It’s not as bad as it sounds, or will sound (if you can make any sense of it). This week I’ve been sick (again/still – pick your adverb) and between medications. I’ve been weening myself from caffeine, on doctor’s orders, and I’m suffering the consequences. My meds of choice for headache are no longer part of the arsenal – due to the caffeine, so I’m doubly screwed. The doctor who recommended I stop the caffeine (not all at once) said I should go see my primary about my headache medication, and like an idiot I didn’t rouse myself to do anything about it until it was too late. My primary’s office was closed for the week. Throw in a new medication that made things MUCH worse (the one and only time I took it), and the few days it’s taken to get back to where I was before, which wasn’t great to begin with, and you get a really bad week for ya. If memory serves, that’s the English approximation for the Russian word for “me.” Or maybe it’s “I.” Maybe it works as both. Dr. Mann would be so disappointed in me. Я не знаю!

So don’t worry. I wrote this post last night, during a particularly dark mood. Today already feels like a better day. Autumn came in earnest this morning, with a little bit of cool air, and I love it.

I don’t mean to mislead you. I have none – status that is. I’m (probably wrongly) assuming you’ll think of the kind you’d equate to someone’s standing in the community. Heck, I’d be happy to be standing at all.

I’ve been floating. It’s been a while now. I’ve tweeted a bit. I’ve punched the clock. Yeah, The Clock. I’ve seen a doctor. I’ve seen another. I’ve seen my mother.

Yep, that kind of status.

Cheryl wants me to see yet another – doctor that is. My doctor brought it up too. I asked the other, but she changed the subject. Damn psychiatrists.

I think… no, I take that back. I haven’t been thinking. I’ve been hurting. That’s my status. How often do you see that on Facebook? Maybe you’ve seen it a lot. Hurt has a way of turning you inward. It’s hard to see others when you’re looking the wrong way. I keep waiting for a doctor to turn me around. I think… no, I know everything would be better if hurt went away, if I let myself look in the right direction.

I’d just like to enjoy things again. This month has been birthday season in my family. Almost all if them come within a few weeks of right now. I’ve been MIA for most of it. I’ve been checked out, either physically, emotionally, or both. We celebrated mom’s birthday this week. It was the first time in a while I’ve been in the same room with my first family. Even that couldn’t pull me all the way back. I sat next to my sister, across from my wife and two adorable kids, just down from my parents, and the baby of the family at the other end with her family. I still wasn’t all there.

I have flashes. Some days something throws a switch and I’m me again. The pain that visits behind my right temple, or behind my right ear, visits someone else. The dark cloud of depression that fills up my mind, crowding out nearly everyone and everything else, blows out to sea. The infectious invaders are beaten back by my immune system, sometimes with an assist from my MD. I feel good. I feel like I can make the people around me feel good. But it doesn’t last nearly long enough. It doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

To be honest, things probably look a little worse than they really are right now. My doctor recommended (strongly) I give up my favorite drug: caffeine. I’m in the process of weening, and my body’s in the process of jonesing. Oh, and did I mention the nifty little sinus bug that’s got some game? Take your pick: caffeine withdrawal, sinus infection, my garden variety headache, or what the heck… may be a combination of all three.

I’d give anything to someone with the power of the prescription pad right now. Or would I? Should I? Oncology. Immunology. Psychiatry. Dermatology. Ophthalmology. Otolaryngology. My plain ‘ole GP. Sleep Medicine (I tried to find an appropriate “-ology” and wikipedia failed me). More than one person suggesting neurology. An ominous comment from a friend about one of them in particular, and my wife wishing I’d pick another. Not enough or too much?

I wish someone knew something. “You definitely look better.” A week goes by. “You definitely look worse.” For a couple years I’ve heard some variation of “I’d like to try….” I don’t blame anyone though. I know they’re really trying. I wish medical science knew more. I wish there was a little less error. I wish I wasn’t the trial. I wish I believed something else had an answer. A week between visits I lost more weight than I should have. My blood pressure dropped… a lot. (My heart rate is fine though.) They’re drawing more blood. My doctor is working on insurance approval for extensive scans. Go fish.

I wish I could tell you about something else, but the last thing I need is trouble there.

I wish I could stop wishing.


When people care

My wife is worried about me. From a purely selfish standpoint, this is a good thing. The depression bug hasn’t run it’s course and the stay in bed headache is on day number three.

“Headaches don’t last this long.”

“They have before.”

To be honest, I’m fully reclined on the Lazy-boy in the living room right now (not in bed).

I know it’s not my fault, but it hurts when I hurt people. It means I have to work extra hard getting back to good working order.


My silence

How would you feel if your spouse didn’t speak? What if it was a coworker or a friend? Would you impute something to their character or nature? Would you interpret it as arrogance, disdain, or indifference? Would you conclude something was wrong? Would you wonder if this person was burdened with a problem in their personal life? Would you ask this person if something was wrong? How would you feel if this person usually replied, “nothing,” though not convincingly?

I think about it quite a bit. When I’m depressed I spend a lot of time not talking, or saying as little as possible. It’s not because I’m angry, impatient, or think too highly of myself. Mostly, it’s because I don’t have anything to say, or the energy to say it if I do.

It’s possible some of you know exactly how I feel, if the statistics on depression are right. But I wonder if the popularity of a term has anything to do with real awareness. With all the ads for antidepressants flooding our lives, with actors pouting and wearing sad, puppy dog eyes, has depression become a throwaway word – something people use to describe any bout of blue? When folks ask me what’s wrong and I answer “nothing” it’s about as close to the truth I can get without borrowing a Vulcan. I could tell you I’m depressed but the word feels overused and under valued – like saying a blue whale is a mammal.

What’s wrong?

Depression isn’t enough and I don’t have the words in me to replace it. Maybe it’s fitting depression (the word) feels a bit empty. For me, depression is profound sorrow without cause.

What’s wrong?

I don’t know. There’s nothing I can point to. I can’t say the cat died or someone said something mean in study hall. It’s nothing, everything, and exhausting. I feel upset but nothing obvious is wrong. I feel preoccupied but I’m not doing anything (and I don’t have any plans or desire to do otherwise). Imagine how I might respond when someone comes to me with a question, asks for a favor, or invites me out for a little fun. I try to rise above the depression, to not let it define me, but it’s hard. Really hard. I try to be helpful, to be the person I want to be, but sometimes tone speaks louder than words.

I suffer in silence. I appear to be unwilling to tell you what is wrong, but I feel incapable. I appear reluctant to help, socialize, or join group activities, but I feel overwhelmed. I appear to be making excuses and I fear that I am.

Still, I’m determined not to let it be one.

In the mean time I want you to know one thing.

I’m sorry. It’s not you. It was never you (well almost never). It’s me.

People are capable of great strength, and sometimes I wonder how. Is it like asking a great writer how he/she writes so well, or a bird how it flies? Maybe some people just are, and the rest of us are not. Or, maybe I shouldn’t worry how others manage great strength and focus on the evidence it’s possible. Maybe I don’t have a gift for writing, but I could try to cut down on unneccessary punctuation. Maybe I can’t flap my wings to get off the ground, but I could work on my vertical leap.

Today is another day, another opportunity to step forward.


Love thy couch

Pre-post warnings are not a good way to win over readers. I recognize this, yet I ignore it. If you’re here you’ve probably either learned to overlook my poor habits or you find them a little endearing.

Oh my! The headache meds are working just fine now!

All of my posts start with a single sentence. When you write you probably start with a single sentence too – unless you have a punctuation problem, but stay with me. My posts start with a single thought. When I sit down to type I’ve rarely thought things through or done research of any kind. Posts either flow from that single thought or they die from lack of inspiration. Lately my enthusiasm has been in arrears, so more often than not they die… as evidenced by my queue of “unpublished,” unfinished posts.

What I’m trying to say is I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up going with this one.

But you’ve been here a while, right? All of this is probably obvious by now.

I left work this morning, the result of pain in my head – more than one kind. Taken by themselves, I’d probably still be there, but together they were too much. I’m a wimp when it comes to physical pain but it’s nothing compared to my emotional fragility, even at the best of times. I may sound flip when I say it, but my nonchalance masks years of hiding and denial.

So here I am, my eyes closed (most of the time) to deal with the physical, and my fingers poised above the keys to deal with the emotional.

What was this thought that started all of this rambling nonsense? Well as the title suggests, it was my couch. My mind has been on my couch a lot lately. That’s what happens when you lie down.

My mind was on my couch, half awake from the meds and fatigue, when a question formed – the illusive thought. Am I like my couch?

Some people don’t like my couch. They think it’s too soft. They think it’s lumpy. They think it’s not supportive. Sound like anyone you know? I don’t mind the soft or lumpy part, and I think it’s more supportive than some people say, but here’s where the comparison really breaks down: I like my couch.

So… why? Or more importantly, what do I do to fix this… to fix me?

I’ve tried counselors (though not recently), and they’ve been almost useless. Just talking can be therapeutic, but I know some of the playbook. I was on the path to being a counselor one day myself. Wouldn’t that have been a sight: the introvert making a living on communication. (Growing up, my pastor was really subtle about his thoughts on my future – providing me with plenty of literature on Lutheran seminaries in the US.)

I’ve tried making time for myself. I’ve tried to find and do things I enjoy. I’ve tried taking better care of myself: eating better and getting regular exercise. I’ve tried to get plenty of sleep. I’ve tried to spend quality time with the people I love. I’ve tried to be a good father and husband. I’ve tried to talk to people when I’m down, to open up rather than shut down. I’ve asked for help. Oh have I ever asked for help. God can’t come to the phone right now but if you leave your name and number he/she will get back to you as soon as possible. I’ve tried to let myself off the hook. As Freud might say/ask, I’ve talked about my mother. I’ve tried to look at my life objectively, to see how fortunate I am in many, many ways (like Cheryl, who has done her own trying)… but also to see if there were things I could do to make it better. I’ve tried exploring biological causes of depression and anxiety – though I haven’t exhausted this avenue yet (to be honest in many ways I’m really just getting started, even though I’ve been at it for a few years).

So where does this leave me now? Well, have you ever had that talk with one of your kids after a fight with your spouse about love… how you may be angry right now, and look like you don’t like each other very much, but you still love each other? I still love life. I’m still trying.

In the mean time, thanks for hanging in there with me while I talk about my stupid couch.

Some of you sent me your own comments, messages and suggestions. No matter what I said above, all of them were appreciated. Most helped, suggesting I should revisit my thoughts on counseling. A few friends and a couple good books have been as good a medicine as anything else.


Feeling sinking


I’m feeling up and down right now, and that’s the problem. I’m up four hours before I’m supposed to wake up for work (it’s a little past 2am here as I write this), and I’ve yet to get a whiff of sleep. I’m up because I’m down, for reasons I can explain and others I can’t.

The last few weeks have been tough. The last few months have been tough, but for different reasons.

Cheryl finally convinced me to see our doctor, but the outcome was a little different than she was expecting. I’ve been treated for panic/anxiety disorder in the last few years, but I’ve had bouts with depression all of my life. Looking back, I can see signs of a few depression disorders (though that may just be my undergrad degree talking). Anyway, lately I’ve been wondering if my symptoms (fatigue, headaches) could be related to depression… so I told my doctor I was depressed. The headaches and fatigue have been holding steady, but the depression has been getting worse, even as some things in life are getting better. So rather than monkey around with the meds for my headaches, we’re monkeying around with the meds for depression/anxiety… slowly weaning off of one while slowly introducing another.

Plus, she threw in another visit to the phlebotomist for good measure. The weight loss tally since late November is approaching fifty pounds.

It’s not fun being in between medications… weaning off of one that kind of worked, waiting for the new one to slowly build up and kick in. I’ve been a wreck. It’s been hard to concentrate on the simplest tasks. It’s been hard to get out of bed in the morning, and hard to get back in come nightfall. Nothing gives pleasure. Stuff that was fun now feels like a chore. To top it off I hurt my back last week, forcing myself to stay active (knowing physical activity is one of the ways to fight depression). Between my aches, pains and emotional state I don’t know how anyone can live around me.

Cheryl insists she didn’t notice my mood was that bad. She’s either lying to make me feel better or I’m way better at masking my emotions than I thought. I always thought of myself as a whiner, but I suppose even that requires some minimal amount of speaking or communication.

I can tell you I’m depressed, which is sort of an explanation for why I’m up, but it feels lacking. Can two syllables ever truly explain how you feel, particularly when it casts such a shadow over so many aspects of life? I can tell you I’m depressed, but how do I begin to explain the sense of dread? The absence of energy or enthusiasm? How do I explain the frustration I feel, knowing it’s all in my head, unable to pinpoint a reason… an event or circumstance in my life as the cause? I wish I could. I live in fear my emotional state is interpreted as laziness.

Or worse, I’m using a family history of mental illness as an excuse to be lazy. I don’t really think it’s true, but some people who suffer from depression can be very creative coming up with reasons to hate themselves.

Now Cheryl’s on the verge of killing me herself. A combination of lethargy and insurance problems have put off my oncology follow-ups. I’m more than three months overdue for my checkup. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s rationalization. So good in fact, that I’ve placated Cheryl (who’s not easily placated when it comes to her family’s health) for a little over three months. Stupid? Monumentally. Will it amount to anything? Probably not. I should be good for another nine to ten years. It’s one more way depression has affected my life. It’s one more example of how depression can just as easily be written off as just another lazy whiner.

My real fear in all of this is that it’s more proof I’m my mother’s son… that I’m destined to follow in her footsteps… to gradually lose my mind entirely and end up in a state hospital. Seeing her there, seeing what she’s become and how she’s come to live… it’s more than mere fear. It’s damn scary.


It’s all my fault

You don’t want to read this post. Why am I writing it then?


I have a theory for why I’ve been feeling down lately, and the title to this post is a strong clue. Since it’s apparent no one else is ever at fault for things that go wrong, the logical conclusion is it must be my fault. When everything is your fault and you accept responsibility – even if it’s just a small part of your subconscience doing the accepting – it’s really easy to hate yourself.

Take one guess where this is leading. Did you guess something related to healthcare or insurance?

A month or so ago, Cheryl went to have a procedure done. It required preauthorization from our insurance company (health insurance, if haven’t been keeping score at home). Before they did the procedure, Cheryl asked them if the preauthorization came through, and was told “don’t worry, it’s done.” Cheryl had the procedure done, along with two others under similar circumstances. Then we got a bill. Make that bills.

“So, why did we get a bill? I thought you all were submitting a claim to our health insurance.”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Alright, then submit it now.”

“We can try, but insurance will reject it. They require PREauthorization for this procedure. They won’t authorize payment after the fact. The bottom line is your insurance company won’t pay, and you’re responsible for services insurance doesn’t cover.”

“So you lied to us when you said you had taken care of the preauthorization.”

“No. I said no such thing. In fact, I didn’t even know you had health insurance.”

Brain cells screaming in agony from the abuse of high blood pressure suddenly running through nearby arteries….

“WHAT THE HELL are you talking about? I’ve lopped years off my life bugging you people about which insurance you were supposed to make the claim with, and now youre going to sit their and lie to me, or worse – imply I’m a liar? Check my file and tell me you don’t have a copy of my health insurance card.”

Unappologetically…. “Ah yes, I see we do have it. But you know, it’s your responsibility to see that procedures are preauthorized when it’s required.”

“But you’re supposed to submit the initial request…! (Fists clenched) So you’re telling me it doesn’t matter what you say, we should assume you didn’t do what you told us you’ve done… that we can’t trust anything you say? We should go on the assumption that you’re incompetent, to cover our ass?”

I’m not sure Cheryl really said that last bit, but that was the gist of the conversation. I kind of wish I was on the phone. I think it would have been good for my mental health to say it myself.

But here’s the thing: I know it’s our responsibility to verify those kinds of things with insurance. So all that anger I felt before has done a 180. I’m angry with them for not doing their job, but I’m also angry with myself for being such a rube.

Then there was yesterday. I got a letter from the good people at my health insurance company, saying they were not going to pay for my last visit with my oncologist. Why? He’s not “in the network.”

To truly appretiate this letter you have to understand two things. One: I’ve been seeing this doctor for two years – two years he’s been “in the network.” Two: my last visit was before all of the trouble Cheryl had.

On my last visit I had to meet with a “financial counselor” before seeing the doctor. This was when I found out my oncologist’s practice merged with another company. As the “financial counselor” put it: “the company doesn’t have a contract with your insurance provider to accept new patients, but they’re working with us to ‘grandfather in’ existing patients.”

That was news to the office manager who took my call yesterday, after I opened my letter. She didn’t know who I spoke to (I wish I did) but they had no such agreement with my insurance.

I started to say I’d been a patient for two years without any problems, and it would have been nice to know this before my last visit so I could have planned accordingly, but the nice lady interupted me after I got out the words “two years.”

“You do know you have an HMO, right?”

It’s possible I might have thrown the phone at her if we were sitting in the same room. My what a fucking presumptuous mouth you have. I know how the game works. I know I’m at the mercy of changing provider lists. I accept this trade off.

Mind you, I had this conversation with the doctor’s office after spending ten minutes trying to convince a customer service rep my oncologist had EVER been “in network.”

What I’m having trouble accepting is this evolving trend: I can’t trust a damn thing anyone says. Frankly, I feel betrayed. I trusted my doctor. I trusted his staff. A woman told me to my face that things were taken care of – when they clearly weren’t.

These things happen to everyone. It’s not that big of a deal. But with everything else, it feels like one. Trips to the mailbox feel like they merit hazzard pay. Integers with three digits qualify for an “only.” No one you speak to knows what they’re talking about. Insurance companies find every excuse to question claims. Playing go between for attorneys, insurance companies, doctors, therapists and hospitals becomes a full time job. Being sick or injured is beginning to feel like a secondary problem. I tell myself things could be a lot worse, but I’m a bad listener.

At the end of the day it boils down to me. I should have known better. If you think I’m angry with any of them, I’m twice as angry with myself.

note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. By the time I finished, the tone didn’t fit my mood. As therapy, it worked. Now I’m hoping posting it will have the same effect.

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Living in the not

Have you ever felt inexplicably irritable? For a week or month at a time?

Now it’s time for the truth. I have an explanation, I’ve just been reluctant to talk about it. It feels like an excuse. Part of me lives in fear… like if I say it out loud a mob of disturbingly happy people with “The Secret” will bombard me with platitudes. Then, on top of feeling grumpy, I’ll lose my lunch. The best damn yogurt I’ve had all day.

Oh, I’ve talked about the reason. I just haven’t copped to feeling run over by it. (At least, I don’t think I have.) Part of me feels shame – that my troubles don’t deserve the pity I heap on myself.

It doesn’t help that I know it’s all garbage. We all have problems, larger and smaller, and we’re allowed to be upset by them.

The good news is I’m sleeping better. A combination of advice from my doctor and friends seems to have my restless legs (somewhat) under control. The bad news is I’m still really tired. Worrying about Cheryl doesn’t help. We’re getting to the point where we’ve just about ruled in surgery. Now we talk about possible nerve damage and things that may never be fixed. Now we wonder how long her department will hold her job, or if they’ll let her work with any physical limitations.

The funny thing is, I don’t mind the extra work. I’m not a big fan of chores – as if anyone is, but doing a few extra things around the house hasn’t been a big deal. My part-time taxi gig (for Beth’s activities) started before the accident, so I can’t blame it on that. Besides, I kind of like going to Tae Kwon Do. I may grumble about it from time to time, but that’s just me being grumpy… hence this post.

That little corner of my mind – the selfish prick in me – was worried about picking up the slack. I’m happy to say I’m not quite as selfish as I thought. Much of the time the extra work feels gratifying – the one thing I have some control over, to make things a little better for Cheryl.

I feel like all of it is wasted when I succumb to a blue period. I want to be an emotional rock of support, not mud. I want to fix things, not make my own messes. Maybe fix isn’t the right word. I know I can’t fix everything. Maybe that’s my problem. I know but I don’t really understand.

Hah! Look who’s speaking in platitudes now?

Something Lost

Your mother wasn’t feeling well last night or this morning, so we called her doctor. The pain was worrisome but not unbearable. The doctor took us right in this morning and gave your mother an ultrasound to see how you were doing.

I have no medical training, but I knew enough looking at the monitor to know we will never get the chance to meet.

I noticed the nurse wasn’t saying anything, and I got the sense it was deliberate. Your mother was looking at the screen too, but I couldn’t tell if she knew what I knew, and I was no better than the nurse. If your mom had looked at either of us she would have known right away.

So now we’ve lost you before we ever had you, and my soul is filled with sorrow at the loss. Even though you were never born, the idea of you is three months old, and your loss has struck me more than I would have thought. My only memories of you are made up, fantasies of what you could have been like. We’ll never get to make real ones. I’ll never get to look into your eyes and see some of myself in you. I’ll never get to look upon your face and see some of your mother in you. I’ll never get to see you play with your older sister. I’ll never get to share my love with my second child. One day we’ll probably have another, and maybe by then I’ll have recovered from your loss. People will refer to that child as our second child, and I might too; but it’s hard to imagine now. I’m so sorry.