Parts Unknown

It was 0745 Friday when I got the news that Antony Bourdain killed himself. Even though Central Time is an hour earlier, I couldn’t think of anyone to call but my dad. We’ve both read all his books, we’ve both been fans of the TV shows, and I broke the news to him. He told me it was awfully early for a cook to be up. I said that I was asleep until the news dinged on my phone (I get alerts from Apple News aggregator). I went back to sleep as visions of old No Reservations and Parts Unknown episodes played in my head.

As it got closer to service, at first I didn’t want to go. I just wanted to stay in bed and mourn. But then I realized that there was no better homage to Chef than getting my ass into the kitchen, mourning with everyone else. The weird thing is that everything was normal. I’m not sure my coworkers had ever seen him, and I couldn’t have explained the concept of my grief in Spanish if I tried. “Triste y llorando” (sad and crying) were the actions, but not the reasons. They didn’t know how hard he fought for them. I am not sure whether my coworkers are illegal immigrants or not, and don’t care. What I do care is that whether their immigration is legal or not, Tony fought for them. In Kitchen Confidential, he said that there was nothing better than a Salvadoran line cook. He believed that illegal or not, immigration was key to the melting pot of culture, even if they were on the line at Les Halles, exclusively French food, because it wasn’t always about the line- it was about eating where they eat or having them cook authentic dishes from their homes.

All locations of Les Halles are closed now, but in New York, the building is still there. People are crowding the doors with flowers and memorials. The DC location of Les Halles closed in 2008, so I never made it. But Tony wouldn’t have been there, anyway. If he had, he would have introduced me to the real chefs- the Central and South American sous chefs (assistants to the executive chef) who really run the place. I know this because he did this on an episode of No Reservations, where he exposed the real manpower of the restaurant in New York.

Everyone knew something was up with me, because I was not the usual “Bob Esponja” I normally am. Thankfully, someone else closed for me, and I was home by 11:30. That gave me plenty of time to sleep off depression and anxiety, for which I feel no urge to kill myself in turn, it’s just that grief is its own situational depression, especially if it dogs you in other areas of your life and you just happen to hear something terrible.

I have an old, old picture of Argo and I couldn’t help but stare at it last night. The reason I did this is that she did something for me that is different than the traditional wisdom of “reach out,” although she did plenty of that, too. She reminded me that I had power in the situation, and I wasn’t using it. It’s so important for friends to remind you that you are loved, but what worked for me is reminding me that I was not powerless. I had agency. I had the ability to help myself. It was a strident, pull yourself up from your bootstraps, no crying in baseball kind of love. I can’t help but think it might have worked on Tony as well, because if there’s anything that Tony appreciated, it was no bullshit conversations.

Because often what happens is that when you are really down in the shit, you forget that you have the ability to dig yourself out of a hole, and someone reminded me that I was more powerful than my illness. That my illness was not my personality, and my personality was not my illness.

I have a feeling that the only reason it worked is that we were low-key fighting at the time, and the cortisol from it gave me an “I’ll show her” attitude. Cortisol gave me the short-lived strength I needed to get myself to a hospital, where I collapsed once I realized someone else was in charge now, and I could stop being strong. So, even if those words were designed to say “I’m tired of your crap,” that’s not what came across. What came across is “this is the only way I know how to help you, which is hopefully kick your ass into next week so you provide yourself with options instead of relying on others to do it for you.” I remember that the nurses were going to take my phone in two minutes, and in those two minutes, I took the time to send Argo a voicemail by attaching it to an e-mail, thanking her and telling her that I’d indeed checked myself into a hospital. I was so scared, and the voice mail reflected that. Because it’s stored on my Google Drive, I’ve listened to it since, my voice rushed and a different pitch because of fear that I wouldn’t get the voice mail done in time and even though I wanted help, asking for it was tantamount to a black mark on my employment history, especially in DC, where in terms of working with databases, you generally need Secret and Top Secret clearances- not because the work itself is hard, but because of the information you could possibly run across. I will not say hospitalization was a bad move, or short-sighted, just that it is unlikely that I’ll be able to get said clearance. My only move, should I get a job like that, is to disclose everything up front so that the government doesn’t find it on its own.

So, in short, I understand Tony’s demons. I understand what it’s like to go to that place, to feel like earth would be better off without you so that you are not a burden on your family and loved ones as they watch the roller coaster of your emotions, completely helpless in the process.

The thing about depression is that talk rarely works. Checking in on your friends is key, but unless you’re the type friend that is glued to them at the hip and you’ve been through a depressive scare with them before, they don’t want to be seen. I could be honest with Argo because she’d already seen how bad it gets. To everyone else, I was “fine.” If you’re not in the inner circle, it’s hard to fight your way in. It also helped that she was not in my inner circle physically, because the wall of anonymity across the miles allowed me to write the truth into the night, open and vulnerable in a way that I couldn’t be daily. Without ever seeing me in three dimensions, it allowed for the stranger on a train feeling that allowed me to communicate just as I was. Angry at the world, confused, needing her love, counsel, protection, and all the things mothers do. I am not extrapolating this into Argo acting as my mother in this situation, only that mothers love differently than everyone else. They have experience at carrying a cub through the mountains in their mouths, and no problem with tough love as it’s required.

If you are in the inner circle of someone who struggles with depression, don’t ask how you can help. It is too much energy for the person to try and figure it out on their own. Show up with trash bags and an offer to do the laundry. Get them out of their hole, because the likelihood is that they’ve stopped taking care of themselves when nothing matters, anyway.

If you are not in the inner circle, they won’t let you see that gigantic mess, anyway. Don’t say, “I’m here if you need me.” We don’t have the energy to return a phone call, and we don’t want to talk about it. As much as we’ll hate you for it, knock on the door or text and say, “I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care what your house looks like, I’m coming over in ten minutes. We’ll figure it out.” Don’t worry. We’ll be home. Some of us can make it to work, some of us can’t, but when all social commitments fall by the wayside, it isn’t that we don’t care. We don’t have enough energy to leave the house. Or interact, in any way, at all. Even if the text goes unanswered, there’s your indication that it’s even more important to ring the doorbell, and hope that they live with someone else who’s willing to come downstairs and open the door.

But this entry is not about turning Tony’s tragedy into my own story, it is about empathy and sympathy. I feel like I understand more than someone who’s never felt what depression and anxiety can do. It always knows the very best lies to use against you, like the planet still spinning for your family if you’re gone. It is truly my mother’s death that convinced me suicide was never, would never be the answer, because I got to see the planet turn upside down, never the same, as it never will be again for Eric Ripert.

If there’s anyone I feel truly sorry for in this garbage dump of a situation, it’s Tony’s best friend, Eric Ripert, who had the awful job of finding him hanging from the belt of a bathrobe. When people say their hearts go out to his loved ones, I wish they would say his name specifically.

We often try to make sense of the senseless. Maybe his addiction came back. Maybe he never pictured himself as an old person. Maybe he wanted to go out on top, rather than withering away. Maybe he’d just received some incredibly bad health news. But that’s just spitballing and the truth died with him. As far as the news has reported, there was no note, unusual for a suicide…. but my hope is that there is some explanation, some note, and the reason it hasn’t been reported is out of privacy, the press is allowing Eric, his girlfriend, and his daughter to read it first.

As a member of the service industry, even though my restaurant wasn’t ensconced in grief, save the pallor I put on the place, I imagine that there were thousands of others bogged down, serving covers as fast as they could not because they felt truly capable in their grief, but because it’s what Tony would have wanted.

As my friend Drew so eloquently put it:

Great service chef. You clocked out, now get your shift drink and head on home. We got you covered.

Where heaven is Parts Unknown, and you need No Reservations.

Empty

I feel as if my writing brain has gone empty, because my energy has been zapped for every minute I’m home. I just don’t have much brain power after I get out of the kitchen; for me, that’s part of the point. I am often wandering the earth with my head in the clouds, and not all memories/thoughts are pleasant. I got divorced, I lost a great friend, and my mother died… memories that are still extremely loud and incredibly close, because even though I can count years between all of those memories, I can’t often count distance. I am sure there is a lot I will forget about losing Dana and Argo. Losing my mother divides time into “before” and “after.” Grieving the death of a parent is infinitely more severe than the loss of the alive… or is it?

I am occasionally not sure which is worse. I will never see my mother again, our last conversation being truly the last. There will be no news of her. There will be no updates. There will be no future. It is devastatingly final. On the flip side, memories of the living flood my brain, and I think about both women, people I love dearly, out in the world living their lives without me. Grief that I won’t again know who and how they are is often just as painful as finality. Growing and changing with them has stopped.

Even the grief between them is different, because of their levels of participation. With Dana, I can honestly say that we destroyed each other, and with Argo, I can own up to the fact that because I was in the middle of the worst time of my life, shit rolled downhill. I abused the absolute privilege it was to be her friend. Our connection was explosive, to the point that the chord that used to run between us was akin to touching a live wire and living to tell the tale.

What sticks with me about the relationship with Argo is that we could be angry to the same extreme we could love each other- that live wire alternately overclocking my brain to its limits and burning me up inside. I have since come to believe that we are both minds you only meet once or twice in a lifetime… but for very different reasons. Logically, she can see all 75 sides to a problem and have them figured out before you can even tie your shoes. Emotionally, I am one of the most intense people that everyone who’s ever met me says they know. Therefore, I think we each served each other magnificent dishes in which the other had only a few of the ingredients.

She was my soulmate, but not in the stereotypical definition… in the Elizabeth Gilbert definition in Eat. Pray. Love. Argo was one of the people sent into my life to shake me up, to get me to see things that I could not see on my own, and those people are generally not designed to be permanent, and not always your partner. Anyone can be an Elizabeth Gilbert soulmate, and the analogy I draw is that she is Richard from Texas. It was a mistake to feel those in-love butterflies where she was concerned, but two things about that. The first is that I am not unique or special. It was transference, like falling in love with your therapist when they uncover the root of your problem and the AHA! moments they cause in you. The second is that I was aware the entire time that was all it would ever be. It was all my shit to work on, my shit to move past, and when that day came, there was much rejoicing (yaaaay). But by the point I could sincerely look at her as a ride-or-die, we’d broken so many plates it was impossible to glue everything back together…. or perhaps a better phrase would be that the live wire burned our whole house down….. and everything inside will always smell like smoke.

What sticks with me about the relationship with Dana is that I could have been better to her, and she could have been better to me. Our demise did not happen overnight, but a series of years in which we thought we had it handled and in fact, did not. Life gets in the way when you take your eye off the ball. But that time in my life is just one of the many things that make me want to be a better person in the future. I could have gone my whole life without learning all those painful lessons, thinking that she’s the only one I’ve ever wanted to chase around a nursing home. Because of this, it’s been years and I still feel like being in a relationship would be inflicting myself on someone else. I don’t yet have that internal sense that I would be a good partner for anyone until I have learned to be a good partner to myself…. and in fact, I think that was the biggest problem I had in the relationship with Dana altogether. My self-esteem was low, as well as self-reliance.

I feel that these years of being alone has increased both, and I am grateful for them. You have to find gratitude in divorce so that it doesn’t eat you alive forever. I count the good things about being apart from Dana like a rosary. I have to, because otherwise the self-esteem I’ve gained gets flushed down the toilet and I focus on all the mistakes I made that led me to this often lonely place. That being said, there is gratitude in loneliness as well.

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.

-Hafiz

Gratitude for loneliness has allowed me to crack open to let some light in. But, there are things in which I miss specifically about being married to her, and things I miss about being a wife as a role, rather than being attached to a specific person. I don’t miss romance as much as I miss simple contact comfort. The former, I have learned I can do without…. the latter, not so much.

But I hear that in order to get those things, you actually have to put yourself out there, often where I fall short. It is a universal axiom that hurt people hurt people. and I am reminded of that fact every time I think I’m ready to date…. and then I hide. I keep thinking, “one day, I’ll be ready, and I have to be prepared for it.” But at the same time, there’s never going to be a moment in which I truly feel prepared, because introspection is a lifelong process. Some things I won’t know until I do meet someone, and have the chance to act on the things I’ve learned while in isolation.

I do take comfort that I am a good friend, that I have at least learned that much. It is the basis for all good relationships, and I feel solid in my ability to love my adopted brothers and sisters like the family they are.

For instance, I think the biggest lesson has been learning not to pour from a cup that is empty.

 

Long Days, Short Nights

I find that the longer I work at the pub, the stronger I get. This is naturally what’s supposed to happen. You can’t carry stuff that heavy and do what’s basically a cross between Zumba and hot yoga for six to eight hours at a clip and not feel a change in your muscle mass. Although I will admit that though I’ve been tempted, there’s been at least twice where I just wanted one of the guys to take over. I couldn’t bring myself to ask.

I’m short, and I have trouble dead lifting 50-60 lbs over my head. I also have trouble admitting that men have better upper body strength and are taller, because what comes to me first is that women can do anything men can do, and I’m just admitting weakness and proving to myself that they can’t. Simultaneously, I would kill for someone to say, “that looks heavy. Let me carry it for you,” while I am thinking ” I would legit fall over and die before I admit defeat.” I feel I am forgetting something important- that it’s not my femininity that’s the problem. It’s that I personally am short and weak after long years of computer butt. To my credit, the “I would legit fall over and die before I admit defeat” part of me won, and I muscled through. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of working smarter and not harder. The walk-in refrigerator is set up the way it’s set up. There’s nothing to lever, pulley, or otherwise physics into being. It’s just mind over matter. If I think I can or I can’t, I’m generally right.

It makes me feel good to see these changes in my body after such a long dormant period. Even working in an office is physically lazy, though I mean no offense. It is mentally taxing to an enormous degree. This has changed due to Bluetooth, people bringing their laptops to you on battery power, and wi-fi, but when I was low on the food chain in IT (late 90s, early 2000s), I did get workouts from climbing under desks to fix cabling and the like. In IT now, you barely have to get up.

Even with the relaxed atmosphere physically, depression and anxiety build up for two reasons. The first is that you tend to see the same problems every day, sometimes from the same people… every day. The second is that they’re always mad about it, and no matter what they did, it’s all your fault. I had one person get mad at me because their thesis disappeared- they’d stuck their floppy disk onto their refrigerator with a magnet and of course, had no backups, because why would they?

For me, the difference between working in IT and working in a restaurant is that with cooking, it’s always fresh hell instead of stale. It is also a proven fact that movement is an excellent treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. None of my own mental problems were caused by working in IT, but if you’re already feeling all of these things, being mentally taxed and not physically makes it ten thousand times worse.

People haul off and call you a piece of garbage and you’ve agreed with that for years, despite the fact that you cannot help them fix their computers while their computer is on their desk at work and they’re out driving and just thought to call you from the car. I am sure that now it’s possible with remote desktop, but not if their computer is off and they’re in New York and you’re in Oregon. I’ve often been sorry for not being able to plug a computer into the wall from 3,000 miles away.

You might laugh at this, but I guarantee it’s a sad place to be, because the feeling is so helpless. You couldn’t do anything to fix the problem and even though you’ve just spent 15 minutes on the phone with a total idiot explaining in three different ways why you’re useless, it gets to you. You live for the moments when all you do is walk into a room and press one button and the entire office thinks you have magic powers.

IT jokes about idiot users conceal deep, deep rage for the very scenarios I’ve described… especially when the customer is always right and their idiocy has to come with an “I’m here to serve you” patois.

With cooking, there’s a buffer zone called waitstaff, and never think I’m ungrateful for it. While cooking is busy, it’s not nearly as abusive as working with the public.

It is, however, perpetually exhausting even as you get stronger, because I can’t speak for everyone in my profession, but my sleep cycles have gotten shorter as my body rebels against my natural circadian rhythm. If I don’t go to bed until 0200-0300, I’m still up by 0630-0700. Part of this is that there’s a ton of natural light in my room. Part of it still is that the rhythm of the world keeps going- traffic noise, lawns being mowed, construction… I try to nap, but so far, that isn’t doing anything for me. I just “keep calm and coffee on.” Because of the noise, even if I take a sleeping pill, it doesn’t keep me asleep. I just feel like I’m walking through a Jell-o mold at dawn.

Yet another reason why my shift drink is usually club soda with extra ice and lime. The sugar rush of beer keeps me up even later. I give in when I don’t have to work the next day, because sometimes a cold one after work is a good thing, and it is also important to say that I’ve at least tried our products…. I haven’t had a bad beer yet, and it is vital to me that what I’m drinking is local to my adopted hometown.

I have also learned the hard way that too much alcohol makes my medication less effective, and the last thing I need on earth is that happening. And, apparently, too much alcohol, for me, is having a beer every night… something lots of people do, and I joined them until I had my own epiphany about it. Too much for me is different than most people, and I’m okay with that.

Plus, beer doesn’t have ice in it, and by the time I get out of the kitchen, it is the first thing I want. I could take a bath in ice and it wouldn’t be too much…. and in fact, might be a good idea given how badly I have osteoarthritis in my back and hands.

But for all my aches and pains, I never think about what’s happening mentally with me. I just act on instinct. Childhood trauma and adult chemical imbalances mean nothing to the ticket machine, which, for me, is all about saving the waitstaff from customer abuse. In a way, it’s giving back to all the people who’ve helped me along the way.

I do get a break on Memorial Day, though. It’s up in the air as to what I will do, because there will be several parties going on that I don’t want to miss, giving toasts to the fallen… with extra ice.

Dogs

I woke up at 0500, as I am wont to do. I generally fall asleep to movies or podcasts, and last night it was Battle Royale II- Requiem. I made it through Battle Royale earlier in the day, because it just cracks me up. Yes, there is so much violence and not very much humor in the movie as a whole, but the instructional video makes me laugh until my sides hurt. I’m going to have to go back and watch the ending of II, because I should know by now that I cannot start a movie between 2030-2100. It reminds me of my dad coming home from a Covey seminar on time management, where the instructor told a funny story:

Instructor: I get my kids to wake up at 4:00 AM for a planning session every morning.
Guy in Class: How do you do that?
I: I put them in bed at 8:30 PM.
GIC: How do you manage THAT?
I: I get them up at FOUR IN THE MORNING!

I’ve puttered around the house for a little bit… went through the trash looking for recycling because my roommate is not so good about it. Made myself both a Hawaiian Punch and strong black coffee. Took all my psych meds so that I can ignore the “Meeting with Bob” reminder later (I call all my medication reminders “meeting with Bob,” and it really caught on when I was in the psych ward at Methodist. By the time I left three days later, I had my entire cohort saying “I have a meeting with Bob later.”

Yes, children. I checked myself in at Methodist thanks to an ass kicking by my precious Argo, who put everything succinctly: why do you expect everyone else to fix you? Can’t you see the common denominator is you? I didn’t realize that asking my friends to safety net me was in fact keeping me from moving under my own power, failure to take responsibility for my own actions. When you’re that far down into depression, anxiety, and PTSD, it’s hard to see. The kicker was suicidal ideation that I knew would go away with a trip to a psychiatrist who could adjust my meds, but I called and I could not get a new patient appointment for another three weeks. Anyone who’s been in that situation knows three weeks is way too long- halfway to SpongeBob Squarepants headstone (don’t think I won’t do it- not the suicide part, the hilarity of an actual SpongeBob headstone for all eternity).

Teenage trauma was compounded by my relationship with Dana ending in a fight to end all fights. Dana pushed me over and I just went off like a chihuahua with a God complex. All the fight was taken out of me when Dana punched me in the face so hard that for a moment, I thought my eye socket was broken. It wasn’t, but I had a pretty nice bruise under my eye that my glasses didn’t cover. I forgive, but I don’t forget. I concentrate on my hilarious memories with Dana now, because I cannot live my life in the smallest place possible. I take responsibility for not running away at the first sign that the fight was turning physical.

I, however, have stopped feeling that I deserved to be hit, because the fight absolutely made me come emotionally unglued. It took a while. The mobile assessment team that evaluated me at Methodist reassured me that I had a natural reaction to being pushed over, but that it was probably a bad idea to try and fight back with someone whose fist was three times bigger than mine. In the moment, my thought process was that it was a bad idea not to stand up to a bully. To Dana’s credit, she was immediately sorry and didn’t just give lip service to it. She really put herself through an enormous amount of self-help, which is why I can forgive her so easily. I wouldn’t be so laid back about it if I thought that there was a possibility it could happen again.

The one mistake I made was going home after hospitalization. I didn’t count on the emotional swings between us getting much worse. I made due by sleeping at friends’ houses and going to the house to pick up my stuff when I knew she wouldn’t be there. It wasn’t that I carried anger around. It was that I was trying to cut any and all fights off at the pass. It is a very, very difficult thing to go through that with someone you love so desperately, so my choice is not to be bitter and to remember all the things that happened between us that were overwhelmingly positive. It is enough that we are not in contact anymore, reducing the possibility of hurting each other again to zero, whether that means emotionally, physically, or both.

But that was a little over three years ago, and I cannot emphasize enough how much different my world has become. I’ve had an enormous swath of time to think things through and work on my own issues so that I’m less quick to anger, and trying to love my friends through their own problems, because so many people did it for me. I’ll never be able to pay it all forward, but it helps to try.

I am very open and honest about what it took to get past all this, but the stigma is there. People don’t always realize what it took to get you to the place of hospitalization, and only concentrate on how crazy you must be if you had to get that kind of help. It’s a black mark, whether it is deserved or not. I’d had severe psychological issues since I was a teenager, and I can’t help but think how much better my life would have gone had I been hospitalized in the moment rather than stuffing everything down into my socks. It made me feel like I was fine, thank you very much [Morgan Freeman: Leslie was, in fact, not fine].

I was able to lay everything out in front of Argo because she was a stranger on a train, not part of my physical life so she saw everything differently. She asked pointed questions that made vomiting up old trauma unavoidable, and I cracked into pieces. And then, with two sentences, I make no qualms about the fact that they probably saved my life…. yet another thing that I’ll probably never be able to repay.

I do, however, offer up prayers into the universe for her a lot. It gives me something to pray for her happiness, healthiness, and the joy of being alive with possibility. Her sunshine is bright, and it was a gift to stand in it. I simply would not be the person I am today had I not been able to see every place I went wrong in black and white.

It was an incredible motivator to keep going with psychiatry, talk therapy, and instituting behavioral patterns that keep me from going back to the dark emotional place that doesn’t allow for my own sunshine. I truly have a lot of it to give. It’s hard to notice when I’m spilling my guts on this web site, because most of my entries deal with problems I’m trying to process, but I am incredibly funny. My love is gigantic, from the personal to the international. I don’t just care about my friends and family, but the problems that arise with just being a human.

All of it shows more easily in person than it does while writing, something I am trying to change as both my marriage and the death of my mother fade further into the back of my mind. There are always going to be times when I’m incredibly sad over each, but especially my mother would be horrified to know that losing her caused me to lose my knack for both cracking jokes and laughing easily when others do it.

I am looking forward to a lot of laughter starting on Tuesday, when my little sister arrives for a work trip. What cracks me up the most about her is that when I say something sweet, her response is usually, “thanks, Boo.” It works on two levels; the first is that it is a loving term of endearment. The second is that my mood often bears a striking resemblance to Boo Radley.

Harper Lee is my spirit animal, and I will speak more as to why.

It is my unverified opinion that Scout and Boo are the same person, Harper Lee at different points in her life. Think about just how much she isolated after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, and I think you’ll see it, too…. keeping in mind that I’m wrong a lot. 😛 It seems to me, though, that there’s probably at least a grain of truth in my ramblings about somebody I don’t even know. The now unanswered question in my mind is whether Lee was reclusive before or after creating Boo…. did she base Boo on herself, or did writing about him put her into that place? Chicken, egg, etc. Either way, I’m not sure it renders my opinion invalid.

When I am able to support having a pet, I’d really like to get a dog. This seems unrelated, but it’s not. I often need forced interaction because it’s hard for me to do it on my own, and taking my dog for a walk provides just that. I know this because I used to live in an apartment complex, so letting my dog relieve herself in the backyard was not an option. Therefore, I met lots of other people who also had dogs, which not only gave me opportunities to socialize, but something about which to discuss that didn’t dig too deep. It was just fun. And, of course, if it’s a boy, his name will be Arthur. If it’s a girl, her name will be Louise.

Perhaps I should get a chihuahua with a God complex. Apparently, we’d have a lot in common.

Shelanagans, etc.

As predicted, I’m going to miss Walk-Up Wednesday at the African American Museum of History and Culture. Time, again, has gotten away from me. I even set reminders and they didn’t help. I woke up later than I usually do (0700 as opposed to 0500), and for some reason have the urgency to nest rather than to people. Had I not waited until the last minute, I would have been excited to see the museum, but there was always another Wednesday until now. Perhaps I will wait until someone in my family comes to visit so that we have something touristy to do together that I haven’t done already.

I have found that I am somewhat of an anomaly in D.C., because I’ve met few people around here that are willing to brave the crowds of tourists and would rather stay in their bubbles than constantly “staycation.” In fact, I’ve had roommates in the past that have never been to The Mall for the fireworks on Fourth of July even though they’ve lived here their whole lives. My excuse is that I just haven’t been here long enough to do everything, but it will happen.

One of the reasons I love D.C. so damn much is that it is a wonderland of free stuff to do… not that I’m opposed to paying for good entertainment, but why? The government has seen to it that I get a marvelous education in all sorts of subjects for the cost of a Metro ticket. The only museum that actually cost money that I’m desperate to see is the Newseum, which I saw in 2001 but has had a complete overhaul since. My greatest memory of the old building is standing in front of Helen Thomas’ press pass with tears in my eyes.

A few years before, I’d gotten to meet my hero when she came to University of Houston for a continuing legal education course at the law school, and I went as a reporter for our Information Technology newsletter. I asked her how being a reporter had changed in the age of the Internet, and she told me it was a great question and expounded on the 24-hour news cycle. My hero, badass reporter, told me I asked a great question. Touch me.

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My favorite story that she told involved a Halloween party at The White House, where a pilot tried to crash his plane intentionally on the grounds to kill President Clinton. Luckily, his plan failed miserably, but she said she’d never forget thinking that if he’d succeeded, Vice President Gore would have had to take the Oath of Office dressed as Frankenstein.

My second favorite story involved President Reagan. He invited Helen to take part in breaking ground for the Lebanese Culture Center (or something like it- can’t remember exactly). Then, after it was over, Reagan told her that as she dug the first hole, he could hear the ghosts of all the former presidents saying PUSH HER IN!!!

The first time I came to Washington (to visit), I was in second grade and eight years old. Though I loved The White House, I am infinitely grateful that I’ve come back as an adult so that I can better appreciate everything the city has to offer. For instance, I learned recently that Gore Vidal is buried here, so that’s my next cemetery trip. Perhaps writing advice will come to me by osmosis.

At this point, I’m willing to try anything.

It’s almost time to start writing the review for The 11:05 Murders, and I still owe Finn Bell an Amazon review for Dead Lemons (Finn, if you’re reading this, I haven’t forgotten). My morning coffee has turned into my afternoon coffee for this very reason. Trying to stay sharp despite the medication I’m taking is not effortless. I read somewhere that Lexapro has an effect on cognitive function and thought, great. Something else to make me dumber. I really don’t need help in that department. I also try to stay away from Klonopin unless I’m really distressed because it makes me sleepy. Perhaps that’s the point. It doesn’t solve anxiety so much as make you tired enough you don’t care you’re anxious.

Speaking of which, I need to read Dead Lemons again, and not because of the review. There’s a great therapist character in it with solid advice that I’d like to go back over. I’d tell you what it is, but I want you to buy the book.

Technically, I want you to buy all the books I mention, because then I’ll be able to discuss them with people who already know the end and I’m not responsible for spoiling the whole thing.

A great discussion about a book might make up for not going to the museum.

Right now, though, Brian O’Hare and Finn Bell are counting on me, so perhaps waiting is for the best. My sister and Pri Diddy are both coming to town soon, and who knows what “shelanagans” we’ll create. I would stay tuned if I were you.

I know I will.

Black Coffee with Splenda

Because yesterday’s post got so many likes, I feel that talking about depression, anxiety, and ADHD are fairly universal. So, I want to speak to a little more to connect with “my tribe” (I accidentally typed “trible” before tribe,  reminding me of one of the only Star Trek references I actually get. I’m the only nerd I know who’s maybe seen three episodes….. and The Trouble with Tribbles is one of them.).

It is amazing how much I will give up out of anxiety. For instance, I need to go to the grocery store in the worst way, because I’m out of milk and coffee creamer. I haven’t because I couldn’t people. I like sweet black coffee, so it wasn’t a big deal, but still. If I’d been a little more brave, I’d have fat in my coffee right now. I need it, because when I’m this down, I won’t eat. I don’t have a block on drinking, so I try to add calories to my day in coffee or Instant Breakfast. I think it’s because I feel out of control, so not eating is the one thing in which I do have domain. It’s not an eating disorder, I don’t think, because I’m mindful of the fact that I still need intake. It’s just the delivery method with which I have issues. Sometimes I will order pizza as not to leave the house. I’m making it to all my appointments and such. It’s the voluntary socialization that goes by the wayside, unless Dan calls or Pri Diddy is in town. They are the two people I will let see me even when I feel the worst.

It’s funny that Pri and I have been friends since, like, 2002 over the Internet, and met in person when she and her friend Nina came to Portland years later. I thought moving to DC would be a way for us both to be a part of each other’s daily lives, and not long after, she left. I don’t begrudge her wanderlust, though, because she’s gotten to see some amazing places and is now relatively parked in Rome. So, part of the reason that I will drop everything for her is that we have friend intimacy (into me see- Harville Hendrix), and part of it is that we don’t see each other that often and I have to make time with her where I can get it.

With Dan, she helped me get through my mother’s death by sharing her own experiences. Therefore, I will drop everything to support her, because she supported me first. I actually met her online as well, but after a few days of writing back and forth, we met up at Ted’s Bulletin and it’s been on like Donkey Kong  ever since.

So, to Pri and Dan, thanks for being the two people I can stand all the time.

As a depressed introvert INFJ, my personality type dictates that I will only have one or two close friends at a time. It is very true. I would much rather have an inner circle than a ton of acquaintances. Small talk drives me up the wall, so I don’t hate people. Rather, I hate people in groups (I accidentally sent a voice dictated e-mail to a friend saying I hit people in groups and had to apologize for my phone not understanding my accent. I think the last time I was proficient at typing on a phone, it was the Palm Treo.).

Having bipolar depression is a little different, because when I’m on a hypohigh, or Diet High as I’ve coined, impulse control goes out the window. The only time this has really bitten me in the ass is not realizing I was flirting with straight girls too hard and didn’t mean to offend them, but I absolutely did. The memory is so cringeworthy I wish I could delete it.

Other cringeworthy hypohigh moments include off the charts rage, and couldn’t help transference to someone who didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t mad at her, I was mad at life. She just happened to “walk by,” and I stepped in it up to my ass. I pissed off the one person in my life that would destroy me if I couldn’t talk to her anymore, and then it did.

Yes, it was Argo. Yes, that ship sailed (I see what I did there). Even though Argo is actually named after the ship, I can’t even watch the movie without feeling pain, a damn shame because it used to be my favorite (it’s like talking to those two old fucks from The Muppets). I forgot in those moments that this was the same person about which I wrote I sleep deeply in the belly of the ship, for I know my passage is safe and one of the reasons I spill so much to you is that I feel like I go into my God space. I can’t know that God is listening, but I know you are. Those are my true feelings about her, but “being high” turned me into a loose cannon jackass, and I said some truly hurtful things for which I will never be able to apologize enough to make things right.

When cortisol is racing through my brain, I sometimes feel as if I leave my body and lose sight of important things, like some words not being able to be forgiven. “Sticks and stones” is a crock of shit. Sometimes, I’m not fighting with the person in front of me, they’re just the unlucky target and the person who deserves it isn’t even in the room. I had that realization from one of the comments on my marriage post, because it cut into my heart with Truth.™ Reflecting years later, it has only carried more weight.

I let my “dark passenger” rule me because I couldn’t stop long enough to realize what was happening. In the years since, I have learned how to control brain race with cognitive behavioral therapy so that I don’t “go there” with anyone else. Changed behavior is probably the best apology I’ll ever be able to offer.

CBT helps remind me that I am kind, lovable, and easygoing. Rage is just my illness talking, and not who I really am. For the record, though, over the top rage comes with a long fuse. I will sit there and think for a long time before I explode, just a Mento™ suddenly dropping into a Diet Coke™ because I’ve been stuffing so many emotions down. So, CBT says let’s not do that.

When you know better, you do better…. or at least, that is what is supposed to happen.

On my very best days, I feel six feet tall and bulletproof. On my worst, I have to take Klonopin just to make a phone call.

It’s all about balance.

Boss Music

I don’t know what it is, but I am feeling heart-pounding, nauseous anxiety today. I just took 1mg of Klonopin and am waiting for it to kick in. I’ve gotten down to Klonopin prn rather than BID, 051f2a74996fd032410fb6966aa7b50038ff44-v5-wmbecause some days are much better than others. I do self check-ins a lot, running through the list of things that might be the root cause, and here, in no particular order, is what bothers me the most.

  • My mom just died three seconds ago instead of October 2016.
  • I did the right thing by getting a divorce, but what’s next? How do I find it?
  • I absolutely did the wrong thing by getting a divorce and the grief will never go away. Give up trying.
  • Argo and I called it quits because I did all the wrong things even though I didn’t want to and old programming ate my lunch and there will never be a bacon cheeseburger and it is absolutely all my fault and I will never stop being sad and I will never find a person I want to walk next to me on my journey more than her and I don’t want to hurt anyone else and OMFG I cannot even when does it stop and how do I get there quickly because it can’t keep gnawing at my soul every day? Do I just die sad about it? I probably will because I have to actually meet people to solve the problem and I don’t get out much and this is going to lead to everyone leaving me out of plans because it’s so likely I won’t come because I’m a terrible person that way. (Read this all in one shallow breath, very quickly, squishing all the words together with no spaces.)
  • Old programming.
  • I am a terrible person all the way around and therefore, pretty unlovable.
  • I abandoned Dana. I shouldn’t have been so quick to leave her in a relatively new city and I did it, anyway.
  • I have to make small talk with the grocery clerk.
  • I have to organize.
  • I will be alone for the rest of my life (when I’m not depressed, this is delicious).
  • Even though I’ve been told I have much to be proud of, I can’t take it in.
  • When is the part where I learn to deal with success so I don’t continue to torch everything to the ground when I find it? Burn it anyway!
  • When is my Jimmy Neutron hair going to finally grow out?
  • Nothing. Nothing is actually wrong. It’s just my brain telling me it is.

It is at this point that someone needs to tell me to calm the fuck down and slow my roll. Not every problem needs to be fixed in the next fifteen minutes. But if someone did tell me to calm down, it would make me even more anxious out of fear that I’m not capable.

I’m waiting for the drug to kick in because it will slow down the freight train. As of this very moment, fight, flight, and freeze are duking it out. My adrenaline is way too high and my heartbeat is racing. I wish I had some methylphenidate to take once my heart is back to normal, because unlike a normal brain, it will also make me take a step back and concentrate on solutions to one problem at a time instead of 57 channels screaming at me simultaneously, all of them going to 11 (why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?). I could go to the doctor, but I won’t.

I don’t need to be on that train all the time. It’s great in the moment, and over time is just bad juju. Maybe I just need to wait for the nine-year-old dealers to get out of school (that was a joke). Real Sudafed PE™ is an option, though. Some of the same effect and OTC.

OK, the first twinges of relief are washing over me, although my chest is still tight and I’m struggling to breathe all the way down.

I took the time to watch the Monty Python witch scene linked to above, and now my breathing and heart rate are getting back to normal. Time to drink another cup of coffee (the other main stimulant I use to s l o w  d o w n). Coffee is a lifeline because it’s cheap and effective.

Do not try this if you are not ADHD (I am not hyperactive, but the DSM doesn’t differentiate anymore). The amount it takes for me would keep you up for days. In me, however, it wouldn’t even slow down a desire to nap.

Speaking of stimulants, there’s a great documentary on Netflix called Take Your Pills. It covers everything from people taking it just to get an advantage to people who really need those drugs to function. I absolutely agree that it is over-prescribed, especially to children because it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between ADHD and six. But in cases where the disorder is real and it’s deep, they’re a lifeline.

medicated_for_your_protection_large_mugWhen I was on them, I learned enough coping mechanisms to stop them. Or, at least I think I did, which is why I sometimes put that problem in my pipe and smoke it. Endgame is always #nope. While your brain is steady, the rest of your body isn’t. Your appetite is suppressed to the point of nausea and it leads to your brain telling your body to eat your muscles for breakfast. It dismantles care of your teeth, just like street meth. I could go on, but those two are scary enough.

It is a continuing problem that sometimes I have to choose between mentally crazy and physically healthy.

The best medication for that is knowing I am not alone, even when I’m hearing the boss music.

Living Water

I’m starting to wonder if I’m ever going to figure out what to do with my life, because I can see where it is I want to go with such clarity… but there’s a deep chasm between here and there. The staircase has cracks and is, in some places, completely broken. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to work with the homeless, to be pastor of my own church, to be a writer tagged as more theologian than blogger, to help others heal themselves by laying out my own broken pieces and hoping that something I’ve said will trigger an “A-ha!” moment. I am thankful that I’ve done at least a small bit of the latter with this web site; the rest of me wonders constantly if I am healthy enough to work with other people in 3D.

It’s a question that not enough people ask themselves when considering careers as pastors, social workers, therapists, etc. Three years ago, I was in the psych ward at Methodist hospital… but I have trouble deciding how much of my depressed and anxious state was current and how much of it was a delayed reaction. While it was great to find an anti-anxiety medication that worked, and indeed, to learn I needed to add it to my already-established protocol, that was just psychiatry. Once my brain chemicals were sorted, that didn’t mean anything in terms of correcting behaviors that began as unhealthy in childhood, and proceeded to self-destructive as an adult. The difference, of course, being depth. When those behaviors were new, they would have been a hell of a lot easier to fix. And then I got old…. er.

I thought I was doing fine, and then the dam broke. All of the lies I’d used to convince myself that I was fine stopped working, and as I have said before, I just started emotionally vomiting trauma. I was a grand total of 36 years old, and I still felt like an arrested teenager, especially in my smallest moments. 36 should be old enough to know better, do better. I’d simply folded most of my hands as I watched my same-age friends come in Kings full over Aces.

I’ve never been in doubt about the fact that I was bright, had talent in multiple areas, etc. I just haven’t known how to collate that into success… and when I’ve achieved it, how to learn to live there. Every time I’ve had money and nice houses and retirement accounts and the whole nine yards, I have sabotaged myself in so many ways, torching it all to the ground.

I know how to live on no money and self-worth. I don’t yet know how to rise above it… but I’m learning. It’s probably why I made terrible marriage material… for which I owe two women an apology for being married to them and one other (okay, two… but we don’t talk about two) for thinking I could. So many of my absolutely brilliant ideas live on hope, which is why therapy is so important. It helps me to turn the abstract into logic. As a spazzbasket of creative diva energy, being logical is not my forté. Dana was right in that I tend to jump from one great idea to the next without finishing any of them, except for one. I have been faithful to a fault about cataloging everything I feel on this web site, and to me, 6.13.1_Pensieve_merged_blackthat’s the dependency I’ve needed to see up close & personal where all my flaws and failures lie. It has been a life-changing experience on so many levels to be able to go back over what I’ve written and see where I’ve changed and what still needs work. My friend Kristie calls it my “pensieve.”

She is not wrong.

I have said from the very beginning that I write for me, and you’re invited. It is so true you can take those words to the bank and cash them. Nothing I’ve ever written was meant more for an audience than it was for me, even the marriage article that got more shares and retweets than I ever expected. I wrote it when my own marriage was sometimes doing really well, and sometimes crumbling into pieces. I couched it in sharing common ground with Evangelical Christians, but in reality it was to remind myself of the things I could control in my own life, and what I couldn’t. I couldn’t make my partners do anything, but I could improve myself and hope that they followed suit… and if they didn’t, I was probably in the wrong relationship and trying to make it fit.

I cannot say that the relationship with Dana was wrong for me, only that it became so. Neither one of us really got the short end of the stick. We both participated in our own destruction, not really one person’s fault or the other, just a mishmash of problems that we thought we could solve and didn’t.

If I had it all to do over again, there would have been professional help involved. It also would have been good to either go and visit Argo or have her come and visit us, so that there was relationship on the ground between all three of us, and not a secluded bubble with swells of operatic emotion on the page. My writer personality is so different than the one I have on the ground, and it would have been good for all three of us to make that connection. Had Argo been a part of our daily lives, she would have ceased to be my “Raggedy Man.” My friends would have ceased to call her “The Doctor,” because she would have been real to them instead of seemingly this person I made up. It also would have made her concrete in my own mind, because speaking of self-destruction, the wall of anonymity between us kept even me from really seeing her in three dimensions. My lips were too loose, always. It is not lost on me that because we didn’t know each other on the ground, I was capable of more love and anger with her than anyone in my life, before or since.

That’s probably the biggest take-home message I’ve gotten from this web site…. that I need tighter boundaries with emotions all the way around. I don’t always need to be a loose cannon jackass who spouts off and regrets… or in the case of love, spouts off without really thinking of the consequences my words will inevitably bring. At this point, my life has to be all about learning to think critically while leaving my emotions on the back burner.

It’s a back and forth sort of process… one step forward and two steps back sometimes, a giant leap for mankind at others. I find myself watching TED Talks on motivation, and I haven’t found anything better for thinking while mobile than Tim Ferris’ podcast. Both deal with great thinkers- TED Talks are presentations, Tim Ferris interviews industry giants on how they do what they do. I feel stronger and more strident after listening to them, which is something I desperately need. Most of the time, I feel about thisbig, because depression and anxiety whisper, let’s think about everything you’ve ever done wrong in your whole life. My coping mechanism is to, most of the time, have something going in my headphones to drown out what my AA friends call “The Committee.” The Committee is the collection of tapes in your head that stop you from moving forward because it continually drags you into the past. Instead of how do I get there from here? it’s you’ll never get there because we won’t let you. It is the well of worthlessness from which The Committee continually tries to get you to drink.

There are better sources of living water out there, and my goal is to find them. At this point, there’s no other choice.

#prayingonthespaces

Twisted Mango Diet Coke

It works. I don’t know how it works, but it does. These are not two flavors that would seemingly go together. Perhaps it’s the fruit and the cinnamon/ginger combo of cola. Maybe I’m just high on antihistamines and decongestants. Whatever it may be, I would definitely buy it again. Keep in mind, though, that my palate is different than most and I like a wide variety of weird sodas no one else will drink. You have been warned, so don’t @ me, bro.

Speaking of drugs, I’m not sick, per se. I just have to take Zyrtec and Sudafed every day because my allergies are that terrible. It seems as if no matter where I live, it’s the worst possible place I could’ve moved in terms of ever-present spring fever, even in the dead of winter. Maybe one day I’ll move to Vegas or Phoenix to settle my “stuffed up doze” (no, I won’t).

Tino, our handyman, is painting the bathroom and the bedroom next to mine, so perhaps I should splash water on my face in the kitchen. Water is the absolute best home remedy for allergic reactions, because it at least removes what’s bothering me from my skin, even without soap. I also take ibuprofen to relieve the pressure in my “mask,” although it probably wouldn’t hurt to get allergy shots and eat local honey. The honey trick is that your body naturally builds up antihistamines over time to whatever pollen is used to make it. Of course, the real miracle is finding someone who has local honey for sale.

A new person is coming to look at the bedroom we have for rent this evening, so I’m hoping for good things. Between the pathological liar, the heroin addict who overdosed (and is fine now), and the psychological torture of hearing The Beatles sung loudly and off-key at all hours of the night, I am looking forward to pretty much anyone else. Actually, it wasn’t just The Beatles, it was screaming obscenities and having my other roommate record it. The .mp3 was as clear as a bell, and the recording was made from the room next to mine on the other side of the hallway. All this is to say that finding roommates who are relatively normal has been rough going. Anyone can put on a good face for an hour, so an interview isn’t necessarily the best indication… but it’s what we’ve got.

I’ve lived here for almost three years now, and it’s becoming amazing how many people I’ve seen come and go in that short a time. I feel very lucky that I’ve seriously found a home and fit in very well. I’d like to continue living here as long as my landlords will have me, because it truly is like having a second family. As Sam has said, I’ve been upgraded.

My living situation is absolutely a miracle. The Nassers were the first people I called after doing some research on where I wanted to live, and I took the room sight unseen after talking to my landlord for an hour and a half on the phone from Houston. I figured that I could live anywhere for a month if it didn’t work out, so I wasn’t terribly worried about showing up at the Metro station in a new city and just rolling with the punches. DC wasn’t new to me, but Maryland certainly was. Alexandria felt like I’d never left Houston- roughly the same politics… city is liberal, state is conservative. Maryland is overwhelmingly blue. Even the conservatives aren’t that conservative. They might have fiscal responsibility issues, but they’ve moved past the politics of kindness. There is much more in the way of statewide health care, both mentally and physically. Being able to get health insurance the moment I moved here without a job was a hug from Jesus. Though I didn’t move here to sponge off the state, having a safety net until I landed on my feet was legit #blessed.

That being said, when I switched to insurance through my employer, my deductible and copays went up dramatically. Anything would be from all free, all the time and drugs at a dollar a bottle. It has just reinforced my belief that universal health care does indeed work, and nothing gets me on my soapbox faster than thinking about the millions of people bitching about government insurance while on Medicare. Seriously, people. Connect the dots. Not realizing this makes you look one French fry short of a Happy Meal.

In terms of needing insurance, I keep myself healthy, albeit in horrible shape. My weight is under control, but I couldn’t run up two flights of stairs at gunpoint. I’m getting better through walking everywhere, but it’s not enough. I’m not getting my heart rate high enough for true cardio, and I’m not lifting weights to strengthen my muscles….. and everyone knows by now that cardio is rule number one. 😛

However, I do need to go to the doctor once a month for psych med checks and to a therapist four or five times a month. With state-run health care, all of that is free. Private insurance has a copay for drugs and generally offers 13 therapy sessions a year. I am steadily making progress on old trauma, but still need help with visioning, values, and coping mechanisms. It’s not just about where I’ve been, but making sure I get where I want to go. Everyone needs that to some degree. Most people don’t think of therapy when it comes to reaching out for more than they’re currently achieving, but I liken it to sports psychology. Ambition and drive go by the wayside when I feel terrible about myself, because I am a perfectionist to a crippling degree. If I can’t do it perfectly the first time around, obviously I am a straight up failure, no matter how many people I love provide evidence to the contrary. I hear it, but it doesn’t sink in…. I think to myself that they’re just being nice. I know how and what I truly am, which is a disaster. Therapy helps keep things in perspective, that my disorder knows the very best lies to use against me so that they are incredibly vivid and believable. Every negative thing that has ever been said about me is my true nature; everything positive is just humoring me.

Anxiety, especially socially, has a huge impact on my life. I know from past experience that if I am not paying attention, I could really hurt somebody emotionally, so I hide. I only get together with the people I love when I’m feeling up to it, which is always a quarter to sometimes. The hardest is social contact needed to maintain isolation, like shopping. I’m not even friends with these people and won’t have in-depth conversations, anyway, but cocooning in this one is strong. I have taken self-reliance to an extreme, whereas previously, I was entirely too dependent on what everyone else thought. Because I still can be, I just avoid those situations so that I am always listening to my inner landscape of thoughts and feelings. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but no man is an island… from what I’ve heard.

When I am in my right mind about things, I know that I have incredible gifts to offer the world, and indeed, have. But there are days when I just need to back off the nerve that says I’m worthless and just have a Diet Coke and a smile.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Lately it seems as if I am regaining the life energy that has eluded me for so long. It has nothing to do with taking care of the things I must, but those that are optional. Part of it has to do with the passage of time. I believe that it is true that in some ways, time heals wounds, but not in others. This is because for every year that passes, there are still flashes of memory that take me back to that time and place in my life. Grief rushes like a river, and there is nothing, even the passage of time, that will erase it. The best example of this is when I have a momentary brain lapse and forget my mother has died and pick up the phone to call her when I have good news, or feel bad and just need her to give me some of that absolutely unconditional love that mothers feel. For my mother, and I’m sure this is universal, no matter how much I’ve done wrong in my life, it isn’t my fault, and everyone is hurting her baby. This is not true, of course, but having that one person in your life who thinks it at least boosts the ego so that it rises from toilet level. No amount of time will heal the moment when realization hits that she’s gone so permanently.

What time does heal is jealousy of people who still have their mothers and the want to isolate because you just don’t want to talk about anything with anyone, because you can’t stop yourself from any conversation coming back around to how sorry you feel for yourself. You don’t say it in words, but the axiom is always there in the spaces between them. As a musician, I feel that emotion rides on the rests. As a writer, emotion lives in the elipses………. and thus, the reason I use #prayingonthespaces so often.

As time goes by, the emotions change with it.

Life energy returning, for me, has been amplified by simple joys, like going to bed early and rising before the sun. I have always been a morning person, and life is harder for me when I ignore that fact. It’s not that I necessarily enjoy waking before dawn, it’s that my natural circadian rhythm requires it. I thought for years that I was a night owl, because I worked in restaurants and my “happy hour” was 0200. When I really examined myself, I found that the most energy for me arrived around 0500, especially when I got a full eight hours of sleep beforehand. Waking fully rested at dawn is now my favorite thing, because I still get the quiet of the night without having to stay awake for it. My eyes open and I smile, as well as laughing easier and more often.

It also makes my mental health manageable, both from the correct amount of sleep and following what my body says I need. Along with medication, I avoid the ups and downs between carpet-sucking depression and hypomania. If I do feel hypomania coming on, the best treatment I’ve found is diphenhydramine (Benadryl™). I sleep deeply despite feeling “up,” and Bipolar II ceases to be as much of a thing, for which I am sure everyone around me is grateful.

For me, returning to sunshine (or at least, partly cloudy) has been a series of cognitive behavioral life hacks which allow for post-traumatic growth, instead of perpetuating rainy days. The life hack I use most often is lowering my expectations to make simplicity complex. A cup of coffee with the right amount of creamer and Splenda can light up my whole day. A one line e-mail asking how I am makes me feel like a million dollars. A friend inviting me for lunch brings excitement to my eyes and the wrinkles around them turn upward. My muscles release tension when I’m paying attention.

Life energy has returned in full force because I’ve made myself happy without waiting for it to arrive.

#prayingonthespaces