Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Checking In

I don't feel like I have much to say right now, but that never stopped me before! The medication I'm on is starting to balance out though, so I wanted to take a minute and share how I'm doing. 

I spent a few days being so amped up that I only slept about three hours a night, my appetite is noticeably reduced, at first from waves of nausea and then just kind of gone, and I still feel jittery as all get out with lots of little uncomfortable twitches and tremors. My head seems fogged over, which is in part why I haven't been crawling out of bed early enough to workout or write for the last six days. Even when I was sick to my guts, not sleeping and felt like I was on hardcore drugs though, I felt guilty for not sticking to the things I vowed to do, largely my writing and workouts. 

All of these side effects have gotten a little better each day, as the doctor who prescribed them said they should, although there were a couple days when I really wanted to stop taking them because all of my fears about feeling drug addled were coming true- I'm not exactly a man who's lousy with faith in a lot of things, but I took a leap and stuck with it. Every day after the first three, the side effects seemed to get less severe. Once the haze started to become less overwhelming, I noticed that there was an emotional fragility that has been reinforced into something more structurally sound. I hadn't felt this grounded since before the panic attack that led to this course of action and even that was a false, temporary strength that I put on before work and was crushed by each night. The anxiety is still very present, but I'm better equipped to deal with it and I hope that things keep getting better day by day. It's still hard to feel comfortable in my own skin right now, especially with the shakes. I really don't want to be around people until I get a better grasp on this which has made group therapy session an interesting experience of forced vulnerability.

In fact, I felt at my worst the night before my sister's birthday gathering and I let her know that I didn't think I was going to make it. I felt lousy bowing out on her 30th. It was really hard not to just force myself into going. I was playing psychologist in my head, arguing either side of what I should do for most of the night leading up to her party. You see, for me, there is no right answer- that's where a good portion of my anxiety cycle starts. Whether I should put my needs before another, his needs before hers, the business before the staff I lead, my relationship needs with my fiancee, my son, my family. I let the ghosts of choices I didn't make haunt my conscience relentlessly, filling me with a guilt that erodes my self worth into nothing because I've convinced myself that I should be able to reach some version of being that is evolving closer towards perfection than my physical self is capable of catching.

I eventually told myself that I wasn't going to be up to meeting a bunch of new people when I didn't feel like myself. Then things got interesting. Instead of sitting at home miserable like I had been doing for the 24 hours prior, I recognized that I needed a distraction. I assessed my limits and concluded that even though I was ditching out on my sister's birthday, which I still feel awful for, even writing about it now, that I wouldn't hold myself prisoner to the guilt. I knew that I needed to get out and do something, I was going stir crazy. I asked my fiancee if she wanted to go see a movie. We went to see "Let's Be Cops" which was pretty hilarious and I actually engaged in the movie, laughing out loud. Considering that I had spent the last day before that moment jumping from one household distraction to another, awake for almost 48 hours straight save a three hour break, jumping from fidgeting with video games to TV to both, to shitty movies, to trying to write even though I knew I didn't feel up to it, just spinning on a hamster wheel not comfortable in my skin or knowing what to do with myself- considering all that, it was a shock to me how much enjoyment I got out of my little date night with my fiancee. 

I was still a wreck until the movie theater lights turned completely down, afraid that every person who walked into the theater would be somebody I knew, who would spread word that I was actually out doing something enjoyable when I should be at home wallowing in shame and flogging the guilt out of me or some such ridiculous thing like that. 

After the movie was over, I was feeling so released from my misery that I accepted my fiancee's offer to go to my favorite restaurant for dinner. I felt more present and engaged with her than I have for a while now. I'd been so trapped inside myself that it wasn't until we sat down and started talking that I recognized how much I missed her company in that setting, how much I was neglecting to lean into her for real emotional companionship. 

Another interesting side note, for the first time at that restaurant (or any others for that matter), I didn't take it as an opportunity to gorge myself. I ordered less and had leftovers- which may not seem like that big a deal to you, but I haven't left a plate uncleared out of principal since 1987, so it stood out to me as strange when I was okay with sliding it into a box for the next day. The evening left me completely sated, comfortable with what being alive provided me that day.

I've been trying to apply that to writing because I know a huge point of internal friction for me is how the other enjoyable or necessary parts of my life have been shadowed in the guilt of not being aligned with what I feel my calling is, but so far I still feel pretty terrible about that.

If all goes well, I will be posting less frequently here for a little while. I need to get to work on some of my bigger projects so that by  the end of this time away from work I have something lucrative to show for it and that may mean breaking my standing date with you guys, who have been another great emotional support for me- one that's been kind of hard to let go. Just knowing that you guys are out there, caring enough to check in with me, hearing the kind feedback you've provided, has been a great value towards regaining my balance and I thank you for it. You've given me a place to feel safe and responsible to the thing I want to do with the rest of my life, however long that is. That's an immeasurable courtesy. Thank you and I'll see you soon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Curiosity Experiment

If I'm being honest, I don't really want to be here today. I hope that doesn't offend anyone who is taking the time to read this, but I've made a habit out of being honest in this space and I feel like that is the biggest truth running laps in my mind right now. I've started a new medication that's keeping me off balance, constantly guessing how I'm going to feel from one moment to the next. I've gone from sick to my guts to high as a kite, wired as hell to a full bodied exhaustion that I can't remember ever experiencing. They say that all of the side effects will even out as the medication does because it is attempting to bring balance my body's chemistry after all, like putting myself in a blender and then pouring the contents into a Robert-Shaped mold. 

I woke up today after being kind of drug addled and euphoric until 2am, feeling  like someone would expect to feel if they spent last night drug addled and euphoric- more or less like beat up dog turds. But there's something missing that I noticed right away, gauging suspiciously at first and then allowing myself to acknowledge the feelings in my own head.

There has been an anxious pain, twisting my muscles into balloon animals and threatening to pop them if I don't keep them nearby, protecting the pain like I am a vigilant parental sentinel standing watch over her eggs while predators lurk nearby, waiting for me to slip so that they can devour the fruit of my body. At this point, I don't know if I am just too tired to carry that extra burden right now or if it is really gone, all I know is that I've spent all of this week with it by my side, stitched to my body like Peter Pan's shadow, and for today at least, it isn't there. In its place are little waves of nausea and the prologue to a headache forming in my eyes, jitters and shakes that convulse through me like I am constantly experiencing the sensation of falling... but I would put up with a lot, I would sooner take a knife to the gut than invite that hostile presence back into my life willingly. I woke up today feeling like it was possible to see myself, even if only through bleary and drained, tired eyes. I am more than the sum of my emotions. I am not the nervous energy that chokes my arms and legs and stomach, tightens my shoulders and claws at the nerves in my neck. My emotions are only a filter that can either purify or diminish that which I truly am.

Walt Whitman once said, "Be curious, not judgmental." Think about that quote for a few seconds before moving on, decide what you think it means. Take your time and read it more slowly. "Be curious, not judgmental." So often in this age we devour each other's words like the first meal of a man who's been lost at sea for weeks. We take in media and the rest of the world at a frantic pace, like we will miss what it is that we do not have time to see if we do not quickly move on to the next thing, crossing off experiences like items on a "To Do" list, all the while we are missing the world that flies by us in a blur because we are so hurried that we do not recognize the dimmed, obscured light of the seemingly little things we are running past. So stop yourself for just a moment. Stop yourself and think about the phrase: "Be curious, not judgmental." Four words. It's almost painful for many people to spend more than four seconds thinking about that tiny of a phrase, as if size and quantity dictates a thing's importance. One last time, "Be curious, not judgmental."

You done? Okay, thank you. Now here's the point:

I never met the guy personally, and I can't say for sure how anyone else would interpret those words, but I would wager that most people read that quote and are comfortable boiling it down to "Be not judgmental." Is that more or less what you took away? It's okay if it is. That's how I read it at first. But it stuck in my head and begged for more attention than that. I was fixated on it for weeks and I couldn't wrap my head around why that might be. Today I think I figured out why that is. I believe we are ascribing a negative connotation to the word judgment, that we focus so heavily on that half of the phrase that we are pretty much reading it and saying, "Yah Walt- judgment's bad. Don't do that, bro."

Doesn't the word judgment sound filthy and negative? Judgment brings to mind images of a smug, superior asshole sitting on his high horse and handing out cemented views like they were gospel. To me, judgment sounds obtuse, unchanging and wrong. I thought it was interesting that the word judgment is associated to me with the word "wrong." In Walt's time, I don't think that the negative connotation for that word was so heavily regarded though. Surely, we make judgments every day that are healthy and wizened by our experiences. "I look fat in this outfit, so I'm going to wear another one that makes me feel more comfortable." or "Driving home after a few drinks seems dangerous. I'm not going to do that."

When I think of casting judgment, I think of raining fire and brimstone down on someone else. I could say, "That guy is a wreck," but I can just as easily say, "I think my fiancee is beautiful"- and I do- and nobody would argue or think I was being a superior asshole by making that proclamation, but it is no less a judgment just because it is positive. 

As a writer though, I spend a lot of time trying to tap into the other half of what good ol' Walt was saying, the "Be curious" part. Eventually, I realized that was the part of his quote that I was uncomfortable leaving behind like sentence roadkill. Think of it like this: "Remove judgment and in its place, cultivate curiosity," and not just to empathize with people whose views you don't share, although it can be helpful then as well. If this is all sounding super hokey, hang with me on this. In order to remove judgment, release your definition of everything. Do not call a computer monitor what it is. How would you describe it? What makes a computer monitor a computer monitor? What makes one good or bad at being what it is? Could it be improved? How is it better than computer monitors that you've used before? Does it need maintenance or cleaning?

Then we start to see all of the elegance and beauty of the object, in equal parts with its flaws, and we end up with a clearer idea of what the object actually is. So I ask not why my fiancee is so beautiful, but I ask myself why is she so beautiful? And I come up with reasons like the vibrant life in her eyes, the stately grace with which she conducts even the most mundane tasks, slender fingers that beg to be woven between my own, skin so soft I want to rub it against my cheek, kiss the back of her hand like it was as fragile glass because it's hard to believe that something that feels so delicate could actually be as powerful and strong as it really is.

I would challenge those of you who are still reading this to practice this way of thinking for a week. Look at an object with the eyes of a child who has yet to cement such potent definitions to everything we see around us. Try not to classify everything in terms that are so quickly recognizable that we can see an object, classify it, and disregard it in the same breath. Take one minute or five, or take all day in the back of your mind, dissecting whatever coffee mug or favorite pen you've been taking for granted. Then the next day, switch it up and find something else. Limit yourself to one object per day though to make sure you are not moving on too quickly, take notes and keep a log. Releasing judgments is hard, but with practice I think you will start to reclaim some of the wonderment we've squeezed from ourselves in order to make room for responsibility and duty, progress and work. Maybe a few days in, if you're feeling confident, try doing this with an object that you are not particularly fond of. Ask yourself questions and answer them, challenge your opinions and shake the foundation of what you believed before starting the exercise- it may not change your views, but in the worst case scenario it will make those beliefs more firm and guided by reason. You might even find an admirable quality beneath all of the things that you despise about this object. Then, at the end of the week, try doing this with a person that you love and let yourself feel your appreciation for what makes that person so special magnify. If you're an artist of any kind, I think this is extremely helpful. Some of my best stories have come from the inspiration this practice provides, some of my favorite characters have been developed by using variations of this exercise, asking myself why the world I've created in my mind would be the way that it is, but I never thought of applying it to the world around me. For that, I say thanks Walt. Much appreciation.

If any of you take me up on this, I'd love to hear the results! You can share them in the comments here or on my twitter @uwgpod using #curiosityexperiment

"When we stop accepting the world for what we have been told that it is, we are free to discover what it could be."

-Robert Wren

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Dream House

8/13/2014- My Dream House

I remember commenting on the Dream House's lawn the first time we saw the house, how perfect and lush it was, so much that it bordered on absurdity that we should have such a well maintained plot of green in the middle of another drought. My husband was sold before we ever reached the doorstep, proclaiming that the house actually had a picket fence- I thought it was adorable that he was infatuated with such a traditionally feminine detail as I made plans to tend to the lawn every other weekend. He insisted on carrying me over the threshold. I objected at first, but there was a sorcery about the house that had us both feeling a little euphoric. From somewhere, he summoned the strength to lift me up into the air and through the doorway, even though he had thrown his back out only a week earlier bringing in two jugs of milk when he insisted against my reasonable suggestion that he should carry them with two hand instead of one. I'll never forget the view of floating into the living room from his arms. I think about it, replaying the image every time I walk through the doorway of my own accord.

That was nearly ten years ago. Now I'm starting to wonder about our Dream House. It fits our family perfectly and I'm shocked that it took me so long to realize, but I haven't had a single dream since we moved in- none that I can remember anyways. Every now and again, I have a nightmare or I watch as what may have been an ordinary dream turns sour and spoils in front of me, taking a dark turn. It was one such remembering that led me to believe that I might be living in a house that feeds on dreams... spitting out nightmares because they taste as bad as they do to humans. The thought was played in my head like a half joke, but once I had heard the sound of it, something rang sisterly true. It like... I know it seems like an absurd thought... but these walls are breathing. If I'm quiet I can hear it. I've grown attuned to the creaks and the rattles. I can call them out like the rhythmic exhalations of a giant bear in hibernation. The groan of a misstep on one of the house's major arteries... I can almost see the shell of the place grimace against the footstep. I find myself avoiding those spots against reason. Why should a giant care about the screaming of ants beneath their heel? And then it came to me, "I am the ant, and I am trying desperately not to wake the giant."

It's a perfect crime, dream thieving. It took me almost ten years to suspect anything was missing, but then I thought about all of the things that dreams bring into flowering. Dreams are inspiration. Dreams are spontaneity, excitement, adventure and passion. At first I believed that my house ran like clockwork out of necessity. We have two children and I am all of the time chasing them towards the next objective, "Hurry up because breakfast. Hurry up because school. Hurry up because homework. Hurry up because dinner. Hurry up because bedtime." I feel as though I am chasing them down a hallway that I know dead ends into nothing, and I chase myself in this same way. "Hurry up Marlene because shower. Hurry up Marlene because work. Hurry up Marlene because get the kids. Hurry up Marlene because grocery shopping. Because laundry. Because tuck them in. Because do it again. And again." After a while, even the distractions start to feel sterilized with over planning and preparation. Date night is a chore. Vacations are more trouble than they're worth. In the business of running this Dream Home, those things are considered frivolous and unnecessary. 

I read somewhere that scientists don't fully understand why we dream. I suspect after having mine stolen from me that they exist so that we might chase something that doesn't fully exist yet, to inspire us to reach for something that isn't there, because the alternative is that we keep replicating the day before in exact facsimiles, tracing pathways in our head that become so well trod that we eventually follow them out of habit and not desire. If dreams are the roots to the human plant, then starving them will kill all the pretty parts.

I know it sounds insane, which is why I decided to write it down for now. I might do something about it at some point, but right now I decided I would track a few days and see what I think about this after I journal on the subject for a bit. Then maybe I'll reread it and see if I should commit myself to an insane asylum. Maybe I'll try researching some tips on lucid dreaming, see if I can't revitalize the missing dreams?

8/14/2014- The cycle

I used to dream regularly. When the thought that my dreams were being taken from me first crept into my head, I thought the same as anyone else, "I must be going crazy." But it makes the most sense. It isn't just me. My husband hasn't done anything new in years, not in life, work, the bedroom. We are trapped in the vision of perfection that used to be, the dreams we had before we grabbed onto them and made them real by moving in here, starting our family. But dreams have soft spots and holes in them, places that you forget to fill in, gaps that weren't the focal point but are highly noticeable in their absence by their impact on the rest of your life. It's like Dark Matter. We don't know why it's there or where it comes from, but it's safe to say that we couldn't take it all away overnight without some major problems. There's a certain spice, a flavor that existed before we had everything set up here before everything stabilized. Sure, we still worry about the climbing credit card debts and how we're going to pay for the kid's college education, but for the most part we can see how the rest of our lives are going to play out and we're just riding the rails towards the end, because we dreamed it into being this way.

One of the kids gets in trouble once a week it seems, little stuff mostly. Dennis doesn't turn in his homework on time, Elise was caught talking when she shouldn't be, and Kyle and I are always there to gently force them back onto the tracks with a reminder that they should be always looking forward, never side to side, never behind.

My husband Kyle cooks one of the same five or six meals for dinner on rotation and we fill in the blank spots with pizza and fast food. We have been on the same dinner and a movie date once a month for the last ten years. He gets a raise and we celebrate. I get a promotion and we treat ourselves. We watch our shows, read our books, and over the course of the last decade we are seeing the point of all this less and less... doing it because it is the path that's been carved out by walking the trail so often. Moving in I thought, if I get laid once a week, that'd be perfect. And like clockwork, my husband or I get fresh with one another just that often, almost so that we can say we're living up to that slice of perfection we imagined when we first moved in- living the dream.

I feel terrible for putting my children through this. Last night as I was tucking him in for bed, I asked my youngest, Dennis, if he had ever had a dream before and he seemed confused. He said that he thought he had a dream once, and then he proceeded to make stuff up like kids learn to do when they're afraid of giving the answers that they believe grown ups are expecting from them. They are mostly good kids. They only get in trouble for little stuff really. Tiny rebellions in class, minor skirmishes with kids in their after school program, taking toys from one another and bickering when I'd prefer it to be quiet. And every step of the way, I've been there to coral them back onto the path. That same damn path that is so etched out now that it's like walking the walls of a maze, except I know exactly where the cheese is, so I disregard the rest of the labyrinth and follow the same dead end halls towards the singular objective of reaching its dead end prize... a "good night's sleep" at the end of the day. And I'm surprised somehow, when every morning I am placed back at the start.

8/15/2014- Mental Health Day

I can't shake the feeling that this house is aware that I've been catching on to its secrets somehow. I called in sick to work today so that I could get to the bottom of this. My husband was worried and offered to stay home with me, but I told him that I just needed some time to myself. That only seemed worried him more, so I blamed the kids- told him they were driving me up a wall and I just needed a nice quiet day to myself to read and relax, maybe take a hot bath and finally use some of those salts he'd given me for Valentine's Day a couple years back. He joked at the mention of taking a bath, saying now he really did want to stay home and keep me company now. For a second my heart fluttered and I felt a rush of romance as I imagined him staying home for the expressed purpose of making love, but alas, if ever it was a real offer, he lost his nerve and kissed me on the cheek, whispering something into my ear about how he loved me and hopes I have a nice day. "You deserve it," I remember him saying as he pulled away.

As soon as he left, I started researching techniques for recalling dreams which seemed inextricably linked to lucid dreaming- or, the technique of being aware that one is in a dream state, which many proclaim opens the door to controlling one's dreams. The steps seemed simple enough. It helps to be tired? Check. Have a pen and paper handy? Check. Try to wake up in the middle of a dream or set an alarm clock for intervals of ninety minutes? Check. I also decided that it wouldn't hurt to add a glass of wine and a bubble bath to the mix, because this was going to burn one of my vacation days after all.

As I climbed into the tub, I couldn't help but think that this was going to be the most lovely ghost hunting ever recorded. The website said that once you feel like you are approaching sleep, you should repeat a phrase that declares your intent. I planned on using the mantra, "I'm going to take my dreams back." When the warmth of the water brought the heat of my blood to a matching temperature, I found myself letting go of the waking world. All of the sensations that unknowingly ate a part of my attention until I had nothing left throughout the day, each of them slipped into the water and became part of something larger than the sum of their parts.


The last thing I remember before finding myself here was the echo of my mantra, "I'm going to take my dreams back." The words repeated over and over. I felt my lips moving to say them, but it was all groggy and disconnected. My mouth felt numb and thick, like I'd just left the dentist. It moved on a broken record's path, out of habit or by someone else's control, but not of my own will. There is another master of this space to which I am just a visitor- an interloper. I am instantly aware that I am trespassing. I look in every direction for the border that I have crossed to get into this place so that I might return before someone is aware of my transgression, but there is nothing, only empty space in every direction.

Slowly, I feel the waking world dropping out of focus entirely, the connection severed and the auto-repeating mantra is silent. When this happens, the world I found myself in comes to life. Everywhere I look, there is movement painted in grays and blacks, contrasted by a smoke darkened sea green. That singed aquamarine seems to be breathing, but only when I am watching it. It's like the empty spaces, the places I am not actively focusing my attention on are dropped out of existence- like a movie set, the Dreaming does not bother to construct the places that the audience will never see, but somehow I know of their lack of presence. I sense their nonexistence. When I cast my eyes to the place that I am certain did not exist a moment earlier, it is created just in time for the shapes to reach my eyes as the place that I had been viewing slips out of this world forever. I can almost see the transitions when my vision sweep across the horizon, everything blurs unnaturally and my eyesight seems sluggish to respond, allowing the scene time to construct itself. The swirling of colors dizzy my head and I aim to steady my gaze against the nauseating churning of black and gray and burnt aquamarine.

As my sight stills, I see the threshold that I was once carried over, the view that I will never forget. Wobbling forward towards the archway as if I am being carried, my head swims the distance between the door and the other place- the part of the world where I had just been but does not exist. There is a dread that cuts through that alluring sense of wonder that held my attention before, digging into my skin and dragging me forward to a place I no longer want to go. I cannot move my head to see in any other direction now. The talons of something wicked are gripping my skull like a vulture carrying away the carrion of its intended feast.

I know that I am in the dream. I know that I wanted to take them back. I remember the mantra now clearly, mocking me as I am dragged towards this archway- this mouth of my Dream Home that sucks me in, threatens to devour me.

"I'm going to take my dreams back," I hear a voice say, a voice that sounds like dead leaves being dragged across dry gravel. Accentuating each word differently every time, the mantra changed meaning with every repetition, "I'm going to take my dreams back."

Hissing and a demonic laughter filled the space between each restatement. "I'm going to take my dreams back!" The creature shrieked angrily.

The hordes of unknown things that lay beyond what I could see, all around me, snickered and chortled their pleasure a little more loudly. "I'm going to take my dreeeams back!" The word "back" was struck like a heavy mallet against tightly pulled dead skin across the top of an ancient drum. I tried screaming to release the pressure of what terror filled me to the point of explosion, but if I made any sound it was lost in the mad eruption of unseen things clamoring feverishly in the distance, cheering for the thing that dragged me relentlessly ahead.

Then, with a ferocity that shook the fiber of the world I was being pulled through, like a moon that thought it was so damned important and grand only to find itself caught in the orbit of something much bigger, the creature spoke into my ear, "EyyyeeeeAm goooooing. To taaaaaake. My. Dreeeeeams. BACK!"

The dreams! I told myself. I should have known it all along. I needed to wake myself up now! I tried to remember my physical body, the sensations of each limb. I could feel my arm, warm and silent, motionless beneath the water where I had left it. Then the claws dug more deeply into my scalp and I was yanked back into the Dreaming. I could feel what I assumed to be blood running down the sides of my skull, tracing rivulets around my ears and through my hair. I felt my eyes for a moment and I tried to pry them open. The muscles were non violently non-responsive, refused to help. I tried to will the power required to see the world I knew was just beyond their lids, but it felt like the claws that had their talons drilled into my crown were pushing me more deeply into the Dream World for every struggle I made, like a clawed hand holding my head below water.

I remembered the bath, caught somewhere between dreaming and awake, and I felt the parallels of the two converging worlds align. The feeling of drowning in dreams with the remembering that I was in a bathtub in real life connected and panic seized me. I felt so close to opening my eyes. I could hear the chime of my phone's alarm going off and I reached for the sound. I could feel splashing all around me. I could feel myself gasping for air as I bobbed above and below the surface at irregular intervals, but I could not fully wake.

I held my breath and felt the lids of my eyes moving slowly open to present the tiniest of slits. The real world was there, I knew it, but it seemed blurry and distant. My body was reacting on instinct and not by any force that my will was enacting.

On the edge of the bath I could see the pen and paper that I had set there to recount my dreams while they were still fresh. I reached for them, mangling the pad of paper in my hand but holding it firmly. I clutched it like a totem, a relic of the Waking World that I so desperately wanted to be a part of once more. My senses lit  like the muzzle of a gun and I found that there were little gaps and flashes when I could command the limbs, or at least direct them slightly. It felt helpless though, like throwing large stones into a rushing river in hopes to slightly alter its course. I heard the mocking voice from the Dreaming again, speaking in its sweetest Devil's tone, trying to lull me back to sleep and keep me in its reach.

The pen splashed into the water next to me and the one hand I could control at the time searched for it blindly. When it came up, I was surprised to see it as much as I was surprised that I could see it. I wrestled myself onto the edge of the tub to start writing, feeling the tendrils of something very old and powerful wrapping around my legs and wrestling them into sleep again. The deadened skin felt pin pricks traveling upwards to my hips, but nothing else. No other sensation could penetrate what had been claimed back by the Dream Eater. I knew it coming for the rest of me. I scribble scratched, unable to read the markings on the page, uncertain that I was even in control of the fingers that wrote there upon the water splotched paper. I dropped the pad beyond the wall of the bath, flicking it safely away from the tub in a pitiful gesture that was meant to be a hurling discus throw. The pen slumped backwards with me while the shape-shifting Dream Beast coiled its massive arms around me, covered me. It wrapped me in the womb that guaranteed a comfort that was both chilling and warmth. Frightening and enticing. Made of sound and silent as sin.

I have no idea how long I have been here now, slowly digested into the belly of this monster. I have lost all hope of finding the world beyond, my lovely, simple, boring world. I wish I had been content to feed the ravenous monster little by little, or smart enough to trust my instincts when they screamed danger. I wish that I had run away and taken everyone I loved with me. But instead, I came in search of its face and I have found it. It is made of all the things we know to fear from birth. My only salvation lies in brief glimpses I can recall of my struggle to warn whoever next might dare to go where I have been. The note I scrawled before I slipped away for good, I can see it clearly now. It read: "I am going to take my dreams back" the note proclaimed.

I couldn't say what's happened to my body. I think I'm dead, more or less, my consciousness ripped from the Waking World entirely. I imagine they found me drowned with a glass of wine, asphyxiated and grotesque with a note that made the scene read like an obscure suicide scrawl. Maybe I didn't die though- maybe I'm in a coma somewhere, motionless, feeding myself to this demon for as long as the hospital chooses to feed my body and keep it alive. I am like some snake eating its tail, endlessly taking in sustenance equal to what I am pouring out into the goblet from which this Dream-Devil drinks. I hope that when they found me, the image was vile and unbearable. I pray that the state they found me in cast such a profound terror on my family that they could never have another night's sleep within the walls of this house again.

At least then they'd be safe. I hope so badly that my family is forced to move and make dreams somewhere else and that the place they choose to plant these new dreams is not already taken by a gluttonous fiend that makes a meal from the very bones of their imagination. My dearest Kyle, my precious Elise and Dennis: Do not search for me in dreams for that is precisely where you will find me. If you wake up one day and discover that you have lost something, find it anywhere but here. Here is a solitary darkness that cannot be pierced by someone from our world. Here is only the Eater and the Feeder. Prometheus. Torment unending. Constantly dying and never dead. Find your dreams among the Waking World.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A First Rate Madness

Monday was a tough one, more specifically, starting with Sunday evening. I knew that Monday marked the beginning of my nine week intensive group therapy and as soon as my head hit the pillow, the familiar symptoms of a panic attack gripped my body. I caught myself holding my breath at irregular intervals. I felt the pressure building in my face, around the temples and stabbing the sensitive space behind my eyes. My heart was racing and a random spasm sent my shoulder, leg, torso, neck jerking as if pricked by the needle tip of a lightning bolt. I started trying to calm myself, control my breathing, relax the muscles that actively flexed themselves like they had gone rigid, waiting for an imminent car crash impact.

My fiancee encouraged me to take a Xanax, which I don't really like taking unless I am in a situation where I feel safe from responsibility, and with my eight year old sleeping in the next room, I didn't feel that way at the time. Shit, half the problem is, I never feel safe from responsibility. I am like the archetype in a zombie apocalypse that tells everyone else to go ahead and get some rest because I don't sleep anymore anyhow. Like the sweetheart my fiancee is, she assured me that she would pick up any slack and tend to him if he needed it- which I am now starting to realize is fairly absurd. My eight year old hasn't crawled out of bed for anything in the middle of the night for over a year. My anxiety is a tangled knot and half the time, after I feel the physical evidence of its presence, I ascribe to it various reasons and rationales for what the trigger was this time. It's like debating which came first, the chicken or the egg. The stressor or the stress. The panic or the attack.

I took the Xanax and lay back down, trying to trace the reason why I had gone randomly off the deep end this time. Sometimes these attacks start out so physically that I wonder if I was thinking about anything at the time or if I started attaching reasons to the feelings because it feels so unnatural to freak out over absolutely nothing. I started to think that it must be because I was starting therapy the next morning, but I don't remember thinking of that before the symptoms struck. I felt terrible, like I was losing my mind, like I had no control over my thoughts, my body. Laying there in bed I cried, hard at first and more softly as the medicine worked through my system and lulled me against my will into sleep, wondering if this was the start or end of a spiral, if I would wake up fixated on the positive or negative emotions. It felt like drawing cards from a deck, playing high or low, fairly equal chance that it could be either.

I spent the entire night fighting against dreams that I don't remember, trying to pull myself out of them, recognizing that the medicine was like a hand holding my head underwater. My eyes felt so heavy and unresponsive. When the alarm clock went off I gasped for air. I had every intention of jumping in the shower and getting off to the gym. Instead, I went to the bathroom and crawled back to bed, realizing how wrecked my body was. I didn't feel sober enough to drive to the gym anyways. I didn't feel physically capable of walking downstairs. I have been waking up at that time for years and can't recall getting up and giving up like that- I am not a lazy man in that sense, but yesterday, I apologized to my fiancee for not being able to make it out of bed just yet, for using the alarm clock that must have been annoying to her as well. I fell back asleep for a couple hours and woke up feeling like my head was overfull with blood, both of my arms were completely asleep to the point of aching throughout, the bones in my hands were like stone. The knots in my neck and shoulders, my lower back, they all cried for attention that I didn't know how to give, like a baby that didn't want a bottle, didn't want to be rocked, didn't want to be changed. They just kept crying out to me and I couldn't shut them up. I felt like I had been boxing all night.

All of Monday I felt like I was trapped inside of myself. Leading up to the 6pm session, I felt like I was just wasting minutes until that time came. I couldn't relax, I was unable to focus on anything else. I tried meditation, I tried music and a handful of other distractions that sometimes pulled me out of these tailspins. Nothing seemed powerful enough to drag me away from the anguish my body was going through. All day, my face pounded, my neck ached, and the more uncomfortable I was in my own skin the more I worried that other people would notice, see right through me, judge me. I felt against all reason that people would think less of me or even worse, be completely understanding and want to talk about it- that they would try to help me. I don't fully understand my anxiety issues, but I am seeking professional help. I don't want to seem mean or ungrateful, but I am doing so because I've tried thinking positively, meditating, eating healthier, working out, writing it all down. I've tried avoiding my problems. I've tried tackling them head on. I've made lists and talked it out. I have actively tried to heal myself with no great success. When I'm in the thick of it, I don't want to hear these things, if in fact I am even capable of truly hearing someone who is talking to me. 

I think back on yesterday and it seems more like an episode of a show that I watched on television than a day that I lived through first hand. 

I haven't found what works yet but I am searching. If we're going to have a conversation about  it, let it be away from one of these instances when I have withdrawn into myself already because in that instance I am not me- I am a scarecrow crafted out of my anxieties, stuffed with fears and dressed in a debilitating depression that I cannot hear or see through.

I  hesitated to bring this up, which is why I am ultimately going to force myself to do it- around 5 o'clock yesterday I heard that Robin Williams died and that signs point to him having taken his own life. I am really sensitive to being perceived as cashing in on his misfortune, how the consequences of his crippling anxiety affects me. Even though I know I don't have enough followers to go viral and the Robin Williams bump isn't going to be my ticket to the Blogger Hall of Fame, it feels icky. I do not want to make his tragedy about me and I feel guilty that I'm going to do it anyways, but I feel like this is a relevant point to the millions of people who are trying to understand this terrible event but have never dealt first hand with the kind of issues that would drive a person who was so obviously loved to the degree that he was into the arms of such a permanent solution- if the early reports are true and he did in fact asphyxiate himself, enveloped by his own depression and anxiety. 

I am not suicidal, but when I heard about what happened there was a certain doom that crushed me. If the great Robin Williams had all of the resources of the world open to him, seems to have been actively battling his anxiety for the last few decades and this is the route he ended up choosing, how do I stand a chance? I want to repeat- I am not suicidal- but if I have to deal with nights like I had Sunday and days like I had yesterday for as long as he has? Who's to say how long a person can take it before the alternative seems like a relief. 

I am excited to be working towards a positive change in my life, but I am not naive to the fact that not everyone finds the right cocktail of medication and support and skills to cope with their disorder- and I guess that's when I realized that the verbiage my doctors have been using more accurately describes my condition: I have a disorder, not a problem. I'd been avoiding using that word because of how clinical it sounds. It makes it sound like my mental anguish is anywhere near the same plane of existence as someone with two broken legs- seeing the case of Robin Williams what can happen if the fractures in my head aren't properly set, I'm more apt to believe now that it is just as big of a problem. In my mind, I know that I shouldn't have to qualify my issues and that it should only matter how much they affect me- but that's not how society is built, is it? 

When coming out the other end of an episode, I've often crept out of my cave and told my fiancee that I had been struggling with these panic issues for whatever period of time, that I'm starting to feel better now. She has often told me that she couldn't tell- which is a testament to how good I've gotten at hiding in plain sight. People can't see how fucking ravaged I am by what's going on inside or they see me when I'm feeling fine and wonder why I should be allowed to take this time away from work, drawing from an insurance fund that I've been paying into for fifteen years. 

We have been trained to be more suspicious than we are caring, and I say "we" because I am equally guilty of it. We have been raised to have more concern over the possibility that someone could be taking advantage of the system, more sympathy for the non-human entities that form emotionless corporations than those employees who have been chewed up by school or work or life and are openly asking for help. We rush to the aid of the school and say, "We need to find a way to make this round peg fit inside of this square hole." We rush to the side of businesses like abused dogs and cast doubt on those who might use the system to their personal advantage, asking "What makes them special? Why should they get a handout?" Meanwhile, insurance companies thrive on the stigmas that we use to paint each other. I think that most people would agree that we are being screwed over by insurance, actively fucked in the ass and held hostage by their premiums and copays and deductibles and climbing rates and loopholes, but still, when I need to access a state insurance fund that I've paid into for almost two decades because I was so stressed out that I had a panic attack with physical evidence so powerful that the doctor's demanded I allow them to run an EKG because it seemed suspiciously like a heart attack, I feel guilty and ashamed for not being better. I have at times questioned my own integrity to the point of arguing and bartering with doctors who insisted that I take this course of treatment.

We have been taught through capitalism that we should be jealous and covet what other people have, regardless of personal need- whether in property or loved ones or breaks or opportunities. And so, conversely, I have been struggling to accept help or breaks or love or opportunities. It doesn't seem fair to me that I should be allowed such advantages. 

We all have problems, but for some of us, even a small thing like pre-therapy day jitters can crush us against our will, if that was even the culprit. I don't feel good about having this diagnosis. It makes me feel weak and incapable of things that I see other people are able to handle. Hell, I know people who have it way worse than I do, people I shouldn't even be able to compare my problems to, people who seem able to persevere through nearly insurmountable obstacles. I admire and envy those people. At one point in time, I might have even counted myself among them. I feel ashamed for not being able to tow my responsibility any further, for being at home typing this instead of being at work where I belong. What kind of fucked up shit is that? I can see the illogical guilt for what it is, but it's like trying to rekindle a belief in Santa Claus. I see the point of view clearly, remember what it was like to believe, yet I can't force myself to conclude that it is more valid than the fear, doubt, shame, guilt, and anxiety that infect every vein in my body.

I want to do right. I want to be the hero of my story, but I retrained myself to believe that I had to conform to the popular point of view so much that I lost my own perspective- I sold off what made me unique. Now I'm waking up from that and I feel fingers clutch my skull, trying to push me back down into the water. I am splashing and resisting and doing everything I can think of to not be drowned with nightmares again. 

I'm in the space between forced dreams and being. 

I'm equally afraid of what lies on either side of me, paralyzed into a place where choosing seems like I would have to kill one version of myself because these two cannot coexist in the same space. They require opposing  beliefs, radically different priorities, varied types of training and perhaps even medication. Okay, probably medication.

I remember hearing that Robin Williams often felt like he needed to go off his meds to perform. It was too difficult for him to adjust to not having those heightened emotions that he tapped into when he took the stage. I am afraid that for all the ways that it would change me for the better, I'm going to be a dulled version of myself. Especially hard to understand after an entry like this, I'm sure, but I like me. I like a lot of things about me and the perspectives that I have access to, sometimes because of my disorder. If I am chemically altered, it feels like a betrayal of myself. I am not dangerous to myself or anyone else, but I don't fit in the system we have today. Is that my fault or should the system make room for people like me? 

I don't know if I actually have ADD, but going back to a science lesson- we call Attention Deficit Disorder a "disorder" although inborn disorders and defects tend to present themselves in less than 3% of the population, because they are a genetic anomaly and get weeded out over time. It has been estimated that somewhere between 7.5-10% of people in the world have ADD, however, which led scientists to delve into why that might be. 

As it turns out, there are several advantages to being ADD that just don't present themselves as advantages in modern culture. Like the small percentage of bees that have a biological imperative which leads them to stray from the hive and seek out potential future locations for establishing new hives, we may have a handful of people who are different on purpose. Some of the most respected minds throughout history might have been afflicted with what we call ADD today, but presented itself then as a calling to do something extraordinary- or to use the bee analogy- to question the system that they were born into and look for other possibilities. Not every bee who was born with that mission struck gold, but there was a percentage of them chosen by nature to try. If those bees who seemed to be working against the system were medicated and told that they needed to start making honey because that's what all bees do, then bees would not exist today. In the case of ADD, this would most likely present itself as inventors, scientists, writers, artists- people who see a set of objects and put them together in a way that nobody had ever thought of before. 

Which begs questions like:

How many cures for cancer have we medicated into submission? How many climate change solutions have we crushed with the spirits of those who are struggling to understand why they don't fit in, rather than using their talents to flourish for the good of the rest of us? How many great minds have we turned to mush because we couldn't stand to see somebody doing something that seemed like an easier, more fun job than ours and so we forced them in school and adulthood to walk the same path as everyone else until they complied?

I am stuck between wanting desperately to celebrate my differences and not being able to tolerate the pain those differences cause me every day.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Art of Over-Sharing

When I started this blog, I had no way of knowing that so many deeply personal issues would present themselves. It was never my intention to join the online flurry of cry babies, bitching about what problems I have in which the solutions are probably apparent to everyone but myself. If you've been following the blog since its start, I think that I mentioned early on that there are two Prime Directives, really. I've been hesitating to share a lot lately, leaning towards a tendency to hold on to the things that I fear releasing into the wild, afraid to lose control of the chemical reactions that I bring about by pouring one toxin out onto another. In the end, I want to feel like I can write about whatever is on my mind when I sit in front of the keyboard. Today the two mission statements I laid out are front and center. As a reaffirmation exercise I wanted to delve into them a little bit, sharing why it is that I feel so adamantly that I must do this. Reminding myself in some ways and forming a kind of contract with the readers.
1) Keep writing.

I write every day (just about) for at least an hour. I started forcing myself into this pattern more than a year ago and have taken very few breaks from the process since its inception. <---(I secretly hate that nobody can use the word inception any more without conjuring images of the DiCaprio movie from a few years back. I mean, the movie was aight, but not worth stealing such an elegant word from the mouths of every person ever for who knows how much longer- ammirite? This parenthetical will actually tie better into Prime Directive 2, which if it were a movie title would be Prime Directive the Second: Even Primey-er. And also I just have to say that the irony over using so much embedded, self referential material that spirals into itself and ties back to a mini-rant about Inception is kind of giving me Writer's Wood)

So "Keep Writing." Basically, it's the secret sauce to my writer cocktail. I may not be better than everyone else who is trying to do what I do, but I can promise that I am capable of working harder and more consistently than anyone else. It's part of my diagnosed compulsion, actually. The part that I hold on to like a security blanket because I think it makes me better. The part I probably need to learn how to turn on and off a little better. I haven't been going to therapy long, but pretty rapidly both doctors zeroed in on my overactive sense of responsibility- which is funny, because I consider myself to be a lazy person. Fact is, I'm incapable of really relaxing until all my work feels complete though, and while I don't really want to paraphrase my diagnosis, my work is never complete. I get so fixated on an idea or personal improvement that I am standing in the way of who I am right now... I think. If that makes sense. Moving on.

I have three novels that I would consider active right now: The nearest to completion is a grounded fantasy in the tune of Something Wicked This Way Comes inspired by trying to delve into the back story of the characters my fiancee and I created for Halloween last year (pictured below). I love it because it feels very romantic to me, not in the sexy kind of "Lay You Down by the Fire" sort of way- just a pure and honest look at magic and dolls and carnival workers. lol. Okay, not really, but that's enough on that for now.

The second closest to completion is a very dismal look into the future, not unlike Fahrenheit 451, wherein we take the little things for granted, become willing slaves to the great machine and stop fighting against evil- from the most benign and casual forms of evil to the in your face atrocities that we seem powerless to prevent today. I don't want to get into much more detail on that one, not important for the point I'm leading towards- basically the first book is fantasy, second is more science fiction if not a total bummer, which will likely be the tag line if it ever gets published.

And the third book is in its infancy still, but holds a special corner of my mind. Witch Slapped was a concept that my friend Jeff and I came up with while riffing on how we could make better shit than what's on TV, pitching outrageous and sometimes obscene pilots back and forth, building on the premises together in a classic attempt to make the other laugh a little harder. I not so secretly fell in love with one of our joke shows and nurtured it into a full fledged idea, the premise being that three young ladies who think they are witches are each put into a psych ward with a bunch of other delusional and disturbed women. Only, in the process, these three form a coven and turn out to actually have powers and what not. It starts out as Orange is the New Black with supernatural slants and ends up in a very comic book, fantasy adventure tone that I love a lot and own the domain name to thanks to my brother. (witchslapped.com) Right now it just links to  our podcast site.

The long winded point I'm trying to make is that these books (and there are dozens more that I would classify as currently inactive), but these three being my main projects at the moment- they all tap into a unique feeling or emotion or state of being. I'm all over the map right now- if you couldn't tell by reading this. I need different outlets for different days and in order to KEEP WRITING (Prime Directive the First), I feel like it's a good thing to have a little variety to choose from. When I am not in the mood for any of the three afore mentioned projects, then I come to the blog. Since my panic attack and Medical Leave, however, I've been constipated with thought, trapped inside of my anxiety cycle and unable to breath any life into these big projects. This blog is where I go when I can't write about one of the things I am actively trying to finish in an effort to make sure I don't excuse myself from the duty I've committed to, so I've been spending more time here and less time working on what I wish I was working on. Prime Directive the First. Keep Writing. Unfortunately, as much fun and freedom as I've found in this activity, there is a certain amount of guilt associated with it because when I am here, I am not there. Which in turn is probably why it often houses the bitchy, whiny, sad sap crap that I often wish I wasn't publishing for everyone to see, but then there's #2.

2) Exorcise My Mind.

Not exercise. That's #1. This is about releasing my grip on the beasts that dwell inside my head. Giving them a corporeal form turns them into something I can actually fight. 

As someone who suffers from a bonafide Anxiety Disorder, in which I cannot stop myself from worrying about the infinite pathways every potential choice I make births, which then spawns more paths and so on and so forth, turning Ouroboros real fast until I can't remember what started the spiral in the first place, I have a lot of little demons creeping around my head threatening to take me out of commission at any second. Before I really started seeking professional help for this problem, I realized that writing about these things gave them a physical place to live outside of my mind and I could evict the thoughts from the mental real estate they were holding- you know, pay them a little bit of attention and they go away as opposed to thinking so hard about trying not to think about them that they are all you are actually able to think about? This is where the name of my blog came from: "Can You Hold a Secret?" 

The saying "You're only as sick as your secrets" was rattling around in my head at the time and I couldn't help but think about how much I was holding in that was making me absolutely sick- either for fear of sounding like a crazy person, or fear that it would change people's perceptions of me, out of fear that I really was a crazy person and this would let everyone know and then they'd lock me up forever, or for fear that I wasn't a crazy person and I was just a terrible writer who had nothing valuable to say, or out of fear that my loved ones would love me less, or out of fear that people would fiercely disagree and want to create conflict and argue over things that I said, or on and on and on. 

Point being that fear was dictating a lot of my actions and as bat-shits as I might be, I would like to think that I have a reasonable and logical mind buried underneath all of the self-doubting rubble. I know well enough to know that I don't want to live a life steeped in fear. I would rather die feeling like I've thrown my all into what I believe in, what I feel my purpose is, rather than avoid the chance to fail at all by keeping everything in. You can see notes of this theme in the short story I published on here a few days back, titled "I Believe in Faeries." I believe that the truest form of bravery doesn't come from rushing into a situation blind to the consequences, but knowing full well that the consequences could and most likely will have negative repercussions and then the hero does it anyways because it is right. When I risk sounding like a tin foil hat wearing extreme-anarchist, it makes me feel brave and I like that feeling more than I like the feeling of holding it in.

Unfortunately for me, I have more mental demons to purge than I have time to dedicate towards writing them into a new home, but if you've enjoyed following along so far then I suppose that's good news for you!

Now I'll let you in on "Super Secret Initiative the 3rd." 

When my first book is ready to be published, either by self or whatever- I'm not there yet- I want to have an audience ready. An army of supportive people. Friends, family, strangers, it doesn't matter. What matters to me is that if you know somebody who likes to read, who likes to support art, agrees with the types of themes I jump into or just someone who owes you a really big favor that you don't know what to do with- I ask that you and they follow my Blog. You  don't have to read every post- but with hope and luck and lots of hard work, I will complete a book. And when I do, there's a good chance I'm going to need an army of people willing to push a link around the internet and make it known so that I can move on to book #2 and so on. Go ahead and treat this like a Fan Club! We can make a handshake and everything if you like. There's a button on the home page that'll make you a Follower. +1 me or whatever the fuck that is, because it'll help give me more exposure to random people who might enjoy reading along as well. And share. I can't stress it enough. The more people who are participating, the healthier I feel when all this shit gets dislodged from my head. Thank you in advance, feel free to comment or leave your suggestions in the box. Or follow my podcast's Twitter Account @uwgpod. I manage that account and you can share thoughts or feelings about whatever you want at that location. I'm all about dialogue. 

Until next time Space Cowboys....

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In which I get off topic a lot

Day 2 of working out at the gym (and other assorted gobbledygook):

I recall with a haunting clarity as I walk through the front doors to my new gym, fumbling with my key card, that almost eight years ago exactly I told my now fiancee that I could never see myself doing what I was about to do for the second day in a row. I told her then that if I wasn't interested in activities that were physical, then wasn't it just hamster wheel work? She laughed and agreed powerfully, standing outside the auditorium where we would see Nine Inch Nails together and fall a little more in love- just like every day since. There was another guy there talking about his new fitness routine in a braggy sort of way and I saw him as a threat in the courting of what I had already to declared to be my romantic intentions towards my aforementioned fiancee of present day, so I was kind of being a dick about it even. I was twenty four then, just moved back from Seattle where I walked everywhere and had the metabolism of a God and the food budget of a broke ass twenty four year old. I didn't have a child to care for, I had just grabbed my first rung on the corporate ladder of the very job that is testing the limits of my sanity today. I believe I may have even been so bold as to state that if I ever got to a point where I needed to Hamster Wheel myself out of the fat house, someone should do me the favor of killing me. I only bring this up because if anyone else remembers that night, especially the poor chap whose love interest I wooed right the fuck away, I would like to redact my previous statements.

I'm absolutely amazed at how much kinder Day 2 is than Day 1. I'm not a pro or anything, not by any means. I came in thinking I'll be happy if I can get twenty minutes in on a bike and crawl back to my car in fit enough shape to drive myself home without the need of an ambulance. When I left the gym yesterday, I felt like I had been kicked in the nuts, repeatedly, from the inside. I actually held my breath to stifle the pain and wore a tight grimace across my face, pleading to my body that my knees hold out for just a few seconds more as I walked past the clerk who signed me up for my first month thirty or so minutes earlier. I made some hand wavy motion that was meant to wish her a good rest of the day but I'm certain was loosely translated as, "No medical attention required, thank you ma'am! I'll just walk this one off."

Yesterday the gym was nearly vacant, but today the machines have about one person per type occupying their use. I made the mistake of getting on the standard bike machine yesterday, gunning straight for it and starting up, clumsily working the dials- not really sure what my aim was supposed to be in terms of cardio or fat burning or hills or whatever other wacky ass options they presented. I started with Cardio on a light setting and then looked up to see that there was a sitting bike machine right in front of me that seemed like a tremendous improvement to the unpleasant stool seat being slowly jabbed up my ass. It was the difference between riding shotgun in a high end sports car or... having a stool seat crammed slowly up your ass. I couldn't even believe that they would even have these ridiculous upright bikes! I stared angrily while my legs moved in tiny circles and my head spun in wide, unrelenting loops; That would be like equipping today's cars with a tape deck because some people still like the feeling of playing Russian Roulette it provides as you would inevitably get one stuck in there, the last collection of music that you would ever be able to listen to in that vehicle again. Would it be the soundtrack to Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey? Or all the sexual innuendo you can handle with any cassette tape from AC/DC ever? *side note* I maintain that getting AC/DC tapes stuck in their car's deck during their formative years accounts for half of the pervy, douche bros that came out of the 70's and 80's.

On Day 1 still, kind of, but getting there: 

My predilection towards the self-conscious wouldn't let me stop the bike I just started to move one bike ahead of me and announce to both of the only two people in the room that I was a newb, like I was just playing on all of these machines, treating their Holy Relics like an elementary school's playground equipment. Also, as my guilt ridden nature dictates, I looked at this metal beam lodging itself into my rectum as a self inflicted punishment for being stupid- a natural consequence that I would force myself to live with so that I might get some lesson out of it in the future- neurotic I know, but did I mention I'm on a Medical Leave for being more or less a Freakazoid? I'm not mean to myself or anything, I actually love me, but I am geared towards being the best me I can be and that takes a lot of discipline that I tend to regulate with an iron fist. On the more encouraging side, I told myself that this would be like when Goku was headed to Namek and started training himself at 100 times Earth's gravity. Tomorrow I'd take a ride on the sitting bike and it would seem like a walk in the park, when I would likely need it to be anyways, planning ahead to feel like sore dog kibble. I made a mental note that I should probably check my stool for blood later and I set the bike for ten minutes. It took only two minutes for my knees to burn and feel wobbly.

I've had problems with my knees for a decade or so, worsening the more my job requires me to stand. Last year, when I asked my doctor how I should go about losing weight because he told me that was likely a major factor in my knee problem, he gave me a prescription for Phentermine and told me to check back with him regularly. It rocked the fat off my ass for sure (about fifty pounds in a year), but I hadn't changed anything personally so when my anxiety started to spike at the beginning of this year, Phentermine was the first thing I cut because it was an upper and I needed no help being up- the weight came back very fast. I had also tried Physical Therapy for my knees but it wasn't helping and after a few months of no discernible results, I quit- it was really hard to keep those weekly appointments and I burning though vacation time to get an extra day off each week just to fit them in anyways.

One of the benefits of being placed on Medical Leave is that I won't be standing so much, but my knees seems to  lock up on me when they are in a bent position (like sitting at a desk) for forty five minutes or so. It becomes a great source of pain and I get antsy and have to find creative ways to sit. By the end of a movie in most theaters I end up all sideways by the end with my legs outstretched at an angle just to keep from hollering.

Two days in to my Medical Stay of Execution I realized that I felt like a worthless lazy slag if I didn't accomplish something that seemed like work. After organizing all of the Tupperware to figure out which of our bottoms and lids had lost their pairs, after dismantling the vent casings of our bathroom fans to clean the dust and crud from them, after scrubbing my lawn chair that was so unused for the last five years that it was covered in barnacles and wild animal shit, I realized that I could probably stand to start working out to scratch this itch as opposed to finding such odd tasks that it seemed to be creeping in on Obsessive Compulsive territory. It was just the right amount of "I don't want to do it" mixed with pain and results that I could appreciate in the long run that it made sense in my mind and I latched onto the notion immediately.

Writing has been so-so, but even that feels like cheating right now. Taking advantage of the fact that I was declared unfit for duty and then using that time to do what I have always wanted to do? Make no mistake, that is on my list of goals of what I intend to accomplish with this time away from work. It's at the very top of the list, in bold print, highlighted and underlined. I just need to establish a disciplined regimen that allows me to feel good about the time I spend on it- or that's what I'm telling myself.

Anyways, moral of the story, yesterday kicked my ass and today was immediately better. I did it in reverse this time. Where as yesterday I broke my knees on the bike and then transferred to the "Walking Machine." I did it the other way around today hoping that the Walker would be less knee intensive. 

First of all, the "Walking Machine?" That one with the ski poles that used to be sold on the Body by Jake infomercials? Nothing makes me feel more like a Hamster than a machine that helps me walk good. Fuck. But it was easier today. As I mentioned before, the gym was more dense with people today and though I picked the Walking machine with the most distance around it, before long there was a person next to me. Here's where the paradox kicks in- I'm not comfortable walking on a machine that I think is utterly ridiculous next to somebody... but I'm also a gamer. In my youth, we turned Mario Brothers into a competitive sport, seeing how long we could go robbing player two of their turn. Blood was shed over Zelda. I delivered my first whole hearted "Fuck you" over a pea green and calculator ink colored "High Score" dethroning on my Gameboy copy of Tetris. I think of labeling myself a writer as being a Professional Comparison Maker, which in this instance is absolutely an admittance of my own jealousy, greed and vanity. It's part of the same reason I don't like to be put in charge of driving- I know myself too well. Every car I pass is a point on the scoreboard. Every minute shaved off my trip is a record to be logged.

I'm sure this person who saddled up next to me had been at it for more than one day- just because... what are the odds? I'll be damned if we weren't racing anyways though. He seemed spry and fit, if not a couple decades my senior and he started his routine casually enough. I never made eye contact or cried out a public declaration of war. I'm not that kind of crazy... yet. Still, I counted the revolutions his tromp, tromp, tromps made against the sound of my own and made sure that mine were consistently half a beat ahead. I'm sure that even if he isn't as competitive as I am, there's something natural about syncing to the rhythm of the person next to you in a situation like this. even for myself, it was strange to be off tempo and would have felt better on my brain if I had slowed down just a little, but I remained vigilant. His rhythm constantly tried to catch mine and looking down from the corner of my eye, peripherally counting his steps, I hurried to be just a little faster.

Eventually, I think he caught on and slowed himself down to what the machine recommended his heart rate should be at and I was able to maintain a stride that seemed safe, if not inches away from being too fast for my legs to keep up. I hit the ten minute mark and was a little disappointed that I had only logged .85 miles. It would have been cool to say that I ran a mile today.

Then the machine pulled a fast one on me that it hadn't done the day before, or I was too delirious and ready to abandon to notice. I had set the machine for ten minutes and it gave be an extra three minutes on the clock working in reverse that was meant to be my cool down! I say "meant to be" because the older chap was still stationed next to me and I wasn't about to slow down and let him win the imaginary, stationary race without scores or judges outside my own head. In fact, I used that three minutes to make damn sure I cleared the mile line and then some. It was kind of awesome.

Then I put on a couple miles sitting in the Cadillac of bike machines for the next fifteen minutes, playing with the heavier resistance features while some chump behind me slowly lubricated his bum with sweat and worked the metal seat of a standard bike up his ass. Seriously- what's the fucking benefit of that machine? 

I feel really good about myself today, which is great because yesterday as I was leaving my Psychologist's Office she felt "ethically obligated" to ask me two times if I felt "safe" to leave and be alone right then. We had been going round in circles because I've been having a Hell of a time getting my State Disability Insurance set up and can't seem to get a hold of anyone in that department to answer my two very simple questions. I needed her to complete a form and the website seems to not want to give that form to me, instead it wants her to sign up with the website and go through their very confusing setup. I don't blame her for not wanting to do it or feeling like it was so confusing that she wasn't even certain what she was agreeing to, but I had already taken the leap of faith. I told my employers that I wouldn't be returning to work for ten weeks or more. I signed up for this mental health, intensive outpatient therapy. I was seeing my psychologist on the regular. But now it felt like the rug was being pulled out from under me now and I wasn't sure how to proceed with getting the financial angle set up. I had spent two full days trying to contact someone in the department that had the information I needed.

Without going into furtehr public detail on that situation, I'll say a couple of things- as much as I prayed for it at my lowest points, I don't like the notion of being declared unfit for work and collecting a paycheck anyways, but it is an Insurance that I am afforded because I have been paying into it all of my adult life. Three separate doctors begged me not to return to work and risk a full on mental breakdown that they all assured me I was closer to than I am willing to admit, after I tried bartering with them to sign off on partial disability or a postponement so that I could leave my work a little less abruptly than I had, better preparing them for my absence before it happened. In the end, I need this money from the insurance in order to continue supporting my family while I get myself standing on firm enough ground to step back into the machine that helped crush me in the first place, hopefully this time with better coping skills and perspective, maybe with a mind set that I can place my needs first and fit work into the spaces of my life that are vacant after those needs are met. 

But as with any insurance there is absolutely NO INCENTIVE to pay or help those in need. All of their manpower is staffed in the collections department, ensuring that the funds are being ripped out of my paycheck every month before I even noticed it was there, but when I need help? The website is a labyrinth. The phone number is a joke. When you call it, presumably because you need to talk to somebody about something related to the services they are meant to be providing, it navigates you down endless corridors that try to answer the most basic questions about how you can file, all the while discouraging and redirecting you to the website for more prompt, immediate assistance. Eventually, it tells me that I can get a representative by pressing zero- the option that I skip forward to from the beginning now when trying to contact somebody from that department. I have still yet to actually talk to somebody from that department though. You see, when you hit zero, it starts out by warning you: "Wait times of 7-10 minutes may occur if calling to speak to a representative on Monday or Tuesday, or Wednesday through Friday between the hours of 10 am to 2 pm. For faster service, you may choose to call outside of these hours." Bearing in mind that they hold regular business hours and that basically means you should call Wednesday through Friday from 2 pm to 5 pm, which I have tried to do and still only once have I gotten further to the next step, which is my fucking all time favorite way of being told to eat a bag of raw cock meat.

After that call that urges me to call at another time, the recording states, "Please hold while your call is being transferred and be prepared to give your ." After a second, the phone rings a couple of times and another automated lady's voice speaks up. She says, "We're sorry, the maximum number of callers waiting to speak to a representative has been reached. Please call again later." And then it hangs up. Soak that in. I'll wait.

I'm perfectly willing to wait on hold for as long as it takes. For two of the days that I've been on leave, getting a hold of someone in that department was my only goal for the day- the only thing I needed to accomplish. I spent their entire operating hours trying to get through. In between failed, rejected attempts to hold for someone to help me, I scoured the internet for a better source- so when I say my entire day was sepnt in the service of this goal, I want you to know how serious I am. Then, yesterday before my previously mentioned psychologist appointment, I was almost floored when I called and was allowed to be placed in the hold queue.

I happily waited on the line, even though every two minutes the phone would ring as if it were about to be picked up and then interrupt the generic hold music with a voice that restated, "Someone will be with you shortly. Please continue to hold. For more immediate service, try our website at [redacted]!" After more than an hour of playing this game, there was a tone followed by silence. I said "Hello?" I checked my phone to make sure I hadn't been disconnected. I was still on the line. I said "Hello?" again every few moments for nearly three minutes before the call finally hung up on me. It is my firm belief that some government worker who has no interest in fielding their shitty calls from their shitty job decided to spend the day pretending to pick up the phone and waiting for several minutes in silence so that their call logs wouldn't look suspicious and then they hung up and grabbed the next in an endless sea of calls they don't give a fuck about.

My blood pressure in that moment went coo coo banana balls. I feel the need to restate that the precise condition with which I am afflicted is an Anxiety Disorder that, while I am wholeheartedly doing my best to work on and make myself better, currently leaves me in a position ill-equipped to deal with fuck-tarded imbecilic behaviors and the types of everyday shit swallowing that the rest of the world seems capable of tolerating that I cannot adequately force myself to manage without having panic attacks that threaten to burst my heart from beneath my god damned rib cage. So don't judge me too harshly on one of my next steps, please, is what I'm saying.

Eventually, I started searching for a local office that I could contact. I knew the closest one was in Santa Barbara but every listing of theirs that I could find only had the phone number for the 1-800 number that I'd been impaling myself upon for days already with no progress. Eventually I saw a different 1-800 number though and I gave it a shot, even though I was fairly certain that I'd seen that number in my internet travels as the line for the hearing impaired. Remember, I said don't judge me. I circled that numbed for a while, trying to justify whether or not to call it and eventually I convinced myself that I have been given a diagnosis of a disability which impairs me from being able to deal with the anxiety caused by the absurdity of the main line. The number is 1-800-480-3287, by the way, if any of you want to fact check or play around with the Robot Witch who runs the machine. I dare you. Check me for embellishments. You will find none.

In any case, I called the other number, knowing full well  that it was probably not for me but prepared to make my case, desperate to speak with a person. I thought it was strange when the call started with something like, "Please press 1 to continue," but caught off guard I did as I was instructed. Then a voice came on the line that said something to the effect of (I'm paraphrasing on this one) "Oh really? Gotchya! You can hear just fine, can't you asshole?! This phone number is for the hearing impaired and then you just followed our audio direction to push a button, you half witted mouth breather!" So fully was my shame that I did not try to call again to fool the machine. I simply decided that I was too near the precipice of insanity to continue along this line, choosing to put the whole damn thing out of my head for the next hour until my psychologist appointment, you know, the one that she cut half an hour short and had to get my double certain guarantee that I wouldn't be a danger to myself or others? In her defense, it was because I was so preoccupied with the above issue that talking about anything else was impossible and she used the time to call on colleagues of hers with more experience with the matter and solve one half of my SDI problem.

She sent me an email a short while later letting me know what steps that she was taking on my behalf to help resolve the matter, which I totally appreciate, and then she wanted to just kind of check up and see if I had come down from the ledge any since I had left her office weeping openly all the way to my car. I felt like sending her this:

I am at least in control enough of my wits that I did not send that back, for fear that she'd sent the white-coats to whisk me away. And to any of you who are worrying, don't. I'm too responsible, I love my family, I am afraid of dying without finishing my goal of being a writer- it's not in the cards for me. Besides, can you imagine all the paperwork?!

Sorry this one went on for so long. I guess that workout charged my batteries pretty good. I gotta go now, though. I've dipped an hour into the time I had set aside today to try contacting the SDI department again. Wish me luck.

Update: I just got a hold of somebody at the local branch who refused to be helpful and was downright insulting as he lied to me about his knowledge of the problem I am having, which came out after he delivered an intimate understanding of what form I needed and why he wouldn't provide it to me after claiming ignorance and trying to redirect me to the 1-800 #. He kept saying that he can't get the Governor on the phone to hire more people, he can't handle a job that has an entire phone service line is dedicated to solving and that we are letting people go rather than hiring more. I told him that his points were invalidated by the fact that I am speaking with somebody now who clearly understands the questions I am asking and is being willfully obtuse about it. We need to fire MORE people and hire the right people. I envy people who are capable of  allowing themselves to be so terrible at their job and clearly give no fucks for the people they are being paid to help. It must be nice to let yourself be so cavalier and casually evil to your patrons, to lose no sleep or shed any worry at all that you are acting criminal in stealing a paycheck that you have not earned. I fucking hate the world. Robert out.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Crazy Pills

I feel like I am choking on spoonfuls of sanity that the world keeps trying to cram down my throat, even though I am sputtering gurgles of objection. There's no time to slow down and think, there is no value in that. My only value is in the amount my my soul's juices I allow to be squeezed from my body into another man's cup. I am lapped up thirstily then wrung out again like a sponge that had buckets of a structure, not of my own design, dumped onto me since adolescence- filling me until I am only seen as the sum of the things that have been stuffed inside of me.

I walk around waiting for a knowing look in the eyes of those around me but everyone seems to believe that this is how it should be done. Keep time, don't delay, mind the schedule for the calendar and clock are the Bible of the new world. I feel like I don't belong here, like things are rushing by me so quickly and if I could just step off this path for a moment I might be able to figure it out. I'm afraid that someone has severely underestimated the value of my time- if you'll see here, it says that I am selling it at $25 an hour and I should be happy for that. Imagine what overtime bonuses will be provided! 

But if I can just slow down, I think you'll see that what I am is more than what's been stuffed into me. I am a sponge and I can inhale galaxies. I can spew more than the regurgitation of another man's ideals. I can release more into the world than a function that could be performed by any cog that turns and clicks and spins because it is caught within the teeth of other gears, all who spin for an engine that is unknown to them. I can hear the rhythm of the ocean as the fishes scales play melodies that only I can see, but I can tell you all about it if you would just slow down a second, if we could both sit down and rest here for a while. I can tell you about the old man with paper thin skin, who dare not let the dust mites in, for when he does he knows he'll sneeze and countries away will feel the breeze. I can tell you of spirals in the Northern Lights- a battle of color as each one fights to gain the most supremacy against the backdrop of a starry sea, not realizing that no one hue is what boatloads of people came to see, but it is the war itself that makes them worthy of such a visibility.

If we could just take a minute to renegotiate the selling of my lifely rate, I think you'll see there's something here that doesn't quite make sense. You've profited dearly from my only true commodity, the scarcity of which can't begin to be fathomed- the likes of what I'm selling cannot be bought anywhere else. You see, every second is unique? One of a kind? It can never be bought back. It will never be seen again. It's like trying to calculate the power in a single atom, one of which seems so insignificant in stature but when you cut it open, entire universes spill out. If you leave it whole to find its way it could become part of the air we breathe or the water we drink, or the crimson pigment in a drop of blood or its own moon or sun or stars that spread dust that plant seeds that become their own kind of people on their own distant rock. You see? I think my life is more valuable than what you have decided is my "going" rate but I'm going much too quickly to open this debate. I'm afraid I have to go. I'm running late.