I Feel Like a Sociopath (The Trouble Is All These Damned Feelings)

There was a time in my life once where I was exceptionally introspective and self-aware. I analyzed my every thought and intention through a microscope and made adjustments as needed to correct faulty thinking. I had a firm faith then, a guide that gave me direction and established a ruler by which I could measure my progress. I was also younger and more idealistic. Depression was a situational condition, not a clinical one, a normal part the turbulence of growing up and learning what it means to become an adult.

Fast-forward almost twenty years to the present me that has wrestled with clinical depression for the better part of a decade. The idealism and optimism of my youth that was convinced I could learn how to be a better person is all but gone. What’s left is a dry husk of a creature that barely manages to get through a day in one piece. No longer is there any hope for betterment and progress. That space is filled now with despair, despondency, anxiety, anger, and fear.

In my counseling session today, I described myself as feeling numb. It was the best descriptor I could think of at the time for the way I feel – or rather, the way I don’t feel. There is a noticeable absence of joy, happiness, hope, peace, and sympathy in my emotional spectrum. So it’s not that I feel numb, exactly. That would imply an absence of all feelings. Rather, what I seem to lack are positive, healthy emotions – those feelings that enable me to relate and connect to other human beings. 

Don’t get me wrong. I care about my family and close friends’ health and well-being. I care that they’re safe and have all their basic needs met. But after that, it’s like I slam into an emotional wall. I know I should care about my relationships. I know I should be investing in those around me, especially my immediate family. But it’s like that part of my heart has been excised, torn out of my chest and replaced with a bundle of pain and emptiness. What’s worse, I miss that part of me that’s missing, but I don’t care enough to find it again.

I’m scraped thin, stretched to my breaking point. There’s only so much of me to go around. I’m barely getting by on the day-to-day, barely surviving. Every minute of every day I have to make the decision to keep breathing. As a result I feel like a sociopath, knowing I should care more about the needs of the people I love but finding myself unable to. I feel like a paper mask, a lie constructed of tissue paper that can be destroyed with only the slightest pressure.

I often wonder what happened to that young idealist. Is he still around somewhere? Does he still exist? If I went looking, would I find him, lost perhaps beneath a seat cushion of my heart or locked away in a hidden vault of my mind? Or would he turn up as a skeleton in a closet, having long ago decayed into bone and dust?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I only know that I feel cold and indifferent, not only to the cares of those nearest to me but to myself, as well. What hope can there be for others when you have lost all hope for yourself?

Fiction: Death, Unstay Thy Hand

I can tell the Wellbutrin is doing its job. This is the third individual item I’ve written in as many days, which I think may very well be more than I’ve written in the last year. I also have story ideas spilling out my ears, which is also something that hasn’t happened in a good, long while. That said, I do want to put a disclaimer right up front of this story — and a trigger warning — given the content of my last couple of updates. The story below is not in any way a reflection of my current state of mind. It is just a partial answer to a “What if…?” question that popped into my head a couple of days ago. Like most of my stories here, this is a Ficlatte piece and so is inherently limited in its length. It’s a vignette, if you will, of what could someday be a much longer story.


Death, Unstay Thy Hand

I have taken my own life more times than I can count. I have slashed open my wrists, bleeding out in minutes. I have fired bullets into my brain. I have poisoned myself. Stood in front of moving vehicles. Jumped from high towers. Drowned.

And yet, my body resolutely refuses to remain dead.

No matter how many times I die, no matter how many different ways, I always return. Sometimes in a matter of minutes. Sometimes within hours. Or weeks. The longest death I have experienced was eight months, and even then I returned. It is as though Death itself has evaluated me — and somehow found me wanting.

I have given up all hope. Life has become unbearable, and I can find no respite, no solace in it. What peace I had hoped to find has eluded me. There is no rest to be found even in those brief periods between life because, for me, they pass in an instant.

Death has stayed its hand, and so I live in everlasting torment.

Morning Routine

The alarm goes off for… what? The fifth time? Sixth? I’ve lost track, partly because I have a tendency to sleep through alarms. I can recall at least two before this, though, so I’m sure there are a couple I “missed.” Without opening my eyes, I reach over and hit the volume button on my phone, silencing the alarm for another snooze cycle. I don’t intend to let it yell at me again, but still it takes a moment to get my brain prepared for the day and to get my body moving.

First thought: Well, I actually slept through the night.

Second thought: And yup, my head still feels weird. Definitely still some Wellbutrin in my system.

I half-open my eyes to look at the digital display of the “normal” alarm clock I keep on the dresser next to my bed, the one that exists solely so I don’t have to actually move when I need to see the time in the middle of the night.

Third thought: Guh. It’s 6:00. My alarm is always set for 5:15 so I have time to get up and feed animals before getting the rest of the household moving. Snooze lasts nine minutes each time, so that makes it… I groan as I force myself partway out of bed. I rub my eyes, trying to force the sleep out of them. Crap. It’s too early in the morning to be doing math.

I slip out of bed and grab the pills off my dresser I’d set out the night before, downing them with a quick swallow of water. The first two of my daily medications. The first two of my wards against insanity.

I grab my clothes in the dark and slip out of the room as quietly as I can so as not to wake either my wife or my son, whose room is right next to ours. Athena pads out of the bedroom next to me, her claws clicking on the wooden floor. The house feels chillier than normal this morning, despite the fact that the furnace is running, so I realize it must be colder outside than it has been since that cold snap we had a couple of weeks back.

I get dressed in the bathroom, Athena watching me patiently by the door. “I know,” I mumble to her. “You’re up next.” We walk through the kitchen together, and I unlock the door. Athena slips past me quickly, off to do her business. She’ll have food waiting for her when she comes back in, and that’s when I’ll slip outside and get the farm animals fed. I grab my morning tab of Wellbutrin from the counter while I wait.

My head is starting to feel a little better now, which is good. I’ve been worried that the Wellbutrin would have me crawling out of my skin again, but it looks like my body might acclimate to it alright for now. I’m hoping to get ahold of the clinic today and get my first appointments set up.

Athena appears on the other side of the storm door, and I let her in. She goes straight to her food bowl and starts chowing down. I leave her to it, grab my coat and flashlight — ’tis the season, I think — and step outside into the brisk morning air. It’s time to get this day started.

Baby Steps Toward Mental Health

This tiny tablet is the first step of the next stage of my search to find mental wellness. (How sad is it that I kinda love the color?)

Wellbutrin

Those of you who also suffer from mental illness may recognize that little pill as buproprion, an off-brand of Wellbutrin. This is the second time I’ve been on this particular medication, but last time it was also the only antidepressant I was taking. I eventually had to switch off of it because it made me feel like I was coming out of my skin. Now, it’s been added to my psychotropic cocktail as an augment to the escitalopram I’m already taking in order to boost my psychological energy. Less than 24 hours being back on the Wellbutrin and my skin is already a little twitchy, my head feels like it’s on fire, and my eyes feel like they could just come tumbling out of my head at any point if I turn too quickly. (But! I’m actually getting things done, and that’s not nothing.)

And still, I’ll take that over the sense of despair and despondency that has clung to me for more than a year now.

I have, in the past year, been the closest to suicide I have ever been in my life. Doing battle every day with feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing eventually takes its toll. The sense of isolation wears on you, grinding away little bits of who you are over time. I’ve been close to giving up more times this year than I can count. Early in the year, I even resorted to cutting — just shallow scratches with a razor blade; I’m not a complete masochist — my hands and arms. I know. It’s not terribly common for a white male in his mid-30s to start cutting himself. But it allowed me to deal out, in small doses, the kind of punishment on myself that I felt like I deserved. It was a short-lived habit, but I’d be lying if I didn’t still have days where I want to cut on myself some more. The pain and heat from those cuts gave me a measure of control over the way I felt and therefore had a paradoxically therapeutic effect. I could stave off the worst of my depressive episodes by parting the skin on my arm — just a little bit — and give myself a tiny reprieve.

I’ve been spiraling for months. The counseling I was in during the first half of the year helped — until I had to back out of it because it was becoming difficult to keep appointments due to increasing busyness at my new job. Literally all the energy I had every day went into my job in an effort to keep from losing this one, too, so the subsequent exhaustion at the end of every day made it easier to justify to myself making poor decisions in my home and farm life, decisions that have negatively impacted my family and my relationships with those around me.

Hence the reintroduction of Wellbutrin into my life. Two very close friends encouraged me earlier this week to visit my family doctor again to see about modifying my medication. Yes, the Wellbutrin still makes me feel odd and a little manic. But after the apathy of the past year (and more), this is far preferable. Per my doctor’s instructions, I’m also working on getting in to see both a psychiatrist, for long-term maintenance of my medications, and a clinical psychologist, because sometimes talking about your troubles with someone who can be objective is a solution, too.

I’d be lying if I said I wanted to do any of this. I hate that any of it is necessary, that I can’t just fix myself and be done with it. But I can’t, and I need help from people more equipped to keep me on my feet. I’m nervous and scared, but maybe also a teensy, tiny bit hopeful, too. Just the fact that I’m writing this down at all is an improvement. I haven’t felt like writing much of anything for more than a year. As much as the Wellbutrin makes my skin crawl, it does seem to give me a little more of myself back, and for that I’m grateful.

Little steps forward, people. Little steps.

Fog

“Ain’t natural, Karl.”
“‘Course not.”
“Fog’s ‘sposed to burn up in sunlight, not pile up against the edge of a man’s property like it’s beatin’ on a wall.”
“Ever’body knows that, Carl.”
“Yeah? Well somebody ‘parently forgot to tell ol’ man Hemp. Ain’t natural.”
“Ya’ said that already.”
“Well, mebbe that’s ’cause it bears repeatin’.”
“How long do ya’ reckon it’ll be ’til it burns off, Karl?”
“Thar be a question with a diff’cult answer, Carl. Seems like that there fog sticks around a little longer ever’ day. ‘Fore ya’ know it, it’ll be hangin’ ’round all day and all night.”
“Lordy, Karl. Ol’ man Hemp’s gotta be quakin’ in his polished boots right now.”
“Mebbe. Or mebbe he’s the one done brung it on hisself now, ya’ think? A judgment from the good Lord Hisself.”
“Ya’ think so?”
“Aw, hell if I know, Carl. But you see anyone else around with a danged cloud parked on their lawn?”

Weight of the Kraken

Chaz raises the weapon he holds in his left hand. He can feel the Weight of it dragging his arm back toward the earth, but it is that very same Weight that allows him to wield the hand cannon at all. When he first claimed the Kraken, when he first held the Object that had laid him on this path, this disparity had been distracting.

But he has long since made his peace with it. The weapon is now a part of him, an extension of himself that transcends the steel he now holds.

The creature before Chaz barely blinks. It is indifferent to the cold gaze of the Kraken. It knows Objects of this type, has lain waste to their bearers before. Chaz knows this, knows the creature will not be easily dispatched, knows that even with the force of the Weight behind each bullet he fires the creature will not go down easily.

Chaz has no words for the beast. It wouldn’t care even if he did. No, he knows the creature respects only action.

“Ok,” he says.

A deep breath, then, his finger squeezes the trigger, and time stops.

Fear, Faith, and Writing Dark Fiction

Several years ago, someone once asked me how I resolved having faith in God with writing dark fiction. Much of the fiction I’ve written over the years has put characters in dark, hopeless corners where death, either their own or someone they loved, or worse was imminent. It was a question I myself had already wrestled with quite a bit before being formally presented with it. After all, the point could easily have been argued that dark fiction finds itself at odds with a God of love and grace and deliverance. I fudged my way through the answer by talking about art and gifts from God and using said gifts to give Him glory, all the while not being entirely sure I believed that answer myself.

I think I have a better response now, or at least part of one. I think I understand myself a little bit better now than I did then.

I’ve been at odds with my faith for a good many years now. I’ve resisted it, run from it, denied it even — and all the while I’ve been running in the dark, lost and alone. I’ve always been fearful. To some extent I think that’s human nature. But in denying my faith, I lost whatever grounding I had to face my fears. I effectively cast myself off from the shore in a leaky rowboat with no motor or oars or any other way to steer. I consigned myself to the storm, even as that was the very thing of which I was most afraid. I forgot about the thing that gave me strength, that got me through each and every day. I forgot about my faith, and I forgot — deliberately — about my God.

So I think it’s safe to say that I have such an affinity for dark fiction because I harbor a lot of fear. Faith helps me cope with my fear, albeit imperfectly. I’m human, after all, and weak. I’m finding my way — slowly — back to faith, but my grip is tenuous. I suspect it always has been. Writing helps me work through my fears. It lays them out for all to see. And in so doing, writing robs my fears of at least some of their power. It’s a bit like talking about a nightmare the next morning while sitting in the full light of day. The fear that woke you just hours earlier in the deep dark of night now seems like little more than silly nonsense with the sun beating down on your face. Writing dark fiction is, for me, a bit like that. It allows me to present my fear in a safe context, to process it in a way that helps me cope with it. And even if the outcome of the story isn’t a happy one for my characters, it at least allows me to put words to the things that most bother me in the night shadows. It helps me to see that maybe those fears really aren’t so scary after all.

My faith is still very weak, I admit. I locked it away pretty deep inside my heart. I suspect I will be some time in strengthening it, longer still in marrying it with the way I write stories. But it’s a journey, and one I’ve long tried to avoid. I don’t like pain, after all, and life is nothing if not painful. But I’ve put this particular fear to words now, denied it a bit of its power over me, and am trying to learn to have faith again in a God I’ve all but forgotten that things will turn out all right in the end.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is that step.

Confession

She is tied to a rack. The ropes at her wrists and ankles dig cruelly into her skin. Her fingers and toes have long since gone numb. She barely notices. This is as it should be.

Figures move in the shadows around her, checking her bonds, adjusting her garments, preparing her. Somewhere in the darkness beyond, she hears the sound of the bloodman’s knife on the sharpening stone. She relaxes into it.

“When I was nine, I stole two rolls from the bread lady. Times were hard, and we were hungry.”

The words tumble freely from her lips. She is not ashamed of her sins, does not fear her penance.

She holds nothing back.

“Two years ago, I spoke false words against a friend. She died. I did not.”

“Once I kicked a dog. It had done nothing to deserve it, but I was angry.”

She has found the rhythm of confession. One sin to six strokes of the bloodman’s knife on the stone. Her sins are many, and so the confession lasts for hours. This penance will be harder than most. She may not survive it. But she *will* welcome it.

These are the first words I’ve written and published — in any form — in months. As per my usual style, the content is somewhat dark (and so my wife will undoubtedly hate it), but not so much because it’s a reflection of my current state of mind (though it certainly could be, given my present state of affairs). Rather, the image of a woman giving confession while a priest — of sorts — prepares to offer her penance with his blade is the first that sprang to mind when I saw the video below some weeks ago.

My usual practice with micro-fiction of this type is to take that initial impression and follow it until space (1024 characters) runs out. This story, as it happens, uses every bit of that space, and so is shorter than I’d like. I was forced to cut details that would have fleshed out the scene and circumstances of this young woman’s confession, details that I think likely would have enriched the nature of her situation and added depth to her choice to give confession.

I don’t have it in me to feel bad about shortchanging my character this way, however, what with this being my first foray back into writing in quite some time. It’s also possible — nay, certain — that I borrowed no small amount of inspiration from this story that appeared on Tor last month. In any event the ideas are so entwined in my own mind that I see no reason to flesh this particular idea out any further. It’s enough for me right now that I’m back writing again.

The Casual Gamer: Destiny First Look Alpha

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the seriesThe Casual Gamer

For a week and a half, I was privileged to be able to play BUNGiE’s First Look Alpha build of their upcoming new title Destiny. This has been one of my most anticipated gaming titles, and being able to get a sneak peek at their next big thing was an amazing experience. With the lifting of the media embargo last week, there are already a _lot_ of resources out there to get a sense of what _Destiny_ is all about, so I won’t rehash those. A quick Google search will turn up a wealth of information about this new IP. I _do_, however, want to add my own take on the game with regard to what I most enjoyed about the Alpha and what I’m most looking forward to about the finished game.

For a week and a half, I was privileged to be able to play BUNGiE’s First Look Alpha build of their upcoming new title Destiny. This has been one of my most anticipated gaming titles, and being able to get a sneak peek at their next big thing was an amazing experience. With the lifting of the media embargo last week, there are already a lot of resources out there to get a sense of what Destiny is all about, so I won’t rehash those. A quick Google search will turn up a wealth of information about this new IP. I do, however, want to add my own take on the game with regard to what I most enjoyed about the Alpha and what I’m most looking forward to about the finished game. Continue reading “The Casual Gamer: Destiny First Look Alpha”

When Melancholy Becomes Something Else

Earlier this morning, I sent this to Twitter:

It seems I spoke too soon because my mood has deteriorated since then. Tears have been threatening — and occasionally more than threatening — to spill over all morning. It’s frustrating and maddening because feeling like this is so completely pointless. It’s wasted emotion because it’s directed at… nothing. What’s worse is that it’s crippling and destructive, which makes it all the more scary to me because of the way it interferes with daily living.

Depression, when it’s not flattening my affect and overwhelming every single other thing I feel, makes me angry. I feel like I should be above this, better than this, able to mash down on this with ferocity and conviction, able to banish it to the darkest reaches of my mind whenever I like. And yet, I can’t. The damnable thing rears its ugly, vindictive head at the most unexpected — and unwelcome — of times and makes me think and feel things that aren’t actually true. Depression, among its multitude of other vices, is a liar. But even knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to shove aside. Depression also has teeth, and claws, and it has no problem sinking them into the soft, sensitive tissues of my brain and heart where it will hurt the most.

Therapy for me, then, is to write, when I can summon the strength to shove depression aside long enough to do. And so I write, exposed and vulnerable (which is scary in its own right), because it helps me process some of the things I’m feeling. Plus, it’s something I can actually do, instead of allowing the depression to simply have its way with me. So much of depression is about being passive and letting it do whatever the hell it wants to — which is why physical activity is also such good therapy. Activity, doing, is fighting back and refusing to allow the depression to win.

I wish there was more I could do because even doing feels passive when it doesn’t make the depression go completely away. The best I can hope for is survival and subsistence and hope that this thing will not kill me. My mind says it won’t, but my heart declares otherwise. Apparently depression is also cognitive dissonance.