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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
First off – wow and thank you to all of my new followers!!!!
I truly appreciate your support and attention to the strangeness that oozes out of my brain and onto the page!
If I haven’t followed you back, I will soon.
What a long, strange, and densely packed school year it’s been!
And on the first Monday of my summer vacation, I wanted to stick my head out for a breath of air and a hello.
I have quite a few blogs in various states of completion and I’m going to and post content if not once a week, then twice a month.
I hope you’re all as well as well can be.
Love, hope, and balance.