Get Well Soon

I’ve been sick for the last four days.  I woke up Monday morning with a burning sensation in the back of my sinuses and then I thought “huh, this can’t be good.”  The drive back to Vermont was decent.  I was mostly rested despite a shorter night’s sleep and I was fairly alert, but I was still suspicious from how I felt that morning.

Generally the first thing I notice when I’m about to get sick is that my hands start getting weak.  My arms get heavy and inoperable.  My legs slow to shuffle.  I feel decrepit.  Going from a sit to stand almost exhausts me.  My head becomes foggy and sluggish.  My body seems confused as I shiver from lack of warmth yet only to sweat profusely when I apply heat.    A man cold is serious business.  Sure, you laugh, but its a real disease with doctors and stuff.  No joke!

One of the many good qualities humans have is noticing when another is not doing well.  Our intuition and ability to read one’s body language doesn’t usually betray us.  On the other hand, there is one thing that I’ve come to really question lately: how we respond to it.

I feel like our society has a handful of “go-to” responses when we can’t think of anything else to say.  Hearing “hope you feel better” just feels empty to me.  It lacks empathy.    It feels programmed, almost mathematical.  If a + b = c, then go with d.  Trust me, I’m going to be doing everything I can to feel better because no one likes being sick and I want things back to normal.  I’d much rather hear someone say “get well soon.”  Why?  Because I feel that saying “get well soon” encourages a speedy recovery and shows that the other person cares to wish me well.  It demonstrates that the recipient has heard me, acknowledges that I’m not 100%, and is not just looking to appease.

This may sound absolutely ridiculous to some of you.  I understand.  You may be thinking, “well, screw this guy.  Next time he’s sick I won’t say anything at all.”  I hope it doesn’t come to that, but hear me out.  Look, I’m guilty of just spouting off whatever Hallmark phrase just to squeeze out a little satisfaction and move on too.  Think about any time you’ve been to a funeral.  How often have you heard people say to the survived “if there’s anything I can do for you…” etc?  Seems meaningful, right?  I beg to differ.  Again, I feel like this is another programmed response straight out of the moving pictures.  A bit contrived in my opinion.  Can you do anything for me???  Can you bring the person I loved dearly back to life?  That would surely end this ultimate pain and suffering I’m going through.  Much obliged.  

You know, it’s not our fault that we’re like this.  Most of the time I believe that when we say these things we’re truly coming from a good place.  We mean well, we do.  Since being exposed to the French language and culture I’ve come to learn that the French have a word for every specific situation.  They have no choice but to really think about what they’re going to say and use the vocabulary as its intended based on the circumstances.  English tends to be too loose and more open to interpretation.  This can cause social discrepancies and double entendre.  I’ve noticed that the French have this unspoken code of you say what you mean and you mean what you say.  I like it.

When I’m sick in Quebec I’ve never heard someone tell me “I hope you feel better.”    Instead I hear for example: “Repose-toi, prend ça relax,” meaning “Rest up, take it easy.”  It’s more encouraging and I can hear the empathy allowing me to be more prone to say merci rather than be put in this awkward tumble like the latter.  This is a cultural diversity that I’ve really come to appreciate in the French.  I’ve attended a few funerals in Quebec as well.  Unlike American funerals, the tone is different; your speech is different too.  I had to be taught to say “Mes condoléances” or “Mes sympathies” because the pain and loss is already inferred and doesn’t need to be acknowledged unless the survived want otherwise.  Its just different.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that word choice is everything.  Actually taking the time to read a situation, actively listen, and then responding appropriately would make a huge difference.  It would make us better communicators.  It would make us more cohesive as a community, a society, and maybe as a nation.

To further illustrate my point I give you Louis C.K.

 

 

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The Road I Want Less Travelled

I’ve not had a home in Vermont since last October.  I intentionally gave up a room that I was renting in Hyde Park because I knew that my life was about to enter a major transition.  I was getting married that October.  My wife is a Quebec native.  We’ve been together for five years now.

The plan was simple: I give up my home, move my stuff to Canada, file for immigration, and keep my job in Vermont.  No problem.

I drive back and forth between Quebec and Vermont every week.  Its two hundred miles one way.  It’s almost three and half hours to get from point A to point B.  I work for an organization called Laraway Youth and Family Services as a community support and residential staff.  I work during the day with youth and then I do two overnight shifts at one of our residential homes.  It’s a pretty sweet gig.  Laraway has been good to me.  I get up early on Monday mornings in order to be on time to my meetings.  The drive is long, but its become second nature anymore.

Today, five months later, I feel like a drifter.  A vagabond of sorts. I’m in my car so much.  I drive back to Quebec on Wednesday evenings after work and I usually arrive at “home” around 7 or 8 PM.  From there I’m off Thursday through Sunday.  It sounds great, right?  During those three days I’m in Vermont I get my forty hours.  I’m lucky to have four days off.  I usually need it.

You may ask why I put “home” in quotation marks.  HOME for me is Quebec (although, I’m originally from Ohio).  I love it there.  My wife is there.  But, on the other hand, I don’t feel fully settled in yet.  I’m always in between.

When I’m in Vermont I’m dependent on a busy schedule.  When I’m not working I’m looking for places to go and things to do.  These days I spend my downtime at McDonald’s drinking coffee and tinkering around on my laptop.  I go to parks and take walks.  I’ll visit some friends and play cards.  There’s a local cafe I enjoy going to by the border that gives free refills on hot tea Newport Natural Cafe and sells delicious baked goods.

My permanent residency application is all filled out.  We’re just waiting on a few things to come in the mail that need to be added to the application package.  Once mailed it’s the waiting part that’s the hardest.  Processing time is generally close to one year.  It’s possible that I won’t be a permanent resident until next summer.  Border agents have told me that once the immigration forms are mailed I can quit my job and stay in Canada while I wait for my visa.  But I don’t know.

Someday I’ll be settled in Quebec and actual feel like I’m part of it.  Despite having a wife, my possessions, some friends and family, there are days where I still feel like a visitor because I know I’ll just have to pack up and leave again like I always do.  I try my best to keep those thoughts out, but it can be difficult to do so.  It’s not all bad though.  I like Vermont, I really do.  It has a lot to offer and the scenery is gorgeous.  Yet, it’s just hard to feel a sense belonging at times which can really do some damage to one’s mental health.

This is only temporary.  I know that.  Despite the hardships, the driving, the challenges, the drifter status, whatever, I’m committed to the bigger picture.  LOVE keeps me in the driver’s seat.

via Daily Prompt: Temporary

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.