Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Getting Real About Me (and Anxiety)

I've always tried to be honest. I've written this blog with honesty over the years. It started as an exercise for a fledgling writer, and now it remains long after the writer has hung up his keyboard. Maybe another short story or two will find its way from my fingertips, but not just yet...

I wrote with honesty about my first wife's suicide and her struggles with post-partum anxiety and psychosis. I wrote about my kids, grief, finding love again... all with honesty. I've told stories about my father's cancer and the boy I almost killed in high school.

Today, I'm mustering that honesty to talk about my own mental health. About two months ago, I began ruminating--the process of going over and over the same mental ground with no resolution. The ruminations grew claws and panic attacks soon followed. On Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving, after a few short hours of sleep and a lot of ceiling gazing, I told Kim (my wife) I needed to see the doctor. I have no idea why anxiety cranked the heat this fall. I've staggered through times of trouble and rumination without my brain and body conspiring in such an insidious way in the past. Life is good right now. Really good... but the bitch anxiety doesn't care.

I've been on medication for five weeks now--one of those "six to eight weeks for full therapeutic dose" meds. I've gone back to see a therapist I first visited five years ago. Headspace has become my favorite app over the past few days.

We don't talk about mental health enough in this country--not yet. Not even after mass shootings and rising suicide rates. We don't talk about mental health in real, constructive ways. The disease model has dragged its feet through several incarnations of the DSM. We talk of "illness." Anyone diagnosed with anxiety, depression, OCD, or any number of other convenient labels is often deemed as sick or weak.

There's not a damn thing weak about having anxiety. It's a bitch. It undermines my good feelings and lets those ruminating lies run free. It's stolen my sleep. It made Thanksgiving dinner a marathon of "getting through" with all the chaos and bustle and family. It kicked me hard a couple of times on Christmas morning. I've kept plugging along, taking my pills, working on mindfulness, reminding myself that I haven't always felt this way and will not always feel this way.

I write a love letter to Kim every day. I use an add-on to have it delivered to her email inbox every morning. I've been doing this for more than five years now. This blog post is her love letter today. If it helps one person, good. If it reminds one person that they are not alone, good. If it gives one person pause before calling someone struggling with depression or anxiety or you-name-it weak, good. I love you, Kim. You give me courage.

It's time we all acknowledged that mental health is simply healthcare. It's the real thing to do--the only honest thing to do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Loving Hard Through the Horror of Being Five

This past weekend, my five-year-old son, Elliot, asked me if he was going to die.

Those words carry weight. "Daddy, am I going to die?"

The tears came soon after, big eye-welling tears because somewhere in his five-year-old brain, he'd made the connection. Real horror came to my son, and nothing could touch him in quite the same way again. Maybe he'd caught just enough of the news or someone talking about the news to shake his frame. Maybe not. The knowing comes for all of us but in different ways.

I remember being five. I remember the day an ambulance came and carried my father away, how my mother didn't come home until nearly midnight, and how my brother spoke of dropping out of school and going to work. It was early fall 1980--the beginning of my brother's senior year. A brain tumor had come for my father.

I remember other things about being young: my grandparents staying with us while Mom was away with Dad. There were trips to see neurologists and CAT scans and other things which seem like bloodletting and leeches now, but delivered state-of-the-art medical care in 1980. Dad changed. He aged faster and vomited often from the cocktail of medications and radiation. He died nine years later, catatonic, in the same hospital where he had been diagnosed.

I also remember how I cried when I thought Kermit the Frog was going to die at the end of The Muppet Movie. Somehow, my five-year-old brain knew, just like Elliot's. Innocence evaporated. Poof. And no horror is truly greater than the loss of that childish innocence. Once it's gone, there is no return. That has always haunted me more than anything. It's the true darkness in the basement, the stranger lurking outside, or the danger in the woods. For me, it wound around the thing which ate my father from the inside out.

My son faces new monsters. We've done horrible things to each other. We've built an artificial world with social media used to insult, divide, and destroy each other. We've killed each other with startling efficiency in Las Vegas, Orlando, Newtown... All that horror, all that innocence lost. We can't go back, and I'm not sure how we can go forward. Where would we go?

What does a five-year-old do after asking, "Daddy, am I going to die?" Where can he go to be safe again?

I have no magic to restore the world--I can't even change what my son now knows. But we play together. We decorate the yard for Halloween and bake cookies at Christmas. We take trips and awe at mountains, hunting for a glimpse of illusive big-horned sheep. We read books together and hug often. We both know, and that knowing makes us love hard.

And love, in the end, is the only thing that really matters.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Geeking out over The Black Hole (Disney, 1979)

Man... how the time flies. Here's the latest Trash Can Gold Mine, wherein yours truly discusses one of his favorite childhood movies and my new favorite toy.

Yes, I purchased two Kubrick's on eBay: Old Bob and Maximilian from Disney's The Black Hole. Those old timers in the crowd might remember the movie. It's one of my favorites because of the amazing music, the creepy "haunted spaceship" vibe, and the robots of course.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Playing Through my Midlife Crisis

I'm officially calling my midlife crisis. About two weeks ago, I started a new hobby which ties together several life threads...

Yes, I'm making YouTube videos. I'm an amateur (as my kids remind me), but it's a fun hobby. And it's my excuse to play with toys, buy old stuff, and open collectibles from yesteryear. That was the plan at least. And then Elliot intervened:

Oh, there still will be plenty of old junk, but I think Elliot and I will have some fun playing games together. Even at five, the kid is drawn to YouTube and enjoys watching himself on the little screen.

So for now he's my production buddy. I'll do some solo stuff (boring) and some Elliot stuff (awesome). I'll let him play with some old toys from my childhood and go head-to-head with some modern games. This hobby is my chance to hunt for Aaron the Kid while fully engaging in life as Aaron the Dad. And while Owen and Max haven't been featured in a video (yet), they are watching them. This might be a great way to sneak some parenting messages past them...

Please subscribe to the YouTube channel (if that's your thing) and see where this adventure goes...

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Making Meaning

If you call me the enemy often enough, does it make me one?

This is old ground... I am a heterosexual white male in my 40s who attends church (mostly) every Sunday and hails from a small town in Kansas. These are details, and maybe they are enough for you to "know" me. These are the details which have kept me (mostly) silent since Donald Trump was elected president. 

Who needs another white, male, heterosexual voice from "rural America"? 

I've kept silent because men like me are the enemy. In Sunday's op-ed (3/12/17), Leonard Pitts all but says I'm the problem. He points out a dichotomy between rural/city and Christian Fundamentalism/Secular Humanism as if clear bright lines separate these groups neatly as conservatives and liberals. His words ruffled me. Maybe because I'm a white, male, heterosexual voice from "rural America." Maybe not.

In our race to "understand how this happened" to our country, we've lost sight of a fundamental human reality--and a fundamental human need that goes along with it. The universe is a big place, and we spend our lives making meaning in it.

Personally, I've found solace in knowing I'm really not in control of anything. After Aimee's death, it was a comfort to know life was out of my control. Yes, a comfort. When I think about my father's slow descent and death after a brain tumor, I realize the same strange comfort shaped my youth.

The universe really is a helluva lot bigger than I am and it really doesn't give a shit what I think.

I've struggled with spirituality all my life--what my friend Heather calls my existential crisis. I've been a church-goer for most of my forty-plus years on the planet, but I'm not fundamental. Why do I go? It's simple really: I like the community. I like to be challenged. I love a reminder that I am what I am: ash and dust, mortal, small, and definitely not in control. Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite church nights because those messages about mortality are embedded in its very fabric: "For he knows how we were formed, aware that we were made from dust." (Psalm 103:14)

Do I really believe in God? Some days, yes. Others... Does it really matter?

The universe is bigger than me and doesn't really give a shit what I think or believe. I'll write here, in this blog, a tiny bit of my thoughts and feelings and my momentary reasons for being, but ultimately, the universe will keep spinning. But we, as humans, need meaning. It's a hole which too many of us fill with addictions and destructive behavior. It's that ache that wealth and status can't soothe. My core desire is to be a part of something bigger than me--bigger even than my "tribe" (which seems to have become a buzzword of late as we frantically try to fill the gaping holes in our lives). Like that line from "Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes: "...a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me..." It's what I feel deep in my core, wherever and whatever that core is.

You call me an enemy, but I really just want to be a part of something that is serving the universe beyond me. I can only control what I can control... who I vote for, but not the color of my skin; what I write in this blog, but not the fact that I am a hetreosexual male; who I seek as allies, but not whether or not those allies want me on their side; the lending of my listening ear and empathetic heart, but not whether anyone will speak to me or trust me.

I am not the enemy nor am I on the other side of any simple dichotomy. I am just a man. A human. A cog hoping for a home in something far grander than I am alone.

My meaning in life is not to be anyone's enemy--nor will it ever be.