These Only Go to 7: Mood Disorders and Healthy Expectations

In the cult classic “mockumentary”, “This is Spinal Tap,” there’s a famous scene where a would-be rock star explains to an interviewer why his amplifiers go to 11, not the usual 10. Rather than try to capture the magic for you, I’ll let you watch for yourself…

I haven’t seen that movie in over twenty years, but I still regularly say “these go to 11” just about every time I am stumped and don’t have a proper response.

Over the past few years, I’ve had so many doctors ask me to use the 1-10 scale to tell them how I’m doing with my mood disorders that I’ve become accustomed to thinking in those terms. I’ve certainly never made it to 11, but the truth is that I rarely live above a 5. What got me thinking was a great evening I had the other night. Ann went out with some friends, so I took my kids out for pizza and ice cream. A lot of times, sitting around the dinner table, trying to figure out how to have a meaningful dialogue with small children can be hard for me. I tend to feel like I’m failing unless we’re discussing the pros and cons of universal healthcare or something like that. But they had recently downloaded the game Family Feud on my phone. Just like the TV version, the game we were playing gave us a certain amount of time to guess what the top answers were to some random question.

We had a blast playing this game while we waited for our food. Everyone was happy, even me. Then the pizza came and it was delicious. Afterwards we walked across the street for ice cream. We got in the car; no one spilled their ice cream; I don’t think I had to referee even one argument for the entire evening. Once we were home, everyone did their own thing for a bit, and then I put my babies to bed.

A perfect daddy/kids date night, right?!

Well, almost. Ish. I mean I hate to say no, but the truth is that I’d rate the night about a 7. The reason for the 3 docked points? Simple: my mood-disorder-laden brain.

My brain that, even while playing Family Feud was racing with all the possible negative outcomes for the evening or just for life in general. I couldn’t help but psychoanalyze the picture perfect family in the corner, knowing that, as with all such families, it takes a lot of work to seem so put together, to pretend so hard. And every time someone wandered through the door, there was my grim, obsessive reminder that all mass shootings begin with someone innocently walking through a door. I played out scenarios in my head, wondering what I’d do. Would I be able to protect my kids? What if I turned out to be a coward and got one of my kids killed? Would I kill myself? And of course, there was the meta analysis of my own situation: I wondered why I couldn’t just relax. I chastised myself for failing to relax. I took some deep breaths. But nothing calmed my uncalmable brain.

We boxed up our left-over pizza and headed for ice cream. It was delicious. My daughter asked for a taste of the flavor I always get and then ordered herself a cup. She seemed so grown up, ordering something other than chocolate ice cream with sprinkles. So I began thinking of how much I want to hold onto her and keep her safe. I thought about the mean girls and mean boys that are just starting to enter her social world. I thought of how much harder it will get in a few years when the hormones knock all of us upside the head for a few years. I just love her so much; can’t I keep her from getting hurt in any way, shape, or form? Please! Grant me this one power!

And I thought about my little boy who is still every bit a little boy, naive to all the complex realities of life that his sister is starting to taste. He likes Legos and Hot Wheels. And I adore him and want him to stay like he is. But I also want to help him grow up. What if I’m not up to the task?

So by the time we arrived home I was far off in a distant land, pondering the same things I ponder day in and day out, worrying about the same things, obsessing over the same things…scared of letting my family down, but also wanting a massive stroke to take me out any day now so I can be done with this incessant pain.

When I thought about our perfect evening together, I realized I’d probably give it a 7. Not because anything was wrong, but because for me, even when everything is right, the broken wires in my brain tell me not to get too comfortable because that’s when disaster strikes. The broken wires force me to feel like some futuristic movie robot who is constantly receiving a Google search’s worth of information about everything I lay eyes on. Maybe in an ideal world, I could shift my expectations and just accept that, for me, what I experienced that night was, in fact, a 10. Hell, you can call 10 whatever you want to, just like the Spinal Tap so wisely teaches us.

But not really, unfortunately. There’s something in the human brain…or even in an animal’s brain come to think of it…that knows when things aren’t quite right. No amount of wishing or wanting has enabled my brain to simply accept reality on its own terms, to embrace an evening that is a “Perfect 7”. Plain and simple, there is just something broken: call it depression or bi-polar disorder or the more vague-sounding “mood disorder”…Whatever it is, it won’t let me turn the nob past seven.

And this is my message yet again. It will be the same message in 20 years I’m sure: People with a mental illness deserve some grace just as much as people who are in a wheelchair or bald with terminal cancer. Life is different for us…fundamentally and irrevocably different. I even had a therapist balk at this concept one time – the idea that a mental illness qualifies as a disability. She didn’t want me thinking I could just get away with a poor-me attitude all the time. And I get that. That’s not helpful for someone who has cancer or is in a wheelchair or who has a mental illness.

On the other hand, I think it can be very helpful to recognize that we are in fact different and we have different needs and capabilities because of our broken parts. For me at least, this doesn’t lead to a woe-is-me mentality as much as it leads me to have grace for myself when I need more time alone than others or when I can’t handle a chaotic restaurant or when I feel both joyful and profoundly sad when I spend time with my kids because my brain won’t let me forget how temporary this all is. I’ve spent my whole life chastising myself for not being able to “just get over” certain things. But when I treat myself with respect and grace and kindness, seeing the unique ways that my brokenness comes with a flip side of compassion and understanding for others, I can treat my “weakness” a bit differently.

I’m still sad that my amps only go to 7. Very sad. Devastated, actually. But having compassion for myself inches me a bit closer to feeling like that 7 is something to be excited about, even though it will never be a 10 (or 11).

 
[fblike]
 
I write this blog to let people know they are not alone. If you know someone who might need to read something like this, please pass it along or encourage them to email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com.
*****
To Know We Are Not Alone is now an official 501c3 entity. Our mission is to educate, encourage, and connect people who suffer from mental illnesses. Please help with a small (or large) donation if you can. You can do so here.

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with relationships or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

*****

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]
 

Continue Reading

Dear Taylor Swift

This was originally published a year and a half ago. For some reason it was on my mind again and I thought I’d re-share.

 

Dear Taylor Swift,

Yes, I am a 40-year-old man writing a letter to you, but don’t get weirded out just yet. Give me a minute to explain myself.

You see, this morning on the way to my daughter’s school, she (as usual) asked for my phone so she could listen (primarily) to your music. She’s 7, and you are her favorite (and don’t tell anyone but I do love your music, too while I pretend to be strictly a Death Metal sort of guy). This morning, my little girl played your song, “Never Grow Up.”

I am somewhat sure it changed my life. No, seriously.

As is often the case in the morning, I was a tad grumpy, and to be entirely honest, I gave her the phone in part so I wouldn’t have to feign fascination with 7-year-old questions and observations. Now don’t go judging me, Taylor, until you have kids of your own. They’re amazing, but they ask a lot of questions, and at least in my daughter’s case, come out of the womb with plenty to say and may well never stop talking for 7 years. But back to my life being changed…

So I’m not a big crier. I suppose that for a male I might be somewhere in the normal range, which means I might tear up at a movie when a dog dies or when the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is especially awesome, but for the most part, it’s mainly when that irritating thing called death comes close to home that I do my real crying. Unfortunately, that means someone close to me has to die about twice a year so I can get my stuffed-inside-pretty-damn-deep-emotions out. I will admit that once the tears make their way over my lower eyelids, they can tend to be all-consuming for a few minutes. But that’s usually the end of it, even when death happens.

But thanks to you, for literally the only time in my life that I can remember, I cried all day. As my daughter played the song this morning, it was just a little tearing up that led me to reach back and grab her hand just to hold it for a minute. Suddenly, instead of wanting the carpool trip to be over, I found myself wanting to hit pause so I could absorb the maniacal beauty of this fast-fleeting time in life when kids’ shrieks (some good, some bad) dominate my life.

But when she got out of the car, I started to replay that song over and over. I don’t know what in the world attracts us to things that evoke that mixture of joy and pain that makes us do that strange thing known as crying, but whatever that impulse is kept me listening over and over again. And gradually, the watery eyes turned into actual rolling tears. And then I couldn’t stop…for hours. There was so much wrapped up in the words of your song that got me crying…

I cried because I love my kids so damn much it actually hurts sometimes.

I cried because I don’t always do a great job of expressing it to them, and sometimes I’m sure I hurt them in ways even they won’t understand until they have their own day-of-crying at age 40.

I cried because I wished I could go back to my own childhood, but not because it was so blissfully naive. It was quite the opposite. I spent my childhood petrified of all manner of things: being left somewhere by my parents, germs that might fly into my body invisibly, accidentally telling a lie, making God mad and being sent to hell, and just generally of something tragic happening to my loved ones. I obsessively ended conversations with my parents with “I love you” because when you have OCD and hear one of those horrific stories that I think people make up just to scare the shit out of kids so they’ll appreciate their parents more, you tend not to forget such scary stories (you know, the story where a kid doesn’t get what he wants for his birthday, tells his parents he hates them, storms off, and then during the day, they’re hit by a Mack truck, and the kid comes home to find the present he wanted waiting as a surprise which had been planned all along (did you hear these same stories, Taylor? For me, they struck a nerve that was already all too alive.)). So I cried for myself, honestly, for the fact that I have felt far too “grown up” since I was 4. I cried because your song says that to a child “everything is funny,” but I don’t remember anything funny about being a child; I just remember being confused and unbelievably scared. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say that to a child “everything is scary as hell”?

I cried because last year one of my students did a talent show dance to your song and needed a little ballerina to join her, and she asked my daughter. When it actually took place, I only teared up, beating myself up inside that I couldn’t shed some real tears about this overwhelmingly perfect moment in time. But I made up for that lack of tears today.

Ellie Ruth in last year's Wesleyan Talent Show

I cried because that memory reminded me that I’ve had to step away from a lot of people and activities I love to try to get better in my brain.

I cried because I used to believe that God loved me and cared about me, but nowadays I struggle mightily to believe anything of the sort. It’s not that I wanted that foundation to crumble; sometimes foundations start crumbling and don’t know how to stop, it would seem…sort of goes along with the whole loss of innocence your song is about, I guess. You don’t want to lose your innocence (or maybe you actually do) but you don’t really have much of a choice once the cage door is opened.

You’re probably getting depressed, but I’m done with my sad list now, and I’m actually writing to say thank you, so let me get to that part.

Thank you for helping some dam inside of me break open. The truth is, many people, at least historically, have perceived me as put-together and on-the-ball. You know: stable, self-assured, level-headed…those sorts of things. But on the inside I’ve always been very aware that I’m a pretty emotional guy. Unfortunately, the emotion I’m best at expressing is anger, but you and I and the 7 people who might read this now know that my anger, humor, and sarcasm are actually masks for a lot of pain I feel inside but don’t know how to get out. I got a lot out today, so thank you for providing the chisel that broke a dam I’ve been building all my life.

Thank you, also, for a poignant reminder that our little ones do grow up. The part that really gets me is the bridge where you talk about daddy’s coming home and remembering little brother’s favorite songs. During that part, my daughter blurted out, “Josiah’s favorite song is definitely Jingle Bells!” since that is literally the ONLY song he ever wants to listen to. If he wants music, it’s that song on repeat since Christmas of 2013. But all day as I’ve listened over and over to your song (enough times to move that song up a few notches on the charts), when it comes to that part, I really crack. Those images are so relevant to me, and I dread the day when the “DADDY!!!!!!” shrieks fade into unintelligible grunts when I walk through the door.

Finally, Taylor, and please keep this between us as I’m very private about these things, I’ve been going through a bit of a tough time lately. Usually, when someone close to me dies, the tears are incredibly cathartic. It’s probably pretty obvious to say that crying is a natural part of grieving, but I am quite sure I haven’t begun to grieve the recent losses I’ve experienced.

Until today.

So thank you for playing a small, unwitting part in this cathartic ripping open that I apparently haven’t solved just yet. Maybe when you read this post you can have a good cry, too, for you have had to grow up pretty fast for different reasons than I did. You seem to be handling it pretty well, but then again, perhaps, like me, you’re spending most of your energy to stay “put together” so the 29 zillion people who recognize you won’t see the little kid inside of you. The same one that’s inside all of us; the same one that we all need to take good care of, to “re-parent” as the psychology term says, to cherish and love because no one will ever understand us as well as we understand ourselves.

Sincerely,

Tim

P.S. My daughter really wants to meet you, so let us know when you’re available to meet. I’m sure you can squeeze us in, right?

[fblike]

*****

Well, the time has come to ask what I hate asking because I am pathologically afraid of annoying people. But the reality is that this endeavor has grown beyond a simple blog. I’m already spending a couple of thousand dollars a year now that I’m podcasting and doing some advertising (promoting) on Facebook. Currently, the ball is rolling to start at least one and hopefully multiple small groups dedicated specifically to helping mentally ill people know they have company. That, too, will require time and money. Long story short, I need some additional resources. Now that I have 501(c)(3) status, I can ask you for help while at the very least offering you a tax deduction. There are 3 ways to donate:

    1. You can transfer money directly from your bank via PayPal donations (seriously, why don’t you have a PayPal account by now, people?!).
    2. You can use PayPal to make a credit card donation.

FOR THE TWO ABOVE, YOU CAN MAKE THEM RECURRING MONTHLY IF YOU’D LIKE TO. Just check the box to this effect.

  1. You can write an old-school checks (ask your grandmother to show you how to write one, and then email me at toknowwearenotalone@gmail.com for the mailing address).

All covering-up-my-discomfort-with-humor aside, I want to grow this endeavor into something that helps more people and helps them in more of a variety of ways. Anything you can contribute would be profoundly appreciated.

[paypal_donation_button]

More importantly, if you know someone who needs to know that they are not alone in their struggle with anger or mental illness, please share this post/blog with them. Thank you!

*****

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

 

Continue Reading

Please Stop Saying That

Hang in there Fuck You

If you’ve ever put your foot in your mouth around someone with a mental illness, this one’s for you, friend. (Disclaimer: These are not my personal gripes. I took a poll on Facebook looking for common things that people with a mental illness get told. These aren’t directed at anyone specific out there who might have said one of these, I promise.)

Hmmm, where to start. I think with the guy who, after I had told him I had OCD, told me that he LOVED hiring “those people” in his business because they were so organized and meticulous. When I tried to stop him, he went on: “That’s a great quality to have, man, in the right scenario!” I chose not to physically harm him, but I wanted to. I just seethed because it was so invalidating: him saying that this disorder which has taken so much life from me is actually an enviable quality in the workplace. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that they would make a great hat salesman what with the bald head and all, would you? Yeah, so please don’t say that sort of thing to someone who’s mentally ill.

Then there’s the good natured, rampant suggestions that those of us with mental illnesses should focus more on our physical health: exercise more, eat more barley, try the latest cleanse, quit eating cheese pizza that uses GMOHGTLMNOP in the sauce, etc. A few years ago, my boss pulled this one on me very unexpectedly. I went into his office to talk about who knows what – NOT mental health. Somehow the conversation meandered around to anxiety, from which he also suffered. But his was the sort that one can get rid of by running around the block. So, kindly, he suggested that I should exercise more regularly. I thanked him, told him I’d give it a shot, and ran…to McDonald’s. Okay, I had two. Then I slashed his tires. But really, I’m quite sure that physical health has plenty to do with mental health. However, I have yet to find someone who is severely mentally ill who has been cured by running a marathon. Most of us have tried that to no avail (for the record, I’ve gone through prolonged periods of exercising many times a week, but I’ve never seen an improvement in my mental health from it). It’s not that we don’t know that you exercisers mean well; it’s just that it feels like you’re telling an amputee that taking fish oil might turn them into a mermaid/merman, thus effectively replacing their legs.

And here’s one that all of us who have been depressed have probably heard: “Just think of all you have going for you! You’ve got this and this and this and this to be thankful for. You’re looking at it all wrong!” When I was suffering from my worst (and first) bout of depression ever, I was basically on suicide watch. I didn’t even feel safe being in a different room of the house from my family. During this time, a friend of mine thought he’d do me a favor by suggesting how much worse off I could be. He shared with me about his friend who was currently in Hawaii. Well, good for him, I thought. Then he shared the reason: his daughter was dying of cancer and it was her Make-a-Wish request. Surprisingly, this did not help with my suicidal depression. In fact, it heightened the urge to find that cyanide pill I had hidden somewhere. If you take nothing else away from this post, try to remember this: mental illness is not about someone’s unwillingness to see things in a positive light…or the “right” light. It’s about THEIR INABILITY to do so. Depressed people are fully capable of understanding that something should make them happy. But they still can’t feel happy. Anorexic people are just as aware as you are what an appropriate meal consists of. But their brains won’t let them act on that knowledge. People with OCD know their obsessions are idiotic. But that’s all they think about, night and day, until, sometimes, they end their lives to make the unwanted thoughts stop. Think of it this way: People who are paralyzed understand how walking works, and they most likely want to walk. But they can’t. A pathway is broken, and we simply don’t know how to fix it just yet.

This last one (for now…there’s plenty more out there) is tricky because it’s been said to me so many times by so many really, really, really thoughtful and well-meaning people. But still, it’s warped. Here it is (well-meaning friend speaking to me): “Ann (my wife) must really be a saint, Tim.” First of all, these people are absolutely right: she is a saint. Ask anyone who knows her; she’s probably the best human on earth. I mean that whole-heartedly. I wrote in my book five years ago that I would’ve left me a long time ago, so let me just say that first. So what’s so wrong with saying that, then? Well, would you say it to someone with cancer whose spouse stayed with him even though it was a terrible road to walk? You might say it to the spouse in private, and that would indeed be appropriate encouragement. But you wouldn’t say it to the cancer patient because that would make him feel like shit, obviously. You might as well say, “Dude, you’re a fucking burden.” On this one, we mentally ill folks don’t even help ourselves because I think most of us feel like a burden and even push our loved ones away so as not to be a burden on them. I know I do that a lot. I feel ashamed and worthless when I can’t earn as much money as I used to or help as much with the kids as I’d like to. Still, please, I beg you, don’t tell me what a saint my wife is unless you want to make me (and others) feel like a pile of maggot diarrhea. Tell our spouses, our parents, our friends what saints they are. Just don’t tell us.

As I finish this post, I feel a bit like a jerk for pointing these things out. I was hoping for a funny tone but fear I’ve landed more on derisive. Take me with a grain of salt, though. Remember, I’m just a mentally ill guy who’s not doing a good job of thinking happy thoughts (oops, was that derisive, too?). Oh well, if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me as I try to make this point. And if I’ve offended you, now you can write a post called Things Not to Say to Someone Who’s Just Trying to Help. Be sure to tag me so I can read it!

Other things that I don’t have the time or energy to address right now:

  • I’m praying for you.
  • I’m a little OCD, too.
  • You shouldn’t cut yourself because you won’t like those scars on your arms.
  • Please add more in the comments section below!

EXCITING NEWS: Tim’s new podcast called, cleverly, To Know We Are Not Alone, is now available on this site or on iTunes.

[fblike]

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also has a Facebook community called To Know We Are Not Alone and frankly, there’s a lot more dialogue and group interaction that goes on there than on this blog site, so if you’re on Facebook, join us there, too. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

Continue Reading

Dear Taylor Swift

Taylor SwiftDear Taylor Swift,

Yes, I am a 38-year-old man writing a letter to you, but don’t get weirded out just yet. Give me a minute to explain myself.

You see, this morning on the way to my daughter’s school, she (as usual) asked for my phone so she could listen (primarily) to your music. She’s 7, and you are her favorite (and don’t tell anyone but I do love your music, too while I pretend to be strictly a Death Metal sort of guy). This morning, my little girl played your song, “Never Grow Up.”

I am somewhat sure it changed my life. No, seriously.

As is often the case in the morning, I was a tad grumpy, and to be entirely honest, I gave her the phone in part so I wouldn’t have to feign fascination with 7-year-old questions and observations. Now don’t go judging me, Taylor, until you have kids of your own. They’re amazing, but they ask a lot of questions, and at least in my daughter’s case, come out of the womb with plenty to say and may well never stop talking for 7 years. But back to my life being changed…

So I’m not a big crier. I suppose that for a male I might be somewhere in the normal range, which means I might tear up at a movie when a dog dies or when the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is especially awesome, but for the most part, it’s mainly when that irritating thing called death comes close to home that I do my real crying. Unfortunately, that means someone close to me has to die about twice a year so I can get my stuffed-inside-pretty-damn-deep-emotions out. I will admit that once the tears make their way over my lower eyelids, they can tend to be all-consuming for a few minutes. But that’s usually the end of it, even when death happens.

But thanks to you, for literally the only time in my life that I can remember, I cried all day. As my daughter played the song this morning, it was just a little tearing up that led me to reach back and grab her hand just to hold it for a minute. Suddenly, instead of wanting the carpool trip to be over, I found myself wanting to hit pause so I could absorb the maniacal beauty of this fast-fleeting time in life when kids’ shrieks (some good, some bad) dominate my life.

But when she got out of the car, I started to replay that song over and over. I don’t know what in the world attracts us to things that evoke that mixture of joy and pain that makes us do that strange thing known as crying, but whatever that impulse is kept me listening over and over again. And gradually, the watery eyes turned into actual rolling tears. And then I couldn’t stop…for hours. There was so much wrapped up in the words of your song that got me crying…

I cried because I love my kids so damn much it actually hurts sometimes.

I cried because I don’t always do a great job of expressing it to them, and sometimes I’m sure I hurt them in ways even they won’t understand until they have their own day-of-crying at age 38.

I cried because I wished I could go back to my own childhood, but not because it was so blissfully ignorant. It was quite the opposite. I spent my childhood petrified of all manner of things: being left somewhere by my parents, germs that might fly into my body invisibly, accidentally telling a lie, making God mad and being sent to hell, and just generally of something tragic happening to my loved ones. I obsessively ended conversations with my parents with “I love you” because when you have OCD and hear one of those horrific stories that I think people make up just to scare the shit out of kids so they’ll appreciate their parents more, you tend not to forget such scary stories (you know, the story where a kid doesn’t get what he wants for his birthday, tells his parents he hates them, storms off, and then during the day, they’re hit by a Mack truck, and the kid comes home to find the present he wanted waiting as a surprise which had been planned all along (did you hear these same stories, Taylor? For me, they struck a nerve that was already all too alive.)). So I cried for myself, honestly, for the fact that I have felt far too “grown up” since I was 4. I cried because your song says that to a child “everything is funny,” but I don’t remember anything funny about being a child; I just remember being confused and unbelievably scared. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say that to a child “everything is scary as hell”?

I cried because last year one of my students did a talent show dance to your song and needed a little ballerina to join her, and she asked my daughter. When it actually took place, I only teared up, beating myself up inside that I couldn’t shed some real tears about this overwhelmingly perfect moment in time. But I made up for that lack of tears today.

Ellie Ruth in last year's Wesleyan Talent Show
Ellie Ruth in last year’s Wesleyan Talent Show

I cried because that memory reminded me that I’ve had to step away from a lot of people and activities I love to try to get better in my brain.

I cried because I used to believe that God loved me and cared about me, but nowadays I struggle mightily to believe anything of the sort. It’s not that I wanted that foundation to crumble; sometimes foundations start crumbling and don’t know how to stop, it would seem…sort of goes along with the whole loss of innocence your song is about, I guess. You don’t want to lose your innocence (or maybe you actually do) but you don’t really have much of a choice once the cage door is opened.

You’re probably getting depressed, but I’m done with my sad list now, and I’m actually writing to say thank you, so let me get to that part.

Thank you for helping some dam inside of me break open. The truth is, many people, at least historically, have perceived me as put-together and on-the-ball. You know: stable, self-assured, level-headed…those sorts of things. But on the inside I’ve always been very aware that I’m a pretty emotional guy. Unfortunately, the emotion I’m best at expressing is anger, but you and I and the 7 people who might read this now know that my anger, humor, and sarcasm are actually masks for a lot of pain I feel inside but don’t know how to get out. I got a lot out today, so thank you for providing the chisel that broke a dam I’ve been building all my life.

Thank you, also, for a poignant reminder that our little ones do grow up. The part that really gets me is the bridge where you talk about daddy’s coming home and remembering little brother’s favorite songs. During that part, my daughter blurted out, “Josiah’s favorite song is definitely Jingle Bells!” since that is literally the ONLY song he ever wants to listen to. If he wants music, it’s that song on repeat since Christmas of 2013. But all day as I’ve listened over and over to your song (enough times to move that song up a few notches on the charts), when it comes to that part, I really crack. Those images are so relevant to me, and I dread the day when the “DADDY!!!!!!” shrieks fade into unintelligible grunts when I walk through the door.

Finally, Taylor, and please keep this between us as I’m very private about these things, I’ve been going through a bit of a tough time lately. Usually, when someone close to me dies, the tears are incredibly cathartic. It’s probably pretty obvious to say that crying is a natural part of grieving, but I am quite sure I haven’t begun to grieve the recent losses I’ve experienced.

Until today.

So thank you for playing a small, unwitting part in this cathartic ripping open that I apparently haven’t solved just yet. Maybe when you read this post you can have a good cry, too, for you have had to grow up pretty fast for different reasons than I did. You seem to be handling it pretty well, but then again, perhaps, like me, you’re spending most of your energy to stay “put together” so the 29 zillion people who recognize you won’t see the little kid inside of you. The same one that’s inside all of us; the same one that we all need to take good care of, to “re-parent” as the psychology term says, to cherish and love because no one will ever understand us as well as we understand ourselves.

 

Sincerely,

Tim

 

    P.S. My daughter really wants to meet you, so let us know when you’re available to meet. I’m sure you can squeeze us in, right?

**P.P.S. People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!
For your tearful pleasure:

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Re-Parenting Your Inner Child

bigstock-Child-abuse-24665465-1024x682The scene I imagine is the one I was most scared of as a child:

Chastain Park. Baseball fields. A spring evening at dusk. Every other kid on the team has been picked up. The coach assumed everyone had a ride home so he didn’t wait around. Suddenly, there’s no one else in sight. It’s just me: 8-years-old. Baseball glove in one hand; bat in the other hand. Giant tears welling up in my eyes as my worst fear comes to life. I am alone.

Abandoned.

No one will come get me. No one will help me; they’ll all keep telling me my parents will be here soon…Even when I am 50 years old, people will still be patting me on the head and saying, “Mommy and Daddy will be here soon. Quit worrying so much!” Maybe I’ll find my way back home, but it won’t do me any good: My family will be gone without a hint as to where they’ve gone. IT has happened. I am alone in the universe.

This situation played out in my head ad nauseam throughout childhood. It wasn’t always (or just) baseball practice. It was school and Sunday school and friends’ houses and the basement of my house and, well, everywhere. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every second. When I remember being a child, this is what I remember: Fear of being abandoned.

My parents never did anything to make me suspect that they were actually planning to rid themselves of me in this manner. Shoot, they were rarely even late to pick me up. The fear had very little to do with reality and very much to do with OCD. Every kid is afraid that s/he’ll be abandoned, but not every kid keeps thinking about it all day every day forever. This is why it’s called a “disorder” – not because it’s something no one else thinks about, but because it’s something other people can quit thinking about after a few seconds. My brain never let it go. It still hasn’t; it just looks different now.

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, you might remember the post I wrote about Taylor Swift’s song “Never Grow Up.” The basic gist is this: When my daughter played this beautiful song a few months ago, I spent the entire day balling my eyes out for all sorts of reasons. One of the primary people I was crying over was the little boy I used to be who tried to shoulder the weight of the world from the time he was aware of the world.

My Taylor-Swift-Day-O-Crying included a long, slow drive around the various parts of Atlanta where I had grown up. I drove past a couple of the homes I had lived in and just sat reminiscing about the various losses of innocence that happened in those particular spots. I ate at the restaurant that has been a part of my life, at least once a week, for the past fifteen years (Willy’s, for you Atlanta folks). And I drove past the Chastain Park baseball fields, where I used to be so preoccupied with my fear of abandonment that I eventually let the fear have its first major victory of my life and quit doing something I thoroughly enjoyed – playing baseball. I sat there for a while. Crying, of course. Imagining that little boy standing there alone, abandoned.

In therapeutic terms, this concept is called “re-parenting the inner child.” The little boy at Chastain Park is my inner child…it’s the image I return to when I need to realize that it’s okay to hurt and to feel and to be wounded and to be scared. I would never fault that little boy for his fears, but I almost always fault the 39-year-old man who still feels the same way. It’s hard to be kind and compassionate and tender toward the grown man who is often needy and hard to understand and inconsistent and a bit of a “moving target” (as one friend was so kind as to point out recently).

But the little boy is much easier to be patient with. Kids are inconsistent and needy and moving targets and all sorts of other confusing things. Trust me; I have 2, and I have yet to spend more than an hour with them where things went according to plan or where one of them didn’t cry over something that seemed obnoxiously silly to me.

But I give them grace because they are children. And so am I – a little boy who, at least in an emotional sense, never grew up all the way. I’m still the little boy standing by the baseball fields waiting to get picked up, afraid that no one will ever pick me up. When I see my inner self in that way, it’s much easier to be patient and kind with myself.

Recently, I have suggested this same concept to two of my friends. Both of their reactions were visceral. One immediately got teary-eyed; the other got a look of shock on her face and said, “It’s just too sad for me to imagine myself that way. I can’t do it.”

But if that’s your reaction, maybe it’s the thing you need to do most of all. It hurt me to watch my friends’ pained expressions when I suggested this “re-parenting” technique. I know how hard it is to look back at the little child who, for whatever reason, grew up too fast. I know what it’s like to want to wrap that child in your arms and make them feel safe forever. I know what it’s like for your heart to break that you can’t actually go rescue that little boy or girl.

But you can still rescue that child in one sense: You can re-parent that little boy or girl inside of yourself. You can give yourself grace for your particular fears and wounds and struggles. You can tell that child it’s okay to be afraid. You can tell the child that you’ll hold her hand as she walks through the scary parts of life…which might be all of them. You can take him by the hand and let him know that you’ll walk as slowly or as quickly as you need to past all the monsters and mean kids. You can sit and cry with that kid for as long as needed.

Every child needs to be taken care of. Every human with a heart can feel compassion for a child more easily than for an adult. And we are all still children in some way or other. So rather than beating yourself up for all your needs and wants and insecurities, develop an image of yourself as a scared little boy or girl with those same needs and wants and insecurities. Treat your adult self as you would treat that child because, at the end of the day, that’s still what all of us are.
 

 

 

 
 

[fblike]

Need something to do while you’re peeing? Subscribe to Tim’s newsletter below. It is sent out religiously on the third Sunday of May every fifth year when May has a blue moon and the average temperature is below 17 degrees Kelvin. Trust me, it won’t add to your emailbox frustration. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

Continue Reading

Love. No Matter What.

Love no matter whatLet’s begin where all posts about unconditional love begin: with serial killers.

Jeffrey Dahmer. If you don’t already know who he is, DON’T look him up…you won’t sleep tonight if you do. He might well be the most despicable human being I have ever heard of. The methods he used to kill people are so graphic that I don’t even want to detail them here. It’s beyond the stuff that horror movies are made of.

But you know what’s weird? His dad still loved him. (Note: love does not equal approval! In fact, those we truly love are the ones we are honest with, even amidst disapproval.) In an interview with Stone Phillips from the 1990’s, Dahmer’s father sits right next to him throughout the interview, and even tells Phillips that he still loves his son despite knowing everything he did. I’m not sure it would be right to say that Jeffrey Dahmer’s father was in his Fan Club, but he certainly still cherished his son as only a parent can.

And then there’s the Ted Talk with the first person to get an interview with Dylan Klebold’s parents…Klebold being one of the “Columbine Killers” from the mass school shooting in Columbine, Colorado on Hitler’s birthday in 1999. The speaker asked them what they’d say to him if he were here today. His dad expressed anger, but sort of like the how-dare-you-wreck-the-car anger, not how-dare-you-kill-20-innocent-people anger.

But Klebold’s mom said something remarkable: I’d ask him to forgive ME for not knowing how badly he was hurting. AND I’d tell him I forgive him even though no one else would. She just wanted her son back, under any conditions. (Paraphrased from my memory)

Then there’s Ted Bundy’s mother who told her son “You’ll always be my precious son” on the day he was executed for committing around 30 murders (ladies, please don’t go read about Ted Bundy either!).

And then we have the Green River Killer…he confessed to almost 100 murders, and at his trial, the victims were allowed to have a few minutes to confront him in court. He seems to take sick pleasure in their hatred of him, because, I suspect, a serial killer’s number one goal is to have control – complete control – over others. So, the families’ hatred of Gary Ridgway was just what he wanted.

Then there was this Santa-Claus-looking father of one of the victims who had the audacity to tell the monster that he forgave him. Ridgway breaks down crying. Think about that. Nearly 100 separate times, this man looked someone in the eye and killed them. Then one man tells him he forgives him, and for less than a minute, this monster becomes human…broken…wanting to be loved and forgiven just like the rest of us.

I promise I’m not as obsessed with serial killers as I probably seem, though I don’t think I’d be alone in finding them intriguing (and then wondering what that means about me, but for the record, I don’t even kill most of the spiders in my home. I take them outside or foster them until they can be adopted into good homes). But what I am somewhat obsessed by is the radical versions of Love and Mercy that come out of these terrible stories. I don’t really know what to make of it other than how profoundly it expresses the ultimate oxymoronic nature of human life: On the one hand, there’s the unexplained chaos that leads the news and makes every generation proclaim that The End must be near. But right alongside the chaos, there are moments and acts of truly Unconditional Love and Grace – the sort that extends the hand of Compassion to even the serial killers of the world.

It’s become a bit of a cliche (thanks, Rob Bell) to say that “love wins.” But these sorts of stories do seem to indicate that Love does win. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary throughout human history…despite all of the serial killers and Hitlers and bin Ladens…despite the stories of senseless tragedies that befall good people, something inside of us keeps believing in the power of Love. For some reason, we keep reading and writing and watching the same story over and over – the one where terrible things happen but the Good Guy wins in the end.

(Tim goes to sleep, gets up, rehashes this post, and still finds himself stumped as to how to conclude on the “right” note. He knows that somewhere in internet land, he’s now being investigated by the FBI as a possible suspect in all sorts of unsolved murders. Please visit Tim in a yet-to-be-determined Federal Prison where he will still be trying to figure out how to end this post.)

 

Links to the aforementioned references:
Dahmer’s dad

Bundy’s mom

Klebold’s parents (at the end)

Green River Killer

 
This is a link to Amazon’s page when you search “love wins”.

This is a link to Amazon’s page on Serial Killers. I won’t (outwardly) judge you for clicking on it.

 

Please subscribe either on the home page or at the very bottom of this page. You’ll get an email of encouragement a few times a month, and I promise not to give your email to people who sell fake Viagra.

 

Continue Reading

How To Help Someone with Mental Illness

supportIt can be awfully hard to know how to help someone with mental illness! Take me for example: Saturday morning, I was comatose with depression on my couch for four hours, hoping for a stray meteor to find its way to me. Today, I’m overflowing with so many exciting ideas for how to solve the world’s problems that I would challenge Steve Jobs to a Battle of Creativity. This, my friends, we call Bi-Polar (type 2 to be exact). You can imagine what fun my wife and kids have playing the “what mood will daddy be in ten minutes from now” game (for now, Ann has a small lead over Josiah, and for some reason Ellie Ruth isn’t very good at the game…she’s way behind, but I’m starting to develop some special signals for her so she can catch up).

So perhaps I’m the wrong person to write this post, since I haven’t had to be the supporter in any substantial way. Thus, what follows is simply the advice of someone WITH mental illness(es) to those who, thanklessly, painfully, fearfully…are supporting someone with mental illness.

A friend of mine recently called looking for advice on how to support his deeply depressed wife. Like many people who are NOT mentally ill, he was frustrated and baffled by his wife’s behavior and her unwillingness to listen to reason. He continued attempting to have conversations with her about how he could help, but he was thwarted by her erratic answers – sometimes she simply told him, amidst sobs, that she didn’t know how he could help; other times, the “saner” moments, she was reluctant, even embarrassed to discuss her previous behavior and couldn’t/wouldn’t offer much in the way of advice to her husband about what she needed when she was in “that place.” My friend was stumped, scared, and frustrated.

Perhaps you’ve been there if you’re reading this…You want to help, but you don’t know how, and the person you are trying to help behaves so inconsistently that you never know if you should leave them alone, hug them, take them to the hospital, or tell them to snap out of it. I’m quite sure my amazing wife, Ann, would understand your frustration as she has felt it with me (but not for at least an hour or two!).

I certainly can’t speak for everyone with mental illnesses, but I’d like to offer a few pointers that might be of help:

    1. Take charge lovingly. Recognize that you are the one who is seeing the world more clearly than your mentally ill loved one, and take charge of the situation lovingly with that in mind. For example, my young children wear me out mentally. I’m just not cut out to be with small people for prolonged periods of time without becoming extremely overwhelmed and ultimately depressed/angry. But I want to be a good dad/husband, so I often am with them for long periods of time, thus becoming overwhelmed, depressed, and/or angry. My wife knows when I’ve had enough based on how I speak to the kids, and she is usually kind enough to ask me, “Do you need a break?” But here’s the problem: My broken brain can’t see straight in those moments, so guilt usually wins out over my mental health and I say, “No.” The truth is, and I’m not saying that this is fair, that I want Ann to say to me: “Tim, you need a break. Go take 15 minutes of alone time and then we can reassess.” I would take her up on it 100% of the time, but when I’m left to make the choice for myself, I’m not able to think reasonably, “You know, I do need a break, and yes, my wonderful wife, I’ll accept your offer!” Again, that’s not necessarily fair, but if you, the healthy one, will take charge of the situation, I for one would appreciate it, and I suspect others with a mental illness want the same thing.
    2. Don’t expect them to be reasonable. Once again, I’ll use my children as an example. When one of my children throws a temper tantrum, I, of course, get frustrated by their behavior. Despite having plenty of evidence that you can’t reason with a small child who is throwing a tantrum, I continue to try to reason them out of this behavior by saying things like, “You’re not helping the situation” or “You’re making your own life worse by acting this way.” Any reasonable person would understand what I mean, right? Of course! But a tantrum-throwing child isn’t in a reasonable state of mind, and “fighting” a tantrum with reason will only lead to frustration for both parties. The best solution when a child throws a tantrum is to literally put them in a safe place so they can “process” their anger without hurting themselves, your dog, their sibling, or your eardrums. It’s the same thing with a mental illness: Help the person get to a place, literal or figurative, where they can feel what they’re feeling safely and productively. Having dealt with OCD my whole life, I am well aware that my obsessive thoughts are unreasonable…that’s why they’re so disturbing! But that hasn’t enabled me to stop them from running through my mind. This is where this piece of advice ties back to #1: You, the sane one, need to lovingly take charge. If someone is in the throes of depression, don’t tell them to look at the bright side. Instead, gently insist that they go do the thing(s) that tend to help them improve. For me, it’s time to myself to think and write…it almost always helps. If not that, then working with my hands on a tangible project will sometimes do the trick. Sometimes, there’s nothing that helps, but when I’m in the midst of depression, it’s virtually impossible for me to stand up for myself and to take what I need. I can’t be reasonable, but if someone around me can push me in the right direction, it might help me get back to a good place more quickly.
    3. Set boundaries about how you will respond to their struggles. As you probably know if you’re reading this, it’s exhausting to support someone with any illness, especially one that is unpredictable and turns your normally-rational loved one into an irrational mess. The friend I mention above confided in me that his wife is not above a little melodrama, so he’s never sure how much of her behavior is attention-seeking and how much is authentic. My advice to him was to tell his wife that he had no choice but to take her at her word…the stakes are too high. Thus, if she says she’s suicidal, he should tell her that he will take her to the hospital because he can’t take the chance that she’s just being dramatic. Another important boundary involves the mentally ill person taking his/her pain out on the care-taker. I’ll use myself as an example here: When my OCD regarding my wife (see my book for more on this) is raging, one of the natural compulsions is to think that talking to her about it might help me get to the bottom of my concern. It won’t! Ever. And it’s entirely unfair for me to talk to her about my negative thoughts about her. All that will do is to hurt her deeply. In this case, we have a boundary that when I’m obsessing about her, if I need someone to talk to, I need to pick one of the other close friends (or a therapist) to discuss this stuff with. The scenarios are endless for what boundaries you might need to set, but start paying attention to yourself, and know that the best way to love someone is to be the healthiest version of yourself so you can be there for them when they need you most. It might take time to figure out the appropriate boundaries, but don’t feel guilty for needing to set them. It’s ONLY by setting them that you can help your mentally ill loved one thoroughly.
    4. When they’re feeling good, ask them how they want/need to be dealt with in the bad moments. Most people with a mental illness have their good days and their bad days. As someone who offers support to a mentally ill person, your best resource might well be that very person, but only when they’re in a good place. This will have to be an ongoing conversation about what is and is not helpful to your loved one, but every day, week, and month you gather more data that can be used to help both you and the other person move forward to a more healthy place. As I’ve mentioned before, one thing I need when I’m in a bad place is for my wife, who is quick to recognize it these days, to take the lead and tell me what to do. In my case, she needs to tell me to take some time away to hit the reset button. When I’m in that bad place, I’m nearly incapable of taking care of myself, but by staying physically present with my wife and kids when I’m not doing well can cause a lot of unnecessary damage – a lot more damage than would be caused by my taking a “time out” to get my head clear. Your loved one might not know how you can best help them right away, but tell them to ponder and pay attention to what they need when they’re not doing well. Maybe it’s a hug; maybe it’s a time out; maybe it’s a trip around the world on a Disney Cruise ship…who knows? But let your mentally ill loved one be your most helpful resource when they are in a healthy enough state to think clearly about what they would want/need in their bad moments.
    5. Take care of yourself. This goes back to #3, but I can’t say enough about it. If you’re not healthy, you can’t be of very much help. Think of it this way: If you were taking care of someone with the flu, you’re not much good to them if you run yourself so ragged that you get sick, too. Not only do you endanger their health further, your own ability to respond to the sick person promptly and thoroughly is diminished if you aren’t healthy. The same goes for mental health. Figure out how to fill up your own gas tank so you can help the person you care about. If your tank is empty, you’re of no real use to them.
    6. Give grace…to yourself and your loved one. Start with yourself. This shit is hard! It ends friendships, marriages, and even lives. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming yourself for not always knowing the right thing to say or how to be of the most help. Instead, literally say this to yourself, “I’m doing the best I can, and that’s all I can do.” It sounds corny, but having been forced by a therapist to do this myself, I can say it actually works: Look in the mirror and affirm yourself for trying, for loving someone who isn’t always easy to love, and for demonstrating the truest version of love – the unconditional kind. And don’t forget to give grace to your mentally ill loved one, too. Hopefully, they’re trying as well, and some day down the road, we’ll be better and figuring out exactly what part of a person’s brain is malfunctioning. Those x-rays or images will make it easier to understand that the person isn’t necessarily choosing to be an erratic ass. Most likely, they’re similar to a person with a broken leg trying to walk without a cast or crutches. If the bone was sticking out of their leg, it wouldn’t be hard to give them grace for going a bit slower than normal or yelping in pain every few steps. But mental illnesses aren’t visible…yet. So whatever metaphor helps you recognize that they’re dealing with something that really is physical and that really can’t be just wished away, try to remind yourself that you can’t expect someone with a broken brain to process life the same way you do. And once again, when you fail, give yourself grace. Then try again. That’s the best you can do.

 

**People often ask if it’s okay to share what I write with others, as if I am trying to keep it private. Uh, yes, it’s okay since I do publish this on the interweb. But really, I’d be most appreciative if you share this blog (or post) with others. Who knows where it will lead? Thanks for your help!

Other articles you might enjoy:

Amy Glynn reflects on Robin Williams’s suicide in a compassionate and helpful way, acknowledging that we should wish our friends who commit suicide had been equipped to stay around longer, but we should never simplify their behavior as “selfish” or “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” A refreshing piece! http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2014/09/twenty-five-years-after-dead-poets-society.html

“7 of the Most Helpful Things You Can Say to Someone with Depression” An excellent piece that “gets it right” about how to help someone who is depressed.

(This post is also a page on the blog. It can always be accessed from the top menu.)

Continue Reading

From Ann: How to Take Care of Yourself So You Can Help Someone with Mental Illness

Family 10Hello,
My name is Ann. I am Tim’s wife, #1 fan and biggest supporter. I am the mommy to our 7 year old daughter and 4 year old son. I am a daughter, a daughter in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, an aunt, a niece, a friend, an employee, and a neighbor. I too deal with anxiety and depression, as well as a lingering issue with body image. While I will always proudly be these different parts of myself, especially a wife and mommy, something happened to me last week that I want to share.

I came undone.

For the last two years, I have been in crisis mode. It’s hard to know how to help someone with mental illness, and frankly, Tim’s unstable and fragile mental health have been an ever present worry and fear. Most of the time, I have pulled on my big girl panties, put my head down and carried on. Not last week; a tiny hole in my armor appeared and kept growing until all my armor was stripped away.

That’s when I gave in to my anger at God for not reaching down and fixing Tim’s brain. I gave in to the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that have been looming but continually getting pushed away. I realized I had isolated myself from friends and my children’s schools in order to work more hours.

I was my last priority and I couldn’t function that way anymore.

You have probably heard this information countless times, but the advice from the flight attendants really should be followed, whether you are on an airplane or simply doing life. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, help the others around you second.

I am working on making some changes in how I prioritize myself while supporting, partnering and living with my husband who has significant mental illness.

I meet with my therapist once a week.
I am blocking out 15 minutes each day to walk the dog.
I am also blocking out 15 minutes each day to sit and read in the quiet of my home when my children are at school.
I make plans to have coffee or lunch with at least one friend a week.

I’ll be honest, I just decided on these within the last week, so I haven’t quite worked in numbers 2 and 3, but I did make time for 1 and 4!

If you care for someone with mental illness, whether a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, a friend or a neighbor, please consider how you can better prioritize yourself in the midst of your reality. Take care of yourself for your sake, but also for the person you so desperately want to be well.

Until next time…

 

 

PS. Friends, as you may know, life in the Blue family has taken some unexpected turns of late. Most important of all, Tim is still trying to figure out a new, sustainable career path, preferably one that puts some food on the table. Obviously, I love to write, I love to speak (link to page), and I love encouraging people. Please consider doing two favors for me: 1. For some technological reason I don’t understand, having “followers” increases a blog’s traffic. If you rely on Facebook for these updates, it would help me out for you to sign up as a follower (all the way at the bottom of the screen or on the home page). All you do is provide your email, and you’ll get an email when I post. That’s it…no other agenda or risk to providing that information (and I won’t sell it, I promise). If I’m going to be use my blog as a springboard to further writing and speaking, frankly, I need the publicity (embarrassed-to-be-asking-emoji-here). 2. If you know of a place that needs a speaker related to mental health, spiritual struggles, or just general encouragement, please let them know I exist. Or if you know of a website, magazine, or newsletter where my writing my fit, I’d love your help with that connection, too.

At the very least, I hope you’ll keep coming back and finding encouragement from this blog…that’s my main hope and the reason I’ll keep doing it even if nothing more than that comes of this adventure.

Continue Reading

Spanking and Adrian Peterson: Today’s Reason for Depression

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/vikings/2013/10/17/adrian-peterson-attended-sons-funeral-tyrese-robert-ruffin/3003117/My brand of depression is a chicken-egg sort of quandary: I can never quite tell if my bad brain chemistry starts me down the road of existential doubt or vice versa. Perhaps it works both ways for me; that’s my current conclusion. One thing I have known for a while is that I cannot pay attention to the news when I am depressed. Obviously, “if it bleeds, it leads” works for the news stations, but for me, it sets me reeling, asking why there is so much injustice in the world, doubting what little shred of faith I’m still clinging to…and down the hole I go, deeper, deeper, deeper. When my depression is bad, I have to simply avoid the news as much as possible.



As an escape, I gravitate to sports. Given that I like things such as literature, deep talks, etc., some people find my passion for sports a bit surprising. One student even told me once, not entirely in jest, that her opinion of me had gone down a few notches when I admitted to loving football. I chose football over improving her opinion of me and stuck with my passion for a good old weekend of college and professional football…barbaric men using physical force to assert their will and dominance over other barbaric men (when I put it that way, I guess I see why that student lost her respect for me, but alas, I love it!). When I told a different group of students about my avoidance of the news in favor of sports and sports news, one of them pointed out that sports news often involves “bad” news just like the “regular” news. I agreed, but since the majority of sports news is about who wins and loses, who made a great play, what games are coming up, etc., it has always been a fairly safe form of news for my brain.

Until Adrian Peterson had to go and “spank” his 4-year-old…you know, the sort of spanking that involves a tree branch, bruises, Peterson’s arrest, $15,000 bond, suspension from his job, and a lot of lawyers. That sort of spanking. This is the same Peterson who recently lost another child to child abuse…as in, the kid died, but not at Peterson’s hands. Take all of this and then add in the fact that Peterson not only admits the “spanking” but he claims he was doing it in love, and he defended his actions’ appropriateness by saying the same was done to him as a child by adults who loved and cared for him.

For a normal brain, this is probably simply “sad” or “disturbing” or perhaps even “a bunch of nonsense trumped up by the media over our culture’s unwillingness to discipline children the good old fashioned way.” For me, it has me on the all-too-familiar brink of despair. In part, I suppose it’s just because I hate seeing a 4-year-old harmed, but it also must have to do with the fact that I am surrounded by so many people who defend spanking as a legitimate, even “Godly,” form of discipline (see Prov. 29:15 for the typical “spare the rod…” defense of spanking).

Now before I address this subject from a logical and/or philosophical standpoint, I feel that I should offer true confessions about my own biases regarding spanking. As a child, I was spanked. A lot. Suffice it to say that I resent it and am undoubtedly biased in this discussion. In fact, when I bring this topic up, most people tend to look at me like I’m over-reacting to an obviously-healthy form of discipline. A fact that I find odd, and in that very oddity lies the slippery road of existential depression:

Why does no one else see these sorts of things like I see them? Why aren’t other people as outraged as I feel by news stories like Peterson’s? Why do people post things on Facebook about our need to “extinguish” our enemies because we have a God-given right to our own ideals (paraphrased from an actual post recently on a friend’s wall), failing to realize that such rhetoric is dangerously close to the bad guys’ rhetoric?

And on and on, endlessly, aswer-lessly, maddeningly. And what do all my questions do for me or for the world? Well, seemingly absolutely nothing other than make me feel somewhat hopeless.

Now that I’ve confessed to my own biases and probably depressed you, I’d like to attempt to tackle (football pun…get it?) the issue from a (hopefully) more objective vantage point. Two simple points will demonstrate why I think spanking is a dangerous form of discipline, even when it doesn’t result in criminal charges:

1. If you change the word from “spanking” to “hitting” and no one in their right mind would say they’re okay with “hitting children.” I actually tried a poll in my AP English class the other day. About 2/3 of them said they were okay with spanking as a form of discipline. When I asked how many of them were okay with parents hitting their kids, not one hand went up. Hmmmm.

2. Consider this scenario: A child whose parents use spanking (let’s say it’s the kindest, gentlest version of spanking that involves hugs and love from the parent immediately after the discipline has occurred. Shoot, let’s even say the parents cry every time they have to spank their kids; it hurts them “worse than it hurts the kid” in a very literal sense) comes home from 1st grade with a note from the teacher that little Johnny got into an altercation on the playground that involved him punching little Freddy in the arm to get the ball from him because little Johnny had it first. Mom and Dad read the note and know what they have to do:

  • “Johnny come here, please! … Is this true what your teacher says about you punching Freddy to get your ball back?”
  • Little Johnny, tearful: “Yes, but we had it first and he just stole it. He does that all the time. All of us get sick of it!”
  • “Johnny, you know our rule. We’ve dealt with this when you get angry with your sister, too. You can’t hit people to try to get your way. Unfortunately, (mom and/or dad start tearing up at this point) we have to give you a spanking for this. That’s the rule, buddy.”
  • “Mom, Dad, please no!”
  • “I’m sorry, Johnny, but when you hit someone, the way we have chosen to handle it is to spank you, but know that we love you so much. That’s why we discipline you.”
  • Little Johnny suddenly takes on the persona of blogger Tim Blue and says, “But mom and dad, don’t you see what you’re saying? You are going to hit me to teach me that I am not allowed to hit other people. That makes no sense!”
  • “Johnny, it’s a spanking. It’s different than punching someone in the arm.”
  • “But how? Just because it’s on my butt? At least I didn’t hit Freddy with the wooden spoon you’re about to use. He didn’t even cry; he actually laughed at me. But you’re about to do something that hurts bad enough that it makes me cry. How is this logical? How is this fair? Just because you’re physically bigger than me and can exert your will over me at this point in my life, why does that make it okay for you to do something that would get me in the worst trouble I’ve ever been in? I can’t imagine what sort of spanking you’d give me if I took a wooden spoon to school and smacked somebody with it just because I was bigger and I thought they needed to learn a lesson!”
  • Mom and Dad stand in stunned silence as the curtain closes on this dramatic scene. The audience sits in stunned silence and the slowly, gradually gives Tim Blue’s inaugural play a 30-minute standing ovation. Blue becomes world famous. Spanking is outlawed everywhere. Parents apologize to their children across the world. Blue goes on to become an advocate against any and all forms of illogical discipline, and when he dies, his name sits next to people like MLK, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela as an advocate for peace and justice. (Or nothing happens and Tim just feels a little bit better for having verbalized his long-held opinions on spanking despite the fact that he has yet to convince anyone to adopt his view no matter how often he has shared it over the past 15 years.)

3. I have trouble counting, I suppose, since I promised only two points in this already very long post, but most of you have probably quit reading, so I might as well keep going until I have said what I want/need to say. So, speaking as someone who has obvious mental health challenges, I think this form of discipline has potentially very dangerous consequences for children whose brains are already chemically imbalanced. I won’t use my own experiences, though I am confident that being spanked had plenty of negative consequences for me and my brain. I’ll simply quote a student of mine who said that to this day she hates being touched and she thinks it’s because she was spanked as a child. Whether or not this is the case, she said she definitely harbors resentment toward her parents for the physical discipline, and she suffers from a lot of anxiety, though it manifests as perfectionism and over-achievement. Generally speaking, she’s about as put-together and smart as they come, so the consequences will not necessarily be outward or obvious, as in cases of blatant child abuse.

Even if I’m wrong about this third point, why take the chance by choosing spanking as a disciplinary tactic? There are plenty of other options that still teach children important lessons. A friend of mine whose kids are grown and who feels the same way I do about spanking raised three very intelligent and responsible adults who any parent would be proud of. My kids are only 4 and 7, but even if our strategies for discipline backfire later in life, I can at least say that we have yet to hear that they behave badly or disrespect authority (they certainly have their bad moments…plenty of them, but I doubt anyone would say they are generally undisciplined or wayward).

Why have I bothered writing this post that is only tangentially related to mental health? I suppose it’s since because this issue has long been one of those that causes me to lose sleep and sanity. Other than my classroom, this is the best platform I have to stand up for an issue I feel passionately about and one that I’m semi-confident has a potential impact on people’s mental health. So, since it’s all I can do, I’ll simply use this particular platform to make this plea: Don’t use Adrian Peterson’s form of discipline OR his excuse: “This is how I was raised, and things worked out okay for me!” That argument is the equivalent of this one: “But so and so does such and such, so why can’t I?” which doesn’t get most teenagers far with most parents. “Someone else doing it” has never made anything morally right. Ever.

Next, consider the double-standards our culture endorses and get angry about them. Then do something or at least say something about them. My previous post about my friend who died due to mental health and addiction struggles led me to the same exact conclusion, so I beg you yet again to not sit around thinking “we should really do something more about such and such.” Go ahead and DO SOMETHING. You don’t have to change the world, and you don’t have to take up the cause of ending spanking. But if you are troubled by some societal injustice, the only way to alleviate feelings of impotent rage is to take one step in the direction of justice. Then one more. And who knows? Maybe you’ll start something BIG. Or maybe you won’t, but you’ll have done what you can.

For me, writing about things helps me process them. Writing this post has been cathartic in a way, and there’s that not-so-small part of me that hopes this post adds a little bit of good to the world…keeps one spanking from happening or one family from thinking they have no other disciplinary options. Who knows? But at the very least, my thoughts are more organized, and I feel like I have voiced my opinion, and I know for a fact that voicing my opinion is critical for my mental health. I hate feeling ignored and/or neutered, and if you’ll let me have my say, I’m usually willing to move past my frustrations. I’d be lying if I said I feel 100% better because I’ve written this post. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I feel 38.52% better. But hey, that’s something, so find your “something” and help yourself feel 38.52% better by doing it. What do you have to lose?

 

Continue Reading

Smoke ‘Em if You’ve Got ‘Em! – My temporary cure for anxiety

cure for anxiety
My temporary, and somewhat unhealthy, cure for anxiety. Man does it work!

Until I find the cure for anxiety, cigars are my home remedy. I am simply incapable of relaxing. I pick my fingers until they’re bleeding; I fidget incessantly; the only time I’m at rest is when I’m asleep (well, some nights that’s not even true!). If you want to see me at my worst, just make me sit still for an indefinite amount of time. It’s not that I don’t want to sit still; I just can’t. I’ve always envied those who could spend a fall afternoon lying on the couch watching wall to wall football games.

Here’s a snapshot of my thoughts when I try to chill out in front of the TV: “Oh this game looks good…hmmm, commercials…let’s see what else is on…ooooh another good game and this one’s farther along…which one should I watch? (anxiety starts to move in; OCD starts telling me that if I pick the right show, I’ll be able to relax, but if I don’t, I’ll regret it forever and probably die of a stroke because of what I missed)…maybe there’s a movie on instead (hit “guide” button on remote)…dammit another game I want to watch…and 2 movies…self-criticism starts: ‘Tim, why can’t you just pick something and quit over-thinking this, you idiot! Take a deep breath and just pick one’…okay, I’ll watch this game…crap, they scored twice while I was channel-surfing…now this game is boring…

Sounds pretty relaxing, no?! Yeah it’s not.

In college, I loved having a cigar with friends, not as a cure for anxiety, but as a do-gooder’s attempt to be edgy. Smoking a cigar nearly guaranteed an hour of great conversation and relaxation. Last summer, some of my recently-graduated students invited me to join them for a cigar, and I eagerly said yes. Then I decided to buy a few more and to enjoy them in the coming evenings.

Then I got hooked.

Not hooked in a cigarette sense – cigars are not addictive unless you inhale them, which I don’t. But hooked in the sense of having found a way to force myself to sit still, read a book, think, and quit fidgeting for an hour. I had something in my hands to fidget with if need be; the flavor and management of the cigar kept me engaged in the activity at hand; the slow and quieting nature of cigar smoking naturally seemed to do what nothing else could – make me relax.

Then the inevitable guilt, OCD, and anxiety kicked in: Is this going to kill me at age 46, and my wife and children will resent me for making this choice, knowing I would’ve lived to be a healthy 105 without the damn cigars? Am I a horrible father for smoking and giving my kids mixed messages: “Don’t smoke cigarettes! but leave daddy alone while he has a cigar.” Can I afford this expensive habit? Will my wife tell me I have to quit smoking them just as I’m starting to love them?

So I did what any good, obsessive person would do: I decided to figure out exactly how dangerous this is for me since that fear was at the core of my anxieties. Unfortunately, there’s only conjecture. No one’s ever studied cigar smokers’ longevity. The warnings about any kind of smoking all get lumped in together, but in the case of cigars, that’s a cover-your-ass (cya) measure by our government…”We’d better tell people these will kill them just in case it’s true…even though there are no additives (it’s 100% tobacco), most people don’t inhale them, and we’ve never actually studied this particular sub-group.” So, without the religious-zealot’s certainty I was hoping for, I was left feeling anxious about my new habit. There was no data telling me that I had, in fact, found a healthy cure for anxiety.

After a year of anxious questioning (while still smoking) here are some of the conclusions I’ve landed on (at least for now):

  1. My issues and challenges are entirely different from other people’s. Most people want to live as long as possible; I’d like to be dead by 75. Not that I’m trying to kill myself with cigars, but if you’re argument against it is that it might shorten your life, I for one ain’t aiming for 100! My brain is exhausted already…has been since I was 8!
  2. Most people are capable of some degree of relaxation without the aid of the 4 mental health drugs I take, so they have other options for relaxation – I even have one friend who runs 3,000 miles a year (about 8 miles a day), and that’s his therapy and catharsis. Lucky bastard! His relaxation is actually good for him…more proof of the inequities in life, right?! But smoking cigars helps me immensely. I’ve tried getting the “natural high of exercise,” but I hate exercise. I still try to do it, mostly out of guilt, but I hate every second of it.
  3. No matter what I do, I will obsessively fear my own untimely death and subsequent abandonment of my children; even when I exercise religiously (see #2), I think about the healthy 37-year-old father of 4 who dropped dead 2 years ago in our community. I’m always aware that death is never all that far away. Morbid, I know! That’s why I have a blog about my own insanity, people.
  4. I want to add things to my life that help me to embrace TODAY without living my entire life in the fear of the future or regret of the past. Whether I smoke cigars or not, I’m not sure I’ll be alive tomorrow, so I want to, pardon the cliche, seize the day.
  5. Finally, and this is very similar to the first, but it’s worth repeating: I’m just trying to survive today. I don’t have the luxury of daydreaming about where I’ll retire and life happily ever after. Staying alive is something I routinely question my desire to do! Living happily ever after?! Ha! I’ve lived less than 2% of my life truly happy since I’m ALWAYS anxious, obsessing, or depressed. The rare manic (or even just peaceful) moments are great, but I realized a long time ago that I ain’t got a chance to live happily ever after. I’m just SURVIVING and trying to make my survival a little better bit by bit.

So I smoke cigars. These days, quite a bit. Will it kill me? Maybe…but so will my anxiety and/or suicidal depression if I don’t get a handle on them. If cigars are a somewhat unhealthy part of that handle on sanity and peace, so be it!

 

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading
  • 1
  • 2
Close Menu