Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall
Who’s the worst person of all?
Is it he who I see
Through this lens of apathy?

We all have opinions of ourselves and have a certain image we see when we gaze upon a mirror. Some people have a fairly high opinion of themselves while others…not so much. Some folks are fairly cognizant of their self-reflection, and others are blissfully ignorant. Some people see what they want to see.

Some folks think the way we talk to ourselves influences our mental health. “Think positive!” is sounds like great advice, but in practice doesn’t make a bit of sense. I’d love to have a head full of positive thoughts and to view the world through rose-tinted glasses, but I can’t control the thoughts that pop into my head. I suppose I have complete control over all following thoughts, and that is where I struggle. 

They say self-love is important. They say you must love yourself before you can love others. I’m not sure that is true. Or where “they” got that idea. While I don’t hate myself, I certainly don’t love myself, either. I’m sort of in this weird limbo where sometimes I think I’m an okay guy to be around and other times I feel like I’m just the annoying guy some people tolerate out of necessity. But I’ll be damned if I don’t love others. I love fiercely. Perhaps even unhealthily. I’ve latched on to those I love like a morphin drip, as if they were the only thing keeping pain at bay. Losing my mom destroyed me. If something happened to one of my children I’d shatter like ice in a blender. My second divorce gave me withdrawal symptoms (according to my doctor) and left me decimated. Perhaps some of my love is meant for me, but I’m not sure how to funnel it my way.

There are things about myself I like. I’m pretty smart. I’m a hard worker – at my job, anyhow. I’m hilarious (just ask me, I’ll tell you – wait, I just did). I’m sarcastic. I’m witty. I’m loyal. I’ll always help if I can. Despite those qualities I fail to understand why anyone ever cares about me. What could anyone possibly see in me that would make them love me? I feel unworthy. I’m constantly doubting myself. Am I a good father? A good friend? A good person? I always second-guess myself. If I had done that one thing differently would things have been better? Why did I make that stupid decision? Why did I put myself out there? What is the point of anything ever?

When I finally realize what I’m doing I bombard myself with even more questions. What is wrong with me? Why do I do this to myself? What is broken in my brain? Why do I fuck every…single…thing…up?

It’s been awhile since I’ve gone and fucked things up, just like I always do.

Staind

Think positive. That’s hard to do when your imbalanced brain chemicals control your moods. It’s tough to notice the beauty in life when you’re busy walking around trying to go unnoticed. There is no room for positive thoughts when you are perpetually fending off the negative ones.

I don’t even know how to think positive. I’ve never seen the glass as half-empty or half-full. I simply see a glass with some shit in it. I definitely don’t believe I’m a horrible person, but I also don’t see myself as a great person. I’m just a person. With flaws, jokes, and skeletons in the closet.

My immediate reaction to almost every compliment I ever get is to cringe. It’s involuntary, but I defend it still. Unless you’re telling me I’m hilarious (because I totally am). I’ll never believe I possess any qualities that make me worthy of loving.

I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. I’ve said that to a few people. People who hate themselves. People who think they’re unworthy of love. People who think they can do nothing right. For some reason, it’s easy to look past another person’s flaws and see the goodness within, but it’s impossible to do so when gazing into a mirror. At least, it is for me. I’m disgusted by what I see in the mirror. I’m sickened by my physical appearance. I’m appalled by things I’ve done that hurt others, intentionally or not. I’m vexed by how tough it is to break unhealthy habits. I’m outraged by certain life choices I’ve made.

I don’t know how to change my self-reflection from revolting to radiant. I’m no transformer. There’s no switch I can flip to reverse my mental polarity. There’s only me, my self-deprecating thoughts, a complete lack of will-power, and the voices in my head.

Self-image is far too powerful a thing to ignore . If you think too highly or lowly of yourself it can be toxic to both you and those who love you. I know what I see in the mirror isn’t what others see when they look at me. What I have yet to figure out is how to adjust the focus on the lens through which I see myself.

Perhaps my mirror is simply dirty.

Out of the Darkness

There are certain moments in life for which no amount of preparation can ready you. Moments that leave a nuclear shadow on your memory. Some of those moments are wonderful. Others haunt you, coating every future decision you will ever make with fear. One of those moments is another person attempting suicide right in front of you. No amount of time will erode the scars left by such a memory. 

The event is seared into my mind as if by a branding iron. There is a photo montage that I cannot rid myself of no matter how I try. I see a river of tears threading their way down from the outside corner of her right eye. I see the relief of finality written upon her face. I can see the empty bottle in the wastebasket. And I can clearly hear the words she spoke through light sobs, “When you wake up you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”

When you imagine yourself in a situation like that you always think that you’ll know just what to do. That you won’t break under the pressure. Even now I feel confident that I’ll react appropriately in an emergency situation. I was just a kid, though. Twenty years of age is legally an adult, but, to be perfectly honest, I probably wasn’t ready for adulthood until I was 30 and by that time I had eight-year-old twins and another ten years of experience under my belt.

At 20 years old the shock of what had happened paralyzed me. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I don’t even know if I was breathing. I could only stare at her, dumbfounded and numb.

There are a million things that I know, in retrospect, I should have done. I should have called 911. I should have called her mom. Her sister. Her aunt. I should have urged them to have her committed. Or, at the very least, to encourage her to seek help. I could go on and on about all the things I should have done, but I could manage none of them. I just laid there watching her through tear-filled eyes, wondering if she’d be alive when I woke the next morning. Eventually, I cried myself to sleep. 

Suicide has impacted my life as no other thing has. Everything that has happened to me in the last 25 years has resulted directly from that night. I began the night intending to end a relationship in which I was unhappy. I ended the night enslaved by the threat of suicide. I became fearful. I was afraid of telling her no. I was afraid any misstep might send her into another abyss. I walked on eggshells for years. I became a proficient liar for fear the truth would trigger another attempt. Fits of rage turned to wild accusations, throwing random objects (sometimes at me), and her in a shower with the water as hot as it could possibly be because the pain calmed her.

Despite my misery, I did get two amazing sons for whom I would happily shed every tear and endure every abuse again. 

Just after I escaped that marriage, I began dating a young woman who, after our first date, was leveled by the death of her brother, who had taken his own life.

Words cannot describe the torment she suffered. That her family suffered. The what-ifs. The what-could-I-have-done-to-prevent-its. The anger for hurting them. The grief for losing him. The drugs and alcohol consumed to numb it all.

I did the best I could to help her through it. Throughout our years together, she never really got past it. I mean, how could she? Her brother died. Not due to an accident or natural causes, but by choice. All she wanted was the one thing she’ll never, ever have. An answer.

Why?

Years ago, I began supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I initially joined to be supportive of the young woman whose brother was lost to her, but since then I’ve come to terms with my own issues. I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was 13. I’m not sure that man was the most competent psychiatrist ever to have a couch to lie on because I’m not bipolar and that same doctor is the one who gave my mom the meds that led to her arrest. But that’s neither here nor there. I do suffer from depression and anxiety. I have had some extremely low moments in the last ten years. I have never felt a compulsion to end my life, but from rock bottom, I can see how some would think that death is the only way out. The fear of what that would do to my children keeps me grounded.

Most people who commit suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness. Yet mental illness is this thing we’re supposed to discuss in the shadows and publicly disavow. Like if we ignore it, it will just go away. I don’t know about yours, but my demons thrive in the darkness. 

I walk at the Cincinnati Out of the Darkness event every October. I donate and try to raise funds. I’m not an extremely motivated person, and I’m definitely not a person to join causes, but this foundation is that important to me. I walk with my children because I want them to know that they can talk to me if they begin to feel the void inside that depression carves out. I walk with others so they know they are not alone in their grief or their fight. I donate to help fund psychiatric research. I donate to get treatment for those affected by suicide. I support AFSP for me. For my children. For anyone who hears the whispers of demons or the echoes they leave in a tormented head.

If you’re so inclined, please consider donating to AFSP. This organization is doing as much as it can to normalize acknowledging, discussing, and treating mental health.

Click on the image to visit my page and maybe leave a donation.

out of the darkness
and into the light
demons will vanish when
dragged from the night

Have you suffered any trauma?

About three months ago, I was nearing a mental breakdown (or, at least, that’s what it felt like – you ever feel like your lungs are gonna pop and your heart beat right out of your chest?), so I got on the Google machine and searched for a shrink.

Side note: Why are they called shrinks? What gumped-up algebraic equation turned psychiatrist into shrink? This is what happens when you mix the alphabet with math.

After the massive search engine purposely skewed my results by filtering out any conservative shrinks (hey, that’s that big tech does, according to the fair and balanced talking heads at Fox News), I found a number to call. I punched the digits into the dial pad of the 6.2″ pocket computer I carry around with me and, after struggling through the stupid-ass auto-attendant, I finally got to a human who scheduled an appointment for me.

Another side note: Why do I have to press numbers to speak to a human? Why can’t a human just answer the damned phone to begin with? Every one of us spams the 0 until a subpar human actually answers.

That appointment was today. Good thing it wasn’t an emergency, huh?

The appointment consisted of light interrogation. I say light because, hey, at least I wasn’t waterboarded. I had to go through my family history of mental illness and basically a condensed memoir of my life so that she could get some semblance of the road that led to the broken human before her. Then she hit me with the question about trauma.

Have you suffered any trauma?

My immediate thought was, “No, I haven’t suffered any trauma.” I mean, I’ve never been seriously injured. I’ve never had any near-death experiences (that I know about, anyhow). No traumatic events ever happened to me. I was never abused…

Wait.

I started turning things over in my head, which was rough because I forgot to spray with Pam first. Trauma, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Different events affect people differently, so what may be traumatic for one person may not be traumatic (or as traumatic) to another. Humans aren’t made with cookie cutters, after all.

I thought back to my 7th-grade year, which was pretty traumatic for me then. My mom was arrested and placed in a mental institution. Her arrest was due to events that occurred at my school, so all the kids bullied me. Okay, not all, but enough so that my teacher assigned me a buddy specifically to keep an eye on me and my mental status. I ended up seeing a shrink, in group therapy, on medication, and nearly institutionalized myself.

So, I did suffer through a traumatic event.

I thought ahead a few years to when I was 20. It wasn’t physical abuse (at least, not until I tried to leave several years later). It was emotional abuse. I tried to end a relationship I didn’t want to be in – several times. Each time I tried to tell her I didn’t want to be with her anymore, she threatened suicide. I finally stopped trying to leave when she shotgunned an entire bottle of Benedryl one night. I endured her emotional abuse, suffered through her bipolar episodes (she didn’t seek treatment until after I finally left 9 years later), and was physically assaulted in later years – many of those instances after I left and occurred when we would exchange custody of our children. Traumatic? Probably. I’m sure all of that broke some pieces off of my mind.

How about that? I was abused.

Near death experience? Honestly, I don’t know how close to death, if at all, I ever really was when I had thyroid cancer. But cancer is always carrying a death threat. Like American Express, it never leaves home without it. All I know for certain is they dissected my neck to get my thyroid and cancer cells out of my body. As a result, I have a scar across my neck that required 16 staples to close and makes it look like I survived a hanging. My body hasn’t been the same since then. I’ve still yet to regain the physical stamina I had before the surgery. Maybe I never will. I also went through radiation therapy, which permanently damaged my salivary glands. The loss of my thyroid seems to have triggered a case of gout in my right foot. Often times when I take the meds required to treat all of this shit at night, I feel like I’ve eaten an entire meal. Traumatic? Maybe. Maybe not. Sure felt fucking traumatic to me, though. Sometimes, it still does.

It’s weird. All these things happened to me, and I’ve never really considered their impact on me. Or how others may perceive them. It was just crazy shit that happened to me. I never considered anything that happened in my first marriage abusive until I wrote about it, and everyone who commented expressed how abusive it really was. I mean, I never really knew emotional abuse was a thing. Sure, she assaulted me, but never really hurt me. I was kicked and punched, but she wasn’t physically strong enough to injure me. The one time she could’ve seriously hurt me was when she threw a picture frame at me, but luckily, she missed.

Before today I never really stopped to consider whether or not the events that took place during my 7th-grade year were traumatic or how they shaped me (or de-shaped me). It’s just something I recall sometimes and think, “Yeah, that year sucked.” But how exactly did it shape me? Are those events and how I was treated by so many people the foundation of my misanthropy? Who knows?

I’m not sure where exactly I’m going with this anymore. I’m not sure how to end it, either. I guess after I stopped to ponder everything I’ve endured I was shocked to find that, yeah, I have gone through some traumatic events in my life even if it doesn’t always necessarily feel like I’ve had a traumatic life. It was surprising that my gut reaction was to deny anything awful ever happened and I had to actually analyze these events to see them for what they truly are.

6 Feet

Six feet from the bottle
Can’t take it any longer
Caught in a riptide
Thirst growing stronger
Take another shot
Drinking full throttle
Now I’m as empty
As this bottle

Six feet from the edge
Perched atop this bridge
I take one last glimpse
At a world so savage
I flounder to my feet
Earth spinning in my eyes
I count to three
And plunge to my demise

Six feet from the bottom
Sinking like an anchor
Darkness settles in
Succumbed to rancor
With the end in mind
I take a huge breath
Water floods my lungs
I have nothing left

Six feet ‘neath the surface
I’m laying in a casket
Tears rain down ‘pon me
Flowers fill baskets
My pain is a memory
My demons banished
This world’s better off
Now that I’ve vanished

Note: This is in no way a reflection of my current mental state. That being said, however, I have been in a place where I understand what it feels like to be overwhelmed and feel trapped by life.

If you are feeling suicidal, please call 1-800-273-8255. Or if you don’t feel like talking, the suicide prevention hotline has a chat here. Additionally, more resources can be found on AFSP’s website. It may seem unbelievable, but there are people who care and want to help.

Slipping

Don’t tell me I can love myself, I can’t love myself
Man you’ll never know
Can’t tell you why I always cry, eyes are never dry
Tears they always flow
I can’t do anything
Hanging on by a string

Don’t tell me I can trust myself, I can’t trust myself
I get nothing right
Can’t tell you why it’s dark inside, blackness on my mind
Like eternal night
I’ve reached the end of my rope
Can’t grasp a bit of hope

Maybe I’m slipping, maybe I’ll fall
Maybe I’ve already lost it all
Maybe I’m blind, goodness unseen
You don’t know what I mean
Baby I’m slipping, baby I’m lost
Baby I rue every line I’ve crossed
Somewhere ‘tween self pity and my grief
I’m slipping underneath

A Loaded Question

How can so simple a question have so complex an answer?

Someone asked me this morning how I was doing. I still haven’t answered that question.

Outwardly, things are going great. I have a wonderful girlfriend whom I love. She is amazing. My children are healthy and doing well. My mother’s health, while still under close scrutiny, is doing well. I have a job I (mostly) love and work with amazing people.

But still I hesitate before answering. Most of the time I’ll say I’m fine, but that’s far from the truth. For reasons I cannot identify, a feel like I’m drowning. The slightest bit of stress drives me straight into a bottle. Motivation eludes me. Anxiety drips from me. Things I should care about I do not.

I should care that I’m putting some weight back on. I don’t. I should care that the constant drinking is unhealthy for both my mind and my body. I do not. I should care that my latest labs showed high cholesterol and triglycerides (likely due to excessive alcohol consumption). I do not. I keep telling myself I’ll get back on track tomorrow. When tomorrow comes I tell myself, again, that I’ll start again tomorrow. And the pattern continues.

It’s a fucked up thing to look around your life, not find anything wrong, yet still feel the grips of despair.

I asked my doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist last week. I can see clearly that I’m on a path to destruction, yet can’t muster up a lousy fuck to give that I’m on it. I don’t want to lose what I have, yet can’t seem to find a way off this escalator down.

I love myself and hate myself simultaneously. I love my sense of humor. I love my compassion. I love my intelligence. BUT…I hate how I see myself. I hate how unworthy I feel of even the slightest good fortune. I hate hating anything about myself.

My appointment is the 25th. That was the soonest they could get me in as a new patient. I hope this time I can build a relationship with this doctor. My last attempts at counseling didn’t go well.

How are you guys doing? I hope you’re feeling better than I am. Tell me something good. There’s too much negativity in this world right now.

Walk of Shame

No, no. Not THAT walk of shame….

I’ve spoken many times about my support for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I’ve asked for your donations to their vital cause. I’ve shared the many reasons I participate in the Out of the Darkness walk with you. I’ve droned on and on about how important their services are. How they have programs for those left hollow in the wake of a loved one’s suicide. How they have outreach programs for people who have attempted suicide, or are feeling suicidal. How they fund research into mental illness and treatments for those ailments. How they try to shine a light on the darkness of this phenomenon which seems to affect every soul in some way, yet is never constructively discussed. What I don’t think I’ve ever discussed is how this walk makes me feel.

This sounds horrible, but I don’t really like going to the Out of the Darkness walks. They are stark reminders of how suicide, for better and worse, has shaped my life.

I’m often left a bit befuddled at these events. The folks attending always seem to be in such great moods, even if the weather may be literally raining on our parade. People are joking. They are laughing. They are celebrating how much money has been raised for the cause. They are reuniting with friends they haven’t seen in far too long. They wear smiles. They proudly brandish memorabilia of loved ones lost to suicide.

I take it all in and wonder. Why are they so happy? How can they laugh and smile at such a somber event? How can they joke when we’re here to raise awareness for such a serious topic? How can the mood of over 2000 people be so bright under a cloud so dark?

The events start by the numbers. How many people are there. How much money was raised. The top five teams and top five individuals in terms of donations received. Statistics: suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US; 90% of people who commit suicide have a treatable mental illness; for every actual suicide there are 25 more attempts.

If those numbers don’t suck you down the rabbit hole what comes next surely will. They share stories. The chapter director starts by sharing how her father committed suicide and how later, she attempted as well. Survivors of suicide come out and share their stories. Spouses who lost their soulmates. Parents who lost their children. Children who lost their parents. A lost sibling. A lost veteran. A lost friend. And finally, someone who has attempted suicide.

While all this tragedy is laid bare for us all to soak in, I’m having flashbacks…

Physically restraining her when she vowed to jump off a bridge. The empty pill bottle in the waste basket. The tear running down her cheek. The promise that I’d never have to worry about her again.

Remembering, again, my son has an uncle he’ll never know. How his death decimated that family. All the tears shed. Drugs taken to numb the pain. The unanswered questions haunting them at night.

I then confront my own struggles. I have never once considered taking my own life. Any such thoughts are halted the moment I think about my children. I’m not vain enough to think I’m the best parent, or even a good parent, but I know how I’d feel if one of my parents died, let alone by suicide, despite our sometimes strained relationships. I couldn’t bare the thought of scarring my children in such a way, so that train of thought never even gets boarded. I still fight, though, and here lately I feel like I’ve come out on the other side. But I can honestly say that, if not for my children I don’t know where I’d be right now, or if I’d even be at all. I’ve fought off every rash reaction and instinct I’ve had over the last 6 years because of them. They may never know how many times they’ve saved me. Yes, I self-medicated. Yes, I was desperate to numb the pain. Yes, there was a leviathan hole within me that no amount of love, alcohol, or antidepressants could fill. But I still had my boys, and that kept me going.

The opening ceremony concludes and the walk begins, but it doesn’t end the hurricane raging in my head. The entire walk all of the thoughts above bounce around my head like lotto balls. I try to shake away the demons as I answer C’s barrage of innocent questions and comments. Are those train tracks? Where is the train? I think these train tracks are broken. How do the wheels go in these tracks? Look, a water sign! Why is there a log in the river? Is that a playground? Look, another water sign! Another water sign! Why are we going this way?

This year I pulled C away from it all to explain to him why we come to these walks. First I asked him if he knew why we came. “Because Uncle C is dead,” he says.

Well, pretty close…

I explained to him what suicide is and that that is how his uncle died. I told him that his uncle had an illness in his head that made him commit suicide. A sad look overtook his face for a moment before he told me he didn’t want to die, and that he didn’t want me to die. After explaining that no one lives forever he seemed to consider my words momentarily before asking if he could go play at the park.

I let him go play. He may not understand now, but at least when he does this won’t all be a shock to him.

The drive home was morose. All of the flashbacks and thoughts and demons had left me in an ill mood. I felt like a zombie; a shell of a human being buried beneath a blanket of paralyzing thoughts.

Between the cracks of all these thoughts, flashbacks, and demons there is shame. Shame that I’ve struggled. Shame I had no clue what to do when someone attempted suicide in front of me. Shame for thinking I could fix people when I’m broken myself. Shame for not recognizing I’m broken before finding pieces of myself scattered everywhere.

I don’t understand my shame. There are so many people fighting similar battles. I’m not alone. I’m literally surrounded by them at these events. Many people have it far worse than I. Still, admitting weakness makes one intensely vulnerable, and I, for one, loathe feeling that way. So I say nothing and save those words for this space, my mental junkyard.

I do know one thing, though; I’ll participate again next year. And the year after. And the year after that. Despite how horrible this walk makes me feel I know this is worth the effort. And the heartache.

The Apple and The Tree

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, the old saying goes. It’s an obvious statement, of course. Unless an apple tree is at the top of a hill any apple that falls from it isn’t going far at all.

My tree has dropped three apples, so to speak. None of them have fallen far from the tree. To be frank, I’d bet money the genetic engineers of Jurassic Park cloned my “apples” directly from me if I didn’t know better. I can see my likeness in their jokes, their intelligence, their behaviors, and their personalities. But nothing quite dissected how similar we are until I read a short essay today.

I was talking with Baby B about meds and school when he mentioned an essay he needed to turn in for English tomorrow was finished. I inquired more about it and found out that the topic he’d chosen for this essay was mental health. I asked if I could read it and he acquiesced.

And I was blown away.

I was taken by the content of his essay. It could easily have been written by me. It was like staring into a mirror and seeing my reflection, yet somehow knowing that the person staring back wasn’t truly me. Moreover, I was taken by how well-written his essay is. It’s not that I doubt his talents, but when I was his age I wasn’t quite as crafty with words as I am now (and I still have some of my senior writing projects to prove it). I was impressed by his articulation, punctuation, and vocabulary. I saw a bit of my own writer’s voice in his piece.

I asked B if he minded if I shared his essay here. For a couple of reasons. The first? I’m very proud of what he’s written and, like any proud parent, I want to show off what he’s done. The second reason is far more important, though. Just three days ago B was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I’d had him evaluated because in the last few months I’d noticed some erratic moods in him – the same sort of moods I used to have before I began taking meds. That was it, though. That was the only reason I could offer his doctor when I asked to have him evaluated. This essay, however, lays out all the things I didn’t know. All the things he’s suffered in silence. All the things he’d kept to himself despite knowing both mom and dad fight similar wars.

I want this to be read by any parent who has been diagnosed with depression. I want those parents to know that your child may be suffering even if he/she isn’t outwardly showing any symptoms of depression. Depression is genetic. My mom has it. I have it. At least two of my three boys have it. My message to parents with depression is this: have your child evaluated for depression and anxiety even if you see no symptoms. My only clue was mood swings, but that was but one grain of sand on a mighty beach. In the past week I’ve discovered that beach and I’ve been hard on myself for having never seen it before.

Please learn from my fail.


“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”  Robin Williams said that. On August 11, 2014, millions mourned his passing as he took his own life. The world knew him to be one of the funniest men to grace the earth with his presence, and yet, even he could not escape the ever-tightening grip of depression.

Looking back, I first began to exhibit symptoms of this ominous mental illness in sixth grade, long before I could even comprehend the idea of depression. My motivation to perform important, even trivial tasks plummeted. I was eating less, I became antisocial and morose. My family was always there to help me, but I pushed them away, drove a wedge between me and everyone else around me. In the following years, I picked up habits that have both hindered and helped me, but after consulting with the voices in my head, I can now confidently state that my mental health, or lack-thereof, is the worst and best part of me.

Music has played a prominent role in my life for as long as I can remember.  When I first became overwhelmed with sadness the only thing I desired, other than someone to guide me toward happiness, was to drown myself in music. I walked through the halls of (my middle school) with my headphones blaring mellow acoustic rock. My classmates noticed at times that I was distant. Often, my peers heard my music and immediately came to the conclusion that wistful music was causing my unprecedented mood swings. It was quite the contrary though. Indeed, I did listen to sad music, but on a certain level, the lyrics resonated with me. It helped me realize that I was not the only one pushing through life with a weight on my chest. It was not until my sixth-grade year was coming to an end that I was presented an opportunity to learn to play guitar. I had little motivation to do anything, but this felt different. It gave me the chance to be a part of the music that had been counseling me so often. Music spoke to me and I spoke through music. Every song was like a therapy session.

Writing has become a recently developed tool I use to cope. I began writing in my sophomore year of high school. I was not outstanding, however the quality of my work was not my focus. Content is where I lived. I wrote how I felt, indirectly. Symbolism was rampant in everything I wrote. In this, I was able to create alternate realities, where I could be someone else. I had to become the characters I wrote about or the piece did not feel real.

Depression did not only affect how I conducted my life in the physical world around me, it also greatly changed my outlook on life; not for the better. I often fantasized of ways my life might end on a particular day. Not suicide. Suicide, to me, always stuck out as a coward’s way out. See, I wasn’t trying to die, I just was not making a conscious effort to stay alive. Most days were spent adrift in thought, thinking of how other’s lives might be better if I was not in them. My parents both struggle with joint custody ever since they separated. Being in the middle, trying to appease both parents has been more than stressful for many years. Often times, I wondered if they would be better off with me not around. Around this time, I developed one of my favorite coping mechanisms: sarcasm. My teachers and classmates were not as enthusiastic about it as I was though. It is not a healthy way to cope by any means, but it brings a sense of humor to otherwise morbid situations.

To others, I may seem insensitive. In reality, I have gained a rather sensitive outlook toward others. Having experienced the feeling of worthlessness, it brings me almost to tears when anyone around me is in a state of anguish. I try my hardest to make everyone feel confident in themselves; to never let anyone else’s opinion bring them down. Furthermore, it has forced me to take a step back from all situations before making a decision. I have become more aware of other people’s feelings, with an understanding of society as a whole, not just life from my perspective and people like me. Everyone is fighting their own battles. What may seem trivial to one person, might feel like the end of the world to another. It depends on where you come from and how you grew up. Everyone experiences stress in different ways.

Just a few days ago, I was officially diagnosed. Of course, living with depression has a special way to make a person believe they are at fault for any wrongs in their life. It was a relief to be told that I am not to blame for my mental instability. After speaking with my doctor extensively on the matter, my parents and I decided that it was best that I take medication to help balance the chemicals in my brain. Depression revealed the best part of me. Now, moving forward, I can still be the caring person I have learned to be, without the crushing density of hopelessness weighing me down.

Faded Blue Genes

I walked into the dining room and saw a Wendy’s cup sitting on the table where my twins sat eating. I hadn’t been to Wendy’s that day, and Baby A had been with me all day. Baby B had just gotten home from an 8-hour shift at work, so I was a bit perplexed to find it there.

“Where did the Wendy’s cup come from?” I inquired.

“Wendy’s,” Baby B deadpanned.

My face automatically twisted into the parental look one gets when one’s child is being a smartass. The boys laughed, relishing that they had gotten ol’ dad. “It’s like talking to yourself, isn’t it?” Baby B joked.

“Oh, shut up,” I snapped. But B was right. That is exactly something I would say. My boys are a lot like me and in most ways that pleases me. But not all.


The boys worked with me again this summer. Though working with your children can sometimes be infuriating, I loved it. I got to spend a lot of time with them and observe how they interact with others and teach them new skills. Being able to guide them in a professional environment and not just at home has been a gratifying experience.

For years I’ve worried that some of the demons who lurk in my genes may have slipped away 18 years ago and hidden inside my boys. Afterall, I inherited my demons from my mother, who in turn inherited them from someone further up her family tree. I’ve also worried that their mother had passed on some of her struggles to my boys. I don’t know that their mom has ever officially been diagnosed, but there was a period in time when she was extremely suicidal and made at least one attempt.

I’ve kept a steady eye out for symptoms, but up ’til now hadn’t seen any. My boys are surprisingly well-adjust for all they’ve been through. Of course, a lot of the shit they endured happened before they were seven, so they’ve had ample time to recover. Plus, they may not even remember a lot of the things that happened since they were so young.

This summer, I noticed the first signs of what might be depression in Baby B. His moods were a bit erratic. Some days he’d be extremely irritable. Others he’d be in a fantastic mood. Sometimes the slightest thing would set him off. Sometimes he’d make self-depreciating jokes. I’d wonder about those jokes. Does he truly think so little of himself or is he just trying to make us laugh? When I do it it’s a combination of both.

I went back and forth about saying something to him about it. We’d had talks about mental health in the past. I’d told the boys about my struggles with depression. I had my mom talk with them about her struggles with bipolar disorder. Their mom never told them about her struggles (other than to tell them she takes an antidepressant) so I told them about her suicide attempt, and that of their aunt – not to hurt them or belittle their loved ones, but so they know the consequences of mental illness left untreated.

About a month ago my brother and his family came over to the house. As we sat in the living room talking, Baby B began to tell a story (about what I can no longer recall), but he stuttered a bit as he conveyed it. In my family that’s grounds for ridicule. We laugh at each other often. If you fuck up you better be prepared to be crucified. It’s all done with love, of course.

So as B stuttered over his story my brother and his wife gave B a hard time about it. B knows how this goes. He typically takes it as well as he gives it out, but not on this day. He snapped at my brother, which is extremely out of character for him. I told B to calm down and that he should be used to how these types of family gatherings unfold. I also decided at that point that the next time B and I were alone we were going to have a talk about depression.

When I finally fell low enough to seek out assistance from my doctor for my mental issues five years ago I learned that mood swings and irritability were the most common symptoms of depression in men. Of course, I haven’t actually fact-checked that, but that’s what my doctor told me. I had no clue otherwise I’d have probably sought help much sooner. Anyhow, it was these symptoms I’d been witnessing in my sweet boy. I was seeing in him the same things with which I struggle. And the next time he and I were alone, I told him so.

“Have you noticed these things about yourself?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

I informed him we were going to talk to his doctor about this the next time we were in for an appointment, which coincidentally, was only a few weeks away as the twins’ annual checkup was scheduled already.

Last Saturday we went for the boy’s checkup. After their physical, the doctor asked if I had any concerns, and that’s when I laid them out for him. I told the doctor what I’d noticed in B and that there were mental health diagnoses on both sides of the family tree.

“So you’re only noticing these things in Baby B, right? Baby A isn’t showing any symptoms?” their doctor asked.

“Correct,” I answered, absolutely sure of my answer.

“Actually, that’s not true,” Baby A interrupted.

I turned to him, shocked. Baby A continued.

“I deal with anxiety a lot. I’m nervous all the time,” A explained.

I was baffled. I’d never, ever noticed this behavior in Baby A. He’s always so calm and easy-going. His feathers never seem to get ruffled. Though he seems somewhat apathetic at times, he’s usually in a fairly good mood.

Their doctor told me he’d send home some surveys for both anxiety and depression that we’d need to fill out and return to the office. That night the three of us sat at the kitchen table and answered the surveys their doctor had provided.

We were quite busy that weekend, as the annual Out of the Darkness walk was Sunday, so I didn’t get to review the self-surveys the boys had filled out until Monday night. What I read, quite frankly, broke my heart. It also showed me I don’t know them as well as I thought I did.

It appears that both of my boys struggle with self-worth. They both spend an inordinate amount of time wondering if they’re good enough, though Baby A seems to have a bit of a bigger issue with it. They both just…struggle. It’s very clear by their answers that depression and anxiety have snuck into their minds and made themselves at home. Though it looks like Baby A has more of an issue with anxiety than B does, and B has more of an issue with depression than A does.

I sat there for a few minutes fighting back tears, which might seem a bit melodramatic to some. Depression is not a death sentence. Neither is anxiety. However, the fact that I had not noticed these things about my children made me feel like a failure. That they hide these things about themselves didn’t matter; I still felt like shit for not knowing. Of course, they learned from the best. I am a master at cloaking my emotions. I could be on the edge of losing it all and most people would never know. In fact, when I confessed to a coworker recently that I’d spent much of the past two years medicating myself with alcohol he was shocked. He’d not been able to tell anything was awry.

Knowing this didn’t ease my guilt at all. And what cut the deepest is knowing that two of the people I love most in this world see no value in themselves. In my mind, I know that no matter what I do nothing will change that. In my mind, I know that that is the nature of this illness. I know that no matter how much I tell them or show them I love them there will still be a voice in their heads whispering into their soul that they’re not good enough. But my heart didn’t care. It was broken all the same.

I reached out to my sons. I told them I had reviewed their surveys. I apologized to them that they’d inherited my weakness. I implored them to talk to me if they ever found themselves in a desolate place. I assured them that they are not alone. I assured them that no matter where they find themselves that I have been there before and could readily understand. I also assured them that I love them and that I would get these surveys to the doctor as quickly as I could so that we could get them treated as quickly as possible.

I’ve struggled all week. Friends have assured me that I’d done a great job by having them evaluated and catching it now. It’s great that you’re getting them treated. You’re a great father.

I can’t hear any of that bullshit. I’m still beating myself up about not knowing. If not for B’s moodiness I’d still be none-the-wiser. And though I know that my boys can, and hopefully will, live long, fulfilling lives despite struggling with depression and anxiety, I still am a bit heartbroken that they’ll fight a war inside themselves for the rest of their lives. Depression doesn’t go away. It may take an occasional break. It may offer brief respites. But it always, always comes back. And this makes me sad. I didn’t want this for them. I wanted them to have a better life than I’ve had. They still can, but it’ll be a challenge.

Their doctor called me yesterday afternoon and said we need to come back in to talk about the surveys. He wants to sit down with both of the boys and discuss their answers. The earliest appointment he had was Tuesday. I’ve already told my boss I won’t be in.

We’ll see where we go from here.

 

Over and Over

I’m an addict. Of a sort.

I’m not addicted to substances, though. Well, that’s not true. I’m addicted to coffee, but that’s not what I’m getting at. I get addicted to people and feelings.

When my wife left me three years ago I become physically ill. Eating made me nauseous. For almost two months the only things that I could keep down were coffee and alcohol. I couldn’t sleep. I laid wide-eyed in bed at night with errant thoughts racing around my head like the Daytona 500. My doctor told me my symptoms were those of withdrawal. It seemed I was addicted to my wife and being denied her love was physically harming me.

Based on that information, it would appear that at one time I was addicted to my children, too, because the same thing happened to me when they were no longer a part of my everyday life.

Self discovery is a good, however sometimes weird, thing. For instance, I recently learned (though I should have realized it long, long ago) that I can become addicted to certain songs, which, I’m guessing, is because of the feels they evoke.

This song, for example…

This song brings me to the brink of tears almost every time I listen to it. A lump rises in the back of my throat. My mood turns dour. Colors begin to dull.

Despite evoking such misery inside I cannot stop playing it. I find myself hitting repeat on this song in the car to and from work. I can’t stop myself from doing it. I know this song drags me down into a desolate mental place yet I, almost reflexively, hit the repeat button once the song is over. Unconsciously, I sing along. The song ends and I hit the back button again. And again. I don’t even know why.

It occurred to me, days into this behavior, that this is quite disturbing. Why on Earth do I keep listening to this song? I mean, I know as I’m reaching for the button to play this song for the umpteenth time that I shouldn’t do it BUT I CAN’T STOP. Do I subconsciously enjoy feeling horribly morose? Am I a mental masochist? Am I addicted to heartache?

I don’t have the answers. Hell, I don’t even have a clue.

But I can’t help but wonder…

What the hell is wrong with me?