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It’s not the kind of vindication I wanted.

Some of us go through life deluding ourselves that our experiences are wholly unique. We experience an accident or fall victim to illness and we believe we are alone. We are not alone, but we don’t know it. Maybe it’s because we’re unique among our peers, where our physical and mental injuries are concerned. The internet makes the world a little smaller but it doesn’t necessarily change the way we feel about ourselves, or how others feel about us.

Cheryl is often tired. I don’t deny it. She has a hard job and she doesn’t stop when she gets home. Still, as much as I love her, I don’t think she really understood how tired I am. All the time. A persistent state of exhaustion.

I knew from a sleep study I did several years ago that I suffered from abnormally frequent limb movements in my sleep, but the quality of my sleep got progressively worse. I’ve danced around the issue for a couple years, taking half measures with this doctor or that, but earlier this year I reached my breaking point. My doctor referred me to a wonderful pulmonologist specializing in sleep medicine. The first thing she wanted to do was go over the data from my last sleep test. She said she didn’t trust the folks who often interpret the data – she likes to draw her own conclusions. Then she wanted me to have another sleep test.

That was last night.

I’m normally tired, but a short, bad night of sleep with more wires than a late 80s sedan and tubes up my nose is not a recipe for a good mood. However, even with all those distractions, I felt like I slept a little better than usual. It would have been great if it lasted more than four hours.

I was surprised when my doctor called me this afternoon with the results. The tech said it would be a week or two. The good news is I don’t have sleep apnea, so I don’t have to wear one of those God awful looking masks plugged in to a cpap machine. The not so good news is my limbs still move around a lot, though that’s not exactly news. I also snore a lot – as in all night. That’s not exactly news either. My wife sleeps MUCH better when I retreat to the other room to sleep on my g-g-grandfather’s bed. The bad news is the quality of my sleep has gotten worse. According to my doctor, a guy my age should spend somewhere in the ballpark of half the night in deep sleep or REM sleep. I spend a whopping 2-3 percent.

And here’s the best part: it’s probably all in my head – or the drugs I put there. The drugs that help quell the dark beast of depression can also be responsible for a decrease in deep sleep and REM sleep. Then again poor sleep can lead to depression.

Chicken, meet your egg.

Wether it can result in such a stunning drop is another question, but it’s a conversation I’m about to have with another doctor – next week in fact.

In the mean time, I really freaking tired. Napping half the day didn’t do the trick, so it’s time to go back to bed and get my 2-3 percent. It feels like it’s better than nothing – if only marginally.


In the UF years

People romanticize snippets of the past and I’m no different. If you listen to me talk about my UF years, you’d think:

1. I got straight As.*

2. I spent four years in Gainesville with Cheryl, a time overflowing with love, joy, learning, and fulfillment.

3. Ambrosia came with every meal. They only had enough to serve it as a side though.**

4. Classmates followed me on campus, collecting things my feet had trod.

5. Steve Spurrier begged me daily to join the team and solve his dreadful kicking game.***

6. I reigned over the Florida Gym like I was the king holding court, with stifling defense, dazzling dribbling, and a clutch, 3 point shot that would make Larry Bird get down on his knees and kiss my ring.

Obviously it wasn’t all that, to borrow a phrase from my daughter. I’ve got my finger on the pulse of teen culture, yo!

I had a theory about the good old days. I wasn’t just thinking about my good old days, but the concept – those periods in life we’re most likely to hold dear to our hearts. I won’t claim I came up with it first, because it turns out I didn’t. I only claim it occurred to me independent of outside influence – other than raw evidence. When I heard some of my private thoughts in class at UF, allegedly from people who had the same thoughts before I was born, I felt a little deflated. But go ahead, call me liar. I double dog dare you!

Lest I confuse or bore you further, here it is. Although we selectively remember the good times from our “good old days,” those days don’t become good and old unless there are a fair number of mostly forgotten bad days in the mix.

Forgetting those classes at UF for a moment (I did a long time ago), the only flaw in my theory (that I could see) was it relied on one study with an admittedly small test group and no control for comparison. Can I count that as one flaw or do I have to go with three or more? Some would even stoop so low as to call my evidence “anecdotal,” because it came solely from my personal experience – or my recollection of it after the fact.

Well! You do know you’re free to stop reading anytime you like, right?

I imagine “THE good old days” is a moving target, changing as we grow older, having more days in the sample for comparison. However, for the moment mine are my days in college – as I’ve suggested before, in this same post even! I “image” they are a moving target because at the tender age of thirty-nine, I have a lot more data to collect.

Emotional ups and downs filled my college years. I started dating and got engaged at UF, but I also spent some of the loneliest days of my life at UF. If you can believe it, Cheryl was actually dating someone else when we started school. (Yes, I was a rebound guy.) I had the closest friendships of my life, and I pissed each and every one of them away. (I think it’s why I’m a little dismissive when someone says I’m a nice guy. I have evidence to the contrary.)

For every moment of bliss, I can come up with it’s equal and opposite… if I try a little harder.

Do you know what you’re thinking? I know what you should be thinking: “Why the hell would you work so hard to remember the bad times? Can’t you just deal with a few fleeting moments of serenity and nostalgia and leave well enough alone? Are you one of those weirdos who enjoy pain?

First of all, believe it or not there are some personal things I keep private, thank you very much!

Mostly I’m just curious. I did spend the better part of four years studying the mind and how it works. Well, actually I studied what a few folks not named Freud THOUGHT about its mysteries. No offense to the Freud dude, who may have had more issues himself than he studied and wrote about. I did two research projects at UF focused on memory. The formation, use, and retention of memories fascinated me for some time, particularly after my grandmother with Alzheimer’s died (while I was at UF).

I wonder if good, even great can get bland – in a way. Say you have a great day. What does it entail? I’m not talking about vacations or events, I’m talking about real, every day life. How is it different from other good days? If you string a bunch together, is the difference enough to remember the specifics of a particular day for a week, 6 months, or years? I think the answer for most people is no. I think our mind makes short cuts whenever it can, building a construct of “a good day” from hundreds of good days. Our minds learn things which typically make up “good days,” and our recollection of the specifics fade – after they’ve been classified, ranked, and processed – added to the mind’s algorithm used to reconstruct a “memory” of a “good day.”

Now think back to the good times you had to work for, when life was a little more roller-coaster than merry-go-round. Those days have contrast, the memories like the after-image of a flashbulb in a darkened room. It makes me wonder if we have to suffer a little to find happiness with any depth to it, rich enough in emotional texture to stand out in our mind.

Study this post and you’ll probably find more holes than my memories. A four year degree hardly makes me an expert. I haven’t even tried to explain the repression of bad times in this post. In fact, I don’t believe all of them are all that repressed. But that’s ok. Light lacks contrast without darkness, and many (if not most) of us can choose to see more light than its alternative when we’re given the gift of time. It’s enough to make me think a little differently about my depression. A few times I’ve climbed out of the hole to find great memories ready for the making.

– – –

*Actually, that one’s true.

**I meant to imply the mythological definition of ambrosia, not “beebread,” or “a fungal product used as food by ambrosia beetles,” as a pesky dictionary might suggest.

***I was actually pretty consistent from 40 yards off a tee behind my house in high school, using our narrow, 8′ swing set in lieu of goal posts. However, I never played a down of organized ball. I was always the guy with the “biggest leg” on my soccer teams though.

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Piles of life

Like many of my posts, I wrote the lion’s share of this one some time ago. I was inspired to polish and post it by a friend’s recent, much better post.

Let me tell you a little something you may not know about sinusitis.

I do not like sinusitis. I do not like it with a nose. I do not like it when it blows. I do not like it in my head. I do not like it lying in a bed.

It’s been one of those… oh hell, I can’t think of what to call it. “Three month stretch” doesn’t roll off the tongue the way I’d like. I’ve been negotiating a cease-fire with a series of colds/infections since November, but talks have stalled. They’re tricky bastards, I’ll give them that.

Plus, they have a superior negotiating position. Sudafed doesn’t strike fear in the heart of the common cold… or the uncommon for that matter. As far as they’re concerned, they can just sit back and let the good times roll… until my battered and bruised white blood cells finally catch up. Even then their retreat is more like leisurely packing up after a long vacation, having arranged a late check-out time with the front desk.

There’s something about being able to feel my heartbeat in my head that keeps me from tickling the keys on my MacBook. Worse, depression has taken something from me it rarely does: the desire to write. The depression has been on more than off the last couple of months. For those of you keeping track, you’ll recognize this as my latest excuse for silence – the disappearance of my words from the internets. For those of you keeping score, I’m afraid I don’t keep track anymore.

The sleep thing may play a roll too. I better not downplay its role. If you disrespect the sleep thing it’ll come back and bite you in the ass.

What is the sleep thing?

The first rule of sleep thing is you don’t talk about sleep thing.

I’m willing to risk it for you though.

It turns out my fidgety nature can be explained by a disorder. It’s not just any disorder, but a full blown syndrome. (Yep, another specialist is in business now!) It’s the syndrome with the funny name. It follows a pattern in my life. I have the stupidest sounding form of leukemia (Hairy Cell), and the syndrome least likely to be taken seriously… Restless Leg Syndrome. I feel like my IQ drops 100 points every time I say one of them.

I know what you’re thinking. “But John, you don’t have 100 points to spare. You do know it’s not possible to have an IQ less than zero, right?

Fair enough, but let’s leave the irrelevant or irreverent sidebars to the professionals, ok?

If Restless Leg Syndrome drew a picture in my mind, it would be a little boy in desperate need of a urinal.

A funny sounding syndrome is worth at least half a dozen pictures, courtesy of my imagination.

O.K., I do look like a little boy who has to pee. Laugh it up, fuzz ball.

My knees bounce so much during the day I think I’ve developed a repetitive motion injury in my foot. I can’t stand or walk for more than twenty minutes before my feet are killing me. Not long after, the pain starts to travel up my legs to my knees and eventually my hips. You should see me after I’ve soldiered through a day at an Orlando theme park (for no one but my kids). If your name isn’t Adam or Beth, it’s best you don’t talk to me. Throw in some sloth (which I’d like to explain away with a lot of things not under my control – making it something not sloth), and you’ve got a dude with little endurance and bad joints.

I get all of this thirty or so years before I can retire. That’s assuming I’ll ever get to retire, or I aspire to retire. Send this one out on the wire: John don’t mind living his whole life in government quagmire. Admit it: it’s something you admire. But enough of this, I’m beginning to tire.

I used to drive Cheryl crazy when we were first married. In fact, she’d probably tell you I was a little late with the punctuation in the last sentence (to say nothing of the verb tense). “Would you please stop shaking your foot?!?” I used to hear it all the time. I can but it takes effort. Sometimes effort and sleep don’t mix. You ever notice sometimes trying something makes it less likely you’ll do something. Sometimes I sleep in another room.

I did a sleep study and they told me I could go early if I wanted to, they had enough data. I was shaking myself out of the normal sleep cycle (without quite waking up all the way) more than once every two minutes. This wasn’t a little leg twitch. This was full body involvement.

There are folks in New England who shake less taking a dip in the pool during a winter nor’easter (assuming they’ve salted the pool, of course).

It turns out the medications used to treat depression tend to make RLS worse. But that’s o.k. because the medications they use to treat RLS make my depression worse too. So I don’t take the RLS drugs. I tried anti-convulsants but they did nothing. I tried supplements with varying degrees of success – but nothing I’d consider acceptable. I take several drugs for their off-label works of wonder, but they don’t work entirely either – or at least all night. As an added bonus, they can make you drowsy. I think every medication I take made someone drowsy during a clinical trial.

I didn’t know this before, but it turns out one of the side effects of poor sleep is also drowsiness.

Predictably, I’m a bundle of energy.

I sleep more than I should (sort of), making up for the quality with quantity. However, sometimes depression, anxiety, or the fracking sinusitis keep me awake, or yank me fully awake prematurely. The result is I’m the guy who looks like a lazy slacker, spending his lunch in the car asleep. The next thing you know, our new Tea Party Governor will be holding a press conference at my front bumper, feeling giddy with vindication – exposing the typical government employee for what he is. The anchor person for one of the local newstainment shows will come on next promising snoring at eleven.

For the last year I’ve been spending a lot of time working from home, more than I meant to when I asked my boss if I could. My concentration has been staggeringly fragile, and the cubicle farm at the “office” feeds the tension headache fairy nicely. In fact, I hear she’s put on a lot of weight recently.

I’ll bet you thought fairies always brought you good stuff.

Over the last few years I’ve done the Family Medical Leave Act drill a couple of times, more for the protection than actually taking leave – and definitely NOT for taking unpaid leave. (We proud American liberals had to work really hard to gain the right to take unpaid leave when we’re really sick or pregnant.) I often wonder if I’ve worked myself right out of folks’ respect. There was a time when I was a bit of a golden boy, the fair haired child. Now I’m the guy who can’t be troubled to stay in the office for eight hours in a day. I’ve become the guy you can’t rely on for meetings, work groups, or special projects. Occasionally I overhear conversations… folks wondering why someone who can’t work in the office can work at home.

Please excuse me for feeling sorry for myself, but a part of me mourns what feels like a terrible loss: my credibility.

Then I got sick for a few months this year.

I try to set all of it aside. “I am relatively lucky,” is my mantra. I have a job, one that accommodates my quirks. That itself is a HUGE blessing. I have a wife who puts up with me, most of the time. I have an idea what it’s like to be in her position… worse even. I grew up with my mother. I know it’s not easy. Somehow I’ve managed to help raise a special needs child to the brink of adulthood, though folks often say the brink is the most challenging part. I have a brilliant son who seems to make fast friends with almost everyone. I just wish he’d use less of his brilliance trying to manipulate his parents and playing the angles. Sometimes it feels like we’re raising the world’s best grifter.

And I have you, who ever you are. I can’t fathom why you’d ever come back, but I appreciate it more than you know. You care enough to come, time after time, subjecting yourself to this. It’s a heart warming thought.

One of my biggest fears growing up was I’d be alone. I don’t think it was an unreasonable fear – being an aloof, shy kid. Sometimes I think expectations are the biggest threat to good mental health, but in this one case I think it’s worked out quite nicely. I’m not surrounded by a throng of admirers everywhere I go. I don’t even have a lot of friends. But most importantly, I know I’m not alone. I may be a lot of things, but I’m definitely not alone.

As for the day to day, mundane things in life, I try to embrace them, to treat them like they are not mundane. I say try because I often fail. It wasn’t always like this. That’s what I cling to: memories of enjoying a chore like laundry with my kids. Not every minute can be Christmas morning opening presents, but you can find a little joy in little things done well.

As for the small problems in life, I try to keep them small. It’s an issue of perception, right?

What ever it is, I’m doing something wrong. Maybe it’s a matter of focus. I do some things right. Somethings I even do well.

I’d like to remember what it feels like to appreciate those things.


Success or failure?

It may seem I’ve been gone for a while, but it’s not true. I’ve been here and there. I’ve just been invisible for a while. You would think I was agonizing over a feature article for the newspaper. I have two or three posts in the queue (not counting countless, abandoned ones) that are “mostly done” but I can’t bring myself to finish/post. You’ve already heard me moan about one of them so I’ll move on.

It brings me to another subject I think about from time to time: what is success? I’m thinking in terms of a whole life lived rather than individual events, a single aspect of someone’s life, or a few blog posts sitting unfinished.

How much of success (so far as it can be defined, measured, or evaluated) is subjective? If we assume much of it is subjective – and I would posit it most assuredly is, how much can we attribute other people’s perceptions placed upon us and our own, independent conclusions? Like most things, I think it’s a combination. We have the capacity to think for ourselves, but our values and beliefs are inevitably shaped by those close to us, particularly when we’re young.

There’s a problem lurking in there, preying on the joy in our lives, and part of it is the concept of potential. You know the equation: if life minus potential is greater then zero then you’re a success! Congratulations! Potential is a quality we’re sure exists, in varying quantities, pertaining to multiple qualities, but is it really only a guess? I don’t mean to argue there’s no such thing, or it’s a creation of someone’s imagination or wishful thinking. Sometimes part of it is based on measurable attributes. Sometimes it’s an educated guess based on a great deal of experience. However, sometimes a guess is still just a guess. If the perception of our potential is propped up my such a guess, it’s a guess that has a profound impact on our perception of success, our feelings of self-worth, and often our mental health.

We live our lives, some of us meeting or exceeding these expectations created by the perception of potential, and some of us not. But either way, do we feel successful? If we merely meet our potential aren’t we just meeting expectations? We’re a culture of “more.” Enough never is. Excess is our culture’s idea of enough. If we merely meet, or heaven forbid – fall short of these expectations – is it possible we sometimes (perhaps even often) suffer disappointment at the hands of a guess that was wrong?

We can’t forget the 800 pound gorilla in the room – the one I left behind the closed door of potential a while back: what is success? Hell, what goes in the recipe? Money, marriage, fertility, social status, professional status… they all weigh heavily on the scale. But what of happiness? Where does happiness go on the shopping list? Can we use a substitute, as if we’re swapping margarine for butter?

Happiness is at the top of my list. I accept no substitutes. I was brought up that way and it stuck (damn nurture). For a long time potential was not part of the equation. I saw myself as an average student, if not a bit slow during my early years in school. I didn’t see potential in myself (which I’ll admit is a sorry state), and a couple fourth grade teachers agreed with me. Eventually standardized testing, my mother’s advocacy, a guidance counselor, other teachers, grades – and the grand-daddy of them all: other people’s perceptions and expectations, tried to cure me of my feelings of inferiority.

But an odd thing happened on the road to having potential: rather than feeling liberated, believing the world truly was my oyster, I felt burdened by a yoke. I tried to hang on to happiness but I put pressure on myself. How exactly was I going to use this potential? Where did I start, let alone end up? What would be my major in college? What would I do for a career? Would it earn me a living? I thought about all of the financial responsibilities my father had, about the day to day expenses: food, shelter, the various forms of insurance, auto loans, and on and on. I though about the huge responsibilities of being a parent, both social and financial. Potential brought possibilities, but those possibilities also brought responsibilities. I felt crushed by it all, and with the benefit of hindsight I see it was the impetus for one of my early bouts with major depression.

I was in seventh grade. I was a fucked up, lazy seventh grader. Some might even say I’m still a little lazy, if not fucked up.

My buddy potential drifted down with me into depression a few times before I graduated from college. However, it turned out potential wasn’t an imaginary friend, and instead of being a burden it was a blessing. I found a job after three months of looking in a bad economy and only two serious interviews (plus one follow-up interview with the director where I was hired). I didn’t look back. My boss told me I was the best counselor or case manager she’d ever hired when I left. She was the kind of boss who never praised anyone for anything the entire time I was there. Of course it could have been inconsequential BS as I was heading out the door, but she did give me a REALLY good reference.

Since then I’ve worked in government, where I’ve received several awards sponsored by a conservative, government watch-dog group (Florida Tax Watch), for things I’ve done which have increased productivity in my department statewide. I’ve been actively recruited to work in the state capital. I’ve been encouraged to go to law school by various folks (including some in the court system) because my knowledge, arguments, and attention to details were superior to some seasoned attorneys. I’ve been asked countless times to apply* for promotions to management. Several times I’ve given them serious consideration, but they didn’t pass my test. Will I be happy, and by extension, will it make my family happier?

(*Many promotions are not selected by management or human resources personnel in Florida government like other organizations. They’re applied for like a new hire off the street, in a process not unlike a standardized test, where the people doing the “picking” don’t always get who they want. However, I’ve gotten every promotion I’ve applied/competed for.)

Some would say I turned them down because I fear change. I can’t deny it without reservation, but I do know my job has changed radically several times without causing any fear or anxiety. In fact, I’ve usually been the calm, reassuring member of the group.

In many ways, including the one most important to me, I’ve been a success on the career front. You rarely hear me complain about work. You may hear me complain about politics, and decisions made by politicians regarding government in general, and my department in particular at times, but almost never about my job or its effect on me. I like what I do. It gives me a sense of purpose, and I’m pretty good at it and all of its nuances. I have a drawer and an overhead cabinet full of awards and certificates that tell me so.

You know there HAS to be a but in here. I don’t usually discuss psychology without a little personal application, and I certainly don’t promote myself without reservation. One might even say all of this sounds a little like I’m compensating.

Here’s where it all boils down. Finally, you’re saying to yourself.

I feel like I made a deal with Cheryl when we were married. It wasn’t explicit like a marriage vow, or even something we discussed. She knew me as a senior in high school, coasting through my last year with an acceptance letter from UF. She dated me as a college student, the guy who she never saw studying, who always had time to ride his bike across north-central Florida… who always got straight As. If there was a measure for potential, some of my measurements looked pretty good. This was the guy she married.

I was by no means perfect. I was still spectacularly shy. I took all of those long bike rides alone. She nurtured me through one of those bouts of major depression. She also knew what gene pool I swam in: really sharp father (perhaps brilliant and at the top of his field), and really odd mother (to put it politely). Still, she married a guy with potential.

This is where my guilt resides. I feel like I didn’t hold up my end of the deal. If you compare potential with the current product, I’ve failed by many (if not most) tangible measures. She makes more money than me, but she deserves it – though I’d argue at least part of it’s because society values law enforcement more than social services. What does that say about us? We value punishment and retribution thinly veiled as “justice” over helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

But I digress.

So here I am. Success or failure? Is the distinction important? Is happiness enough? I’ve been depressed so often the last few years I’m not even especially happy, though it may not have anything to do with success or failure in life. It may be a heaping helping of nature dragging me down to depression’s door. You know what? It’s not fair. Things I do at work bring me genuine joy. (As if there’s another kind.) My kids and my family do the same. At times my heart overflows with the rewards of the life I’ve made for myself. At other times it feels like a heavy cloak masking everything that brings joy, more like something heavy inflicting blunt trauma. However, then it feels more generalized, without a specific cause. No, that’s not completely true. There is one common thread – one specific cause for turmoil. I feel like I’ve failed my wife. I feel like my wife deserves better, like I tricked her by dangling potential in front of her eyes, pulling a bait and switch.

If success is subjective and tailored to our own specific needs and wants, then maybe I’m asking the wrong question or concentrating on the wrong pattern of facts. Maybe all of this suggests the real problem lies in the fact that I feel the need to ask a question at all. No, that can’t be it. Shouldn’t there always be room for questions?

God, I wish I knew. If you’re listening, I don’t even really need to know. If I could just step off the merry-go-round of dumb questions I think I might be able to figure the rest out.

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Interpreting Beth

Many of you know Beth has high functioning autism. Some of you know Beth. A few of you are familiar with Beth’s low tolerance for discomfort of any kind, and the hypochondria that accompanies it.
More than once we’ve played the town’s folk as Beth cried wolf, only to find later the wolf was real – and caught up to her.

When she was a newborn/toddler her way too frequent complaints turned out to be urinary tract infections brought about my a birth defect requiring surgery – and removal of half a kidney.

As she got older, the constant stomach pains turned out to be something we’d later learn was a classic symptom of autism: she didn’t “go” when she needed to go. As a result, she became spectacularly backed up – surprising her doctor with her steel resolve in the face of pain.

It all played out so contradictory, I was completely lost when it came to Beth and illness.

Fast forward to this morning. No I take that back. Fast forward to this year. Beth’s been spending a fair bit of time curled up on the couch in pain. A few specialists gave us their answers, and their advice seemed to work… for a while. We’ve been keeping a closer eye on her diet and exercise. But we still occasionally have mornings like today – Beth impersonating a fetus on the couch.

Sometimes she makes a miraculous recovery and goes to school. Sometimes it doesn’t last and one of us makes the trip to her school to pick her up. Other times we go to the doctor for a quick check and a new piece of advice. Sometimes it’s behavioral advice. Sometimes it’s medical.

This morning Beth was on the couch again. We decided to take her to one of several doctors again.

Are you familiar with the phrase, “one more thing?”

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for anxiety and depression.


For Sale

You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever considered words can have infinite meaning? It’s the beauty of language; this thing our gray matter dreamed up to communicate. It’s so complex it’s a wonder we can keep it straight, and it explains why so many of us have trouble capturing its intricacies in print.

Just the words “for sale” can mean several things to different people, depending on context, inflection, or tone. They can explain one’s principles or one’s property, their meaning completely different. They can conjure countless stories from your imagination: like the broken dreams of a sign in a small, abandoned shop downtown, or the excitement of a brighter future posted in the yard of a modest home.

To me, they mean giving up. I knew the words were inevitable for months, but my heart didn’t truly accept them until last weekend. We agreed to call a realtor and put our home up for sale.

Funny word, “accept,” or maybe just the wrong one. I feel anything but accepting. I feel resigned. I feel broken.

I feel crushed by responsibility.

Don’t try this at home kids, I’m a professional. I’m of course referring to self-pity.

If I was more ambitious we’d have more income. If I wasn’t sick we wouldn’t have so many expenses. If I was more disciplined we wouldn’t have quite as much crap we really don’t need.

Whatever the reason, we find ourselves in the same boat many others do, maybe even you.

For years our income sat still like a naughty child in time out. Expenses went up. A lot. A few of those expenses were discretionary, like my recent vacation, but many were not. Every year we went through the budget, cutting chunks here and there in order to tread water. Every year it got harder to find big chunks. This year they’ve been scattered, small, and most importantly: not enough.

So this weekend we met with the realtor. We signed some papers and sprinkled them with a few initials.

A sign goes up in the yard next week.

Everywhere I look inside I see other signs, the ones that spawn memories.

I’d sooner clip off a little toe than sell, but it’s the right move – the smart move. We have the plans drawn for the addition that will become our new home, after (if) we get our price.

Now I wonder, emotions torn.

How long?

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Florida, my home

I’m a hair more moody these days, looking at life through my azure tinted glasses, but there’s a good reason. It’s nothing serious, just your garden variety, mid-medication change depression. I just thought I’d say this post is an example of effect, not cause.

Last week we said goodbye to my in-laws. They’re doing something I haven’t done since the leukemia diagnosis, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.

They’re taking a vacation.

The kind where you go someplace.

What’s worse, they’re going to New England – my first home, making stops in New Hampshire and Maine. Then they’re going to Canada, specifically Montreal.

I wanna go.

Most people would be satisfied with a self-pity party, but I’m the type to throw myself a parade. Poor me, I can’t go on vacation while the nation grapples with crippling unemployment.

Before we said goodbye we all went out to dinner to celebrate Beth’s birthday early (since they’ll be gone for the real thing). Due to a series of events I won’t bore you with, I ended up meeting everyone there… and driving myself home. It was on this drive, thinking about the vacation I wasn’t taking, that I took a few back roads I hadn’t seen in a while. I passed the hill I rode my skateboard down as a kid, on a dare. I passed a relatively new subdivision of homes. I saw a flat wasteland of tasteless, identical snout-houses, and a conspicuous lack of shade. Instead, not so many years ago I saw dense woods, often with a friend around, tempting our childhood eyes and imaginations, but thwarted by chain link, dark shadows, and countless warnings: “NO TRESPASSING!”

Well, it kept us sufficiently warned most of the time.

I turned left at a traffic light and looked in my rear-view mirror. The four-lane divided highway that used to stop at the traffic light, now wound it’s way down the hill, where more woods had succumbed to asphalt. Although I’m used to this sight (I see it twice every day), it still brings more pain. These woods were ours – all of the adventure and imagination, and none of the chain link. It was a jungle of hardwood canopy, dense hanging moss, saw palmettos, hard fought trails, and dug-in, hidden nooks to hide if on the run. There was always some reason to be on the run, those ruthless palmettos sawing at our shins with every misstep. It was a seemingly endless expanse of adventure on demand.

In the moment, this moment of negligent musing behind the wheel, this same intersection contained my parents’ neighborhood – another walled in subdivision, protected from the unknown evil of the wandering outsider’s eye. When we first moved in, the lots sold but no one built. Oddly, our upper-middle class house and a few others like it spent my childhood surrounded by well protected, abandoned sand. It was all that was left of another clearcut orange grove, ground up to feed the beast we call sprawl. Over the years this sand grew wild watermelons. For a while it grew into a small test track for my (off-road) motorcycle. It was lots of room to line up imaginary, long, game winning field goals off a kicking tee, over a swing set in my back yard. I only broke a few of the cement tiles on our roof.

Down the street, on the other side of the neighborhood, we had another natural playground – a mix of pine, gentle undergrowth, and relatively hard packed sand. It was more open, the ground more accommodating to bikes, allowing deeper expeditions further from parents’ eyes. We were on our own, or so it felt, and it was exhilarating. Then as startled kids we watched the fences go up, the trees come down, and a giant hole appear. Now it’s the county’s largest manmade, drainage detention asset, tastefully decorated with chain link.

The moment passed. In a blink, my mind shifted from the present to my childhood an back again. It was all gone. It’s been gone for a long time.

I drove down one hill, up another and I was home.

Or was I?

They say you can’t go home again, but what if you never really left?

What if home left you?

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No, I should really know better.

When Cheryl and I moved here from Orlando we lived with her parents until we could find a place for ourselves. For almost as long as we’ve had a place of our own, Cheryl has been keeping an eye out for a place we could share with her parents.

Every time she’s proposed a place my answer was very simple.


I’ve never wavered. Every time I’ve lived with someone besides my immediate family, I’ve never quite felt comfortable. Even when I’ve paid a share of the rent, part of me felt like an intruder. Roommates in college was one thing. I knew it would end some day. It was temporary housing.

Multigenerational housing – with the in-laws – is an entirely different proposition. There’s no end. I could feel like a guest in my own home for the foreseeable future. Just the thought depresses me, and there are no immediate plans to do so.

Well, there are now. Nothing’s set in stone, but it’s more than a one way conversation now.

Financial circumstances have slowly deteriorated. (And yet we still talk about buying computers.) There have been no pay raises in five or more years. This year we’re looking at furloughs, a 3 percent pay cut, or both. My department is talking about the possibility of layoffs for the first time in forty years. In the past they’ve been good at reading the tea leaves, holding back on hiring so position cuts could be absorbed by vacancies. Not this year. Ever since JEB! was first elected ten years ago (more or less), we’ve been asked to find 10 percent of our budget to cut every year. This year they’ve asked us to find 15. We haven’t always seen the full extent of those cuts, once the dust has settled after legislative sessions, but it hasn’t been pleasant. It seems they’ve finally caught up. Mind you, even when I have seen a raise (I can’t remember when), it’s been the 1.5 percent variety. There were a couple exceptions: promotions, and that one year I was lucky enough to get one of a handful of performance raises (they’ve offered them twice in my almost fifteen years – to about 2 percent of our agency).

Don’t get me wrong. I know I shouldn’t complain about my job, especially not in this economy, but for other reasons as well. As it happens, I love my job. I knew exactly what I was getting when I took a government job. It has it’s benefits, both financial (health insurance), and social (relatively liberal leave policies). Plus, I work with great people… my second family.

It’s just that in the mean time expenses have exploded – especially the medical variety.

To top it off, Cheryl worries there will be a day I won’t be able to work anymore. I don’t share her worry, but I sympathize with it. We’re better off than many, with money in savings, the beginnings of a retirement account, and money put away for at least one of the kids to go to college (thanks to the Florida Pre-Paid Program). Yet it feels like we’re living life without a net, like we’re one setback from financial catastrophe.

In other words, we’re living the new American dream: stagnant or decreasing wages, ballooning expenses, and the constant threat of job loss always hanging over our heads.

You know what they say about never. This is why I’m starting to think multi-generational housing isn’t such a bad idea, consolidating and reducing our expenses to give my family more financial security – both for my immediate family and my in-laws. But it’s not any less depressing.

I’ve lived in our house, this house, as long as I’ve lived anywhere. It’s been a true home, in every sense of the word. It’s the only home my kids have known. It’s where I learned I could be handy if I really needed to be. It’s where I’ve spent days like today: a cool, quiet, cloudless day on the front porch listening to breezes blow through our giant oak, sipping at a cup of green tea as I write.

Now I wonder if we should give it up… if we have to give it up.

Then there are my dark thoughts, when I wonder if we would be here if I was more ambitious.

When Cheryl and I first started dating in college, there was often wonder in her eyes. There were times I’d help her with homework, even though I’d never taken the class, or a class like it, and she’d look at me as if I’d just made her textbook disappear. Though it was nothing more than an ability to read (her books), she thought I could do anything. It’s hard to describe what it meant to me at the time. It was a lifeline for the kid who thought he was capable of nothing. And yet, it still made me feel a bit uncomfortable, the weight of expectations feeling heavy on my shoulders.

My aim in life has always been simple: to be happy. I eschew the spotlight. I set a course for a relatively simple life a long time ago – a life not without hard work, just one not consumed by it. Now I wonder if this place we find ourselves in, thinking of leaving our home, the tears in my daughter’s eyes when the subject comes up, the image in my head of that last day when the house is empty and we look around as we close the door on a chapter in our lives… if it’s my fault.


When cells divide

My doctor says she found cancerous white blood cells floating around my body again. They appeared in a blood smear done back in August. She doesn’t plan to treat it until certain symptoms appear – which based on the slow, chronic nature of my disease, could still be a while. I was symptom free in August (besides the hairy traitors showing themselves in my blood), and I’m symptom free now, so we’re waiting. We’re looking. One day we’ll be seeing.

I got this news after my little nap in her lobby yesterday. Cheryl was pissed we didn’t find out sooner. “Why didn’t they at least call?!?” But it wouldn’t have changed anything, other than give me another six months to think about it. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t call. I’m thinking about it enough now to make up for lost time.

Please don’t let me mislead you. My life is not on the line. The form of Leukemia I have may be one of the rarest, but it’s also relatively easy to treat, and a high percentage of patients see remission after only one course of chemotherapy. It’s also like the turtle of all cancers. Early detection is not important. Plus, I knew it would probably come back. I just thought it would be fifteen years, not less than five.

I’m not afraid. I’ve done this before and I know, somewhere in this thick scull of mine, that everything will be ok. And yet, I feel a lot like I did almost three years ago. I’m depressed. I’m distracted. I thought I could make it through a day at work today, but I’m fragile. I didn’t make it to ten o’clock. I’m dreading the chemotherapy. If my last reaction is any indication, it will involve a couple weeks in the hospital with pain, puke, fever, chills, and a few things best left unsaid on a family web site.

Oh the hell with it. At times it kind of felt like a roto-rooter of my lower GI, someone fiddling with the insides of my bones, and a bad concussion.

I wait. Cheryl will worry over every sign of illness, discomfort, or fatigue. People will offer their prayers and I’ll feel unworthy. People will say they’re sorry and my mind will snap back “why, you didn’t do anything.” Luckily, the filter between my mind and my mouth will be in working order.

Most of the time.

Resigned, I’ll just brood a lot, which won’t be much different than normal.

I’m great at parties too.

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Going against the grain

Weather wise, it was a great weekend. Emotionally, it wasn’t so great. Depression had the claws out. And yet, it was a productive weekend. Determined to do something, I did – a project I’d been putting off for cooler temperatures. Unfortunately, this meant while many of you were enjoying the mild weather, I was crawling around in our attic.

Why? I’d been meaning to expand our network to Adam’s room and while I was buying cables, I decided to go ahead and buy enough to upgrade the rest of our network – making it gigabit ethernet “ready.”

Why? In my defense, I do a lot of file sharing between my Macs, and eventually I’d like to hook up a network drive for backups and storing large files. Transfering data measured in gigabytes makes you appretiate network speed.

Why? Wouldn’t doing something fun ease the blues more than a close encounter with fiberglass and pine?

No. Depression eats fun for breakfast, but it can’t touch my kid’s smile and what it does for my soul. Putting in a day of work to put it there, running cable through the attic and snaking it down through the walls, was just what I needed.

I’m wearing my battle scars proudly today – countless nicks and scrapes from crawling/swinging around and through rough cut trusses. In between mindless tasks at the office, a smile of my own creeps up.