Something About Apples

My dad and I have never really had the best relationship.  It’s always been tough for me (and I’m guessing him as well) to find common ground between the two of us.  I’m 35 and he’s 61.

I suppose you could say I grew up in a pretty traditional family.  Mom stayed home and took care of us kids while dad was away earning the bread.  It was this set up that lead me to become closer to my mother.  She was always there with us – guiding, nurturing, and disciplining.  She made meals and helped us with our homework.  That had to have been hard raising five children.  I have so much respect for that woman.

Throughout my juvenile years the relationship between my mom and I strengthened like a piece of wood.  Like every relationship we’ve had our disagreements and rough spells, but we always got through them.  Nothing hung us up.  In the meantime, as I aged, I was feeling more and more alienated from my father.  I’m sure my rebelliousness and lack of experience had a lot to do with our headbutts.  And, knowing myself, confrontation pushes me away from people.  However, it’s not pushed me away from him entirely.  We still talk here and there and its usually pretty good when we do.

Fast forward to present day and even as a 35-year-old I still find it tricky to connect with that 61-year-old man.  Since starting therapy again I’ve presented with the idea that my dad may not have been available as much as he should have been when I was younger.  I’m still working on discovering how this may have effected me as a young boy and teen.

But just this week something happened.  I had missed him on Fathers’ Day.  I tried calling home a couple of times to reach him, but never got through.  He sent me a text the next day saying he was sorry for missing my calls and wanted me to call him back when I got the chance.  So I did.

We spoke for a good hour.  I chatted him up on my struggles and challenges; through therapy and medication; my realizations, uncertainties and self discovery.  I’ve often heard stories of how my dad struggles with his own problems.  He’s struggled with social anxiety and depression too most of his life.  Every year we have a big family reunion in the summer.  My father will normally not make an appearance.  Its been that way for years.

Group settings have and probably will always be tough for him.  And after I opened up to my dad on the phone I was able to fully get why he is the way he is.  I’m that way too.  It became so clear to me in that instance.  We connected on a personal level.  I dare say it had been awhile.  From there the conversation took flight.

Friday night I spoke with my mom.  But, this time I was on the phone with her for two hours.  We tend to do that.  I mentioned how my talk with dad had went so well and that I realized that I was a lot like him in so many ways.  I never thought I’d say that, but it happened.  For years prior I would reject the idea.  There was no way I was going to end up like him or be him or whatever!  Perish the thought!  Yet, it’s as they say, the apple doesn’t fall so far from the tree.

My mom filled me in on other things my dad experienced when they were first together.  Turns out we both struggle with same stuff: depression and anxiety.  My dad, like me, would get down for no apparent reason and sometimes it would last for a week or so. She told me how it used to make her feel like she had done something wrong, but she soon realized that it wasn’t her fault.  Now she just deals with it knowing along the way that it’s just how he is.  The conversation continued.

Within a few short days I’ve learned something very valuable.  My dad may not have been available as often as he could’ve been, but now I understand why.  When I get depressed or riddled with anxiety its difficult to be available for anyone let alone myself.  It’s a constant trip between being okay and not.  And when I’m “okay” I’m trying to pick up where I left off and remember where I was at before I fell.  This dance can be taxing.  And through the thick of it you’re trying to keep together the one dynamic that matters most: you.  Family and friends may get the raw end of the deal.  For me, a good even balance is hard to come by.

There’s no denying our roots.  We are our parents’ children and whether we like it or not we’re going to inherit something from them.  No matter how hard we try to resist becoming like them there’s no escaping genetics.  And instead of fighting it, embrace it.  Learn from it.  Read the manual.  Be curious.  It took me a long time to realize this, but I’m happy to report that I’m feeling some relief because I allowed myself to open up and let my guard down… judgement free.

 

… and then I went blank

I felt guilty yesterday.

It had been the first time in a while that I had five days off in a row.  I guess in most cases a lot of people would be jumping for joy to have that kind of time off.  But, for me it wasn’t the case.  Not at first.

Last Wednesday I was really looking forward to being off work for a little longer than usual.  I always get Memorial Day off and generally its adds up to a three-day weekend for me.  But now that I only work Monday through Wednesday I was sure I was going to have a nice five days off.

The first few days went fine.  I ended getting the relaxation that I needed after a jam-packed work schedule.  Sadly, I’m still trying to get rid of this cold I inherited weeks ago.  It seems to shift to different locations in my body.  Now I’m congested again and there’s a pain in my left ear.  My hearing is a little muffled on that side now.  Wonderful.

With the weather being beautiful on Saturday I spent the afternoon at La Mauricie National Park hiking and sight-seeing.  The only complaint I have is that there were swarms of these little biting flies everywhere.  It made my excursion a little less enjoyable than I had hoped yet I still managed to kill about four hours there and took some great photos along the way.

Now normally Monday I head back to Vermont.  Monday marks the beginning of my routine and I’ve just grown accustomed to waking up early those mornings and hitting the road.  But, this time I didn’t do that.  I got to sleep in a little.  I got to see my wife yesterday morning which is a change of pace because she’s usually sleeping like everyone else at that early of an hour.  After she left work I started doing laundry.  Then I just sat and zoned out.

I felt lost.  I felt strange just not being on the road; not having left earlier.  There was really anything else that needed to be done around the house nor could I think of anything productive to do.  I started watching Netflix.  Then I switched over to Fallout 4.  I didn’t feel good.  I had this feeling of guilt.  Like I should have been doing something else with my time rather than nothing.  Even the things I normally enjoy for leisure were not enjoyable.  I got depressed.

I did my best to shake the feeling off.  So after a little debating I changed and hopped on the treadmill for a good forty-five minutes.  That seemed to help in the moment, but once I had finished exercising I went right back to feeling useless.  Why?

I struggle with this.  When I feel like I’ve had too much time to do whatever I want and that free time perpetuates I start feeling really guilty.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be that I’m off.  Sometimes it just happens without warning.  That feeling of guilt from doing nothing is haunting.  I don’t like it.  It’s as if my existence in that moment has no meaning.  Like I’m not contributing to anything good; no cause, no purpose.  It’s like being in some sort of self-inflicted purgatory.

Maybe I’m over thinking this.  Maybe.  At times that’s the case.  But where does this guilt come from?  Why does it make me feel like less of a person?  Why can I not just simply enjoy doing absolutely nothing?  Is this a result of being constantly overstimulated by technology?  Or am I just being too critical of my own existence?

 

I can’t just let it hit me… can I?

One of the worst things that can happen to a guy like me with anxiety is being put on the spot.  This happened yesterday and it took me several hours to recover from it.  Its really disarming.  When it happens I freeze.  I’m at a loss and I can’t get my brain to move on to the next step.  My pulse speeds up and I can feel my heart thumping away in my chest and my head.  My eyes desperately begin scanning for an escape route.  I usually just end up looking away until the “bad thing” goes away.  It sucks.

I get hot, especially in my face.  My head goes void.  Empty.  I stop thinking.  I still hear the words of the other party who’s responsible, but I’m unable to follow nor care.  I’m in fight or flight mode.  My only way of preservation is to just disassociate and wait for the end.  And of course, time screeches to halt.  This is one of those instances where I really don’t want to be in the moment.  Oh please, please leave me alone.  Why me?  Why now?

I know I can’t avoid confrontation in my life.  Its impossible.  My actions will most definitely result in a reaction from somewhere or someone.  Its inevitable.  I can’t just weave in and out of the fabric of consequence.  Its sort of like driving in Vermont.  You can’t avoid every pothole.

And it doesn’t have to be big confrontations that set me off either.  It can just be as simple as Hey, you didn’t do this thing right or C’mon, man, just play guitar for us.  Or sometimes it can be a confrontation that hasn’t even happened yet.  Like if I’m late to work or something.  You have no idea where my mind goes.  But maybe some of you can guess.  Its exhausting.

But what I can do is try to manage my reactions better.  Try to respond more constructively.  I can’t expect the other party to know how I’m feeling, especially if they’re the ones causing my discomfort.  How would they know?  How hard could it be to just say, “Hey, I’m really not feeling comfortable right now because of this situation…” and just explain?  Seems easy enough.  Now, in order to do that I just need to not be knocked on my ass by the initial wave and not be continually throttled by the surf.

That’s something that I’m putting my focus to.  When I bind up and get defensive what do I do to control that first rush of emotion?  And secondly, if I can’t get that far then, how do I not allow my emotional response from totally overwhelming me?  The mind quakes with possibilities!

And partly what I’ve learned about myself over these past few months is that I have a really hard time taking feedback.  My pride often gets in the way and I tend to perceive feedback as negative and its translated into an attack on my abilities or self.  Maybe I’m just afraid of being vulnerable.  Who knows?  I certainly don’t.  That’s why I’m in therapy.  I’m looking to unveil the secrets of this mystery and cast away an shroud of misconception I have.

But first I need to learn to be comfortable with myself before I can receive others more comfortably. 

You Wear It Well

I was out to dinner with a friend of mine Monday evening.  He broke ice by saying he never knew I was a blogger.  Well, honestly, how many blogs does it take to be considered an official blogger… five, ten, twenty-eight, ninety-six?  Anyways, he had read my second post and started giving me feedback.  He then began to say that he would have never guessed that I was the type of person that experienced any mental health challenges.  He then said, “its like you’re wearing this mask.  You wear it well.”

I’ll agree with him.  Truth is I probably have many masks that I’m not even aware that I have on most of the time.  I don’t wear these masks all the time.  No.  They’re for special occasions like going to the grocery store, meetings at work, or when I interacting people outside of my immediate circle.  I put a mask on when I feel threatened.  I put one on when I feel ashamed or embarrassed.  Sometimes I’ll wear one to hide; to just disappear when I feel ignored, awkward or out-of-place.

Above all, a mask is worn to survive.  That’s right: SURVIVAL.  It’s a coping skill we learned in order to deal with the threats and ambiguities of life.  It’s a way to cover up the damage that was dealt to the individual and any residual scaring.  For me, wearing a mask helps me get through the inner turmoil that certain social situations create for me.  Its been a keystone for keeping the alert and alarm of others down when I’m really freaking out inside.  “I’m OK, everybody!  Don’t mind me!  Carry on!”

These past couple months I’ve really been letting my guard down.  Which is good in the sense that I’ve been slowly starting to show how I really feel and opening up to people who I’m close to.  I’m very lucky to have my wife at my side supporting me.  She’s become my rock.  More and more I’m putting the masks away when I’m with her.  PROGRESS!  Just last Wednesday I drove up from Vermont.  I was not doing well.  Therapy was hard that day.  I walked in the house and didn’t even bother pretending I was fine.  I let my sorrow shine.  No fear, just raw emotion.  My body was showing all the warning signs of “I am NOT doing well.”   I felt terrible, but it was a step in the right direction.  I opened up to my wife a bit.  A friend of our’s was there too, a good friend, so I didn’t feel it necessary to pull out the “guest mask” for the night.  The three of us went for a walk around the block.  Movement and a change of scenery are great combinations.

I felt better as we made our way back to the house after our short promenade.  I had got some things off my chest.  It felt good.  I saved the more intimate pieces for my wife later on in the week.  The shadow that had been following me was fading away in the distance.  There’s always some sort of shadow nipping at my heels.  I’m used to it.

Its been baby steps for me and it should be for you too.  As terrifying as it may be to show your true, damaged, and vulnerable self, it can really be therapeutic.  The outcome may surprise you.  Perhaps something that scared the daylights out of you may turn out to be not as intimidating as you thought.  Maybe a person you’ve always been leery of opening up to might turn out to be that rock you’ve always needed.

What sort of masks do you wear?

Weather

Its a rainy morning here in Shawinigan, Quebec.  I’ve always found it very peculiar why people feel this need to complain about the weather.  What’s the point?  It just does what it does.  Meteorological events are a thing of nature.  Sometimes they are phenomena of pure awe and beauty like that of striking rainbow cascading above a farmer’s field.  And sometimes the weather can be violent and unforgiving bringing devastation to a community.  Tropical storms, blizzards, heat waves, bitter cold, etc.  Anywhere you go in this world there are challenges to be found.

Every year we have an expectation from season to season.  We mock-up a hope or desire for what the weather should be like, seeking to benefit ourselves in the long-term.  I get it.   Who wouldn’t want perfect weather that’s just, I don’t know, easy?  We’re in constant pursuit to find the more suitable.  Our conquest for acceptance, love, and happiness is always at our side as we push onward.  We all want what’s best for us.  But, the reality is that, much like the weather, the path to obtaining these is always unpredictable and laced with uncertainty.

Experts have been saying for years that human beings are directly responsible for the erratic weather patterns the planet exhibits.  Others argue that global warming is big fat hairy myth and this simply a case of manifest destiny.  Whatever you believe one point remains a constant I find: there’s no controlling the outcome nor the response.

Exhibit A:  Let’s say you start putting in extra hours at work.  You’ve been pushing really hard for that promotion and desperately seeking your boss’s approval.  You’ve rubbed a lot elbows.  The extra money and better hours would be a godsend for you and your family.  Finally, the day comes when you muster up enough courage to march into your boss’s office and lay yourself on the line.  But, then something happens.  Your boss tells you that he appreciates your efforts and hard work, but he’s not willing to give you that promotion because of A, B, and C.  How could this have happened?  You thought for certain that this was a sure thing.  You were a shoe-in!  Now what?  You leave his office sullen and forlorn.

I worry about outcomes… a lot.  I find myself skipping out on social events and interactions with people just because I mentally can not handle it.  Often times I get fixated on negative scenarios that I’ve created in my mind.  This usually pushes me to the point of just avoiding the social piece of my life entirely.  I’m weighing out the possibilities around the given circumstances based on what has happened to me in the past.  Fortunately, my condition is not clinical.  I’m not stuck in my house 24/7 with this perpetual fear of just turning the doorknob.  No, it’s not that bad.  I’m not like Karen’s mom from the TV series Shameless.  But, I feel for those people who do suffer like that.  THAT is an anxiety that is unwavering and all powerful.  However, I will deliberately avoid social interaction if it means my comfort zone could be jeopardized and keeping my sanity in check.  I’ve thought long and hard about this.  Perhaps I fear the reception of others.  Perhaps I fear the response.

Exhibit B:      A new hobby shop has opened up in my home town.  Every Friday the store hosts a game night where people are invited to stop in, grab a drink or something to eat, mingle and play games of all sorts.  I love playing games with people.  I really enjoy Magic the Gathering and I’m usually pretty open to trying new things.  I once got in contact with the guy who runs the shop via Facebook when it first opened.  I told him I’d be in on one of my days off.  Well, the store’s been open for two months now and I still haven’t made it.  Once I start thinking about going over there and checking the place out I freeze.  The thought of meeting new people and going outside of my comfort zone is too much.  To top it off, I worry that the owner will comment on my not showing up when I said I would.  I start to doubt my French language abilities.  I fear I’ll be judged for not speaking well enough and that the person I’m interacting with won’t be patient with me.  I take my shoes off, hang my coat up, and back downstairs I go.

When it rains it pours, right?  Anxiety makes everything bigger; more elaborate; more hopeless.  It makes all that is good and positive seem utterly insurmountable.  It makes change seem pointless and kills confidence.  Anxiety is a lot like the weather.  It comes and goes in various forms.  Some days the skies are clear and all is calm.  I savor those moments of serenity.  But other days the winds are raging and the storm is brutal.  In times like these I’m desperately trying anything to navigate through it and there’s no beacon signaling the end of my efforts.  I often make mistakes because the logical part of my brain has hung a sign on its front door that reads “Out To Lunch” and I’m in fight or flight mode.  I’ve no choice but to endure.

Managing our anxiety can be so difficult.  It poses numerous challenges in day-to-day routines.  It’s easy to look at yourself and feel ashamed as if there’s something terribly wrong with you.  It’s easy to think that others share the same opinion.  I’ve done it and I’ll probably do it again.  So quick we are to sabotage and judge ourselves.  We are all good people.  We’ve just been blessed with a sensitive temperament.  We feel over responsible and a whole lot of guilt when things go awry.  We’re afraid to make mistakes because of the fear of being judged that will further solidify our crippled confidence.  We are scared of being rejected because we’ve been pushed away before.  These things may seem totally irrational to those not effected by anxiety and depression.  But, to us, these feelings are very real.

Winters up here in the north are long and rough.  The region starts getting colder with the onset of fall and you know that snow and ice are on the horizon.  The weather doesn’t start to let up until March.  I’ve got nothing against the winter, honestly.  I find it charming and magical.  I have many good memories as a child playing in the snow with my siblings; runny noses and frozen appendages that I cared less about.  As an adult my point of view has changed.  I’ve adapted to winter and I can nip those childhood woes right in the bud now.  I’ve accepted my winter for what it is.  Its arduous and isolating.  There are many days where you just don’t go outside because the fear of being mauled by a polar bear who’s been sorting through your garbage is very real.  You get pounded with blizzards and chilled to the core from icy winds.  I’ve accepted this though.  Its home.

So why not do the same with my anxiety?  Through all the tribulations and denial of its existence couldn’t I just look at it through the lens of acceptance?  Could I not just acknowledge that it’s a part of me; a part of who I am?  There’s a reason why most people don’t just move away from the east coast after getting slammed with a hurricane.  Could it be that they’ve accepted this chaotic place as home because there’s a much bigger picture involved?  Is it possible that they’ve learned to endure and adapt to this type of weather because their survival depended on it?

I like to think so.

 

 

 

 

No Shame

I’m 35 years old and I’m in a second marriage – far better than the first.  I’m a huge music enthusiast who also plays guitar and dabbles with music software from time to time.  I use my treadmill religiously because I care about my physical health and I’m trying to lose weight.  I enjoy travelling, but I’ve never been overseas.  I hope someday I get to experience that.  I find myself getting into a good book every so often and taking long walks around town or hike when the weather is nice.  Video games and Netflix are foolproof distractions for me when I’ve got nothing better to do or just want to set my brain on “OFF” mode for a little while.  Magic the Gathering is also a plus.

I work in mental health services as a community support staff and I have been for quite some time now.  Gosh, at least seven years.  I work with traumatized youth who have dealt with all kinds of crap throughout their childhood.  The work, at times, is not easy, but its most certainly rewarding when days with kids are on the upswing.  Laraway has been a good fit for me and I’m thankful to be there.

So really, on the surface, that’s who I am.  But, honestly that’s just one side of the story.  There’s something else that manifests from within me.  When pushed just enough or discarded it shows a different side of me.  Its ugly and worrisome.  Its dark, cold, and unforgiving.  This thing can be punishing and has the power to completely debilitate me.  I’m afraid of it, but yet I have no choice to face it.

I’m talking about anxiety.

I had experienced a pretty low point in my life recently.  I’m a bit of drifter nowadays.  I have a home, but not officially.  I spend my weeks commuting back and forth between Vermont and Shawinigan, Quebec.  I do this because: I still have my job in VT, my wife lives in Canada, I gave up my place in the states, and the immigration process is mostly waiting when all the forms are completed.  C’est la vie.

About three or so weeks ago I was at home in Canada.  I only work Monday through Wednesday and I’m chez moi the rest of the week.  Its nice having four days off.  Filling those four days can be tricky for me, but we’ll get to that later.  Anyways, my wife and I had made plans to go to Montreal on a Friday night for a birthday of a friend.  Two days later was a baby shower for her best friend.  I didn’t go to either.  I couldn’t.  My mind was reeling with worry.  I was trapped inside my head.  I felt distant.  I was quiet a lot.  Even though I wasn’t speaking my body language was talking in volumes.  My shoulders were hunched over.  My head down.  Eye contact was particularly hard to make.  I had zero motivation to do anything.  Nothing was interesting or tickled my fancy.  I was isolating myself in my man cave.  I was depressed.

My wife saw this and when she asked me what was going on I couldn’t exactly say.  I was afraid to open up.  When I get nervous or panicked my stutter shines through and it only makes things worse.  I responded with “I don’t know’s” while my body desperately sought escape.  And honestly, I really didn’t know what was happening to me.  I just knew that something was very wrong and it had me tight in its clutches constricting my attempts for relief.  I was given the option to just stay home.  And I did.

Anxiety sucks.  For me its in the form of social anxiety disorder (ironic how the acronym spells SAD).  Sprinkle some depression on that and its one hell of a cocktail that’s hard to swallow, let alone stomach.  I’m more aware now that I’ve been afflicted with this.  I’d be willing to bet that my past experiences and my temperament have created this beast.  But then again, is it also just as possible that my current circumstances are to blame as well?  I can’t say, really, but I know that I’ve been fighting with myself for many years.  I’m getting tired of it.  I don’t want to live a life where I’m constantly confronted with anxiety that keeps me from getting out there and enjoying what the world has to offer.  I know very well I’ve been guilty more than once of avoiding something positive because I pumped it up to be negative in my mind; because its easier just to ignore your problems than to actually face them, am I right?  I used to think so.  But, anymore I know that to not be true.  It was just me trying to escape… me.  I know I have my own baggage.  I’ve been damaged like a lot of you.  Life has been cruel at times and unrelenting.  I get it.  Life’s not fair.  Never will be.  And that’s OK.  I’ve accepted that long ago.

But the one thing that I’m just now starting to accept is that my own mental health is at stake.  I’m back in therapy again and taking medication.  And I feel good about that.  I feel more invested and ready to do the work that’s necessary to get better.  A friend of mine the other day told me that therapy a lot like a surgery.  When you start cutting into the wounds and exposing the truth it hurts.  Sometimes the truth is so hard to accept.  The medication just makes it easier swallow.  But, this is part of the fight!  No more running, no more lying to yourself.  There’s people out there that care about you: your family, your friends, your doctor, your pets (pets aren’t people, but some of them sure act like it)… I mean come on!

Remember:  you’ve got one life to live and you have the power to make it extraordinary.

There’s no shame in being human.  Good luck and see you soon.