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The Call

The Call has many forms. There may be as many versions as there are people, but I suspect there are a lot of similarities.

Look at your life. Pick a spot where you are vulnerable, where life has you by the fucking balls. Pardon the colorful metaphor. Now imagine a phone ringing. That’s The Call – in your life. It’s a wily bastard. It changes as your life does, adapting to your weaknesses. For me it changed (again) when my daughter got her driver’s license. When I imagine it, it’s better when it starts with her voice, but my imagination can be a bastard too – so it’s not always much better.

I got The Call Thursday morning at work.

  • “Dad?“ she said with tears in her voice, ”I’VEBEENINANACCIDENTANDIDONTKNOWWHAT….”

  • Beth, stop. Take a breath and start over, but slower this time.

  • “I’ve been in accident and it was my fault and it was so bad and the car spun around and I thought there was enough room but there wasn’t and I’m so scared and it was so bad…”

You’re on dad.

Where to start? It’s easy and freaky hard at the same time, or it is for me. I wanted to know that she was o.k., but in situations like this time slows down. I’m listening to what she’s saying, processing how she’s saying it, and considering not only what I’m going to ask but how I should ask it. I want – NO – I NEED to know if she’s hurt. But at the same time I know she desperately needs something from me too. What I say and how I say it will be parsed in a similar way, though probably not as efficiently given her state of mind. Even a simple question will communicate how I feel. Am I concerned? Mad? Am I panicked, and if so does that mean she should be more worried than she already is? All of this is going through my mind in the span of her single, run-on sentence.

My heart is pounding but concern carves it’s way through my own panic, forcing a slow, measured tone: my loving, calm but concerned, father voice.

  • Beth. Beth. Elizabeth.
  • “Um, yeah?”

  • I just want to know if you’re o.k. Are you hurt?

  • “I think I’m o.k. but I’m scared because I’ve neverbeeninanaccidentbeforeandhaveyoubeenin….”

  • Beth. Beth. Has anyone called for help?

  • “Yes there’s a man here who saw it and he said he was calling and….”

  • Beth. Where are you? Can you tell me where you are?

  • “I was just trying to pull out from our street and I thought I had time but the cars were coming faster than I thought and I tried to stop and….”

  • O.K. Beth. You’re near the house?

  • “Yes. I was just trying to pull out….”

  • Listen to me Beth. I’m coming right now, o.k.? I’m going to be there soon. You know my office is pretty close right? I’m going to be there really soon. You’re not alone.

Fuck that calm crap. Fuck the bad neck. Fuck what anyone else thinks. I ran down the stairs, across the elevated walkway connecting my building to the parking garage, juked a few late arrivals walking the other way, jumped in my car, then took a quick moment to gather myself. I needed to drive there safely. I needed to actually get there.

When I did my eyes ignored everything about the scene, save one thing: my firstborn child, my only daughter, standing on the sidewalk. Looking at me. Crying. But most importantly: standing.

  • Are you o.k. Beth? Does anything hurt?
  • “Nothing hurts but I’m really scared dad.”

We hugged and I looked around, relieved. Her car was pointed in the wrong direction, 180 degrees from the right direction. The SUV that hit her was driving away, driven by the other driver’s spouse. The other driver, an adult, had a small entourage gathered around, twenty yards up the street. The officer on the scene seemed to be camped out with the other adults. Beth, a 17 year old kid, shoulders slumped with shame and shock, had stood alone on the sidewalk on this rainy, overcast morning. Waiting for someone, anyone, to stand with her. For her. Waiting for anything in the world to tilt her way, though fearing she didn’t deserve it, knowing the accident was ultimately her fault, and feeling overrun with guilt.

I knew it could have been much worse. No one seemed to be hurt. The other car was being driven away. But seeing my daughter there, alone, so vulnerable, the weight of the world on her shoulders and feeling as if it was leaning against her – it broke my heart.

I gently took her head in my hands.

  • Beth. Close your eyes and listen to me. Just listen to my voice. Only hear my voice. You are the only thing that matters to me. You didn’t hurt anyone. It was an accident. They happen all of the time. You made a mistake and I can tell you learned something from it. Everyone has accidents. You got to learn from one where no one was hurt.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • You’re just as special to me as you were two hours ago.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • I love you.
  • This changes nothing that’s important to me.
  • I’m here with you.
  • I love you.

I want to protect my kids but I know I can’t protect them from everything. I know they shouldn’t always be protected from everything. Childhood is the opportunity to make mistakes in life when the stakes often aren’t so high, to learn by trial and error in a (somewhat) controlled environment.

But of course, we gradually and steadily lose that control as the years pass, until suddenly we realize we’ve lost it altogether – or perhaps was an allusion all along. It’s another one of those things I alluded to in my last post. You can read about it and think you understand. “Yeah, yeah. I get it.”

Then your hysterical child calls you in the morning, when you thought she was safely at school. In a single moment of carelessness, your gifted child pulled out into heavy morning traffic at the wrong moment, the collision spinning her car like a toy. You see the point of impact, the bent axel of the driver’s side front wheel forced back into the ruined transmission. You see the untouched, driver’s side door and you know: a couple of feet was the difference between her standing on the sidewalk crying… and not standing.

There’s nothing like standing there and realizing you didn’t get it at all, but you sure as fuck do now.

**Note: this post was approved for posting by Beth.

Beth Grows Up

The site lost something when the kids got older. When kids get into trouble as an infant, it’s much more amusing than when they’re a teen. Plus, somewhere in between they learn how to read, become aware of the world around them, and don’t find it amusing when they lose control of their own narrative.

I’m making an exception with this post because it’s really about me – and that’s not my ego talking. I’ve been ego impaired since a tragic incident early in my childhood.

Something hit me the other day.

F—! It hit me again! Agh! Damn it! Stop that!

Beth is graduating from High School this year.

I’ve know this for a long time… like some people know they’ll have kids one day. After your first is born (and sometime between the grand entrance and your first all-nighter on the first night home) it hits you. Your life is never going to be the same.

I can’t help but wonder if the same is true when they leave home (the first time). They’re born and BANG – you have a child. Twenty odd years of experience and conditioning, of taking care of yourself and worrying over your own life, (milage will vary) all of it is thrown out the window. Then they leave and BANG – you have a child out in the world. Eighteen years of experience and conditioning, of being responsible for the care and safety of a person in progress, much of it becomes obsolete. I wonder if you can really prepare for either one, or if they both sneak up and shatter your worldview in an instant.

It didn’t hit me when Beth started her senior year, took her SATs, or even when she got her first college acceptance letter. I knew there was no way in this lifetime any of us could pay for it – that or I was in some serious denial. It hit me when she got her second. It hit me again when she scheduled a tour of the campus, and once more when she left for it this morning with Cheryl.

Holy shit. She really is going to go.

Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna be fine. I’m the one you should worry about. One day soon she’s going to leave for college.

For better or worse, I’ll finally know what it’s like to have a child out in the world.

My loss will be your gain.

You’re welcome.

My hero

This morning I was driving to work. An intersection flashed past my window as the Foo Fighters sang the refrain: “There goes my hero…,” and in a flash fantasy: I’m the inspiration for the song.

In the moment I felt like the Shat-man staring down Khan in Wrath of. I sneered at life like I knew something it didn’t: I’ve got it’s number… (I digress back to Khan) or the ship computer’s number. “Oh yeah, that’s right. You might be named after some bad-ass Monguls (or not, I don’t really know), but I’m gonna push this button and your shields are gonna drop like a feather in a vacuum – assuming there’s something with a bunch of mass nearby to provide a lot more gravity than just a feather, of course.”

That’s right. The Shat-man may be cool, but he knows his basic physics too.

In the moment I felt like I was going into battle (as if I’ve ever been in a battle), and the rest of the day was looking back across from the other side of the battlefield. It was an F.U. moment and I’m not referring to Furman University. I was feeling the pain of another morning after PT, but I felt like JT Kirk, drawing a line in the sand with my boot (I was actually wearing a really nice pair of loafers I’d never wear in the sand, but bear with me) and sneering at life. “Yeah, you might make it this far – BUT NO FURTHER, YOU HEAR ME?!?”

Cliche? Sure, but when you’re in the moment life doesn’t wait for you to come up with something better.

But the song ended and with it went a bit of my mojo. But then I remembered what waited for me at the office: coffee – my first dose of caffeine for the day. Those bitter ground brown beans were begging me to brew and imbibe.

Once again I was ready.

I am ready.

Alright Friday, do your best. I’ll be right here waiting for you.

Beating up Facebook and being beaten

Last September I wrote a post about leaving Facebook, but I’d left a while before the post. Not long after I deactivated my account and deleted the app from my iPhone, thinking I wouldn’t be back for a while. I didn’t give anyone a reason because I didn’t want it to be interpreted as a grand statement, but I had one – a personal one.

I was depressed. Big shock, right? I’ve been depressed and writing or talking about being depressed for a couple years. But 2014 was bad. At times it was about as bad as it’s been. If you’ve never experienced clinical/major depression, I can’t make you understand it. It’s beyond my ability as a writer or speaker. It may be beyond anyone’s ability. Part of it was me – the way I’m wired. Another was a combination of events from my recent (moving) and remote past.

I was fighting this battle with my own mind when news broke about Facebook doing research on its members to study emotional response. Or rather – it had done research in the past, and the first we were hearing about it was when they decided to publish.

We could have a long discussion about reasonable (and unreasonable) expectations of privacy, informed consent, terms of service documents, and ethical research practices. We could but I won’t. I was depressed. I recalled my own experience doing psychological research on human subjects in school. Imagine yourself at your most fragile, vulnerable state. Then imagine you found out people were manipulating what you saw to see how it affected how you feel. I got very angry.

End of story.

Well, the end of that story.

I’ve thought a lot about social media. I’ve thought about socialization. I don’t make friends easily, and people don’t stay put, so most of my friends are not local. Depression is not something anyone should suffer in solitude, so cutting off access to my friends (in hindsight) was not a great idea.

Oh, and Lord help me. I bought Facebook stock. I had just enough in my account from Apple dividends to buy one share. So, as is my quirky, market custom – guaranteed to cost me more money than make me (due to transaction fees) – I bought the one share.

I feel dirty, but I couldn’t very well stoop to buying stock and not reactivate my account.

So here I am. You may mock me at any time.

Random statement of fact

Honor Roll or not (though he is), my fifth-grader has the capacity to act much smarter than your pet. Mind you, I have nothing against your pet. I’m sure he/she is adorable and a beloved member of your family – but let’s not get carried away.

I think it’s worth pointing out my fifth-grader is a person – a little human being. I’m not advocating cruel treatment of any animals, but I think we should all aim a little higher when we think about how we’re going to treat another person. 

Yes, I know your bumper sticker was a joke. Believe it or not, I do have a sense of humor. I just didn’t think it was funny. Not even a little bit. Not when too many of us still treat our pets better than other people. 

I don’t understand

When my mouth is in sync with my mind, I try not to overuse the word “understand” when it comes to life experiences. It suggests a depth of shared knowledge I think is much rarer than use of the word.

I hope this gives you some sense of what I mean when I say… I don’t completely understand the level of intolerance shown by many people on the basis of race, gender, religion, or just about any other way you can distinguish between groups of people.

For better or worse, our perception of the world takes cues from our environment, both past and present. I recognize at least this much, so perhaps I understand a little. I suspect my environment was unlike the intolerance crowd. It was filled with people who encouraged me to think in relative terms rather than absolutes, to see beauty in diversity rather than chaos, and to seek the deeper meaning in things rather than stopping at the outward appearance.

Perhaps it’s ironic that my bias is to see people, at first glance, for what we have in common rather than how we differ: we are all people. Well, I think I do anyway. No one’s perception is perfect. Because of my nature, most of my contact with other people takes place at work, and because of the nature of my work, I probably interact with a greater variety of people than average. I don’t say this to brag, or to offer it as lame proof of a loving/inclusive nature. ”I can’t be a racist. I have black friends.” I only mention it because it’s given me a lot of information to consider when I self-reflect. As an introvert who suffers from low self-esteem, I can say I do A LOT of self-reflection. As someone who also suffers from depression, I can say I’m not easy on myself. Despite this, it was a bit of a shock the first time a coworker said to me: “everyone likes you John.” It was a greater shock when it occurred to me I tend to like most of them too, when I come out of my shell and talk to people. But here’s one of the keys to this post: I take it for granted others don’t (or didn’t) tend to have the same experience.

At an intellectual level, I know everyone can’t, and don’t get along. Still, it almost always comes as a surprise when I learn two coworkers are not getting along – and I’m the last one to know.

I’m well aware people do terrible things to others throughout the world. I become almost numb to it – probably not unlike many of you. But every once in a while a story will pop up, not even a particularly nasty story (relative to others), and it will be like a quasi-epiphany (only I’ll feel despair rather than joy). Taking my experiences in life for granted, I’ll wonder at how others can be so cruel, for such arbitrary reasons.

But that’s the catch, isn’t it? The reasons aren’t arbitrary at all to those people. Gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation – they’re all “reasons.” I know where some of them come from. And yet… there’s a part of me that doesn’t understand why we can’t move past these “reasons,” why we can’t find and tap some inner source of common humanity in each of us, to find some small amount of compassion… empathy… and turn the hate on its head. I know there’s no magic switch we can flip, that biases, attitudes, stereotypes, etc. take time to change. But at this time in history when the world seems to grow smaller at an accelerated pace, and all of us are increasingly exposed to other people, I would hope our differences would come as less of a surprise – that we would become desensitized to them at a similar accelerating pace. Instead, I fear there are some circles were the opposite is true, and our common humanity is failing to shine through.

This random story of cruelty I mentioned before – it hit me and I think of that inner humanity drying up somewhere, and I mourn its loss.

I do what I do for a living because I want to help people. I think it’s why I had several conversations with pastors growing up and in college – not just because I wanted to understand injustice in our world, or even the roll God does/doesn’t play in its existence. I wanted to know what I could do to help change it.

“Well, to some extent you are John,” was a common reply – followed by some bullshit about leading by example. It was never satisfying. Not even a little. Then my pastor would usually ask if I’d ever thought about going to seminary. The experience was probably the biggest reason I never did.

In hindsight, I know it’s not completely bullshit, but it’s still not satisfying. I feel helpless, particularly now.

One small thing came to mind when I became a parent. I could raise my kids as if the world did not have these arbitrary barriers I’ve mentioned, in addition providing a similar environment that I was raised. That meant if my daughter wanted to go out and kick a soccer ball around the back yard, that’s what we did. If my son wanted to take dance and singing lessons, that’s what he did. (To give just a couple, gender related examples.)

But increasingly, as my daughter races towards adulthood, it feels like some of this idealism should be set aside – and it’s a bit heartbreaking. There’s a difference between the world I want her to live in and the world she will. As the story which hit me recently reminds me, we live in a world where men abuse women, in a disturbing variety of ways and frequency. No, I do not want my daughter to live her life in fear, but at the same time it would be irresponsible to pretend we don’t live in this world. If the world doesn’t treat us all the same, doesn’t it follow, to some extent, that all of us can’t treat it the same?

At times I almost wish I could see the world in absolutes. Making decisions would be SO much easier. Instead I’m often caught in the middle somewhere, as I am now. I’m haunted by the question I think haunts many parents: where and when do I reinforce the difference between the world we should live in and the one we do?

As I finish this up and get ready to post (with woefully little editing), it’s a beautiful Saturday morning in Florida. Cool air is blowing in from the north across the lake, and much in the world seems very right. Yet a few troubling questions persist, both about my small world and the larger one outside it. What more could I do? Should I expect more of myself?

I’m not sure seminary would have helped me now either.

Do you know what day it is?

No, I’m not talking about the beginning of the end for the indigenous people of this hemisphere, or the man credited with getting the party started. (Bad sarcasm. BAD!) I’m asking from the perspective of a man who lost track of time last week.

I had a nasty little stomach virus with the power to fiddle with the space-time continuum. There was a great disturbance in the force… as if billions of innocent, intestinal bacteria cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

I was out of touch last week as my body dealt with fever, pain, nausea, dehydration, and a pinch of helplessness. My few coherent thoughts contemplated a world without gastroenteritis.

I still feel a little weak but I rejoined the rest of the world today. It seems there’s a lot of catching up to do.

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I’m shocked!

I’m shocked I tells ya! Shocked! And if iOS 8 auto-corrects my slang one more time I’m gonna give it a heave.

I talk about depression a fair bit, especially here, so you can imagine what my self image is like. Well, today someone called me “happy-go-lucky.” Let me tell you – that doesn’t fit my self image.

I think I mentioned trying to be positive in one of my previous posts, and how tiring it can be when I’m depressed. But I wonder. Maybe I’m so tired because I’m not just trying to but up a brave, positive front – I’m acting out a fully fleshed out role. Maybe I’m putting on another personality for a third of my life, while I’m at work.

I’m not sure if this is good or bad for me personally, but I’m glad someone sees me this way. I don’t want to be the mope – the buzz kill in the office. I’m glad I’m not, for everyone anyway.

This is your punishment

You’ve done it to yourself. I warned you. When I bid my (temporary) farewell to Facebook, I said you could punish yourself by visiting my blog… and here you are!

Well, I’m glad you’re here, no matter what it says about you.

Wow! Insulting the readers right off the bat! Way to draw ‘em in John! You know I kid because I love, right?

Still reading? Here’s a question I’ll ask myself that’ll put a stop to that: What have I been doing the last year or so? You know all of those times you’ve asked how I’m doing and I replied: “Uh… fine,” “ok,” or the ever popular: “so-so?”

Well… here’s the thing. I don’t like to lie. I was going to keep going there but I decided last minute to add a period. I don’t like lying, under any circumstances – not even to a throw-away question like: “how ya doing?” Sometimes I don’t like telling the truth either – like when the answer kinda sucks – but who does? In almost any other circumstance I’ll give you the ugly truth. But here’s my dirty little secret: if we’re just passing in the halls, I might hedge a bit.

Yep. Yessiree Bob. You heard it here first ladies and gents. If you throw out a “how ya doing?” I might hedge. I won’t throw back an: Awesome! Great! Or, life’s a peach AND I’m making cobbler! Don’t ask what that’s supposed to mean. I’m not sure either, though it sounded funny in my head. You know some folks do it – like someone with a verbal tick who overdosed on Xanax. But you won’t hear it from me unless I’m really AWESOME! Because… shouldn’t it always be in all caps with an exclamation point? I might not hedge. Some of you know what that’s like, walking into my emotional minefield. Other times I don’t want to deal with it myself, let alone share it with others, and “so-so” is as low as I’ll go.

Lucky for you, we’re not in the hallway and I’m ready to bring this post in pretty low… because it’s something you’ve gotta do, when you land. My little homage to Airplane! For the better part of the last year, I’ve been dealing with depression and a pain in my neck. No really: a pain in my neck – as in it hurts. Ba-da-bum I haven’t felt ok or even so-so. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist on a regular basis, with mixed results – but on balance it’s been positive.

I’ve hopped through health insurance hoops and hiccups for eight months, but I got something done for my neck last Friday. I had an out-patient procedure that’s supposed to relieve some of the pain pretty quickly. It hurts as much as it ever did right now, but it’s supposed to calm down in a week or so, and I can wait that much longer.

Sidebar: (I need an html tag for that) Some have told me I shouldn’t be telling you I’m seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but that’s partly why I AM telling you. I won’t pretend I can de-stigmatize mental illness by myself, but I can refuse to be ashamed and hope a little bit of my attitude rubs off on someone.

Then there was the move to Orlando. I’ve already written a post about this so I won’t belabor it now. Plus, I’m trying to be positive… so you won’t hear any comments from me like, “Orlando is the armpit of Florida,” or “you can’t cook an egg on these sidewalks, they’ll burn.”

Nope. Nothing like that.

If you’re still reading, I think I know what you might be thinking: didn’t you just cover this ground a few posts back? And if you’re still reading, get ready for the big pay-off: yes I did.

There are a couple reasons for this post. First, I wanted to apologize for misleading any of you, and sort of explain why I did. I know I’ve been missing in action, yet when I have popped up I’ve offered lame “I’m fine” reassurances that probably reassured no one. Turtles don’t curl up in their shell and hide because they’re “fine.” In my experience, the social experience of being depressed is similar to having cancer (if the person I’m speaking to is familiar with depression). Revelations and explanations can be more painful than just suffering in silence. Having good friends who care means that sometimes it feels like I’m counseling everyone else, trying to make them feel better about how I feel – and it’s exhausting and doesn’t THAT sound a bit selfish.

Here’s the other reason and it’s a bit harder to explain. I’ve been struggling with competing therapeutic concepts. On one hand, I’m trying to explore my thoughts and emotions, in part through expression. (I’ll get into this a bit more later) But on another, I’m trying not to let depressive thoughts devolve into self-pity. You might think depressive thoughts are inherently self-pity, letting an emotion express itself and almost self-perpetuate. That can be true if depression seems to have an identifiable cause: like an unpleasant experience (getting fired). But what if you’re not aware of a reason, at a conscious level? For me, this is often when depression is at it’s worst: despair seemingly without a cause, and it’s an incredibly helpless feeling.

The easy part is medical diagnosis and treatment – speaking as a patient. It may not be understood, but it’s generally accepted there’s a biological component to severe depression. The cause – and therefore how it should be medically treated – is increasingly controversial. But I try not to worry about it. I try to leave those concerns to my doctor and trust their judgment as to the appropriate treatment – with a few questions to keep ‘em on their toes. However, many studies show depression is best treated with a combination of medication AND counseling. If I recall, some studies go so far as to show medication and/or counseling, on their own are no better statistically than no treatment at all (for some populations). And as you probably know, some folks don’t respond to any combination of treatment.

As for me, I’ve been playing the odds for years, taking the combination route. My problem has been insurance, and the fact that none of the good therapists tend to take it. In the last ten years, I’ve been through ten times as many therapists as pairs of shoes. Luckily, this trend ended this year. I think I’ve FINALLY found a good one. But it also leads me back to a few problems I haven’t been able to fully resolve, which can make the depression that’s already bad worse. In the search for causes or triggers behind emotions, I occasionally find them. There are some good reasons for finding these causes, if they exist, which make the “Cognitive-Behavioral” approach to therapy (the one that seems to be most effective these days, though I have issues with a few of the theories) more effective. But on top of everything else, they make me feel guilty. Why should X make me feel so bad, when so-and-so is dealing with X, Y AND Z? It’s classic, right? So as weird as it may sound, I’m trying to give myself a certain amount of permission to feel bad. As the Doctor (PhD) says, “we should feel bad about certain things.”

So first I feel depressed. I may not come up with THE reason, because it may not exist outside my head (re: biology), but there may be an additional reason I can identify. So then I feel guilty. But I try to temper these feelings with some of the approaches of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). But then I feel a line being crossed – self pity. Where is this line? Does it matter? What should I do about it?

It’s all crazy, right? This is just one piece of what depression means to me. It’s like a never ending vortex of negative emotions which feed themselves, on themselves, on each other… and on me – swirling down life’s drain.

But I am getting help. I’ve been getting help for a long time, but it’s been more helpful than ever lately – though it may be hard to tell because of the depth I’ve fallen this time around. This is where I’m going to ask you for a favor, for a little help you may be in a unique position to give. If I write something here and it seems like I may be indulging my dark thoughts a little too much, would you be opposed to dropping me a private message? I know most of you are not doctors and I understand if this sort of thing is WAY outside your comfort zone. Frankly, it would be unfair to expect such a thing from many (if not most) of you. It’s just that at the moment, I’m flailing around a bit, trying to distinguish healthy therapy from self-pity. I’m discussing it with the pros, but I can only see them so often.

Wether you have anything to say about this or not, I appreciate you taking the time to listen. Even if you only listen, it means a lot to me. I know from experience, sometimes just listening is a BIG ask.