebell workout real quick. And I also like to make time to eat a good sit down breakfast, and watch a little CNN. So in order to do all that, I need to be up by 4. I try to be in bed by eight pm.

Regular weekend nights out no longer exist for me, even just staying up late reading, or watching TV – those are pleasures I can simply no longer indulge in.

But sleep, glorious, languid descents into the deepest, darkest caverns of Oblivion – a darkness so complete, I rarely remember my dreams – that is a pleasure I now long for daily. 

It’s funny, but I had to change the person I was to save the person I could be, the person I’m supposed to be. And there’s still more changing I need to do.

But the sedentary, junk-food-eating, unfocused night-owl is dead.

Because all that I did and was doing to myself was making me miserable physically and mentally. I was like a smoker with lung cancer, a diabetic who kept eating sugary sweets. I was doing everything that would exacerbate my depression and ADHD.

So that part of me – which seemed like such an integral part of me, like it was tied to my identity – had to die.

I had to do two things which terrified the fuck out of me:

Die and Change.

Death and Change.

I see that now, those two phases are essential to the cycle of life, to the cycle of your evolution as a human.

And it requires rest and recovery. That’s what I’m doing – that’s what I’ve been doing ever since my father and my old life died. That’s why I barely go out. That’s why I sleep. That’s why I spoil myself. A part of me knows another change, another phase of my life is about to begin, and this one involves me finally doing continuous exercise and ends with me quitting the regular drinking, until I don’t drink at all. So instinctively my body is resting. I’m like a field in the winter, laying fallow. 

We have to change, we have to die, we have to let go of all the things we make ourselves feel we need that help define our identity but are toxic to us.

We die either way at the end.

The question is how do you want to go?

As your true, whole, happy self?

Or as a sickly, angry, used shadow of yourself?

These recent deaths are terrible. They are terrible in different ways. One family saw it coming, so there was time to prepare despite hope, but a sixty-year-year-old man has lost his life partner for good, and he will have to raise his teenage girls and older son on his own. The other family lost their matriarch suddenly, quickly – and cruelly – right before Christmas. Things will never be the same.

They won’t. And it’s terrible. But there is always hope that families can get past that void.

Five years ago, my mother, myself, and my siblings could not imagine a world without our father. But living here, in the same house – even after I practically moved in with my ex-girlfriend, I knew something was going to happen. I knew something was wrong. So I set my mind to abandoning the life I had built with my ex, moving back in with my parents, and waiting for the time when he would get so sick, he’d need constant tending to. I set my mind so hard to it, I became fatalistic – And that triggered the worst depressive episode I’d gone through.

Bad judgement, lack of communication, lack of compromise – that’s what killed my relationship. Then her discovering an emotional relationship I had begun with a very unprofessional ex-assistant principal is what cut us off for good.

Our relationship died. Who we were died, but it took me killing it to see that I had mental health issues that needed diagnosing and treating.

My life has been a constant shedding of skins that I never expected to shed and that I truly thought were me.

My mother, my whole family has. We’ve had to adjust to the changes. And we move on, our lives now tinged with the memory of my father’s death. 

Death and Change. 

Nothing is permanent. 

The only thing that can be permanent is your understanding and acceptance of that one truth: nothing is permanent.

Who you are.

What you have.

The material and immaterial things that you think define you – they can, and probably will, change in an instant. We just don’t know when.

Life is change.

Life is impermanence. 

Life is a work in progress that you truly never get to complete. 

To some reading this, the news might terrify the hell out of you, but that’s not my intention. That’s not my takeaway.

The takeaway is: know this, so you can live the life you want, your way, for yourself, without having to answer to anyone. 

Life is precious.

And it’s yours, to do with what you will.

And for those who may be depressed during this season, please understand, it’s all about perspective. 

This day is not supposed to be about gifts, how many and how much.

This is day is not supposed to be about family – even when it’s good – because most of us know that’s a lie, that family are the first, and sadly sometimes, the only ones who truly hurt, abandon, and betray us.

Today, well, this evening, marks the occasion where a working-class man decided to have the back of a Woman he loved who had a child who was not his own. This couple was on the run and the only shelter they could find for themselves and this child was a poorly manger, a shelter for animals. Shepards, some Wise Men, an angel. A strange collection all, strangers all, who were all probably laughed at, but who stopped, and made their way to see a child, to see life, despite it’s cruel miseries.

The story of this occasion does not exemplify an ideal of being satisfied living in a world of material excess. Far from it – the materially rich in this story were represented by an insecure, jealous king who decided to murder all the male babies he could find in fear of the rise of this one particular child.

No. This is a story of looking down at your feet, at looking up over your head, at looking into the mirror, and seeing an imperfect survivor living an imperfect life on the run the best way you can manage – and saying, “I’m alive. This is now and I’m alive.”

So, yeah, there’s death, there’s change, but there’s also rest, and recovery. The tree drops it leaves and grays, then splays out in a thousand shades of undulating emerald a season later.

It’s about rest and seasons and time, and simply being. 

Amidst all the sexy, shiny, glossy screens telling you, showing you:

YOU NEED THIS.

YOU MUST HAVE THIS.

YOU MUST BE LIKE THIS,

You have fulfilled their purpose in this manufactured illusion of “gotta have gotta buy!” and perverted inversion of an ancient tale that taught an important lesson and you have forgotten THE most important thing:

YOU are the gift.