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Sitting in the dark

Empty LakeA month or so ago, I posted a picture to Facebook with the caption: “in over my head.” I think it sounded like I was lost, or any number of things other than what I intended, without the context of the pictures I posted before (which I suspect slipped past many folks). We were on a camping trip, visiting a place that goes much of the way back to me and Cheryl’s childhood. The first time we visited this large state park, out in the middle of North Florida Nowhere, we were students at UF. It was one of the few places I could go with Cheryl and just sit, relaxing.

She’s not one for sitting around, that one.

This recent trip was nostalgic – and incredibly sad. What made the park a wonder was the interaction between the land and water, the contradictions that make Florida ecology a delicious, but acquired taste.

In spots, relatively high land can look dry and tortured – both by the semi-arid conditions and the periodic fires which sweep through. But hike a quarter mile down and you might find yourself stepping carefully down into a ravine, the temperature just slightly cooler… the air just slightly more humid… and the land MUCH more green and lush. Coming to an abrupt end, clear water trickles from spots in a steep, shaded hillside, which has eroded backwards over the years, and accumulates into a clear stream at the bottom. As simple and unassuming a place it is, few places on Earth look (or make me feel) more alive. Follow this stream a couple miles into the park and you find the lake in the picture below.

Well, there was a time you could.

So here’s what I was trying to say with this picture: I was standing in what was once a lake bed, and (almost) twenty years ago I would have been in water over my head.

Pretty deep, I know.


As is my way, there were a bunch of things I was saying silently to myself. No amount of context would have dipped you into that stream of consciousness. I’ll get to my inner dialog in a second, but if you would first indulge a little cathartic swearing… fuck me. Take a look at this picture, taken in roughly the same direction, from what was then (in 1998) the lake shore:

Full Lake

Yep, there’s a lot less water flowing over the surface of northern Florida. The morning was filled with scenes like this (the first picture, not the one with all of the water), and I was in mourning. As the sun rose over a much drier Florida than I remembered, my mood felt darker – though not just because of that morning. I think it’s something that’s grown steadily worse for about the last seven years – though it got MUCH worse this last year… and Jesu Fucking Cristo, God help me worse in the last couple of months.

Go back and ask the November 2008 Edition of Me about the state of things, and I would have been really worried about the economic rubble strewn around me, but I couldn’t have been much more optimistic about the state of society as a whole. Heck, I was thinking about going back to church – and did, for a little while. A black man had been elected President and I thought human kindness had turned a corner.

The November 2016 Edition of Me felt like human kindness had been tortured, humiliated, and tossed into a dumpster fire.

I’d hoped to write more than this, but that’s about all I can take right now. I’m gonna go hide for the rest of the evening/night, and see how I feel tomorrow – JK

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.

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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.

You don’t want to read this

I don’t want to write this post. I don’t feel like doing much of anything these days. Some of the time I try to put on a mask of good humor but it’s hard. Some folks are better at masking their depression. Some can keep it up longer or be more convincing. I’m neither.

Depression has been with me almost as long as I can remember. It’s not always active, like a cancer in remission, but sometimes it’s one perceived misfortune away from rising to the surface with its claws bared. It’s also not predictable. I go long stretches feeling emotionally resilient. I say “sometimes it’s one misfortune away” because it’s not… always. Sometimes something as small as a forgetful friend can trigger it, but I’ll weather something relatively big like the death of a relative normally (not conflating sadness or mourning with depression).

Depth and persistence also vary, seemingly without relationship to the severity of the trigger. (Although I talk about the move a lot in this post, it’s only what I think of as the trigger. The depression covers many issues I’m not discussing in the hopes of keeping it simple.)

This time it’s been long and it’s been bad – the worst since I’ve been married.

It’s been about nine months since our decision to move to Orlando. Sure, it’s been a big change, but it hasn’t been the end of the world. Yet the decision haunts me. I think about it every day. It visits me in my dreams. I used to have bad dreams like this and wake up relieved it was a dream. Now I wake up relieved it was just a dream, until I come to realize it wasn’t.

Before the move, my job was almost perfect for me and I knew it.

I know I’m not perfect, but I recognize I have some skills that help me stand out. I’m above average at some things, even quite talented at others. I also recognize my shortcomings. I work at them but I’m not going to bullshit you or anyone else and pass off pseudo-weaknesses as hidden strengths. No matter how much we try, no one can turn a wart into a flower.

My job was almost perfect because it allowed me to use most of my strengths, and with a little bit of work, mask most of my weaknesses. Most important of all, I enjoyed it. At times I loved it. I was in a position to help people – lots of people. My skills put me in a unique position to help my coworkers statewide, who could then help many, many others – directly because of my efforts. (There was a time when Judges hearing domestic issues around the state sought me out for help, though the main office wasn’t overly impressed when they found out, “suggesting” I stop.) I rarely brought problems home with me from the office. Even after 18 years, I could leave at the end of the day feeling a bit of a rush.

How many people these days are lucky enough to be able to say that?

In those dreams I left my job for various reasons, only to find I’d made a big mistake – and I couldn’t go back. Now I can’t help but think those dreams came true.

The move has flipped the equation. Although I work for the same state agency and the same department (just a different location), it’s very different. Those differences tend to hide my strengths while exaggerating my weaknesses. I don’t like to use the word hate, but I’m awfully close.

Cheryl had the same problem before we moved. That’s why I agreed to it. We faced several certainties: she didn’t like her job, we didn’t make enough money to keep up with our expenses, there were no opportunities for Cheryl to move up or grow where we were, and my health did not allow me to help as much as I would have liked. Cheryl was stressed and I was depressed due to my prominent role in our problems.

Our situation before the move was not sustainable. The move would reduce our expenses while increasing our income, and give Cheryl something she’d lacked for a long time: a job she liked.

The move presented fewer uncertainties. Although I’d be giving up my “perfect job,” I’d be transferring to another office within the agency (though taking a voluntary demotion to help the transfer happen faster). I had my fears… worst case scenarios that plagued my mind, but I knew they were unlikely. I couldn’t deny Cheryl a little happiness after carrying me for so long, especially when the move could just as likely turn out well for me too.

I was sitting in my car during a lunch break in December of 2013 when Cheryl got the job offer that moved us to Orlando, and I told her I thought she should take it. My mind has replayed that moment countless times since. It was a great fall day in Florida. I had the windows open and I was lying back, just enjoying the quiet, the cool air, and the gentle breeze. It’s an unlikely setting for my life to seemingly turn upside-down.

There’s a dark corner of my soul where I blame Cheryl for the move and my depression. At night before I go to sleep, waiting for the dreams to take me back to that moment in my car, I get mad. I get mad at her for “making” us move. I get mad at myself for agreeing. I get angry with myself for making the move necessary – if not for my poor health, maybe we could have avoided some of the money problems and stayed. Then I come full circle. I remember depression was with me LONG before WE decided to move. I get mad at myself for blaming Cheryl, who has only tried her very best through it all. I don’t like to use the word hate, but I’m awfully close.

Some nights I’m much more than close.

Among my flaws is a shyness, or social awkwardness, which makes it hard for me to make friends. I left the few I have behind. Here I have none, with no prospects. I go days where depression wins and I trade no words with anyone but immediate family. Not friends, not coworkers, not my boss (a big part of my problem at work, methinks)… no one.

I’m seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist – who I must admit is the best one I’ve ever seen. (He’s the first to offer insight I hadn’t thought of myself first.) I’m living with constant pain in my neck and head, but I’m seeing a doctor I trust who’s trying a procedure I think will help on Friday.

But I scare myself at times. I don’t always discuss my deepest episodes of depression with Cheryl. I don’t want to be an anchor anymore. But when I do have a chance to talk about it, I’m not always completely honest with either my psychiatrist or my psychologist. I know what the consequences could be, and they scare me more.

I feel worthless.

I feel lost.

I feel alone.

When I think everyone is asleep at night and no one is listening, I cry.

But for the love of my wife and family, I feel like I have nothing of value.

But that isn’t nothing, is it?

Most importantly, I do not feel hopeless.

That’s something.

If this post seems like more of a mess than usual, it’s because I typed it all with my thumbs, on my phone, with autocorrect, at work – waiting for our network to come back up.


I try

Hi, my name is John and I haven’t posted anything of substance in a year or more.

I have a good thing not going here, so why start now? This is a couch and you are my therapist – so be warned.

After a few false starts, we’re really moving. Cheryl starts a new job in Orlando on Friday, we’re moving much of our furniture after Christmas (to the guest wing of my sister and brother-in-law’s house), and the kids start at their new schools when they reopen after the holiday break. As of a week ago, I have no idea what I’m doing – other than staying behind until I can find a job in Orlando. I have some ideas about what I may be doing (hopefully a transferring within my department), but much feels uncertain and depression doesn’t help. I feel deep depression waiting around the corner like a would-be mugger, waiting to beat the shit out of me and steal everything I have. This may sound odd at first, but it feels like an ego trip gone VERY wrong. Mixed with uncertainty, it feels like the mental health equivalent of booze and narcotics.

Putting all of that aside for a moment, let me tell you I am extremely proud of Cheryl and I know I’m very lucky. Not only is she the love of my life, my partner in life, and my very best friend, but she put our family on her back and carried us through a tough seven years while dealing with a few of her own problems…

… and this is where I lose folks who’ve never dealt with severe depression: I’m trying to be supportive.

Trying? you may ask. You either ARE supportive, or you are NOT. There is no TRY.

Thank you, Yoda.

If you’ve been depressed, read anything about depression, or have a shred of common sense, you know (on some level) depression is an internal struggle. There’s a reason I referred to it as an ego trip of sorts. Depression turns your thoughts inward and self-destructive. At its worst, it can take self-absorption to dangerous lows. Self pity, helplessness, self loathing, despair… I could go on and on – but I won’t – for your sake.

My aim is not to make YOU depressed. I want you to understand. Short of that (which isn’t realistic anyway), I’d like you to know where I am when I say I’m trying. Every day takes some effort. Sometimes it feels harder to get out of bed when I’m depressed than when chemotherapy was trying to kill cancer before it killed me. I constantly fight my mind’s (mostly) unconscious push to think the worst, overlook the positive, and focus on the negative. I struggle against a desire to isolate myself all day at work by seeking people out. I make my own signs of self worth by putting smiles on other people’s faces (or trying anyway). Then I come home and try to do at least as much for the ones who mean the most to me: my family. This still takes a toll – I’m often physically and emotionally exhausted. But it’s better than the alternative: the isolated, lonely, and hopeless downward spiral of profound depression.

So I’m trying to be supportive. I’m trying to see opportunity in change. I love Cheryl and I know I’m lucky we found each other, but I wish I didn’t have to try to be the kind of person I wish I was – that I know she deserves.

However, just wishing something were true rarely makes it so.

So I try.


Freak out

I’ve started this post once or twice a week for months. I get out a sentence or two and stop – too tired, too fried, or too apathetic to continue. I’ve been MIA most of this year, clicking the occasional “like” the few times I venture out into social media. Reasons and excuses abound, but there’s no biggie I can point to and say, “that’s the one you can blame.”

Well, that’s what I tell myself, choosing to deny it as if acknowledgment will make it real: depression. Denial is easy with the apparent presence of cause. In addition to a handful of issues, I’m fighting a losing battle with disks going bad up and down my neck. It’s been bugging me (off and on) for the better part of twenty years, but early this year the pain escalated to a full time problem. I don’t have the energy to go through the rest of the laundry list tonight.

Me and depression go way back. It’s half-brother anxiety hangs around too. More often than not they seem to come without an obvious cause, so it was easy to dismiss my dark moods as a personal failing: an inability to shake self-pity.

Inspired by a friend, I’d made a little more progress on this post than usual this week, but the kicker was a letter I received in the mail Friday.

You may have heard about a New England company (the New England Compounding Center) responsible for a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis, involving a tainted batch of steroids injected near the spine to treat back pain. The letter I received told me the series of injections I received in my neck earlier this year contained a steroid manufactured by this company. The upside is there have been no confirmed cases of meningitis linked to the steroid my doctor used, but it has been recalled and physicians have been instructed by the Department of Health to notify patients.

Here’s a quote from the letter: “All of us at xxx xxxx xxxxx understand that his information is alarming and frightening. Please do not hesitate to call us about this matter.” I can’t tell you how relieved I am that I have their permission to be alarmed and frightened.

The letter provides phone numbers and web site addresses for the FDA Division of Drug Information and the Centers for Disease Control. You know what that says to my anxiety prone mind? “The CDC is expecting your call.” I don’t want to be someone the CDC is expecting to hear from.

And then there’s every hypochondriac’s dream: I’ve had half the symptoms I’m supposed to watch for since before the injections. Headache, stiff neck, nausea, and sensitivity to light… I’ve had them all with great frequency this year, either due to the pain in my neck or the migraines it’s triggered.

My goal for the next few days is to focus on the following words: “there have been no confirmed cases.” Surely there would have been one by now, right?

In the mean time, my spare thoughts are with those of you with your own problems, and anyone facing an encounter with Hurricane Sandy.


The disappearance of John

It’s been a while, eh?

In terms of writing and this blog, I’m in a funny place. I know a lot of people who are sick, injured, or feeling the pain of life beating them down. I say “a lot,” but it’s not… exactly. Everything’s relative, right? But whether we’re talking raw numbers or just percentages, I’d like to be a voice of reassurance. I’d like to be strong, spouting words of inspiration capable of changing lives.

Aim a bit high much?

When other folks are down I don’t want to hitch my car to the train. I don’t want to be a “me too” every time someone faces adversity. Mostly, I don’t think I deserve the same attention. I don’t think my problems rise to the same level. I don’t want to devalue other people’s suffering with my little problems. I don’t want to be the little boy who cried woe.

However, it occurs to me tonight – as I’m not sleeping – I’m doing neither. I’m not whining or inspiring. I start posts with a couple sentences and stop cold, my heart miles from my words. The Facebook app on my phone becomes an icon of guilt… the feed reader app a convenient victim of forgetfulness. Instead of talking or writing I’m disappearing. This can’t be healthy.

So, what gives? This year has been a series of little things piling up and weighing me down, creating a little snowball in my mind that not only gets bigger but makes use of every berm or rut on its way downhill to avoid all obstacles. These little things shouldn’t amount to much, even taken together.

A change at work.
The almost inevitable distance that grows between former coworkers.
A dislocated thumb.
Unflattering stories in the news involving my employer.
Cheryl taking a second job so necessaries don’t have to join discretionary spending.
A political climate that mistakes anything resembling compassion for a compromise of “American Values.”
A pesky problem with my neck.

This stuff is so mundane I’d be bored if I were you.

If Cheryl was awake she’d tell you the word pesky does not apply if I’m seeing a neurosurgeon later this morning, but I like the word. Pesky. Maybe it’s just the repressed Red Sox fan in me (Go Rays!).

Whatever the reason friends, please forgive my absences. All evidence to the contrary, you’re rarely far from my thoughts.

The truth about me

This is me.

This is not me.

This is who I’d be if I could be me without fear.

I’ve often wanted to talk about work in this space because it’s such a big part of my life – possibly too big.

There are three important things in my life: my family, work, and you. This poses several problems. You’ll notice there’s a big hole in that group. Nowhere do I mention friends. There’s no such thing in my life independent of these three groups. My only friends are my family, my co-workers, and you. Not everyone can count their family as their friends, so don’t think I’m not grateful for this bit of fortune. Many of us love our family. Some of us can trust our family. Not all of us can really count on them as friends – folks we can turn to in a pinch, or call on a whim to discuss what troubles us.

Work can be work, and even though I find value in what I do, what truly makes it special is the rapport I have with the people around me. But unlike some, that rapport stays at work. I rarely speak or interact with them away from the office. Inside, they are my friends. Outside I go my separate way. I don’t know why, other than the fear.

Then there’s you. The internet can be an amazing place, but when I think about it, the internet feels like having supercharged pen pals. The internet is a much faster way to communicate than the good old USPS and a first class stamp, but blogs, twitter, and everything else we call “social media,” are still mostly the printed word. We can learn a lot from them. We can even grow care about/for people through them. But we’ll probably never really meet. I’ll probably never recognize you by the sound of your voice. I’ll never shake your hand, give you five, or share a hug when it’s needed.

Maybe none of that should matter, and I certainly don’t want to alienate or diminish my fondness for any of you, but it does matter to me. It matters because outside of family and work, you are my only friends. While the internet can be an amazing place, it can still feel isolating, for the reasons I give above (even though they’re a bit vague, leaving them to wither alone as if they’re self evident).

That’s what it means to be me: the shy guy with my love and my very best friend Cheryl, a relatively small family, and a smattering of relatively loose connections I consider friends, who pass through my life rather quickly. Words flash on a screen, or turnover churns the mix at work, but either way it leaves me wanting.

Why don’t I connect with people?

Normally the question doesn’t bother me, but at times like these, with my wife and kids half way across the country, it plagues me. I’ve mentioned we’ve lived in our house for many years, but have I told you I can only name one last name among all the people around us? Have I told you I can only name two first names? Surely that’s not normal.

Folks aren’t obligated to be friends with their neighbors any more than their family – but people usually know their names… don’t they?

That’s the extent of my fear.

The sad truth is, if you were next door I probably wouldn’t know your name. I still wouldn’t shake your hand, give you five, or share a hug when it was needed.

You may not understand. I wish I understood. I wish any of the “professionals” I’ve seen really understood.

It’s not as depressing as it might sound. It’s all I’ve ever known. Mostly I don’t feel alone – because I’m not. I have my family, my friends at work, and you. But take either of the first two away for any period of time and I’ll carry the loneliness like a dark, heavy cloak – masking all of my life’s color from others and myself.

Although it doesn’t always bother me, no matter what I do the fear never goes away.

This is me.


All this time

A few months ago I reached a relatively low point in my life. I wasn’t dying, starving, lonely, unemployed, or bankrupt so I use the word low lightly.

I visited my psychiatrist six weeks ago. (I’m not ashamed to admit it, I have one of those.) After the last few years chatting with me, even she was a little concerned by my appearance.

My sleep situation was worse than ever. I was sleeping between 10 – 13 hours a night with naps in between, possibly 15 hours a day all told, yet I felt like I’d got none (or very little). Efforts to slowly start exercising again left me in much worse shape. My blood pressure was inexplicably low. I was suffering from pretty bad reflux/heartburn, confirmed by a tube they stuck down my throat – despite a relatively good diet and avoiding the common triggers. This came after a brief ECG scare, suggesting irregular heart behavior, which turned out to be a false alarm. Leukemia hung in the background, never affecting my health, but seemingly biding it’s time for the best time to strike. I set a personal record for body mass. Since I didn’t get any more dense (Cheryl might argue the point), I set a similar record for volume. My natural tendency to slip towards depression made it all seem worse.

I couldn’t stay awake – anywhere. One of my doctors said I shouldn’t be driving. Cheryl became the designated driver in the family. I couldn’t focus at work for more than a few moments at a time, despite lists I made for myself to put me back on track. Trips to the printer left me week in the knees, my legs trembling, like I was going to collapse in exhaustion. Any sound reaching my cube was a distraction, pulling me from my work. Fighting these distractions made the headache gods VERY angry. Folks whispered about the time I spent working from home. For the first time in my life I was told my work was slipping. My daily routine shrunk to working, getting ready for work, and sleeping.

Many doctors, bad guessing, and failed treatments leached away my one remaining defense – hope. Even though poor sleep was clouding my judgment and slowing every step, I felt like there was no “big thing” to point at and say, “that’s what is wrong with me.” However, it felt like I was nearing my 990th paper cut.

Three months ago, I went to see my primary doctor. She ordered blood tests and a follow-up.

Two months ago, shortly after seeing the psychiatrist, she said my thyroid numbers had more than doubled in less than a year, suggesting hypothyroidism. She ordered more blood tests and another follow-up.

Three weeks ago the new, more extensive tests came back the same. I started taking thyroid hormones.

Things haven’t changed a lot, but they have changed. I’m sleeping a bit better. Work has been easier. Exercise doesn’t seem impossible. Cheryl signed me up at the Y so I could work out with everyone else (the whole family goes). My energy level remains low over all, but I have bursts where I feel more like my old self – like right now. Maybe best of all, I have something to point at.

I have hope.

– – –

Even though I’ve gone silent for quite some time, I know a few folks I consider friends have had tough times: tumors, hospital stays, and worse. On the off chance one of you stop by (you know who you are), you’ve been in my thoughts.