Delaying Tactics

Man, 11 days since my last post? I had no idea it had been so long. Time flies, I guess. It’s been a busy 11 days, so hopefully I can be forgiven for neglecting my blog for so long. When last I wrote, I had just been to church for the second time, and had just finished my first week at my new duties in the receiving area of my store. Things have definitely gotten more interesting since then.

For one thing, I actually managed – with the help of a good friend, who deserves all of the organizational credit, because I would have trouble planning my way out of a paper bag – to run my first session of an RPG called Dungeon World, which I’m sure I have mentioned int he past. The first session was at a nearby game store, and it was me, my friend, and two gals he knew from work (we all work at the same company, just different stores). I thought the first session went really well – people made fun characters relatively quickly, the system didn’t get in the way, and I felt like I was able to improvise pretty smoothly, all fo which seemed to lead to a great first session. I say first, because this week we got together again, this time at my place, and two additional gals showed up – making the demographics 4 women, 2 men, which is weird, but awesome. The two new players again made up new characters quickly, and we finished up the adventure that had been started in the previous session, finally killing the Spider-Witch Florimel and returning some very traumatized children to their families. It was a lot of fun, and a big confidence boost for me, because I had been really worried that I wouldn’t pull it off very well. hopefully we’ll have another game soon.

Also, my birthday was this past Sunday. I turned 35, which sounds like a lot now that I think about it – so usually I try not to, because then it involves me trying to work out how close I am, percentage-wise, to becoming a Steve Carell character. You know the one. I celebrated thusly: on Saturday, after having nabbed the second Captain America movie on Blu-Ray earlier int he week, I started watching all 9 Marvel movies, in in-setting chronological order. I managed to get all the way up to the Avengers before calling it a night, then the next day, my birthday, got through Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 before going out to dinner with three friends, all of whom are awesome. We went to a Brazilian steakhouse called Fogo de Chao, and if you’ve never been to such a place, let me tell you – it’s like a festival of meat. They have a salad bar, but mostly, you sit at your table, and you have a little thing at your place setting – one side is red, the other green. When you flip it to green, servers magically appear with all variety of meats and give you pieces, until eventually you are so full that you get what one of my friends called the ‘meat sweats’. Then, for dessert, two of my friends, both women, rolled out a dessert they had constructed especially for me – a three-tiered pyramid of donuts from various places around Houston. Let me tell you, I was very full at the end of the night, and very happy. If any of y’all are reading, let me say this to my friends and family(both those who were present, and those present in spirit): I love you guys, and each one of you has helped me to have a life worth living. You have made my life so much better by being a part of it.

As for my professional life, I’m mostly used to working in the receiving area of the store now; my back still aches from being on my feet and carrying boxes all day, but it’s far less stressful than customer service for me. And I get to listen to audiobooks, music, and podcasts while I work – so far I’ve made it through Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal, all of the On RPGs podcast, and most of the podcast episodes of the Knights of the Night group dealing with their experiences with Dungeon World. At home, I’ve also been reading through a good book, through it’s taking longer than it normally would because I tend to read before bed, and my new job means that when I get in bed, my body tends to prefer sleep to reading much of the time. The book is called Friendfluence, by Carlin Flora, and it is about how friends influence us, change our lives, and can actually have an impact on our physiological well-being. It’s a pretty good read, and I look forward to finishing it (mostly so I can point out to my friends exactly what their presence is doing to my brain, which seems fun to me). I am still waiting to hear back from the Via Hope group on whether or not I will be accepted into this round of training for Certified Peer Specialists, and I should hear back from them by the 22nd.

All in all, it’s been a busy week and a half, but in a good way. I’ll make an effort to keep my blog more updated, because I know it’s something I have been neglecting, and I have some ideas for other things to write, but right now my body is telling me it was a bad idea to get up this early, so I’m going to listen to it and relax on my day off.

Religiosity

Yes, I’m aware the title isn’t a real word. But I like it, so I’m using it. In any case, what I’m writing about right now is my recent experiences with religion and faith, and the realizations I’m coming to about my own faith. In the last week or so, I’ve been going to church with Calla – last Sunday and this Sunday, to be exact. I grew up Catholic, then spent a long time as an atheist, and Calla’s church is a Methodist church, so it’s been an interesting journey.

One of the first things I noticed about Calla’s church is that they’re a relatively young congregation (at least, at the services I’ve been to), and they’re very energetic. For someone who grew up with solemn Catholic hymns and the smell of old incense at church, in buildings most often made from hard stone and bare wood, the Methodist service was practically exploding with energy. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Catholic service, it’s just a very different feel. It was kind of nice, actually, feeling all that energy in the room. I got the feeling that the people there really meant what they were praying for and singing – and the music was much more upbeat, too.

Being at church has had me thinking a lot about my beliefs. I’m pretty sure I don’t fall under the wings of any particular denomination; I’m Christian, but that’s about as far as I can go. Instead, my faith is kind of a grab-bag of things; some deism, some Christianity, some other bits and pieces – I think at one point I was seriously referencing the “Godfellas” episode of Futurama. Essentially, it all boils down to this: I think that there is a god, but due to the immensity of his/its likely power, intelligence, and abilities, there’s no real ability for humanity to seriously understand God, because we just don’t have the perceptive abilities to encompass him. And once God ensured we had free will, and the ability for rational thought, he stepped back, letting us find our own way, and watching as we tried to understand. Eventually, though, God decided that our understanding was important to him, and so he sent a messenger, one very important to him, to act as a conduit for our understanding – that being Jesus. And while we have free will, and God doesn’t often step in to act directly – because that would contradict our free will – we might never know if he does, because, quoting from the aforementioned Futurama episode, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

For the most part, I think that my particular version of Christianity is pretty chilled out – we’re supposed to be good to the people around us. We’re supposed to give aid to others in need, especially if we have more than we can reasonably use – if I have 600 sandwiches, and you have none, it doesn’t cost me much to give you food, but it might mean the world to you. But we’re supposed to give not for praise or acknowledgement, but because we think it’s the right thing to do. The belief should be matched by works – some effort, large or small, to help our fellow man – because words need to be backed up by deeds for faith to be taken seriously. I don’t know that I feel the need to actively spread my faith – if people are helped by what I do, then that’s good enough. I don’t need to proselytize; if they want to know, they’ll ask. Christianity isn’t a secret, hidden religion anymore – it’s the biggest faith on the planet, even if it is broken up into dozens of denominations.  And my faith is my own; I don’t have, or feel the need to be identified as, anything other than a Christian. I don’t think  my faith has any bearing on the faith of others, either – my beliefs are mine, and given that I can’t possibly know that God is real for certain, who am I to say that my beliefs are right? All I can do is act like a good person, and believe what I believe, and go from there.

As a nerd, this is the metaphor I’ll use. Imagine a computer – one so big that its internal working are so immense that we couldn’t explore them all within our lifetimes, or even affect them in any meaningful way. We can look at the code, but it is billions upon billions of lines long, and in a language so complex that we can’t even start to understand more than even the most basic functions. We can understand that it is some kind of vast intelligence, far more complex than our own, but our communication is limited – until one day, we investigate and find an interface that seems designed for us. It lets us interact with the computer, make inquiries, and try to understand what everything is about. The computer is God, and the interface is Jesus. We still have extremely limited understanding of how things operate, but at least we have a start – and that can help us to expand our understanding on our own.

My views aren’t terrifically sophisticated, but given that I’ve only had my own faith back for a few months, I think it’s a decent start. I still have a ways to go, but it’s my faith. It’s not anything I’m certain of, but then, that’s part of what faith is – I can believe in God, but I’ll never know for certain until I die. One of the things I do believe very firmly is that once you go from belief to certainty, then you have passed through faith and into something different – and that something different is something I often find scary, because absolute certainty is something that only the most zealous people have, and they can do some pretty extreme things because of that certainty.

And hat’s all I have for now. Sorry for the gap in between posts – my move to the receiving room at work has left me less stressed, but more physically exhausted, which is a win in my book, but it means I also don’t always have the energy to think up and then post something here. But questions and comments are always welcome, especially on this topic.

Stress Relief

So I started at a new area at my job today; I’ve moved to the receiving area at my store – which basically means that instead of working behind a cash register or at the customer service desk, I instead unbox and sort all new book and media deliveries. I don’t have to interact with customers at all, and even though it’s a little more physically taxing than the other work, I feel so much less stressed afterwards that it is easily worth it. I’m more relaxed at home, I can talk to people without getting frustrated, and I just feel much more at ease.

It’s weird how change of one thing can make such a big difference. I don’t know how this will pan out in the long term, but for at least right now, it’s a big relief to me. Also, yesterday I went to church for the first time in… well, probably since Christmas. I went with Calla, who is making a lot of progress and is coming back into her faith with a passion I haven’t seen in her in a while. It’s good to see her so excited about something; I think it’s an indication that she’s getting back to a stable place. Even if our relationship doesn’t go past friendship, it is still good to know that things are getting at least a little better for her.

I have another friend who just moved to a new place, and she seems to be settling in; it might take a while to get used to a new place, but from everything she’s said, it sounds like a good place to live, with a pretty friendly, it eccentric, mix of people in her new apartment building. I got to visit her this past Saturday, and while she still has some unpacking to do, it seems like it has a lot of promise, and will let her express herself much more authentically than her old place. I’m hoping that it will be a first step to her moving forward with other things in her life, because she’s a good friend and it’s hard to watch her go through what she’s had to live with.

Sadly, not everything is great; I have another friend who’s been in the hospital for the last week. I haven’t had a lot of contact with her – which is on me – but it’s not the first time she’s been there, and I wish I could do more to help her out. There’s a lot in her background that probably has played a part in her problems, but it’s not my place to say; I just hope that this is the time that really helps her turn a corner. 

Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to…Tired?

Yesterday was not a good day on the anger scale for me. To be clear, when I say anger scale, I really mean on this scale:

0 – Totally at peace
1 – Mild annoyance
2 – Frustration
3 – Full annoyance
4 – Hostile
5 – Angry
6 – Seething
7 – Furious
8 – Red Rage
9 – Hulk
10 – Murdertron 9000

I imagine most people have a scale like this; they may use different words, but the result is the same. I spend a lot of the time hovering between 0 and 1, but yesterday I spent a good 8-10 hours between 7 and 8, and it was not pleasant.

Some of it was anger as a secondary emotion – that is, anger that people often use as an immediate reaction when they are in fact feeling something else. Like if someone were to say something hurtful to me, my primary feeling would probably be sadness – but I would instinctively react in anger, maybe saying something just as hurtful in response. I was feeling very sad and hurt by some events happening with a friend of mine, and while I didn’t respond to my friend in anger, I definitely felt it. 

Then I had to fight with my insurance company – and everyone who has ever done that knows how much anger that can bring up. It seems that even though I don’t have a thyroid gland anymore, and so have to be on a thyroid replacement medication to mimic the production of thyroid chemicals, my insurance company thinks that it is an expense that is more than they want to cover. So, in order to convince them that it is a necessary medication, I need to get in to see my doctor – who doesn’t have an opening for a couple weeks, leaving me at the very end of my current prescription. I suspect they want me to change to a medication that is less costly, but frankly, I don’t care. 

Third, Houston traffic. This is generally anger-producing even at the best of times, because Houston drivers seem to have never mastered the fine art of, well, driving. That left lane on a highway? The one for passing and going fast? They feel free to just sit there going the bare minimum, regardless of what you do. That line you’re in waiting for a light, because the lane next to you is closed – but the cones don’t start until the light? They will pull out from behind you, go around you, and then swerve back into the open lane just before the other lane is closed. And right now there is a lot of roadway construction in Houston – especially, of course, on my way to work. A drive that normally takes me 15-20 minutes took me an hour yesterday. 

And finally, customers. I work in retail, and I imagine anyone who has worked in retail knows how annoying indifferent or careless customers can be. At the bookstore I work at, many people feel free to grab stacks of books or magazines, flip through them for five minutes, then leave them at their seat – or worse, they try to conceal the stack somewhere. Or people show up, sit in a chair – either in our cafe area or in the store – and proceed to work on their laptop for 6-8+ hours, never buying anything, never even browsing. As I spend most of my shifts closing the store, the messes inconsiderate customers leave behind are something I have to clean up before I can go home. And then there are always the joyous customers who come in, demand a book – sometimes a big new release (that is sold out because they waited too long to get it), but more often something more specialized or small-press that we either don’t get or have to special order – and get insanely angry when you don’t have it. Or customers who assume you’re an illiterate idiot because you don’t happen to know anything about their favorite author.

So I was pretty amped up yesterday when I got to work; my co-workers could tell, and some said they could hear me grinding my teeth. They were very understanding, when I explained what was going on, so there wasn’t any trouble there, at least. Oddly, the anger seemed to keep me very focused, and I think I went through my assigned tasks much faster than the managers were prepared for; they had to find more for me to do, which eventually ended up in just trying to keep the store tidy. And that kept up for much of the shift – thankfully, I wasn’t working at the cash register or the customer service desk for much of that time. But when the anger finally began to fade, I felt myself just become totally exhausted. The anger burned through what energy I had and left me with nothing when it dissipated. And now, a day later, I don’t feel any of it. I can look back and see why I was angry, but there’s none left right now. Of course, I’m now stuck having to deal with the pain and sadness that are the results of my difficulties with my friend, but I was going to have to deal with that anyway; the anger was just a way to hide from it for a while.

I’m not sure if there’s a point here, really – maybe it’s that feeling my anger, instead of suppressing it, allowed me to let it go, or it to let me go, instead of having to deal with it for days or weeks on end. Maybe it’s that anger can be productive int he short term, but long-term it just sucks you dry. I’m not sure. It could be any number of things. But I felt it was worth talking about.

Anniversary

So today is the one-year anniversary of my last day at the step-down I went to after Menninger. It’s weird, looking back on it; I had only a few weeks earlier decided that I wanted to stay in Texas, and just a week after that found an apartment; I had spent several days prior to my last day preparing my new apartment so that it would be ready for habitation after I left the step-down. I think that, honestly, my biggest worries at that point weren’t what I was going to be doing with my life after leaving the step-down, but whether or not the new bed I had bought at Ikea would hold up. I had no job, I had really only vague ideas of what I wanted to do, and everything was still very confusing. 

Now, I have a job – not a great-paying job, but one that keeps me busy, and has good people to work with. I volunteer at a local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), I am applying for training as a Certified Peer Specialist, and when admissions open up, I’m going to apply for the MSW program next year for the University of Houston. I have lived on my own for an entire year, something that worried me at first (and I think may still worry my parents) because I need social contact, and living alone can make it easy to avoid that – but I see several of my friends regularly, and I talk with several more by text, e-mail, phone, or internet chat. I learned how to cook, and I keep my apartment clean – sometimes eerily so. I found some cool decorations, and a new direction I want my life to go in. I’ve gotten closer to some friends, farther from others, and sadly have even lost one. 

But a year has made a lot of difference in my life, and while some of it has been hard to get through, I think that a lot of what I learned at Menninger and the step-down – and what I continue to learn from my own reading and education – has made it much easier to cope with things that, before coming to Houston, I thought were completely unmanageable. I’m not saying I’m a huge success story – even though I feel like it, a year isn’t all that long – but I think what I have made is a pretty promising start, and is proof that there ware ways that things can get better. It’s very hope-inducing for me, especially since, two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that hope was ever something I could aspire to.

Here’s to hoping I have many more anniversaries like this.

Good Morning, Suicide

For the last several days I’ve been thinking about what to say in regards to Robin Williams and his recent suicide. I’ve seen a lot of really good things written – things like this article on Cracked, or a piece of writing about how depressed people often don’t know they’re depressed, linked here. I’ve seen some really despicable things said, too, like what Rush Limbaugh said about Robin Williams, which shows a shocking lack of tact or caring for the life of another human being – which is all too often par for the course for Mr. Limbaugh.

As a survivor of two suicide attempts, I know the lengths that depression can drive you to. Depression gets inside your head, and like a computer virus, it starts taking bits and pieces over, but in such a way that the rest of your mind is convinced that everything is just fine. Then, once it’s taken over enough, it tries to destroy the whole system – or, rather, make the depressed person commit suicide. It’s not something we have any control over; as far as I’m aware, there’s no real evidence for reasons why some people have depression and others don’t. And, biologically, it makes no sense – it’s a mental illness that, for the most part, tends to drive those who have it to thoughts of suicide, eventually. It can’t spread or be transferred to another person, so the depression dies with whoever has it. 

But it can make your life a living hell, no matter who you are, how much money you make, or what you do. A homeless person living under a bridge is in the same kind of mental hell with depression as someone like Robin Williams, though sadly with fewer treatment options. Being depressed means you feel worthless, useless, hopeless. Nothing you do has any lasting effect to cheer you up or make you happy. It saps the energy from your body, but doesn’t always make people sleepy – just feel like they don’t have enough energy to do much beside sit around. It makes some people overeat, to try to fill a void that can’t be filled by physical sustenance; it makes others just stop eating, because it’s just not worth the effort. It can’t be a battle just to shower in the morning, never mind do something like an actual job. And, once it’s set in, you believe that this is normal – that life is always like this, that there is no other way to be. 

Treatment can be tricky, too – there are many antidepressants on the market, and they work differently on everyone. I, for example, am SSRI-resistant, which means I get virtually no effect from most of the big-name medications. And once you find a selection of medications that work, you have to watch to make sure your body doesn’t become used to them, and stop making the medication effective. And medication is only part of it. People with depression often withdraw from social contact, when it can be one of the things most necessary to helping them – we feel like we’re a burden on others, and so we pull away. But having others around to talk to, even about things that aren’t terribly serious, can be a great help. Therapy is important, as well, because most friends probably won’t be able to understand what you talk about with regards to depression like a therapist will, and won’t be able to suggest things to do – or just listen t what you’re really saying. Therapy isn’t limited to just a therapist; there are a number of therapy skill sets, like DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) or CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) that can help to redirect your mind from its depressed state. Even taking care of yourself physically – keeping a schedule, exercising, eating well – can help to manage depression.

But sometimes, everything that can be done just isn’t enough. Maybe the medications don’t work. Maybe you can’t connect with others. Maybe you can’t find a therapy that speaks to your needs, and maybe you just can’t find the energy to take care of yourself. At that point, everything becomes a losing battle, each action a desperate attempt to hold on for a little longer – to maybe find that one thing that works – until you just have no more ability to cope. Then, sadly, many people attempt suicide – like I did, twice – and even more sadly, some succeed.

It’s like having the Battle of the Bulge in your head, and you’re the Allied forces – only there are no reinforcements, the Nazis are endless, and you have limited supplies. You can only hold on for so long, and even if you fight tooth and nail until the bitter end, without help, you lose. And this all takes place inside your head, where nobody else can see it – and where all too many people assume that you can just decide to be happy, to not think about it, to focus on something, to will yourself to be better like you have some sort of Green Lantern ring in your brain. It’s these people who don’t understand what depression is like who can be the worst to be around, because if the scars from your wounds were physical, they’d be amazed at your survival – but since they can’t see them, they assume it’s nothing serious, and that you’re just being lazy.

Everyone with mental illness has to deal with these people, and it’s sad, because they can take a toll on you. How many times can you listen to someone saying that your illness is just made up and if you were a better person you’d just think your way out of it before you believe that somehow, you are just too weak to fix yourself – when, in fact, there is no way to do so? Even all the treatments I noted above are just ways to manage depression, or really any mental illness – they can never be cured, never fixed. Even someone with Robin Williams’ resources can only do so much, because it can take a long time to find a treatment that works for you – and some people never do. 

I mourn for Robin Williams. He made some amazing movies and touched the lives of many people. And he did it all while suffering from something that was telling him to kill himself every day. I wish he had been able to find the treatment that worked for him, but sometimes that never comes. Sometimes the battlements of the mind are simply overrun. I can only hope that his death, and the public nature of it, along with his celebrity status, can call serious attention to this. Mental health care needs to be better. Nobody needs to die like this, hopeless, alone, and feeling like there is no value to their life. Much like we can stop the spread of cancer, we need a way to stop mental illness in its tracks. A cure, if there ever is one, is a long way off, but ways to manage mental illness should be something that children being born today can rely on.