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.

Currently, in the Pocket.

Note: to drummers, when you’re playing and you feel locked in to the groove, playing not only on beat, but feeling that you are in the beat, and can manipulate it with fills and rolls of all speeds, and still land back on that beat without throwing the song off rhythm.

It’s a curious sensation, knowing that I can talk about myself, my life, with absolute clarity.

I take it for granted now.

Which is also its own kind of weird.

I’m able to talk about my life matter-of-factly.
I don’t talk about it to get pity. I don’t speak about it with frustration or rage. I’m not trying to make myself look like a saint.
I am grounded by the knowledge that I have no desire to please or impress others anymore.

My life is.

My life was.

Facts. Not emotion. Not sentiment. No color commentary.

The suffering I went through was mine. I made my choices. And I faced the consequences of those choices, good or ill.

And I don’t really know if it’s due to the three years of taking my medication for my adult ADHD and Major Depression finally taking effect, or if it’s the strength I gained from taking care of my father – or some combination of both.

But I’m in the moment.

I’m in the now.

I’m present, current. There’s no “what ifs” or “I should’ves.” There’s also no “one day I’ll” or “someday,” either.

And maybe, some of you might consider that a bad thing, and, depending on your circumstance, you may be right.

But I ride the waves.

I feather the wind.

I’m focused.

For the first time in my life, I focus on what’s in front of me, and addressing it, paying attention to it. As a result, it’s incredibly satisfying dealing with things as they come when they come, instead of ignoring it or trying to rewrite the narrative.

What a strange pleasure it is, and a metaphorical irony, playing drums for most of my life, and at forty-three, finally being in the pocket.

This New Year, Resolve to Make No New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m laying down on my bed as I write this, surrounded by pillows, covered in one of the most comfortable blankets in our home ( it was in a closet, no one was using it, so now it’s mine – no harm, no foul ), my go-to comfortable slouchy beanie on my head.

I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, looking at all the people I follow, and, since it’s January 1st, 2019, reading the occasional but unavoidable posts on New Year resolutions.

I left the site.

You see, after I was diagnosed with Major Depression and adult ADHD, and after talking to my psychiatrist and my friends and family, I realized three things about myself:

– Being on social media for long periods of time becomes a sensory and information overload for me.

– I’m an empathetic person.

– I’m a natural problem solver.

I’ve always been a pretty good speed reader since I was a child, but now that I’m on my ADHD medication, I can take in and process a greater amount of information a lot faster.

So, with that particular combination, taking in and processing too much information and/or too much emotional information means that my head becomes filled with people’s problems that I either want to solve, or that I feel terrible about, and I know there’s nothing I can do about it.

So, what’s the point of all this?

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.

I definitely believe that the very nature of the winter/holiday season lends itself to self-reflection, self-assessment.
Nature lies dormant, weathering out the cold until the sun’s warmth returns. All we see around us are ( mostly ) bare trees, slate gray skies, snow, if you’re lucky.

The calendar year, arbitrarily beginning in January, in the middle of seasonal winter, also forces us to feel as if we only have three hundred and sixty-five days to undergo some sort of amazing transformation, and as a result, forces us to feel as if we are some kind of failure in the eyes of our peers.

Social media only heightens this perceived pressure.

Many movies and shows make us feel that our lives are supposed to have a clear, definite beginning, middle, and end.

So after struggling for years, we’re told that we are supposed to overcome our problems, our weaknesses, our illnesses, our addictions, in a much shorter span of time, then proclaim ourselves free, new and improved, washed clean of the stains of our personal problems.

People in the public eye, be they celebrities or politicians, love to broadcast that narrative, and by doing so, make us believe that it’s the norm.

I don’t know about you, but I hate deadlines.

I love guidelines, but deadlines are crap.
Having depression has made me realize that growth is not a linear thing.

Spending time out in my backyard almost every day for the past year and a half, watching the leaves and flowers sprout and bloom, wither and fall, then sprout and bloom again, watching the constellations revolve above me, has taught me that growth is cyclical.

Growth is not linear.

That idea was the creation of some white scientist centuries ago whose belief system was a locked, rigid, racist, classist, patriarchal ideology. That idea, that way of thinking, is wrong.

Growth is cyclical.

We set a goal for ourselves. We often invariably fail at least once, if not more. We achieve that goal. But it’s rarely ever just one goal at a time. It’s many.

It’s growth in our careers, yes, but it’s also growth within ourselves, and without.

Growth in our interpersonal relationships.

Growth as men and women.

Growth in realizing our gender and sexual identity.

Growth in realizing just where exactly it is we belong on this insane planet, third from the sun.

Growth in being a good person to those who are good to you.

Growth in realizing the harmful, toxic behaviors we learned through nurturing by our parents, guardians, parent figures; and then trying to break ourselves free from those behaviors so we don’t hurt our loved ones the way we were hurt. The way our parents or parent figures hurt each other.

Growth is spirals.

It’s tree rings, stacked from its base, from its roots, raising high up towards the sky.

We grow in spirals.
And, more often than not, our growth process is represented as many spirals, rising and falling, loosening and tightening, as we try to discover and learn and figure out and master all the complex aspects of ourselves.

We spiral upward. We fall down, and we get back up again.

I have never followed the crowd.

I do things when I want to do them.

I do things when I am ready to do them.

And when I do, I do them slowly, over time.

But I do them.

I do not measure my success by the successes of others. I measure my success by how and what I do today versus how and what I did yesterday.

I spiral.

I rise.

I fall.

I forgive myself.

I analyze and see what went wrong, what I can do differently – not better.

Then I rise again.

And I don’t stop.

I may take breaks, but I never stop. I meditate. I try to keep my mind present. I always ask myself:

“Is what I’m doing truly making me happy?”

“Is what I’m doing hurting anyone?”

And I adjust, as needed. I take time to make sure I do everything I have to do, to learn everything I have to learn, to practice everything I have to practice.

But I do it at my pace, for myself, and not for anyone else, and definitely not so I can crow about it on social media.

So, do you honestly believe that pushing yourself doggedly, cruelly, without ever taking a moment to stop, enjoy, and feel the fulfillment of achieving a goal is going to create a kinder, happier, more loving you?

Instead of making resolutions that, by definition, are designed to fail, designed to make you feel terrible about yourself, don’t you think that you should simply work on being the best person you can be every day?

Don’t you think that’s better than saying, “Oh well, I’ll just try next year,” the very first time you break your resolution – in February?

Don’t you think you should do it in small, achievable steps?

Don’t you think you should nurture yourself?

Don’t you think you should be more patient, more kind to yourself?

Don’t you think you should be more forgiving with yourself?

Don’t you think you deserve it?

I know you do.

All That’s Left …

Beauty.

There is always beauty.

That is all that is left.

So many times in my life, I thought I had come to the end of me.

So many times, I thought I had broken myself, into pieces too brittle and infinitesimal, to ever believe that I could put myself back together again.

So many times I thought I had broken those I loved, those who loved me.

So many times I felt the cold hollow cave made of stone and frost and filled with a chill wind that blew eternal in the pit of my stomach, the sum total of all the lies I told, of all the hearts I broke, of all the oaths I abandoned.

So many times.

But that last, that last was worst of all …

Lost to the dark.

Alone, in a ball, in a hole, in a wall, in the deepest darkest crack I could slither in, and crawl.

So many times.

So many times.

Darkness.

And then …

A glimmer …

A glimpse …

I would open my eyes.

Dry, burning, bloodshot, blurry, and red.

And I would look up.

And the height, the height of just where I fell from.

It was so high.

I had fallen so far.

All that trust built.

Smashed to bits with a single action, a cruel word.

But I would get up, like I had all those countless times before and my spine felt so weak and all I felt inside cold wind and hollow.

And I would get up.

My stomach would spasm reflexively from all the ragged crying and my eyes burned.

And I would get on my knees, scarred and pitted from gravel digging in, from years of gravel digging in, digging all the way into my cartilage.

I would wait there, gasping, until that pain was too much, and I would reach out and grasp that first rock again, with cracked hands that split from countless cold December nights when my hands were soaked wet from bleach and piss and mop water and Fabuloso and Murphy’s Oil Soap, from countless nights of cleaning and wiping and scrubbing, and I would begin the slow climb, back up to the top, back up, to the light.

And so I would grab another.

So many falls.

And so many climbs.

So many promises made.

So many promises broken.

So many scars, from within, from without.

Holding the hand of the one whose heart I broke.

What else could I do?

I couldn’t stay down there.

Not when I was needed up here.

Not when, if I couldn’t make us better, if I couldn’t heal us and make us whole, I could at least help you.

Help you get through.

At least I could do that.

So I did.

And those whose hearts I’d hurt, saw that I did my best to heal.

I left, but I did my best to heal.

I left, and I hoped that they had healed.

And to my surprise, they did.

As sure as spring follows winter.

As certain as day follows night.

As raw and red and as certain as the dawn, or a healing wound.

And time would pass, just as sure as spring follows winter.

As certain as sunshine follows rain.

And, with that passing left the pain.

And those who I made cry, I now made laugh.

I repaired what I could, and now, gray-bearded and older, I keep my vigil.

I watch and I care and I protect.

But I stay away.

And I marvel that in the passing, the pain fades away, like shadows melt away at dawn, and with that growing dawn light, in that shining sunlight, only the beauty is left revealed.

And nights, dark and dim they may be, are now just nights, because now I have the knowledge that the sun still shines on the other side of the world.

Nights reveal starlight, and moonshine, and the reflective glimmer of cats’ eyes.

I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt people, and though it was my depression, it was still me.

I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt myself, and though it was my depression, it was still me.

And I know this, and I will never forget – I have managed my depression.

I have named my demon and I have locked it within a faux-gold-covered wooden box.

And I will never open it up.

For I know this – with time and work and the healing-fevered pain of resetting bones, all the bad fades away.

Fades away, but does not dissipate.

It is always an ever-present reminder.

But what comes to the foreground, what comes into focus?

Beauty.

The pain, the dark fades away.

All that’s left is beauty.