Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Well, the onslaught of negative news and hate-filled screeds continues in both the news (and by which I mean in actual news and things which pretend to be news) and social media, and so I thought in the spirit of the holiday season, I would try and post something. I am not, by nature, a hugely optimistic person, so I’m hoping this will be received in the spirit in which it is meant, and not necessarily in the manner in which it is written if I occasionally stray off-message. MY big idea here is to just try and post a list of various things, people, groups and whatnot that I am grateful to, whether recently, over the last several years, or for long-term things. I will almost certainly forget some things or people, and for that I apologize; my memory is not exactly a steel trap, and if you feel you have been missed, I will edit this entry to add you. For many people, the entry will be rather vague, since I don’t want to ‘out’ any of my friends with mental illness issues of their own unless they feel comfortable being named.  I’m not going for any particular order, save that in which things or people come to me, so don’t feel slighted if you’re somewhat farther down the list; my brain makes connections that are sometimes very strange. With that preface, let the gratitudinousness commence!

  1. First and foremost, I am grateful to my parents for their love, support, and trust over the past years, in not freaking out when I moved to Texas, supporting my move into an MSW program, and generally being very cool with what my life has become over the past years.
  2.  I am grateful to my sister, brother-in-law, and 1-yer-old niece for being there to talk to, and as supportive and helpful as they can be, and for being good family members and people in general.
  3. I am grateful to all my pre-Menninger friends who have chosen to keep me in their lives, however far apart we may be; I know that being my friend through all my years of depression cannot have been easy, and I appreciate all you’ve done and all the times you have been there for me.
  4. I am grateful to my extended family – uncles, aunts, grandparents, and other relatives – as well, for not excluding or rejecting me because of my problems; I’ve seen and heard many stories where family has deserted someone suffering from mental illness, and I’m grateful to not have a family like that.
  5. I am grateful to all of those friends I met in treatment, both in Menninger, in the step-down, and continuing on after that. There are quite a few of you, and I wish I could keep in closer contact with you; you are all great people who helped me realize I was not alone, and I want to let you know that I appreciate it and want to be there for you if I can.
  6. I am grateful to Alice, who I can name, because she was a good friend and a very welcoming part of my stay at Menninger, and I will always remember her fondly. I wish she had not left so soon.
  7. I am grateful to Calla, who I have spoken of here repeatedly, because even though things did not work out well, for a short time they were great, and being around her made me realize that happiness and joy were things I was still really capable of.
  8. I am grateful to (and if you want me to remove names I will) my co-workers at the bookstore, among them James, Lindsay, Jamie, Catherine, David, Rosie, Jacques, and many more; while the life of a bookseller may not be a glamorous one, I have never felt excluded or that I was not a part of the store, and that means a great deal to me. I have been lucky to find a job where I feel good talking to my co-workers and that I will be supported by the managers.
  9. I am grateful to the staff at Menninger, at the step-down program, and to my therapist, because without them to help me, teach me, and give me some guidance, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
  10. I am grateful to USC for letting me into their online MSW program, which I’ve recently finished my first semester with (did really well, too). It’s a big change for me, and I hope that when I am done I can go on and help others who have had similar mental health issues because of what I learn in the program.
  11. I am grateful to the authors who inspire me, whether they are in work related to my prospective field (such as Brene Brown), to my former area of expertise (J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others), or purely fictional works (David Gemmell and Elizabeth Moon, to name a few) because even in times when I feel like there is very little to be hopeful for, I can turn to their works and realize that even people who have been through darker things than I can find the light.
  12. I’m grateful to all sorts of media, really, for helping me to find ways to express myself, to vent or channel my feelings, to inspire myself, find hope, feel encouraged, or find characters to emulate – or even just lose myself in entertainment for a while when things get too hairy. Movies, books, music, video games, there are all sorts of titles I could name, and many of them I have in my blog over the past two years.
  13. I am grateful for my time as an atheist, because I think it taught me a great deal – like, among other things, that it is entirely possible for a person to be moral and good without belief in God – and I am grateful to my return to faith, for what it has taught me about spirituality, belief, and hope. I don’t know that I’ll ever be a member of any particular branch of Christianity again, and I can’t think of anybody weird enough to go along with my beliefs, but I’m willing to discuss them if you are.
  14. I’m grateful for Facebook, despite the hate a lot of social media gets; it has allowed me to keep in touch, and get back in touch with, many people whom I would otherwise not get a chance to talk to ordinarily, and who have often proven to have remarkable insights, as well as awesome senses of humor.

That’s my list for now, and it may well expand as things come to me; this is a pretty early list – just what came to me as I sat down and banged this entry out, so please don’t feel offended if it doesn’t look like you fit into one of the above listings. If you would prefer that I actually name you, or that I remove your name, let me know, as well. Above all, as this season continues, whether you are Christian or Jewish, Muslim or Hindu, atheist or agnostic, or anything else (got any Pastafarians out there?), remember the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, as spoken to Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted Theodore Logan: “Be excellent to each other. And… PARTY ON, DUDES!”

‘Tis The Season

So it’s been a month, and things have been going pretty well for me. There’s a lot going on in my head, and I’m going to try to get some of it down here.

For one, I finished my first semester of MSW work at USC. Well, not actually at USC, I’m in their online program – which is great, but every time I tell people, I can see the belief in the credibility of the program disappear. “Oh, you go to USC? Awesome, that’s a great school!” “Yeah, I’m in their online social work program, it’s pretty cool…” “Oh, online? How…”-slowly backs away – “fascinating…”. And it is quite a change from being in a physical classroom. For one, people only ever see me from about the chest up, so if you’re short on time, you can just throw whatever pants you have handy before you get in front of your webcam. On the other hand, unless you are almost at death’s door, there’s no good excuse to miss class. Anyway, I really enjoyed my classes – well, I really enjoyed my human behavior class, but my social policy class was less in my wheelhouse. I think I want to work on a more personal basis once I get into the social work field. I got pretty good grades on all my assignments, so I assume my semester grades will be good, and so I’ll be heading into my second semester in January.

So lately there’s been a lot of stuff that’s been really disturbing on the news, both close to home and abroad. I’m not going to get into specifics – they aren’t hard to find. But seeing all this negativity, day after day, in violence and neglect and hatred, is really hard, especially now that we’re in the Christmas season – a season that is supposed to be about hope. And I’ve noticed this creeping up a lot in the ways I choose to entertain myself, as well. I like watching shows and movies that tend to have little in the way of hope. The Walking Dead. Arrow. Jessica Jones. Even one of my favorite comedy shows, How I Met your Mother, is full of false hope for the main character, Ted – again and again, he gets let down in his love life, because he is obsessed with a woman he keeps going after who wants almost none of the same things he does, and he breaks up with many other women, several of whom would be better for him, because he can’t get over the initial interest he is still obsessed with 8 years later. I can’t bring myself to watch the last episode because of the enormous letdown I hear it is.Now, many of these are good entertainment, and sometimes they are even great TV – Jessica Jones, I felt, was one of the best TV series I’ve seen in a while, but it’s brutally dark and feels very hopeless. IT took me three years to watch anything past the first season of the Walking Dead because it’s so depressing.

Hope is very important for depression. I’ve found that it is one of the things that disappears first, and without hope, your life slowly begins to lose all meaning. You stop caring about things like eating, showering, spending time with your friends, going to work, even getting out of bed. So it’s a little weird that all these shows I like are so seemingly devoid of it. When I watched The Flash, it was weird, because while it takes place in the same narrative space as Arrow, it’s about a guy who has hope. He has superpowers, and he has fun with them, he enjoys what he does. Don’t get me wrong there’s still a lot of drama, but this is a show fundamentally about a guy enjoying learning how to be the fastest man alive. So I think I’m going to try something for December – I’m going to try to only post, or repost, things on social media that make me feel excited, or hopeful,or happy. I don’t want to ignore the plight of others, because I know it’s important to be aware of the things that are wrong in the world, but I also feel that it is important for me, for my well-being, to try to be a little more purposefully hopeful. It’s not a huge step, but it’s one that I feel like I can accomplish easily, and that will increase my mood for the Christmas season.

So, onwards from hope is friendship. I know I’ve gone on about this in the past. Friendship is very important to me, and I think I tend to define it in a much more binary fashion than a lot of people. There are people I know, who I am on speaking terms with and have pleasant conversations with, and then there are my friends, the people who I would do basically anything for. I don’t tend to have a lot of gray area in between, and I think that can be pretty weird for some people, especially if they make the jump from acquaintance to friend, because all of a sudden I’m going from “Hey, how are you?” to “Did those people insult you? Because if you want them dead, I can make that happen.” I kind of wonder what that changeover must be like, realizing that this person you’ve been getting to know is now, because of the crossing of some arbitrary line in my head, willing to do basically anything to help you out. I’ve been trying to see if I can’t have a little more gray area in between, but what I’ve found is that adding gray area just makes it harder for me to get to know people, because I constantly feel uncomfortable asking what I feel is the next along the progression – going from asking about people’s days to seeing if people want to hang out sometime is a lot harder for me, oddly. And I think that with some people, they just find that leap too much, the trust placed in them too great, like I want something huge out of friendship besides a good friend to hang out with, have decent, sometimes excessively deep and/or philosophical conversation with, and maybe play some video games or something. It’s just the process I’ve always had, and I constantly feel like I’m missing a step or doing something wrong – which is probably why two years after getting out of Menninger, many of my attempts to gather people for fun events like movies or games tend to end rather anticlimactically.

I’m pretty sure that something is going wrong, but I’m not sure what. Maybe I’m doing it, or maybe the other people are expecting some sort of cue that I miss because I don’t know to make it. Maybe I’m missing the cue that they’re trying to be friends because I don’t see things the same way, relationship-wise – which may also be why I have such trouble asking women out, come to think of it. I have a lot of difficulty in casual social situations, especially with new people, because I feel there’s such a leap between general small talk and the full-on nerdity of my usual train of thought. Some people keep trying to suggest I go to new places and get acquainted with new people, but then the problem starts all over, because first I have to feel comfortable enough with them to even talk at all, then to start getting into the everyday stuff, and then slowly open the floodgates to talking about my huge nerd-on for RPGs, Fallout, Captain America… and if you’ve met me and talked to me int he last two years, you probably have some idea what that’s like because some days I’ve practically monosyllabic, while others it’s hard to shut me up if you say the right combination of words. Weird, right? And I have no idea if other people feel this way, or if I’m just really awkward getting to know people. For some people, like my sister, it seems easy, but I don’t know if it is because it comes easy to her – like reading does to me – or she is just so practiced at it that it seems easy, and her head is going through the same gymnastics mine is.

But the gist here is, if you’re trying to get to know me and I come off like I’m being an ass or avoiding you, it may very well be because I have no idea what to say or how to say it, and I think too much of you to let loose the full fury of my geekitude without some warning. Only I’m not so good with the warning, so I generally just smile, nod, and choke back the questions I was about to ask about what you’re reading (by an author I love), what game you’re playing (that I thought was awesome), or the new movie that just came out (that I really really really want to see, but probably won’t because I hate seeing movies alone and I’m feeling too freaked out to see if you want to go see it with me).

Well, unless I actually don’t like you, in which case I’m probably just being a passive-aggressive jerk. But odds are if you’re reading this, that’s probably not true of you.