Category Archives: General

 If I Can Do This

There are days when you wake up with your brain already lying to you, when the regret and the pain and the hurt pile up on you so badly that you find it hard to draw breath, when every bit of your energy and attention is devoted exclusively to counteracting the power of those lies, when you want to just give up — on everything — and go back to bed, when the mantra running constantly through your head is “I can’t do this,” followed closely by “Yes, you can. And you will. Because you have to.”

Today is one of those days.

I still have some fight left in me, but I won’t lie and say I’m not stretched a little thin at the moment, because I am. And I have to go work in just about an hour, and I don’t feel like I can do this. But I will. Because I have to, and because I’m stronger than this.

Here I Sit, Me In My Little Hidey-Hole

It’s 9:30AM, and the day has started without me. I’m ok with this. I woke this morning feeling lonely and alone, as I often do, after another long night of dreams that refuse to allow me to get any kind of proper rest. I grudgingly ate breakfast, not because I was hungry or because the cereal tasted particularly good but because my body still requires calories to function. And I really am trying to function. Or at least to not give in to the urge to give up. Because this is one of those days where that little voice in my head is nagging at me that I can’t do this, that it’s all pointless anyway. It’s not, and I keep shooting back at that voice to this effect. But the argument persists. That voice is an asshole, and it doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up.

I haven’t opened the front blinds yet. I’m not ready to let the rest of the world in. So I sit here on the couch, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood around me — the traffic going by on the street, the workmen in the yard installing the new gas lines, the occasional loud voice of the morning drunk on his way from wherever he was to wherever he’s going. I listen and wish I was well enough to be ready to be out there with everyone else.

But I’m not. Not yet. I don’t know when I will be, and I’m impatient for that moment to arrive. I’m tired of the fight, the struggle, the relentless anchor of my mind holding me back. I know I can be better, do better. I know my own potential, and I’m anxious to live up to it. I was reminded at support group last night that it’s ok to give myself permission to not be ok yet. Recovery takes times, especially when you’ve been living in the kind of personal hell I have been for the last several years. I know life can be better. I just want it to be better right now, damn it! Like I said, I’m impatient.

It’s funny. We who struggle with mental illness have to remind those who don’t that, just because you can’t see our disease doesn’t mean we don’t have one. What we sometimes forget is that we frequently have to remind ourselves, too.

So here I sit, me in my little hidey-hole, listening to the world move about around me. I promise I’ll come out and join you here in a bit, but for the moment I need a little space to gather myself up and assemble the fractured pieces of me into something presentable. It’s just going to take a few minutes.

On Healing, Dreams, and Emotions

I am struggling today. I woke this morning from a dream I can’t remember still somehow feeling sad and melancholy about it. This has been happening to me a lot lately. One of the side effects of the sleep medication I take (a must, if I hope to actually get a restful night’s sleep) is that I very rarely ever remember the dreams I have — which is a pity, because as a creative type I’ve been known to have some truly remarkable dreams. Unfortunately, said medication does not prevent me from experiencing the emotions that remain once the last tatters of the dream are blown away.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve dreamed. A lot. And vividly. Dreams that inspire rich, soul-quaking emotion. But always, almost without exception, the memories of those dreams flee the moment I open my eyes, leaving only the ghosts of their emotions to linger in my heart and mind a while longer. I’m nearly certain that most of these dreams are attempts of my sleeping mind to process the pain of my daily, waking life. Sometimes I’m able to conjure an image here, an impression there that give context to the emotions I’m experiencing. But as often as not, all I’m left with is pain without cause, loss without substance.

I hope as time passes, as my new medication becomes suffused throughout my system, as my therapy and support group sessions become more regular, that my wistful dreaming will become less frequent. I’m working hard at developing a new mental image of myself and who I am — and I feel like I’ve made some small amount of progress in that regard already this past week. I hope new understanding will begin to supplant the uncertainty and fear and despair I have felt for so long.

I have more hope now than I’ve had in quite some time and an awareness of a much broader and more diverse support network than I ever knew was available. Thank you, so much, to all of you who have lit candles and come alongside to help me through the dark. It means so much more to me than I can ever say with words.

Four Days in a Psych Ward

Just a few days ago, I was released from the hospital after a four-day treatment program for severe depression and suicidal ideation. This was my first inpatient hospital stay of any kind, and while I wouldn’t exactly describe it as being fun, it was extremely helpful and beneficial. Without it I’m not sure I’d even be alive right now to write about it.

Depression

I’ve battled depression for years. I’ve chronicled some of my experiences here and on Facebook and Twitter. It’s not a condition I’ve ever been particularly shy or embarrassed about. I’m a firm believer that we need a more open and honest discourse about mental health because so many people wrestle with it on a daily basis.

Over the past few years, my mental health has experienced a steady decline. My depression has become more persistent and acute, and anxiety has joined with it to make my life a daily living hell. These conditions have challenged my life, which I nearly took, and my faith, which I gave up. It has put significant pressure on my family and my work life, as well. This is not uncommon for people who have dealt with prolonged mental illness.

Had it not been for the intervention of a friend who grew concerned about me, who called me at the end of a weekend where I’d been trapped in my own bed and urged me to get help, who made all the arrangements for me to get into a hospital to get the treatment I needed, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. She literally saved my life, so close was I to making a terrible and irreversible decision.

And I didn’t want to go. All I wanted was to die, to relieve myself and my family of the burden that was my psychosis. At least then I could have peace, knowing that my family could actually move on and have a better life without me dragging them down. In my mind freeing them from the cancer of myself would greatly outweigh the horror of losing me to suicide.

But that was depression’s voice talking in my head, lying to me, convincing me of my worthlessness, reminding me of all the poor coping methods I’d chosen and bad decisions I’d made. Depression is a disease of the brain that alters the way you think, the way you see the world, the way you see yourself. It twists and distorts things so that you can’t determine fact from fiction. Reality loses purchase, and what seeps in instead is a view of life that holds no hope because it is full of unending pain and misery and despair.

I’m thankful for the voice of my friend, who was able to cut through the din long enough to get me out of bed and into a hospital, where I could get the help I really needed. It took four days, including several hours of talking with therapists, and a fairly significant change in medications to help me get to a better place mentally and emotionally. I still have a long road ahead, and pieces of my life that need to be picked up and reassembled as best as possible. But I actually feel stronger now and up to the challenge before me.

I know this won’t be the last time I face depression head-on like this and look down into its great, black belly. But I hope that when that happens, I’ll remember that I’m really not alone in this, that there are others out there willing and able to come alongside and help me.

Happiness, That Strangest of Strangers

I felt happy today. So of course it took me a while to recognize it for what it was. I noticed the extra energy first, the increased sense of motivation, the additional drive. My pain levels were the lowest they’ve been in months. The first half of my morning just melted away effortlessly. I was as productive as I’ve ever been and more focused than usual.

It didn’t occur to me until I was working on a couple of Grid Diary entries a few minutes before my counseling appointment that I recognized my positive mental state was something more than ordinary, that it was more than just the bump in my Wellbutrin prescription from a couple of weeks ago finally coming to bear on my brain chemistry. It was here, when I tapped the tile to log my mood as ‘Happy,’ that I realized the feeling as genuine.

This is what happens when true joy and contentment are experienced only rarely. When the sun burns away the clouds, it’s almost blinding. It took my weary eyes a while to see true.

The difference between happiness and depression, that gap, it’s so wide that the happiness itself almost feels like a mental disorder, like mania. On the inside I was bouncing off walls. My mind, my heart, they were ping pong balls, launched at high velocity to bounce wildly off the walls of my soul. It was its own kind of madness, but it was also euphoria.

And almost — almost — that understanding doomed my joy to die. You see, depression has been such a lifelong companion that it has become entrenched. It has dug into my heart and soul and mind, and it is incredibly adept at sabotage. Here, in this moment, I wanted nothing more than to ride this wave of exaltation, and my enemy wanted to tear the wave out from under me. The lies it whispered in my ear were the same insidious lies it has whispered to me for years.

“You may as well stop enjoying this. You know it can’t last.”
“This is frivolity. Happiness is an illusion. Life is not joy. It is pain and suffering.”

But for a wonder, depression held little power over me today. Its lies were weak and ineffective.

So, today has been one of the most pleasant days I’ve had in a good, long while. I certainly hope it won’t be the last.

Happiness, don’t be a stranger. You are welcome here anytime.

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?

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.

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.

The Casual Gamer: Destiny First Look Alpha

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The 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. Continue reading The Casual Gamer: Destiny First Look Alpha