Canine Design

The last few days haven’t been terribly active, aside from a birthday dinner at Benihana last night. But there’s been something on my mind for a little while. I have a friend who has a Shih Tzu dog down here, and he’s fun to hang around with. It reminds me of when I had a dog. I know that I can’t have a big dog like a Newfoundland down here in Texas; not only do I live in an apartment that would be too small for a dog like that, but all that fur would make a dog like that terribly uncomfortable in the heat. But I really miss having a dog around; that constant companionship and affection is something that I always found really comforting.

So I’ve been thinking about getting a dog down here. I know it would have to be something relatively small, and probably pretty short-haired; one of the breeds that has come up most often has been a pug, because they’re relatively sedate, friendly, and just fun to be around. The thing that seems really big, though, is whether to try to get a dog from a breeder or getting a rescue dog. A rescue dog is appealing to me because I know there are so many dogs that need homes, but at the same time I don’t know what kind of dog I’d be getting; I want to get a dog I can train and that won’t have any crazed responses to random events. So a new puppy would be the best for those things. At the same time, a new puppy is also going to take a lot more time initially, to potty train and keep from barking at everything and just generally get used to living here – as well as being far more expensive.

But having a dog around is something I really miss; my last Newfoundland, Merlin, was my closest friend for a number of years, and even though I was almost inconsolable when he died, I think I’ve gotten over his loss, and I’d like to feel that kind of companionship again. While I don’t mind cats, they’ve just never struck me as the kind of affectionate and loyal companions as dogs. Having a dog to scratch, and sit beside me, has always been a comforting presence. And I know that dogs are one of the animals that have become useful for mental health therapy, like the dogs from Heeling Allies. I don’t know that I really need a dog for therapeutic purposes, but a dog like that would certainly be helpful, especially since I have friends who have issues and such a dog might also be helpful for them.

Sadly, though, I work at a minimum-wage job, and right now don’t have much in the way of funding for something like a dog, so I don’t know if the dog idea is something that will be happening anytime soon. But it is something that has been on my mind recently, and having a dog has been important to me in the past. So, that’s what’s going on in my head right now.

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Quiet

I’ve been reading the book Quiet recently, by Susan Cain. It’s about introverts and our place in the world, as well as how we came to be. It’s a good way to distract myself from what has been happening recently, and it’s a topic I have some interest in. what with being an introvert and all. I guess one of the big things that comes to me is that being an introvert has nothing to do with being shy; being shy means that one is nervous or apprehensive about being around and talking to other people. Being an introvert means that, in general, one prefers a life of the mind rather than a life out in the world; an introvert likes to spend time thinking and contemplating, exploring thoughts and feelings. They tend to prefer solitary activities – things like writing (like I’m doing now), research, using a computer, creating art, to things that involve working on teams. They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time, and tend to pursue that task single-mindedly and doggedly until done. They don’t tend to seek leadership positions, being content to remain out of authority, though they’ll accept it if offered. They prefer quiet settings – a few close friends, or remaining solitary, over large groups of people who they may or may not know. That is seen as one of the defining characteristics of an introvert. Some people who are introverts may not even realize it, though, because there’s more to being an introvert than just being quiet and solitary, as this article, 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert, explains.

Susan Cain’s Manifesto for Introverts

1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

4. Texting is popular because in an overly extroverted society, everyone craves asynchronous, non-F2F communication.

5. We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.

6. The next generation of quiet kids can and should be raised to know their own strength.

7. Sometimes it helps to be a pretend-extrovert. There’s always time to be quiet later.

8. But in the long run, staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.

9. Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.

10. Rule of thumb for networking events: one genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.

11. It’s OK to cross the street to avoid making small talk.

12. “Quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron.

13. The universal longing for heaven is not about immortality so much as the wish for a world in which everyone is always kind.

14. If the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, the task of the second half is to make sense of where you’ve been.

15. Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.

16. “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Gandhi

I find it interesting, because of my own experiences, and those of others I know. It can be easy to withdraw from a lot of people as an introvert, because we just don’t have the same need to for personal contact that some people do. I think in some ways I’m an exception there, because I try to keep in touch with a (for me) relatively large circle of friends – people from high school, college, and quite a few from Menninger and that I have gotten to know in Houston. I don’t make a lot of effort to go out and meet new people, necessarily, but I make sure to try to keep up with the friends that I have. When that circle gets disrupted, I take it pretty hard. But I can understand the drive to withdraw; it can be very tiring at times to keep up with everything going on, and especially as someone with depression, as well, that can take a pretty big toll. I know that puling away from the people who care for us, or who we care for, can be dangerous for us, because it can lead to bad places. I have also seen what a mess things can be when an introvert and an extrovert come together; one wants to pull away for silence and time to think, while the other wants to come together to talk and be together. When both are trying to get what they want, eventually feelings will get hurt, and it is painful to watch. It’s one of the times I think working for compromise is important, because there has to be a way both an introvert and an extrovert can get some of what they want without driving the other person away.

These are the things I think about when I’m sitting by myself. Sometimes it’s deep, and sometimes not, but it is how I often choose to spend my time. I like to spend time with friends and loved ones, but too many people and I’m exhausted within the hour. The only way I can survive in a retail job is because most of the people I see are there for only a minute or two, and then gone. When there are too many people clamoring around, like at a book signing, an author speaking, or other event, I can feel my stress meter slowly tick upwards until by the end of my shift I don’t want to smile at people but snarl at them. I have to spend most of my breaks at work just unwinding, calming down from the sheer weight of people who come through the store. And yet right now, going to work is one of the best distractions I have from the things I am going through, and I find that a lot of things that I feel are hard to process alone. So even though I know I’m an introvert, I know there are times – frequent times – that I need to find company. My introversion makes it hard for me to seek people out, but managing my depression means that I know when I need to talk to others. It’s an interesting road to walk.

Loss

I’m going to write a little about suicide now; I’m not considering it (well, I’m not considering doing it, but I am considering it as a topic, obviously, since I’m writing about it), but the hows and whyfors of suicide have been on my mind for the last few days. It’s not surprising, I suppose, given what happened with Alice, but it is a tough topic to talk about.

First, let me say that I have some understanding of how it feels to lose someone to suicide. Alice was a friend of mine, and it hurts to know that she’s gone. I don’t make friends easily, and so I like to keep the ones I have around for as long as possible, even if we aren’t always close. It’s not the same as losing a father, mother, brother, sister, son, or daughter, but I care very deeply for my friends. There’s a hole in my life now, and I don’t know how to fill it up again; I suppose time will do that, but the grief is still very fresh. 

But I also know what it is like to feel suicidal. I’ve been there twice. And it is a terrifying place to be. I don’t know what it is like for people with other mental illnesses, or people whose lives have just gotten so unbearable that they feel death is the best way to go, but I know with depression there is literally a part of my mind trying to convince me that my life is so bad, that I am so pathetic, so meaningless, so worthless, so hopeless that ending my life is the best way out. I know that people find it hard to believe that things can be so bad, and in reality, the actual parts of life probably aren’t so bad. But your mind has the ability to change the way you perceive things, and so for someone with depression, like me, a minor problem – a boss makes a minor reprimand, a bad grade, missing an appointment – seems like a monumental calamity. Have enough of those happen to you, and it just seems too painful to go on.

I have seen and heard a lot of people say that suicide is selfish – that the person trying, or succeeding, is only considering themselves, not the people they leave behind. But I can say that, in my case, and I imagine in many other cases, that’s not true. It may seem selfish to others, but for us, our brains have gotten us so convinced that life is terrible, that we are pathetic and hopeless, that we are absolutely certain that our being dead will be a blessing to the people who are left – that we mean so little, and we bring so much pain and gloom to those around us, that our loss is practically a gain. So while it may be seen as selfish, the people trying – or succeeding – to kill themselves aren’t trying to be selfish. They don’t want to leave pain and misery behind for the people who care about them – they just don’t think there will be any.

I also have heard people talk about how the victims of suicide aren’t worth grieving for, because their problems weren’t so bad – there are people who live with worse problems, and they don’t kill themselves, after all. But to those people, I say (well, here; if I met one in person, I’d probably punch them) – how do you know how bad their problems are? Granted, I know my problems, when I was considering, and trying, suicide, weren’t all the big, on the grand scheme of things. I wasn’t starving, or being tortured (not physically, anyway), or being shot at. But I felt like I had nowhere to go. Every decision I made, just made things worse. I felt so crushingly sad, so abjectly hopeless, and so wracked by emotional pain that even deciding whether or not to shower in the morning was like running a marathon with broken glass in my shoes. My problems weren’t that bad, no, but my brain made me think that they were. It hurt so much, and I felt so alone (even though I know now that I wasn’t), and I felt like there was no help, no hope. And it broke me. Luckily for me, I didn’t succeed, and I found a way to manage my illness, to make my mind behave. Many people aren’t so lucky.

So I don’t begrudge that choice. I don’t know what Alice was thinking, or how badly she felt, when she decided to end her life. But while I wish that I could change it somehow, that she was still here, that my friend was still alive, I don’t think that she did anything she didn’t feel the need to do. I’m sure she had a reason, or several reasons, and while they might not make sense to me, or anyone else, they made sense to her – and the way we perceive things is really what matters here.

Goodbye, Part 2

This has been a rough week for me. I’ve probably spent more time crying this week than I have in the last five years or so, and yet, I don’t think any of the people I have spent time with have seen it. I don’t know what it is, but I have a very difficult time crying in front of other people. I managed it once in Menninger, and it was because of something that seemed very sad at the time. But this week, my crying has been before people arrive or after they leave, often at night when I’m drifting off to sleep. But that’s incidental. What I’m really writing is to tell you about my friend.

When I came to Menninger, I was kind of scared. Here I was, locked in a small unit with 16 or so people I didn’t know, who I knew nothing about other than that they had mental illnesses – and my last experience with that hadn’t gone well (see my previous entries discussing my quintuple-felon roommate at the previous acute care facility). I’m an introvert by nature, so I was hesitant to try to reach out to others, and it seemed like a lot of people were just content, at least at first, to let the new guy spend a little time on his own before maybe trying to draw him into conversation.

Not Alice. Alice wanted to meet me, and then play Monopoly with me, and she wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that. She just came right up to me, introduced herself, let me introduce myself, and asked if I wanted to play. I said sure, and that’s how we met; she was this attractive young woman who seemed a bit far away at times, but she said what was on her mind, and did what she wanted, and she made me feel welcome, like I was part of the group. It took me a few more days to get used to everything, but she was my introduction to HOPE, and the idea that there was, well, hope.

Alice had her own issues, like we all did; her medication seemed to change a lot, and so her behavior could be kind of erratic – sleeping most of the day one day, laughing and crying the next. Sometimes what she wanted to talk about didn’t make much sense. But when she wanted to talk, she had passion. She didn’t want to do things the same way all the time. She got annoyed with social niceties, like a standard “What’s up?” or “How are you doing?” greeting, and so she told me that if I was going to keep trying to talk with her, I needed to come up with something different. It was odd, but i was in a mental hospital – and it was a fun challenge. How many different ways could I find to greet someone? 

I enjoyed getting to know Alice, because whatever she was, she was never boring. She had a keen interest in reading, and she seemed to feel frustrated that she didn’t have what she wanted to read. One of the things she did like – as I found out on my first day – was playing games. Jenga, ping-pong, Monopoly, Skip-Bo, Bananagrams, we played them all – and I never once beat her at anything. It may not have been a great job talent, but she was great at games. Games really seemed to focus her, and some of our most interesting conversations happened while she was demolishing me in one game or another. But eventually, Alice decided she wasn’t getting the help she wanted from Menninger, and made the decision to leave, even against her team’s advice. Because we had some connection, I was the only person in the unit she told, and she asked me not to tell anyone else, which was a hard secret to keep, knowing that other people who liked Alice’s company would miss her.

But she left, and went off to live with family for a while. We kept in touch via e-mail, and it seemed that even outside she wasn’t happy, though she did enjoy being able to listen to music freely again. When I went to the step-down after Menninger, she ended up making the decision to try the step-down, as well; she came in a month or so after I did. It seemed that she felt she had too little to do, and that really made her feel unstable, so she tried the step-down. It was great to see her again, but after a short while it seemed like the step-down wasn’t agreeing with her, either. I did get to try some new things because of her; she recommended a good sushi place in Houston, Miyako, and it was because of her that I ended up trying out What-A-Burger for the first time. But I didn’t listen to her when she told me that she didn’t want a birthday present, and when I got her one anyway she got upset with me, and we didn’t speak much after that.

The not speaking much wasn’t because of the birthday present, I should clarify; she got over that relatively quickly. But I think she began feeling enclosed by the step-down in the same way she had been at Menninger, and that really began to bother her. It was hard to watch, because she was my friend and having a hard time, but I didn’t know what I could do, if anything. Eventually, she ended up leaving around the same time as I did, and we drifted apart. The last time I spoke to her was on Facebook back in December, and shortly after that her Facebook page disappeared; she started it up again, but I didn’t know. And so I didn’t see the amazing things she ended up doing.

Reading her articles in Houstonia, and seeing the YouTube videos of her poetry readings, I see the Alice that I only got bare glimpses of in treatment – in between bouts of mania and depression, for a few hours at a time, maybe a day at most, you could occasionally see the woman she could be, and became – smart, funny, eloquent, full of life, with a way with words that I’m not sure I can rival on my best day. I’m happy that, for at least a while, she managed to find a way to express that side of her, to show others what we, who had seen her at her worst, only got brief moments of. I wish I could have gotten to know that Alice, the one who seems to be free of the crushing burden of mental illness, because it seems like she made such an impact everywhere she went that everyone feels her loss personally. 

Mostly, though, I wish my friend was still here. She was only 23; there was so much more of life for her to see and experience. I know how terrible it can be, and I don’t begrudge her what she did; there’s only so much pain, so many feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness, one can feel before they just can’t stand to do it anymore. I think about her, and I cry; I’ve had to stop three times while writing this just to get myself back together. But even crying, I can remember her; in one of the e-mail she wrote to me, when I mentioned crying, she responded, “Remember, crying can be cathartic. My eyes never shut for rest more peacefully than when I’ve bawled them out.”

Wherever you are now, Alice, I hope you are at peace. I hope you don’t begrudge me my tears, and I hope you find something amazing to do. 

Your friend,

Jamie

Goodbye

I just heard that a friend of mine from Menninger died yesterday. We hadn’t been in touch often since she left the step-down program we were both in, but I thought she was a very cool, very smart, very interesting young woman who had a lot of potential, even with the problems she had. I don’t know what happened or why. It hurts to lose a friend, even a somewhat estranged one, and knowing that she was such a young woman, with so much ahead of her. Goodbye, Alice. I’ll miss you.

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