Thursday, December 14, 2017

Apathy as (poor) Armor

It is something I think a lot of people who struggle with depression and similar mental health issues deal with, and it is something that, in my experience, is one of the most challenging and hardest things to deal with: apathy.

So of course my experience may not be universal, but the combination of anhedonia, negative thoughts, and mind numbing apathy are the worst experiences of depression. I am not a person who likes things very much. I have very few very strong feelings about things, and maybe some of that (a good part of it?) is just me as me. I'm not overly emotionally expressive, I don't have strong reactions or feelings for most things, but I think that is where the devil is in the details so to speak. You see, there are a lot of problems that arise when your brain prevents you from really giving a shit about things. Sure, my natural negativity makes me come across as a sort of killjoy asshole sometimes. I don't really enjoy things, and the things I do enjoy I don't enjoy much. I can't really do television and movies for this reason. The closest thing to keeping my attention and interest is music, and there are even days when I can't pick up my instrument because I just have no motivation. This absence of motivation bleeds over into important areas of life though. Relationships suffer, because I have a hard time expressing feelings that always feel just a little muted and dull around the edges. Not because I think they're not strong, but because my brain is like some sort of logic roadblock to me caring about things. In a similar fashion, apathy erodes my conscience. Terrible things happen, all the time, and they are things that I can logically recognize as bad things. But my brain sort of just... shrugs. Again, part of this just may naturally be me being shit, and I can see that. The thing is, this sort of apathy is kind of common. It mingles with those feelings of uselessness. People struggling to get out of bed or do even the minimum in self care because they don't see a point. People just thinking that since they don't get any kind of joy or pleasure from things that they won't bother. Hobbies lag and gather dust. Friendships, relationships. You're less a sputtering candle and more like the smoke that just sort of wafts away as the heat dissipates into the air around you. You sort of seek out these dopamine hits of anything that gives you brief joy, but even those gestures feel empty. It's all part and parcel of just feeling like going through the motions without any direction.

I feel lost, a lot. A lot of things I see in the big picture that are awful and my brain doesn't care. Hell, I see things in my own life that I have some sort of power over, and it may seem a lot like laziness to struggle to be able to fix them, but anyone familiar with how mental health can just swallow your life really does sort of get that sometimes your brain isn't seemingly on your side. Sure, it can have things that seem like benefits. I'm always kind of calm about things, because my brain never cares enough to freak out. When I do stress out, it's not really in a noticeable way. It is sort of less stoic and more just... my brain can't be bothered to manage a response. Some days it feels more like the emotional responses are sluggish. I guess the thing is, that I don't have a fix. It was sometimes better on meds, and it fluctuates a little in a way that's annoying, but i don't know any fixes for how to make things really seem important. I really have no real clue, but I also know that I have an obligation to at least fake it. I know that may be a statement that is disagreed with, because "fake it 'til you make it" isn't exactly the best approach to emotional health, but honestly i think we're forced to learn how to fake these sorts of expected emotional conventions. Given the time of year I'm writing this, let me give you an example I personally struggle with. 

I hate everything about the holidays. The fake seeming shift in personality, like this time of year is magically when we are suddenly not all selfish jerks to each other, and we're expected to NOT comment on how superficial and weird it is. What I hate the most, though, is gift giving convention. Not just giving gifts, even though I do hate everything associated with shopping and choosing. I hate getting gifts, because I'm not the type of person with strong expressions. I respond essentially the same to a "good" gift as a bad gift" which is perhaps great for getting "bad" gifts but also that response is typically just... bland. That isn't to say that I don't like it, or am not grateful. My mother once surprised me with a bass for Christmas and I played it every day for about 6 months (despite having 5 other basses there) because it was so great. But I had to learn to make myself express appropriate levels of excitement. I'm not ungrateful, I just really can't do it without having to remind myself and make it a chore. The same way that I have to remind myself that when awful things are happening in the world, I'm expected to have a response of some sort.

This whole thing is even more frustrating when you have people with strong opinions in your life. Now, I have the luxury of not really being a picky eater, or worrying too much about how I dress so long as it is appropriate to the setting. Comfort is always preferable to style, and functionality always trumps form for me. I don't really care about things that don't impact me personally, and even my opinions on most things aren't so strong that I'm willing to take a strong stand on them. Mostly this means letting people be comfortable with their own stupidity (but seriously, vaccinate your kids, stupid) and not being able to summon the appropriate times of indignation or outrage over things. Don't worry, it is just as frustrating for me as it is for you, so we're both suffering when apathy overrides my emotional or passionate responses to things. Really, I feel it, it's just squashed under layers of "who cares?" and my brain always seems to err on the side of "whatever feels the least like giving a crap."

Apathy can be a sort of armor. It can be a comforting cocoon that protects us from pain and suffering and empathy. But the benefits are double edged and not always worthwhile. You lose a lot when your mental health is a roadblock to giving a damn about anything. Students' grades suffer (mine did). Work suffers. Relationships and friendships suffer. Just the way you're viewed by the world can be vastly different, and it can perpetuate itself. I think part of the trick, is, of course, to be willing to fake it when it is necessary. Not because your feelings aren't genuine, but because your expression of them isn't always able to reach the appropriate level. Depression is something you live with, but it isn't always about you. You have to have that sort of awareness, because I'm a firm believer that mental health issues aren't an excuse to ignore self-reflection or be an asshole. If people are willing to tolerate our crappy minds, then we can tolerate putting a face on for them. Sometimes people around us need the morale boost just as much as we do.

That was all that I really had to say, but I wanted to take a moment for a special aside about the holidays and mental health. Some of the issues I have mentioned here, and previously, and certain circumstances can make dealing with your mental health around the holidays difficult. There are a lot of different stressors and things that can make it supremely tough, even compared to the regular day to day struggle with mental health. Please don't overlook self care, and please reach out if you need to. To a friend, a family member, or anything that helps. It's important to not get yourself overwhelmed, or let the holiday season get to you. I know it gets to me and I need a lot of recovery time during and after. It's also easy to get lost in the loneliness and isolation of the season. I know it can be easy to get caught up in yourself and your brain, so please look after yourselves and keep an eye and ear out for your friends, loved ones, and even strangers.

Again, thanks for reading, and of course, please feel free to reach out if you need to!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Book Review: The 10-Step Depression Relief Workbook

So we're going to try something a little new today, at least new for me. I'm going to do a sort of book review of an upcoming work called "The 10-Step Depression Relief Workbook" by Dr. Simon Rego and Sarah Fader. In the interest of disclosure, Sarah and I are friends who have spoken together at some length about issues of mental health and have known each other for what must be at least a few years now. I was honored when she approached me to read through the workbook and maybe give my perspectives on it. I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peak at this book, which will be coming out January 8th, 2018, and I'm going to share my thoughts with you!

Another aside before we jump in. I am not a mental health professional. I've lived with depression, and like to advocate for those who live with the challenges and difficulties facing those with mental health troubles. These words are, of course, my own, and are based on opinions and perspectives you may not exactly share with me. Let's get going!


My first impression of this book is that it is not at all what I was expecting, and in a good way. I assumed, going in, that it would be a sort of narrative focused on some best practices and some anecdotal evidence. The work admits to being centered on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is something i am only vaguely experienced with and not academically knowledgeable of. Instead, what you get is a combination of scientific research and support, put into lay terms for consumption by readers with every level of background, peppered with relatable anecdotes relating them to human experiences in a way that make it accessible for a reader, and, more importantly, identifiable. Of equal interest is that it truly is a workbook. Space is provided for a reader to relate what they have read to their own life, a sort of "put it on paper" approach that really gives the reader a sense of participation in the process the books describes. It even gives the reader thought exercise homeworks to establish a sort of accountability to themselves and what they are going through.

Something I see as a strength is relating clinical approaches and definitions to real world issues. However, I feel that at times it may be a sort of distancing factor to some readers. The information is good background, but I thin it sometimes conflicts with the purpose of a workbook. I appreciate background information, but at times it feels like it can't make up its mind on whether to be an academic work or an accessible one, and this can even be reflected sometimes in the language and approach to citations. As someone more used to a more academic style of writing about these sorts of things, i don't think my misgivings necessarily apply to the general public, so I'll just say: be aware that there are parts where your interest may threaten to lag, but the core premise is strong and the information is interesting if not directly helpful. The idea of using this workbook to supplement ongoing CBT strikes me as a good way to stress certain points and bring some level of patient self-accountability to the process, as a way of encouraging practice and maintenance of the skills. I feel a lot of what CBT has to offer is reminding you of things that you are already aware of, but which the depression mindset can blind you to, and this book does a good job of spelling out in simple terms the things you should be remembering. It seems there is a lot more for self-motivation here than for a solo foray into self-care, and that's good! It is entirely the point, I think, that this is a support tool on a journey rather than the main vehicle to reach the destination. The importance of self-reflection is not lost as a major factor for synthesizing a personal response, and this book gives a very concrete avenue for allowing someone dealing with depression and working through CBT to ground themselves in the process. Clinical theory is outlined in practical, useful terms and explained clearly with none of the jargon heavy, overly-verbose pontificating we tend to see in academic writing.

Something which I think could have been done better is integrating the personal anecdotes. I understand that it likely would have increased the overall length of the text and that how they are included is meant to emphasize their importance, but integrating more real world examples before each practical session in order to illustrate the point being made would likely be something to give the reader a more solid idea as to how the problem is approached. A related thing of note, which I thoroughly appreciate is how the major workbook style parts of the book are kept separate, so that a reader could photocopy or otherwise reproduce them if needed, or desired.

Overall, I find this book has the potential to be a great resource for patients and professionals alike, as it takes an established framework and toolbox, and uses the accepted practice and theory to really give the patient a helping hand in establishing or continuing the habits they need to develop. The book isn't a hard read, and the format and flow of information makes sense, so getting through it won't be bad. Obviously, it is designed to be interactive, though you could easily do what I did and read it through before you go back to the exercises to see the layout, though I would recommend using the middle school approach and just working through it one step at a time like you would have in school. The other tips, tricks, and suggestions provided, such as diet advice, are all evidence-based and sort of the icing on the proverbial cake of this book. I definitely look forward to sitting down and working through all of the exercises in time, and would recommend that anyone who finds CBT helpful, or even just conceptually interesting, pick up a copy of this when it comes out!

As my first review, I'm not quite sure how helpful you may have found it, and I'm certainly not sure just how common me reviewing things that aren't terrible movies will be, but it's something I may explore more, especially if anyone found this helpful! As always, thank you for reading.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Cinquain poems! (A cop out post)

Look at that, I found some old cinquain poems with variations, of course. Cinquains are, as you'll be able to tell, based on syllable counts per line. I haven't titled these, so instead I will lead with the type of cinquain they are. They're fairly old, and of course inspired by my dearest friend Jessy, who wrote some with me once upon a time!

My mind is lost
A haze of confusion
Grasping vainly at fleeting thoughts
I fall

Reverse cinquain:
With you
I break down the walls I have built
Shouldering the burden
Trust has been built
For me

Mirror cinquain:
We fell
Like planes and stars
Rushing to completion
Burning reminders of failure
We sang
They watched
Rapt gaze glued to our sweet downfall
Their breath and applause held
Until the end
Of us

Butterfly cinquain:
We danced
Floating on love
Our words met, like lovers
Framing the moment in sweet sounds
I watched
As you killed me with one sweet kiss
Our lips met, like strangers
Passion and fire
We loved

Lanterne cinquain:
A lie
Told to us
By the cynics

Tetractys cinquain:
Small kites
Dancing string
Marring clear skies
We lost ourselves to the colorful lies

Garland Cinquain:
Hope comes
From inside us
A bright, burning fire
Destroying the darkness within
As love
     Death comes
     With silent stride
     To take us from this life
     A brief candle snuffed in the wind
     Life ends
Dreams rise
Deep within us
Giving wings to our thoughts
Driving us on, ever forward
     Love fails
     Without support
     It cannot stand alone
     So we must fight to maintain it
     For us
We fight
Each breath hard won
The passing days worn down
So we push forward, regardless
To live
     Hope comes
     With silent stride
     Giving wings to our thoughts
     So we must fight to maintain it
     To live

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Glenfield Angel

Gather 'round friends
Let me tell you a fable
That my grandfather told me
About the sweet Glenfield Angel

My grandfather was
A kindly old man
Who never once raised his voice
Or lifted his hand
At night he would sit
By my small bedside table
And tell me his tales
Of that dear Glenfield Angel

The angel, at day
Hid away from the world
Watching and guiding
The dear boys and girls
It hovered above them
It would listen in secret
And when it was able
It would write down their woes
Would the sweet Glenfield Angel

By night, grandpa said
The angel would flutter
And find the saddest of hearts on its list
To perch by the shutters
And in the sad dark
It would whisk them away
Those children of sorrow
Who knew only pain
And in its garden in heaven
It would give them a halo
To forever reside, without pain
Beside the sweet Glenfield Angel

I asked him one time
In the darkness around us
If the families had missed
Those who had left them
With fear in my voice
I asked, with a quaver
If it would ever come take me
That dread Glenfield Angel

But grandfather smiled
As he patted my head
And told me not to worry
As I lay there in bed

"You don't have to fear,"
He said as he smiled
"The angel only takes children
whose lives are all pain.
If they live without love,
Or with anger or sorrow
The angel will take them
Before dawn tomorrow
It whisks them away
Just as fast it's able
As it comforts their hearts
The sweet Glenfield Angel."

"And you, little one
You're loved and held dear
So from that sweet angel
You have nothing to fear
It is darling and kind
So no one is in danger
For what it does, is done with love
By that dear Glenfield Angel"

With one final smile
And a kiss on my head
Grandfather would leave me
To lay in my bed
Despite all his words
I never was able
To shake all my fear
Of that dark Glenfield Angel

With the passing of years
Grandfather grew old
When one year he passed
As the weather grew cold
In the middle of winter
When we went to his farm
To put things in order
We found by his bedside
A handwritten letter

"The children know peace now
Each one with a rose
I buried them deep
For their eternal repose
I took all their pain
And gave them a home
And I'll love them forever
As if they were my own"

The lights from the police cars
Flashed over the snow
As we watched shovels work
On the cold ground below
We answered some questions
As best as we could
Not really knowing
The things we were seeing

Under the garden
The bodies were buried
Twenty-some children
He'd thought he had saved
A beautiful rose bush
Marking each grave

I visited him
At the graveyard to see
If the monster they saw
had told his secrets to me
A long time ago
As I lay there in bed
Believing the angel
Was all in his head

There on his headstone
An odd image sings
Of a shepherd surrounded by roses 
With halos and wings
Below grandfather's name
Etched into the stone
It said "The Sweet Glenfield Angel
Has finally gone Home."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Grumpy Ghost

There was once a ghost
A grumpy ghost
Who was, once upon a time
A very grumpy man
This grumpy ghost
Haunted an old, creaky house
Where he boo'ed and he bothered
And scared even the cockroaches

One day though, to his house
Came a nice little family
In a red minivan
With 2 kids, and a dog
And from out of the van
They unloaded brown boxes
Marked kitchen, or bedroom
Or nursery, or bath
So our grumpy old ghost
With a ghastly old grumble
Said "I don't want these folks
In my old, creaky house"

So he embarked on a campaign
Of guerrilla ghost warfare
He started by breaking the boxes
Marked "handle with care"
Onto the floor smashed the family's memories
Old little glass nik-naks
And fine china plates
And the grumpy old ghost thought
"That will surely dissuade them
From making a living
In my creaky old home"

But to the chagrin
Of our miserly wraith
When the damage was done
Tears were barely shed
And the family just laughed
As they swept up the messes
Caused by the loss
Of things held so dear

And the cranky old spirit
Was provoked by the laughter
He stormed and he raged
As he watched the family settle in
To their new old house
That had once been his home

They sand as they worked
And repaired the old house
With new flooring and windows
And new cabinets too
And the grumpy old ghost
Felt his tactics were failing
As anything broken
Was just laughed away
The family seemed happy
As they painted their new home
But the ghost was intent
To have things his way

So one merry day
He sparked up the stove
On which rested a kettle
As he maxed up the settings
musing “now things will settle!”
The kettle whizzed and fizzed
And cosmic black
Its bottom became
Till it suddenly pushed over
A tissue box into the flames

One by one,
they shrunk as they flew
Into the fire
The kitchen was through
And with a gust it spread
To the living room now
The family wanted to leave
and wasn’t sure how

Watching and grinning
The mayhem and madness
Our grumpy old ghost
Was suddenly overtaken by sadness
The children, they cried
And the dog ran in circles
He created this mess
And brought forth these hurdles

On to the garden he floated
In vain
What could he do
To lessen their pain?
And just as he felt
All his ideas were dead
One quickly manifested
inside his head
He glared into the garden hose
With all of his might
And with great focus
Concentrated his sight.
It ruptured and outwards
Gallons of water poured
Quickly dulling the rabid fires
As it gushed through the doors

And just as he vanished
The family got a glimpse
Of this kind stranger
Who disappeared ever since
They kept screaming
And raising their voice
Chanting and pleading
“we now understand your choice!”
“Please come back,
we are forever grateful
We can all live together,
none of us is hateful”

But though they summoned him
With all of their power
The ghost never returned
Later that hour
He was not seen around
Later that day
But then a toy was found
With which the baby would play
On it a note,
was scribbled
in bold dark red:
“I’ll stay if you want me

But I need a friend”

You may, of course, notice a small stylistic shift in this little piece at a point midway through. That is because I had written the first part as a sort of joke and had never intended to finish it. However, my dear friend Jessy (who has been mentioned before on this blog, when it comes to poetry!) insisted that it be finished. So, I told her to finish it, and she did! Her portions of course, are posted here with her permission and blessing! Enjoy your Halloween season!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And Still I Waited

Outside the iron gate
We parted ways
I, to the oceans
You, to the peaks
Promising to return, one day
Amid smiles and fond farewells
To this same portal
And meet again in the shade of these trees
Where a soft cinnamon wind blew
Carrying with it the scents of hope and youth
With goodbyes said
I watched you shoulder your burdens
And carry on, alone, down an old road
As I made my way to the shores
Thinking already of a day to come
When we would meet again
And so, eyes on the horizon
And mind already adrift
I sat, and I waited

Days were not always kind
Though the world was not always so fierce, either
I carried rich tunes through sad days
And sang sad melodies through summers so fierce
And beautiful
That the world seemed cast in gold
Upon distant shores I found love
And in dark seas
Lost and aimless, thirsting for revival 
I faced the void
There were monsters there
And storms that promised to smash our ships apart
Days when I thought I would be adrift forever, alone
And forget simpler days
Near green trees and that black iron gate
Where we met, and played
All those years of our childhood
Still, I had made a promise, and it would be fulfilled
But not yet
Not until I had seen my fill of the world
And so, I waited

Many moons ago
With clear skies and clear eyes
I rested a weary hand on a black iron latch
But you were not there
Your adventure not yet ended
So I stood, staring at the ghosts of my past
Alone, with my memories
Watching the burning leaves of autumn 
Fall like the promise of snow
And still I waited

Frost kissed rusted hinges
As bare wooden skeletons reached to gray skies
As if stretching towards the green life they had left behind
My eyes turned towards snow-capped peaks
Bleeding their whiteness down into the hills
No thought to the cold
As I imagined tracing your footsteps
But that was your path, not mine
And I could not follow you to the mountains
No more than you could follow me to the sea
Our stories had parted ways beside the gate
Where we had promised to come back together
And still I waited

Garish colors broke the silence of winter
Vibrant blooms born of green life
A shifting sea of hope rising from the mud
Arranged so prettily among other memories
Fragrant blooms and pouring rain gracing the days that passed
Beneath the white blossoms of the trees
I stared out at the gate
And to the deep oceans beyond
Where I had not found any answers
But where I had made myself
Alive in my remembrance
While trying my best to remember your face
And all of my promises
And still I waited

In the still of one gray morning
With a shriek of protest
The gate opened
And you came back to me
Tired, and old
Much older than I had left you
With worry and pain etched into the lines of your face
A road map to the stories you had yet to tell
Your eyes gazed slowly
Until they found me
And you stood still
With no smile to light your features
As I had once remembered
Your hand rested on the rough bark of the tree
Where we had carved our names as children
Silently you turned and walked away
And still, I waited

When you finally came
You came slowly
Solemn and serious
Sad, stormy orbs looking down as you sat beside me
Regaling me, in soft whispers
Of your time spent among the mountains
And a life well-lived, in triumph and tragedy
You asked me about the seas
Without pausing for an answer
Too intent on loosing the torrent of time lost
To listen
And so, patiently, I waited

Among the crashing waves and falling stars
It is easy to learn patience
Recalling storms and restless days
With lands unknown spread before us
On maps marked with dragons
I had so much wonder to share
Before life had claimed its due
Stories on stone tongues
For no ears to hear
And I'm sorry they came to carry me through the gates
Before you could return
Beyond rusted iron and towering oak
Where we had promised to wait
But among the earth and stone
It is easy to learn patience
As I'm sure you know, from your time in the mountains
And they lay me here, in this old place
With a spot beside me
As open as my heart, for you
Though I know you have mountains left to climb
And storms left to weather
Before you can rest beside me
For whatever passes for forever
And still, I'll be waiting

Sunday, July 30, 2017

He Looks How I Feel

He looks how I feel
The remains of the ghost
Of a man whose dreams
Hang as slack
As his feet do now
Almost tracing the ground
A gentle twist
Grim, grinning chimes
Dancing through forces; uncontrolled
A resigned, ceaseless smile
Plastered, unfeeling
Twisted under the weight
Of a world only interested
In what his last few pieces have to offer
Torn open
Laid bare

The dry limbs rattling in the wind
Settled with always-open eyes
A reminder of what we are all destined to become
A lovely future to aspire to
Stripped of the trappings of existence
Revealed inner recesses
Stripped of life and love
Where memories no longer rest
A world experienced, now snuffed
An empty cage where a heart once beat
Pinned up on display
Like a butterfly
A curious reminder
Of life lost, left
Remembered for nothing it was before
Held together
By cold pins and wires

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Shipwrecks and Sailors

Endlessly amazed
That we can exist in the same world
Without the twisting contradictions of us
Tearing the fragile fabric
Of this uncaring universe
Adrift on tired wings
Eyes closed to the possibilities that danced around us
Like a choir of ghosts

Demons deeply entrenched
In the twisting labyrinth of a miserly mind
As impossible dragons soar overhead
And monsters stalk the edges of our hopes
Blurring the edges of a map
Clutched in sad, determined hands
We have walked in these forbidden lands
Supping on the exotic tastes
Of a life so far out of reach

Upon a desk, beside blank pages
A single candle burns brightly
Casting long shadows across pristine paper
The untold story an unknown adventure
With the only X marking any treasure
Carved deep across lonely hearts
So that you can know where to find me

Tomorrow lay before us
Uncharted, unknown
Faced silently, through the fear
Because there is some knowledge in us
That together, we can brave the dark places and open seas
Fearing no dragons
We set sail for new days that rise like a phoenix from the ashes
Of yesterdays that now seem so wasted and wanting
I have found solace in the maelstrom
Storms breaking overhead, as we are doomed to break upon the rocks

We brave strange times, not in spite of the monsters
But so that we can face the fears as they come
The intangible grasp of slick serendipity
Rising from the depths 
Like some great beast
Something deeper and darker
Pulling us down where we belong
Like shipwrecks and sailors