The End is the Beginning (is the End…)

So, earlier today I heard from Calla that she is finally leaving Menninger, and moving on to another facility. I know what it is, and where, but I’m not going to put that here; it’s not my place to say. I know that she’s relieved to finally have an answer on this, and that makes me feel better, and I feel hopeful that she’s going someplace where she can really get some help. But I’m also sad that she’s going to be leaving, because I won’t see her for a long time, months maybe; and I’m scared that once she’s gone, I’ll lose her.

It’s not really a rational fear, because I know she doesn’t like losing people any more than I do, but then, fear isn’t generally rational. I know we’ll still be in touch, though I’m not sure if it will be by phone, e-mail, or regular mail. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to go visit her where she’s going, either because I might not have the time to take off work or because they might not allow visitors.

I also have hope, though, because it sounds like the place she is going has some very good people who specialize in her issues; when she talked to them with her social worker from Menninger, the person at this new facility was basically finishing the social worker’s sentences when they were talking about Calla’s diagnosis, which sounds like a good sign to me. Oh, and they have equine therapy, and Calla loves horses. If she can get the kind of help she needs dealing with her issues, maybe when she’s done we can find out if there’s really a relationship in the cards for us.

So, it’s a real mix of things going on, in my head and heart right now. And I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but I actually tried my hand at writing tonight, for the first time in a very long time. It’s nothing terribly long, or deep, and it might not even be very good; I’ve had blog entries that were longer than this attempt at writing. I’m not even sure I can call it a story; it’s under a thousand words. I know, though, that there are some people who read my blog who are interested in anything I might try to write, especially because some of them (cough, cough, ahem) keep asking about it, so I’ll post it here without further comment. It’s my own work, not for repost without attribution, etc.

Home Sweet Home

Hello, earth.

It’s been a long time. To me, it’s been twenty years as I record this, but to you it has probably been far longer.

You may remember me; my name is Major John Abrams. I am, as I say this, the last surviving member of Earth’s first manned mission to Mars.

I still remember it like it was yesterday; I was checking instruments in the cockpit with Brody, and we were still weeks out from Mars. We were joking, like we always did, to try and keep from being bored – there’s really not all that much to do on a straight shot to another planet, even traveling as fast as we were. I can even remember the joke I was telling him – “What did one shark say to the other as they were eating a clownfish? This tastes funny!” Terrible joke, but it was all I could think of. Strange, the things you remember.

Anyway, there was a bright flash of light, and the last thing I remembered as everything went white was both of us gasping. And then, when I woke up… well, I wasn’t in the cockpit anymore. I wasn’t really sure where I was; I’m still not sure where I ended up. All I know is it wasn’t the cockpit, it wasn’t Mars, and it sure as hell wasn’t Earth.

For one, the plants weren’t green. They were red, kinda purplish. And the sky looked orange, almost like a sunset. Man, I remember sunsets. I wandered around for a few minutes, not really thinking about what was happening. Then I saw him – well, it, really – my first alien. It was stunning, and I think I passed out, because the next time I opened my eyes, it was a lot closer.

It looked almost like a bipedal dog – well, if dogs had nictating membranes on their eyes, used advanced photon weaponry, and could speak alien tongues. It was trying to talk to me, but it wasn’t English, or Spanish, or German – those were the only three languages I knew. I just stood there, trying to make sense of it all. I still don’t know if I really have.

That first alien – I called it Monster, because that’s what it turned out to be – eventually decided that, since I couldn’t speak to it in any language it knew, I must not be smart enough to keep my freedom. So it took me as a prisoner, or a slave. And that was the start of my exile.

For twenty years, I traveled across the galaxy. I think it was just one, but I’m not really sure; I just know it wasn’t ours. I was a slave, a servant, a warrior, a laborer, a pilot, and more. I traveled the stars; I visited hundreds of planets. I met more alien races than I can keep track of; I stopped trying to keep records after the first fifty. I’ve had to learn four new languages, and phrases in a dozen others, none of them close to anything on Earth. I never stopped looking for a way home, though.

I’m still not sure what happened to me all those years ago. But I miss my home; I miss baseball, blue skies, apple pie. I miss my parents; my brothers and my sister. I miss my girlfriend, and even after meeting Monster, I miss my dog. I have been looking for a way home for twenty years, and I’m tired. My bones ache with it – even the arm I lost and had replaced. I’m almost sick of it. In fact, I am.

A month ago, I found some aliens near the edge of this galaxy – I think on the side closest to ours, but without really knowing how travel and distances work out here, it’s hard to tell. And I started telling them all about Earth. How easy a target it is – no space-based defense, no real laser weaponry, nuclear weapons at best. I told them about all the minerals, the gases, the metals that Earth had. And I made sure to tell them about all the billions of people – the defenseless, helpless people. They know what a good worker I can be, how good I am in a fight, what I can do, and so they listened. Because I want to go home.

I don’t know if we’ll get there before I die. I doubt we’ll get there before this does, and that could take decades; everyone I know may be dead by the time this arrives, if it ever does. But I just wanted to let you all know that war is coming, from places far beyond anything you’ve ever thought of. Destruction and death are going to rain down on Earth, and nothing will ever be the same. You may be more developed when the invasion gets there, but don’t fool yourselves – it won’t be as easy as the movies.

I waited so long for help, and it never came. I begged and I pleaded, but I never heard anything from anyone on Earth. I was all alone out here, in the dark of space, and there was nothing to comfort me. I was the farthest man from home, and nothing else could seem to get me any closer. So this is your notice, Earth. I’m coming home, dead or alive.

Homes is a four-letter word.

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On the Books

It’s been a busy couple of days, so I’ll try to get all the salient details in. On Monday, I went to go see my psychiatrist, who lowered my dose of antidepressant back to its previous levels, which will hopefully help with my having been feeling more tired than normal for the last couple of weeks. Then I went out and picked up the relatively new Lego Marvel Superheroes Xbox game; it’s the first video game I’ve picked up in a while, and I felt like grabbing something new to play – and after seeing the new Thor movie, that seemed like a good bet.

The rest of my day yesterday was relatively sedate, which was good because I hit the sack early to get ready for my first day at work, which started Tuesday at 11 am. Now, we’re not allowed to talk about too much of what goes on as employees of Barnes & Noble (and, even mentioning that I’m an employee, the employee handbook notes that I should say that the postings on this site are my own and do not represent Barnes & Noble’s positions, strategies or opinions). But we (and by we, I mean one other new employee and I) spent all day, from 11 am to 7:30 pm learning the ropes as booksellers. 

It’s been a long time – since the end of 2011 – since I worked at a job, and even then I usually only worked for 5-6 hours at a time. So a full day was pretty tiring, not to mention a lot of information to absorb. But at the same time it was nice to have something scheduled for my day, something to keep me busy and kinda productive. So while I feel exhausted – and my back will almost certainly hurt later – I feel pretty good.

So, after a long day of work, and a relatively relaxing night afterwards, I hit the sack pretty early. Thus, I am also up exceedingly early, which is very odd for me, and hopefully something I will be correcting soon – I’ve only had about 6 hours of sleep, and I expect this burst of writing productivity will only last for a bit longer before my body realizes it hasn’t actually gotten its entire allotment of sleep.I’m not sure what I will be doing for the rest of Wednesday, but I do feel pretty good right now, so I hope things continue in this direction.

Gratitude Challenge 2 Epilogue

So, this is the post-game review of my second gratitude challenge. The purpose of the challenge is, of course, to become more grateful and positive in everyday life. Now, I know that I felt a noticeable difference after the first iteration of the challenge, but I don’t know that I necessarily felt one the second time around.

Part of that may be because of the way I’ve generally been feeling for the last month or so – in large part due to Calla’s influence. Even on days when she is feeling miserable, I still somehow feel better just knowing she’s there. On days like today, when she’s productive, making plans, laughing, teasing and joking, I feel a lot better – maybe not walking on air, but maybe a little hovering.

It’s a good thing to try, but I think if I do this again in the future, I’ll wait longer between tries. I think part of not really feeling a change is also doing this so close, temporally, to the first iteration. I don’t know that this is something that really needs doing, even for a guy with depression like me, more than once every 6 months to a year.

In general, though, I just feel….good. Better than I have in years good. I’m interviewing for jobs, I have close friends, both here and around the country, who care deeply for me (and I for them), I have my own apartment, I have support groups and a therapist and a psychiatrist. I’m slowly learning to cook, I’m working out regularly, I get plenty of things to work my mind, and in general, I think things are going really well.

In short, I have hope. I have hope that my current state of mind, while not permanent, can be handled even when it gets worse. I know that there will be times when I will feel worse, but I have hope that things won’t stay bad. I have hope for the future, that there will be a future I can look forward to and enjoy. There are things I hope for that I won’t mention here, though I am sure they won’t be hard to guess for some people. Hope is a pretty powerful force, so I’ll close with a phrase that I haven’t used in a while:

Dum spiro, spero.

Hope is a Four Letter Word

Well, it’s true. It’s not a bad four letter word, but I thought the title was catchy. In any case, last night’s topic was kind of a downer, even for me, and I don’t want my friends who read this, especially if they’re having a tough time, to come away from my blog feeling worse than they did when they started. So I thought I’d make tonight’s entry about hope. For a change, though, I thought I would leave the fancy words to some favorite authors and characters. Enjoy.

“Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”  – Stephen King

“It’s the children the world almost breaks who grow up to save it.” – Frank Warren

“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

“Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.” – Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

“Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.” – Martin Luther

“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” –  Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things To Remember

“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.” – Whistler, Becoming, Part One, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It’s harsh, and cruel. But that’s why there’s us. Champions. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be.” Angel, Deep Down, Angel

“Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers.” – Joss Whedon

“Do you know what is the greatest gift anyone can receive in his lifetime? The greatest gift we can receive is to have the chance, just once in our lives, to make a difference. Do you understand how many times you made a difference? Enough for a hundred lifetimes.” Doctor Strange, Amazing Spider-Man #500

“A man without hope is a man without fear.” The Kingpin, Daredevil #229

“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But you can either run from it, or learn from it.” – Rafiki, Lion King

“Some people can’t believe in themselves unless someone else believes in them first. ” – Good Will Hunting

“Fear can hold you prisoner; hope can set you free.” – Shawshank Redemption

 

Band of Brothers (and Sisters)

I sit here tonight watching a couple episodes of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers (yes, the inspiration for the title, I never said it was particularly creative). After having written my previous entry, where I admit to being kinda weepy, it really hit me how much I have come to care for the people I have gotten to know through my months of treatment.

From the Hope Unit at Menninger – which has been likened to the maximum security ward at a prison, since it seems that we were the place that the psychological hardcases got placed, and we seemed to have more on-unit restrictions than the other units – to my time spent here at the step-down, I have met so many good people. And while I have kept in touch with as many of them as I can, there are some who either don’t want to keep in touch, or who can’t keep in touch, or who just don’t know how. It’s hard.

I’m sitting here, with 4 years undergraduate experience and seven years graduate experience in English, and I tell you that I can’t find the words. The tears are running down my face and my eyes are so blurry I can barely see the keyboard, but I just cannot find the words to tell these people how much they have meant to me. Without their support, friendship, and the occasional kick in the ass, I don’t think I would have come as far as I have. I feel like I should have something inspirational or heartfelt to say, somethign that sounds eloquent and amazing, but even here the words don’t come.

I wish I could tell people here all about you guys, my fellow patients, clients, peers. Other people should know how selfless, brave, and caring you have all been. I keep a list of all your names on my phone and in my notebook, so I don’t forget. But that just doesn’t seem like enough. I am not often given to emotional displays, but thinking of all you have done, for me, for others, and for yourselves, brings it out in me. And you have done it all during some of the worst times in your lives.

There should be medals or awards for things like this. But almost nobody outside of our little community will ever know, because mental illness still suffers from such stigma. If you were soldiers, you would all be covered in medals for valor and bravery, but our injuries are to our minds and our hearts. Most people will never see the wounds, and most people will never understand them. Yet you continue on, and not just that but you help those around you.

The only thing that comes to mind right now, being the student of literature that I am, comes from the Bard himself, from Henry V: 

“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother…”
 
We have all shed our metaphorical blood together, and we have the mental scars to prove it. Nothing would make me happier than to call all of you brothers and sisters. You have given and meant so much to me, I only wish I had as much to give in return. 
 
If you’re reading this, and you’ve been in treatment with me, and haven’t been in touch – I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment here, or drop me an e-mail at jacobgreyfang@gmail.com. I wish you all the luck in the world, and I hope for the best for you.

 

Moving On (And Almost In)

So, today is my first day outside the gratitude challenge genre for a while. Well, it’s not really a genre, but then, this is my blog, so I guess it’s good enough. In any case, my entry for tonight is one that has been on my mind for the last few days; I almost mentioned it last night in my epilogue, but I felt it would be better suited for tonight.

I was thinking of a quote the other day, and when I looked it up, it turns out to have been a quote by Ernest Hemingway. Now, I’ve never been an Ernest Hemingway fan; I’m much more interested in medieval literature. But I do like some of his ideas, particularly the one espoused in this quote. It is from A Farewell to Arms, and it is as follows: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I know that I have been broken. Depression broke me on its wheel at least twice. I didn’t learn enough from the first time, and those lessons unlearned led to the second. But, as terrible, and painful, as those experiences were, they did not kill me – and they could have, easily. They could have broken those around me, as well, because I never gave enough thought to what my actions meant for them – I was too caught up in my own nightmare to see theirs.

But like the quote says, afterwards many are strong in the broken places. Depression was what broke me, and over the last six months, through pain and heartbreak, guilt and anger, repression and remorse (and a metric f***-ton of treatment), I have become a stronger person. If you had asked me in February if I thought I would be living in Houston, looking for a job, living on my own for the first time in my life, I… well, I wouldn’t have laughed in your face, but I would have given you one of these:

Image

 

The idea that I would be doing such a thing was so far from my mind, such a foreign idea, that it would never have occurred to me. I didn’t think I was capable of living on my own, let alone moving to another place I didn’t know. I never would have considered Houston – it’s such a hot, humid place, and I am such a creature of polar climes, that I would have thought it crazy.

And yet, I have formed my own kind of community here. Well, not mine so much as one I am a part of. I have friends that I love and care about here, more than I ever would have thought possible. I have a support network of like-minded people, people with similar problems, and people willing to help me deal with the problems I have. It’s still a new and intimidating place to live, certainly; I dread learning to drive around here, and an apartment of my own will be a challenge.

I guess what I am trying to say is that life hurts. It can pull you inside out at times, especially if you aren’t paying attention to what is going on inside your head. It can break you, and it can kill you; there has been at least one case of that since I arrived at the step-down. But if you break, that isn’t the end. Even if you’re broken, you can be put back together – hell, you can put yourself back together – and become stronger than you were. You just can’t give up. Life will, eventually, kill us all; nobody gets out alive, after all. But we have some choice as to how and when we leave it. Don’t give up hope if you’re broken. Broken isn’t dead, and hope can save your life.

Hell, it saved mine. 

(Don’t worry if you’re crying, I am, too.)

Superhero Psychology

I’ve been reading through a book on the psychology of superheroes, which I’ve been doing because, well, I like superheroes and I’m a mental patient. It’s a topic I’ve spent some time on before, because I’m interested in the origin of superheroes and their relationship to the mythology of various cultures.

Ultimately, I think most superheroes are products of our hope. This dovetails nicely with my previous post, but that wasn’t intentional. I assure you. But if you look at a lot of the major superheroes – mostly Marvel and DC, because those are what I am familiar with – they tend to be very hopeful characters, even if terrible things are happening around them. Something about that appeals to me.

My first example is my favorite superhero, Captain America. He’s a super-soldier, essentially exactly the type of person Hitler would have wanted for his superior race – strong, smart, blond haired and blue-eyed. And yet he fought against the Nazis – so much that he ended up being frozen in ice for decades. Once he was freed, he was upset, of course, but he resumed fighting against the evils and injustices of the world. While he fights for the US, he doesn’t obey the government – he fights for the principles he believes are the foundation of the country. He fights to make the world a better place. He is by no means the most powerful member of the Avengers, and yet time and again he ends up being their leader, because other heroes – and even many villains – respect him so much.

Superman is similar on the DC end. An alien – theoretically the last survivor of Krypton, though new survivors pop up often in the comics – on Earth, he is raised by humans, good, decent, hardworking farmers in the heartland of America. He learns to be a principled, upstanding person from them, and even though his power is beyond that of almost any being on Earth, he does not try to hold that over anyone, to become a ruler or dominate others. Instead, he tries to help, putting himself time and again between danger and humanity, even if humanity is, at times, afraid of him.

Not all superheroes are so easy – the other great example here would be Batman. Here is a man so tormented by the death of his parents that he devotes his life to fighting crime – not just becoming a police officer or prosecutor, but giving up everything else in his life except his mission, learning investigation, interrogation, honing his body and mind to be used only for this. He is a cold, hard man – and yet, while he is not the most friendly person to be around, he is tireless as a crimefighter. His wealth and intelligence are put to good use, even though he is, at times, extremely paranoid; he is not a billionaire who spends his money on buying islands and gold-plated jets. As The Dark Knight movie points out, he is not the hero we want, but the one we need.

Even the Punisher, as horrific and psychopathic a character as he may seem, shows some sort of hope. In the comics, his family was killed by the Mafia shortly after he returns from fighting in Vietnam in a Mob hit gone wrong. He devotes himself to the brutal, relentless killing of criminals, first big organizations, then smaller groups and single criminals. The Punisher, unlike many comic heroes, doesn’t have a ‘rogue’s gallery’ – almost every bad guy he encounters is a regular, if criminal, person, and he kills them. He’s a terrible person, and possibly the world’s greatest serial killer by body count – but he gives us hope that there is a way to fight the crime we see around us. There are no super-powers, for the most part, in the world the Punisher concerns himself with – just human crime and human solutions.

Human or not, super-powered or not, the motives of superheroes are almost universally hopeful. It’s one of the reasons I am drawn to reading about superheroes – I have an extensive comic collection, though mostly in trade collections than in single issues. There are also superhero RPGs and I find myself fascinated with those, as well; my most recent favorite was the relatively new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, which, while recently discontinued, has a very cool and fun-looking system, and I liked so much that it was the only RPG I brought with me to Menninger. The idea of playing a character like Captain America, Iron Man, or even the Hulk appeals to me, because I think they are interesting characters – and that they show a great deal of hope for humanity.

Superheroes, to me, are proof that the world is not just a dark and unpleasant place. Obviously, they aren’t real, but the fact that there are those who keep coming up with superheroes, and who keep writing and drawing for them, mean that there are people who obviously want humanity to be better than it is. Moreso than organizations like Greenpeace, or groups that work for social justice – which seems a little odd to me as I type it – superheroes represent a hope for a better world.

The flying, energy blasts, and cool toys are just a bonus.