It's 2018 people, time to wake up and get your life in order. Just kidding, go back to bed if you're lucky enough to be able to. No need for us all to be up and cranky at the same time.
For those of you still awake and reading, good morning and good Tuesday. We didn't need those slackers here taking up space anyways.
Like everyone else in the world with at least a vague idea of how calendars work and a yearning for good will and prosperity in ones future, I've spent the past week picking through the remains of 2017 and contemplating the possibilities of 2018. I'm not one to be overly optimistic, but in an effort to remedy myself of unwarranted negativity, I have decided to focus on potential over pitfalls throughout this next revolution around the sun. In the most cliche sense, only time will tell if I'm successful.
Deciding to join me in my efforts is Cheryl Holroyd. We've been through a lot together over the past several years and have come to the mutual conclusion that it's about time things started going our way. 2018 will be our year to make things happen. We will be proactive instead of reactive. We will be in charge of our own happiness. We held a meeting, called a vote, and by a show of hands, decided to leave the past where it had landed and move on without it. Already by mid-morning on the first day of the new year, things were looking decidedly brighter. Until a short while later when a phone call let us know that Cheryl's mother had passed away earlier that morning.
I realize that dropping such an abrupt and tragic announcement into what has been an otherwise optimistic and upbeat dialogue could give the impression that I'm treating the situation lightly or without proper reverence, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am deeply saddened by the heavy loss my dear friend and her family have suffered and I wish I could make things better for them, but I can't. That's how this type of news is given. That's how life works. As good as it can be or as good as you can make it, you have to be prepared to work with it as well.
At this point, it would be very easy to write off 2018 before it even has a chance to get its bearings, and I wouldn't blame Cheryl if she did. But I hope she doesn't. Life for her and her family is hard right now and will continue to be so for some time. The experiences of 2018 may seem a little less significant with one less person to share them with but they are still there to be had, and Cheryl, like the rest of us, deserves the chance to experience them to their fullest. I can't imagine that her mother would want anything less for her.
I still plan to stand by our vote and make 2018 the best and most positive year I can, but I'm entering an amendment into the charter. I won't be leaving the past behind, or at least not all of it. I realize now how important it is as we move forward, we remember to bring with us the people and things that still matter. Pay attention to them, continue to learn from them, and don't lose them in our rush for something better. Don't be afraid to make new memories, but also don't be afraid to hold onto the ones that brought you this far; the good and the bad.
So start your journey into the new year but on your way through the door, give the people in your life a big hug and a kiss and make sure they know how much they still matter. You never know when a phone call may make you wish you had.
Good morning everyone and happy new year.
A song for Cheryl: Bette Midler "The Wind Beneath My Wings".
Saturday night turned out to be a quiet one as none of the sixty-four people I invited to celebrate my birthday were able to make it, but I received many kind birthday wishes from people here on Facebook and I want to give thanks for that. Special thanks to Cheryl Holroyd who travelled here from London on Saturday to keep me company with some drinks and laughter.
Well, I suppose it's time to get this Monday rolling. I'm not getting any younger.
Today's song to be 46 to: Pet Shop Boys "West End Girls".
Hey look! It's winter, it's cold, and I'm out walking. A big moment for me, seeing as how I've refused to leave the house for a week. I was coaxed out by a gracious birthday lunch surprise (thank you Melissa Daer, and I apologize again for assailing you non-stop with my inane blabbering) and errands that had to be taken care of (had to buy my load of socks, mitts, and hats for tonight) but I'm choosing to claim the outdoor trek as a birthday gift of sunshine to myself.
It took me two and a half hours to get out of bed this morning. I woke up (that part was the real struggle) and then just laid there. It was OK though. It was a good thing. I didn't get out of bed because I was tired. Plain, old fashioned, run-of-the-mill tired. Sure, there's a sliver of anxiety wedged in there somewhere deep but I look at it like having a metal pin your arm. It's always going to be there, so you learn to live with it. The things that weren't there? Depression and mania. I woke up a blank slate and as close to calm as I can generally get. I won't claim that I was happy or even necessarily in a "good" mood, so much as I was "here". To be here and in the moment can be a very difficult thing to attain as I (like I know many others do) tend to spend too much time either fretting over things I'm convinced need to be accomplished or things I have failed to accomplish. In therapy circles, they call this act of living in the moment, "mindfulness".
When people meditate, they are being mindful. It's not about clearing everything out of your head and staring blankly out of an empty box. That's impossible. Contrary to a popular misconception, you can't turn your brain off by flipping a switch, or drain its contents by pulling a plug like you've finished a bath. Being mindful is closer to the opposite. It's about actually paying attention to what's happening right there and then and not ignoring it. It's about receiving the information that presents itself to you, recognizing your thoughts for what they are - just thoughts - and then letting them go again. Thoughts are not inherently good or bad, they simply are, and we are responsible for giving them their power. When being mindful, we are observing without judging and without acting. Admittedly, it's not an easy thing to master and it surprises a lot of people that, like most things in life, it takes practice to do it well. Most people don't have the patience - which is ironic as patience is one of the key things being mindful can teach you. It's an odd concept I suppose, having to learn how to learn.
I wish I could say I'm a master of practicing what I preach, but I try to avoid lying unless it's absolutely necessary. I have enough things fueling my anxiety, I don't need to complicate things further by having to track what lies I've told. This morning however, for whatever reason, I was fortunate enough to be granted some unexpected quiet in place of my usual chaos, and for that I'm thankful. Whatever else happens today, I'll still have that.
It's another day, another dollar, another flight of stairs, but amidst all the other crap you pack into your life and convince yourself it means as much or more than you do, steal five minutes back and spend it on yourself. The other crap will still be there tomorrow but you're here now, and that's what's important.
A song for my Aunt Helen: The Marathons "Peanut Butter".
I know I've been posting a lot about depression and anxiety lately, but as a result of age and medication, I don't have many manic episodes anymore and I haven't felt motivated to share what those experiences can be like. The following is a conversation I had with myself, which I recorded (I sometimes record myself on my phone if I am feeling particularly moved by something and may want to write it down later) back on May 27, 2017. I have left out all punctuation and pauses so it may be a little hard to follow. I've done this to illustrate how it flows in my head. Very quickly, without breaks, and with a sense of urgency bordering on euphoria.
During these periods I feel positive and sometimes, even invincible. I feel good about myself and the world. I have an extraordinary amount of energy (I once stayed awake for 92 hours, then went to the bar for a while before heading home to bed) and I can be extremely productive. The downsides are; I can make potentially dangerous decisions due to my thoughts racing faster than rational judgement can keep pace, I often detach myself emotionally from relationships, and I can turn spending money into a passionate hobby. It also takes a heavy toll on me physically, leaving me exhausted for days after. Even so, I occasionally find myself yearning for the next episode as a "lesser of two evils" reprieve from the increasingly prevalent anxiety and depression. I compare it to standing in an empty house and staring out the window, waiting for a dysfunctional group of friends to pull up the drive. They're a rowdy, reckless bunch who party too hard and leave me laid out on the floor with a killer hangover once they're gone; but while they're present, while I'm surrounded by the laughter and music and frenzied activity that dominates that normally empty space, I know I'm not alone and I forget what it's like to be anything but incredible.
With that background in place, I share with you a brief, relatively tame snapshot of what it's sometimes like to be in my head on an "up" day. Remember, this is a transcription, word for word, of what I recorded on my phone.
"i went for an hour on the treadmill and burned about 700 calories and shortly after i came upstairs and felt guilty because I had this old photo cd of a friend of mine who is a personal trainer and once trained me personally and she uh gave me the cd to help her put together a calendar as a gift for her uh boyfriend husband whatever um y'know as a birthday gift and i did it but i was supposed to give it back to her because it was her only copy of all those pictures and i never got it back to her and i suddenly felt so bad so i just had to go find it so i went and found it and i took a look and yah i found it like pretty quickly so of course i felt really awesome about that so then after i found that i was looking for that and i found this box of stuff and in this box of stuff i found like uh like old uh y'know health card and uh y'know pictures and some canadian money or not canadian money american money why would i have canadian money in there i would be spending it if i had canadian money in there and anyways so i would take um and then i found some chains uh not some chains like some uh some like i don't want to call them necklaces that sounds kind of feminine but uh things for my neck and then um and then i found um oh i found an earing an old earing of mine and so i wanted to try it so i put it in and it slid right in so the hole i had for my earing is uh yah it never filled in it's still there and uh my i now have an earing in um and uh so i threw on some of my uh 80s hits mix and got in the shower and uh yah felt awesome and realized that uh this stuff is doable we can do this stuff um and uh yah yah things are good they're awesome i might go back on the treadmill and then go for a walk and i just realized that my car is what holds me back from connecting with the world so i should stop using it except for getting groceries because i can't carry them all unless i buy a bit at a time which makes sense because i can only eat one meal at a time and i could use the walk we could all use the walk i think i'll put together a walking group and we can see how far we can go but we might need someone to come pick us up because we'll go too far and not be able to come back cheryl can drive the van though so that would work i need to buy my kids some books because they like to read and i never read to them enough as kids I have to fix that i wonder if anyone knows how much i like those salsita chip things i'll get some when i walk over to get those groceries later we can do this because nothing can stop us if we just believe and i believe i know how awesome i am and i'm going to get some business cards that say that on them so i can give them to people i just meet so i don't have to explain it all to them i don't have time for that when i have so much to do i should go find the dog"
This is just a house. In the driveway, is just a car. The work I do to pay my bills, is just a job. In my world, I am surrounded by just furniture, nice clothes, gadgets, and toys. What I have in the bank, is just money. It's just the stuff I have, not what I am. It's all "stuff". It's just stuff, and stuff will never be more than just me. I can alter stuff and I can move stuff. I can replace stuff, ignore stuff, and even outright get rid of stuff. Stuff can never get rid of me.
When I look around and I start changing stuff - when I change the house, the car, the job - when I change all the things around me and I keep changing them until I encounter something I can't change, then I know I've found something real. Something that matters. If it matters, if it really matters, I can't change it. It's there, and try as I might, I can't replace it. I can't ignore it and I can't get rid of it. It's solid. If I love someone or something so much I can't walk away, if I can't abandon them - even if it's only in my heart and mind - then they're not "stuff". These are the things that matter. That's how I know what matters. That's how I know what's real.
I get depressed and despondent about the things that impact my life but the truth is, if I have to move, I'll find a new place. If I have to walk instead of ride, I'll tie up my laces. If I have to find another job, I'll hand out my resume. If I have to give up my furniture, my nice clothes, my gadgets, my toys, I'll learn to go without. There could be this house, this car, this job, another house, another car, another job. There could be another fifty, another hundred. I may not like it, I may even hate it, but only if I let it dictate my life and happiness, does it become more than just stuff. If I let these things change me, then I am no longer "me". I have become just "stuff" and stuff doesn't matter. I no longer matter.
I refuse to be just "stuff" and you should too.
A song for me: The Dream Academy "Life In A Northern Town".
I am continuing my pursuit of broadening my literary content, especially when it comes to poetry. I would also like to attempt different styles and rhythms of poetry but I am having some difficulty doing so (so far). I have added another children's book appropriate poem to the site...
You think a person chooses not to commit suicide because they don't want to give up on life? The truth is, it often has more to do with being too afraid to fuck up and end up worse off than you already are. It's about fear, not faith.
So why not go to a hospital? Go get the help you need. Great idea. The world will stop while you're in there. Bills will no longer need to be paid. Employers will still want to pay for work not being delivered. Customers will no longer expect the work you promised, but they'll pay anyway. Relationships won't be strained. Everyone will wait for you and they'll never doubt your competency again.
Or you'll never need to leave the hospital. A place where you are sheltered and protected. Somewhere you can focus on yourself and not feel weak or selfish. Not a failure.
Or maybe you will.
Eventually you'll be shoved back out into the world and then what? Someone else will have been paying your bills, of course. Someone else will continue to make sure your bills get paid while you get your shit together, right?
Psychiatrists are covered by the province's health plan, so that's good. Except for the fact all they do is help with administering and monitoring medication; and that's if you can get one. Seven years of constant referrals and requests should get you one. Or not. Not enough professionals to go around, apparently. Anyways, why are you relying on medication? You just need a positive attitude, some exercise, and some time with nature. Works for everyone else, what's your problem with it? Maybe you're just not trying hard enough?
What you really need is a psychologist. Someone who will listen and help you unscramble that mess you call a brain. They're not covered by a government health plan but the average cost is only about $180 an hour. Not so bad for someone who finds it difficult to function well enough to hold a regular job, right? Of course not. You're lucky if you can afford one fifty-minute session every few months to handle issues that need at least weekly attention, but it will need to be enough.
Or you can try getting a social worker/counsellor who works on a sliding scale. $70 per hour. Still can only afford a session a month, even though your brain shifts gears several times a day, but it's better. Then they reach the limit of their comfort zone. They're happy to keep meeting with you but sadly advise that your issues have exceeded their abilities so they submit a referral to a specialist, which works as well as usual. Not even a phone call or email to acknowledge the specialists have received your referral. I guess they're too busy. I guess your life isn't worth that much.
Meanwhile bills need to be paid. Support payments need to be paid. Children need to be raised, and relationships need to be nurtured, while you're fighting yourself constantly, trying to keep your shit together just long enough to make it through one more day.
You call help lines, visit walk-in centers, consult your family doctor. You receive the same sheet of paper listing the same website addresses and phone numbers you've seen time and time again. Government support. Two words that have no business occupying the same sentence.
I envy the gladiators in ancient Greece. They may have been slaughtered but at least they knew someone was watching while they fought for their lives.
I grow weary of the relentless tide which drives my life, its unpredictable and erratic current denying me any potential of peace. Fragile fingers sustain a tenuous grip on the ridge of reality made slippery with tears. An invitation to be swallowed by silence - a suspension of pain and disappointment, of expectation and failure - delivered by a solicitous hand, lies cast upon the table, waiting only to be opened and accepted. A black tie affair where clothing is optional, left piled on the floor, next to guilt and regret. Earnest guidance carried aloft by recycled mantras of hope are served like sunshine, assumed previously unseen, when in truth, they have been witnessed and dismissed for the ethereal platitudes they are; permeating the air but never penetrating the skin. Heavy with righteous intention, they lack the weight required to pierce the armour of grievous experience and offer no brilliance to pierce the shadows cast by an unforgiving mind turned upon itself. Amongst the densest crowds, we stand alone. In the end, I can share my thoughts, but I cannot share the way they shape me. I can open myself to hope, but not hold the key to unlock it. I am heavy enough to drown in a puddle and not strong enough to climb a ladder. I look in a mirror and I only recognize that I'm lost.
It's Tuesday morning people, so let's get Tuesday-ing. I am currently up and working hard so I can save up for a haircut and become a real person again. When my hair gets this long, I feel like the only thing differentiating myself from Bob Ross is that my grey hair isn't a burgundy/brown afro. That, and the fact that I can't paint worth shit and I couldn't be as calm and relaxed as he was, even if I took all my anti-anxiety medication at the same time. But mostly it's the afro thing. Winter will be kicking around for a while yet, but eventually spring will arrive again and walking season can begin. I am counting down the days to getting back outside. In the meantime, let's all do our best to to do our best and above all, don't be a dick.
Song for a winter Tuesday: Modern English "I'll Melt With You".
Today was the first time in ten I didn't have a panic attack. My mind is a little sluggish but it's a welcome change from the prolonged hyper sensitivity I've been enduring. Things may be in the sky or under water tomorrow, but for tonight, I'm taking things slow and easy. And yes, I do realize just how much I need a haircut, but I'll worry about that another day.
It's January 31, 2018 - Bell Let's Talk Day. So let's talk. Or to be more accurate, as this is an article and not a live interaction, I'll type and you read. You can talk amongst yourselves once it's over.
I had originally planned to publish this article last Saturday (even took the accompanying photo that morning), but in the end, I couldn't bring myself to follow through. I thought having previously conquered my reservations about sharing my experiences with bipolar depression, I was prepared to share again, but when it came time to talk about my anxiety and mania, I found myself overwhelmed by the prospect and keenly sensitive to the risks involved. The risk of alienating friends and family who might decide I require too much attention, am too complicated, or am too weak. The risk of losing opportunities and income from employers who can't understand my experiences or feel I'm incapable of performing my duties. The risk of not being trusted or viewed as dependable, of having my every decision questioned, my opinions discounted, or my contributions ignored.
Here I sit in my math class, feeling fine, except for my ass.
I stretch, I yawn, let it all hang out, but I get too loose, and my tongue falls out.
There’s a girl on my left, a guy to my right, I shake my head and they watch the sight.
I start to drool, I start to shake, I forget my ass, as my head now aches.
I’m out of control, there’s just no stop, to the gruesome sight - the spit and the slop.
Everyone shouts, and they dive for cover, as I come to a stop, my tongue just hovers.
I look about and see disaster.
I try to run but my teacher’s faster.
He grabs my collar and pulls me back.
I yell and kick, but he gives no slack.
He makes me scrub, he makes me clean, I try to joke but it’s not his scene.
It wasn’t great, it wasn’t a gas, but at least I can’t feel that pain in my ass.
My entire life I have transitioned from one thing to the next based on what was presented to me, what was safest, and what came easiest. I rarely challenged myself; often getting As and Bs in the majority of high school classes I found easy or enjoyed, while settling for Fs in those I didn't. There wasn't much I wanted badly enough to put myself on the line for it. The closest I came to commitment was my goal to one day be a cartoonist. I drew steadily from childhood until I was in my early twenties, always convinced that someday it would be my career. Still, I never followed through. When it counted, when bills needed to be paid, and other options were placed in front of me, I folded and I haven't returned to it since. I could have put in the time, stuck to my passion, and refused to give up - even if it meant doing so at 2am while the rest of the world slept. I could have fought for my dream, but I didn't.
I think its time I started living my life differently. I think its time to commit and put myself out there. Take a risk and stick with something I want as opposed to going with what comes along and is easiest. I've decided that I want to be a writer and I want to experience University, something that I never allowed myself to seriously consider in the past because it seemed too difficult to make happen. I have taken the first step and passed the first first hurdle. There are more hurdles to come but I am in the race now and I aim to finish. Who knows? Maybe I won't, but at least this time I'll know it wasn't because I never tried in the first place.
Today has been a challenge for me. Depression crept in last night and I found myself ill prepared to defend against it. These are the days I struggle with negative and intrusive thoughts which, if not diffused, can prove to be potentially fatal. I'm not oblivious to the sensational nature of that statement and would not be surprised to discover some who believe I'm being overly dramatic. I don't blame or begrudge them their incredulity. In a way, I envy them. Patience and reserving judgement when dealing with others who struggle with personal challenges are not qualities reliant on direct experience, and although I value the first two concepts, I would never wish the third on anybody. Instead, I forgive them this modicum of ignorance with my blessing.
The thing about depression is that it doesn't limit itself only to thoughts about personal situations or circumstances. It isn't the sole domain of self-pity and self-absorption. The trials and tribulations of the world - the injustices and cruelty, the absence of basic rights, and evidence of man's inhumanity to man - all burrow into my consciousness. I take them on as an integral part of my existence, things which cannot be separated from my own personal responsibilities. It exposes my impotence in the grand scheme of things. I feel unfairly and unjustifiably guilty over my misplaced perception of inadequacy. The inherent empathy I carry, which cannot be ignored, becomes almost unbearable - bordering on painful - and I find myself yearning for any kind of escape. It makes me question whether I want to exist in a world capable of such rampant cruelty, inequality, lack of reason, and selfishness. I question the very concepts of hope and possibility. I lack the strength to face the onslaught of negativity that bombards me daily and leaves me blind to the positivity that also exists, but is rarely heralded.
Indigenous rights and persecution over land and broken promises. Years of murdered Indigenous women and white, male indifference. Global warming. White privilege. Black Lives Matter. Religion. Territorial fueled hostilities. Child casualties. Wild fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and landslides. Lost homes and lost ways of life. Homelessness. Hunger. Lack of education. Gender inequality and self-identification. Gay marriage. Freedom of expression. Self-righteous oppression. Violence instead of dialogue. Fear silencing reason. Trump. China. Russia. Minimum wage. Small business. Big business. Money over people. Politics. Faith over science. Anti-vaxers and flat-earthers. Greed. Animal cruelty. Misogyny. Sexism. Rape. Abuse of body, power, and trust. Scandal. Cost of living. Body shaming. Slut shaming. Lack of shame. Mental health. Suicide rates. Funding. Intolerance. Immigration. Refugees. Understanding the difference.
These are some of the things that currently fill the void where my happiness and optimism would normally inhabit if I was in a stronger frame of mind. They threaten to drown me in a well so deep and dark that no light can guide me and no rope can reach me. Depression opens the door and I become vulnerable; overwhelmed as I lose the ability to filter the flow of information or the feelings that come crashing in with it. I want to fix everything and I can't even fix myself.
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, I have discovered the key to my surviving depression is to surrender to it. Not to the negativity that threatens to end me, but to my own frailties, my own flawed humanity. Instead of fighting to be something I'm not, I have to accept what I am. Someone who needs time for myself. Someone who sometimes can only function well enough to make it out of bed (if I'm lucky) and certainly not someone who can help anyone else before I help myself. I have to recognize when I'm weak at a time when I yearn to be strong and I have to forgive myself when I fall down. When I break. When I cry so hard and for so long that I can no longer see and my head hurts so much that it makes me ill. I have to let go of what I think I should be and allow me to be what I am.
An important part of actively battling depression is to have a plan, or at least things you can turn to that bring you some peace and inspiration. For me it is listening to eighties music, taking walks outside, taking a shower, focusing on one thing that I can accomplish and ignoring all others. Interacting with those who know me well enough to understand they can't fix me and don't try, gets me out of my own head without having to explain myself or act like I'm better than I am. More and more, I write.
So today, after a slow start, I let myself down and began the journey of once again picking myself back up. I took my shower, I strapped on my favourite red Converse shoes (puddles be damned), and took advantage of the temporary break in winter weather to walk my new neighbourhood. After a lunch I didn't want but knew I needed, I cried and then I sat down to write this post.
I'm not standing yet but I'm on my way up and that's good enough for today. I'll deal with tomorrow when I get there.
A song for a restart: Elvis Costello "Veronica".
Up at six, half a coffee, then out to shovel so Cheryl could get Daniella to school. She made it clear of the driveway only to sink into the unplowed street - much to the delight of the eight or so vehicles that lined up behind her. Ten minutes and some assistance later and she was finally on her way. Creeping at a snail's pace as her tires fought to grab hold every few feet, but on the move none-the-less. The best part, the yellow patches left behind where her engine had been positioned. Have to get that looked at soon, I suppose. Already waiting for a call from the garage this morning about my recently expired car.
Things are shaky as I attempt to determine where the next few months will take me. I want to believe I'm laying some solid ground work for the long haul but it will be some time before I discover how successful I've been. In the meantime, I have to focus on a possible shortfall in income soon and what my options are to rectify it.
2018 is not starting as well I'd like but how often does anything go as well as one would like? One thing I know is that you can only move in one direction, so satisfied or not, forward I march. At this point, life is unsettled, unsure, and underwhelming but I want to make sure I remind myself that I have made it this far, I have supportive family and friends, and for as many pitfalls that lay hidden in the unknown, there also exists just as many possibilities and potential. So all that's left is to put on some music, get some work done and do my best to stay positive. Here's to Monday, that first step closer to Friday and one step beyond the trials of yesterday.
This morning's track: Supertramp "Give A Little Bit".