I’m Done Writing This Blog!

good people“I’m done writing this blog,” I said to my wife, like I do after pretty much every post. I have two little problems working against me, you see:

First, I have what you might call high expectations about everything. When I am exactly like a mixture of Mother Teresa, Jesus, George Washington, and Brad Pitt, I will be satisfied. Actually, I probably won’t. I’ll find some reason to think I could’ve done better…probably something to do with lying about chopping down a cherry tree.

Second, I’m a wee bit oversensitive, sort of like a burn victim with open wounds walking through a forest of pine trees. I know I’m supposed to be manly and what not, but my childhood sports were gymnastics, tennis, and golf. You do the math. I take everything personally, like when a dog barks in my direction and when a couch doesn’t seem to want me sitting on it.

So as you might expect, I put a lot into these blog posts and almost always feel a sense of let down for some reason or another. Sometimes it’s because Taylor Swift doesn’t write back, and other times it’s because my post, which I thought was really great, failed to have the same viral effect as that white and gold dress from a few weeks ago.

But then people blow me away with their generosity of spirit.

For example, we just got home from a vacation provided by a former student’s mom, simply because she has a saint’s heart and thought my family might need a getaway. She also threw in gas cards to get us there and back and some spending money for our time away. Thank you, Betsy! We had an amazing time.

Or this: When we got home from our trip, one of my sister-in-law’s friends had sent me a simply spectacular gift – a book and a dvd, both intended to encourage me not to give up on God just yet. And with it was one of the kindest notes I’ve ever received, especially from a stranger who lives on the other side of the continent (California, if you’re bad at geography). The note affirmed my willingness to write openly about the rather personal shit I choose to share, and it also told me, gently, that quitting religion doesn’t have to mean quitting spirituality altogether.

I used to think that it didn’t “count” to be spiritual if it wasn’t the Christian variety, but these days, thanks to beautiful people like Jessica (my sister-in-law), who has recently helped me feel like forging ahead after a particularly tough setback, and to her friend DM (not sure if she wants her full name shared since this post will probably go viral and break the internet), I have have a teeny, tiny shred of hope that I might be able to find a spiritual life that doesn’t divide people into the Lost team and the Found team. See, I’ve always wanted to play for both teams! (Get your minds out of the gutter, people. This is a serious post.)

Many others have also reached out to me and kept me going with this blog, and I wish you readers had the attention span for me to mention them by name. Not to mention that free vacations and tangible gifts are encouraged in future gestures of gratitude, and I think it’s important for me to send that message with some tough love.

But seriously, I’m not kidding when I say that this time of darkness has indeed shown me that there are some damn Good People in this world. I used to feel like I had to believe that there were no such things as “good people” (blame Presbyterians for this…and Baptists). But there are! Go figure.

So, to all of you who have reached out to me, please know that your words of encouragement really do keep me going. That’s not hyperbole in any way. And to Betsy and DM and Jess, you are amazing souls, and my world is a better place because you exist. Thank you!

 

 

Before you go:

**If you’re a reader (and care about my recommendations), I’ve created my own Amazon store with suggested readings here.

**Also, help boost Tim’s ego by subscribing to this blog. He’ll send you a remarkably irregular newsletter filled with extra goodies that will cause non-subscribers to flog themselves.

[jetpack_subscription_form subscribe_text=”Get emails with Tim’s read-while-you’re-peeing (aka very short) and remarkably inconsistent newsletter.”]

 

 

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In Defense of YOU: Self Compassion

Shake the dustMy friends, I feel like writing this post as a letter to you, whoever and wherever you are. It just feels right based on what I have to say today. Today I want to tell you to have “self compassion” and watch what happens. I’m not very good at this, but I’d like to be, so this letter is to me, too. So give me a minute to defend YOU, and me…to tell you why we should practice compassion toward ourselves. The entire essence of this can be boiled down to this simple question:

Are you trying?

I mean in life…are you trying to be a good employee, spouse, friend, parent…I suspect you are not only trying but trying damn hard in fact. I know I am. So what more would you ask of yourself than to try your best? Would you berate a child who tried and tried to hit a baseball or learn the alphabet but couldn’t quite get it? I hope not, but if so, please consider some therapy.

As a parent I can say that nothing is more endearing than to watch my kids TRY. In fact, it’s even more endearing when they keep trying despite “failing.” It makes me want to wrap them up in my arms and make sure they know damn well how proud of them I am, even if they never “succeed” at this particular task.

Why shouldn’t I treat myself the same way?

I read recently (can’t remember where) that the best people on planet earth are probably not the ones we think of as Good People. The best people are probably the people with horrible internal battles who keep on fighting to grow, to stay alive, to learn to love. This reminded me of one of my favorite poems called “Shake the Dust,” by Anis Mojgani. It’s a “spoken word” poem meaning it’s meant to be performed rather than read, and it’s about as beautiful a message as there is in existence. Take 4 minutes and watch it. If you regret it and can tell me that with honesty, I’ll buy you a new puppy. But while you’re listening, I’ll bet there will be one particular line that will stand out to you. Just listen and I’ll continue below…

 

Did you hear it? The line that you can’t help but pay attention to I mean? No, it’s not “shake the dust.” It’s this one:

“This is for the celibate pedophile who keeps on struggling…shake the dust” (I suspect about 42% of you skipped it and are now going back to watch it. I’ll wait here…).

So have you ever thought about that? That there are such things as celibate pedophiles who keep on struggling against their monstrous urges every day, never giving in to this life-shattering crime. Maybe these are the best people on earth. But the beauty of this poem is not that it includes such people but that it spans the gamut from “fat girls” to “celibate pedophiles.” That’s quite a gamut! Whichever category you resonate with, what better, more profound message is there but to acknowledge your own inherent beauty and goodness, to shake the dust and be proud of who you are? I can’t think of one.

Maybe, just maybe, plain old people like you and me are at least passably good people for getting up in the morning, putting on a brave face as we go about our ordinary existences fraught with endless emotional paper cuts, broken brains and bodies, and the failures we’re embarrassed to admit make us cry in private. But also filled with the simple success of saying something kind when you want to shoot someone the bird…the two-steps-forward-one-(or 2 or 3 sometimes)-step-back dance of a romantic relationship that some days doesn’t feel all that romantic…the daily dilemmas of wanting to be a perfect parent when you are confronted daily, even hourly, with quandaries no one prepared you for in school.

So I’ll ask again: Are you trying? If you answered yes, then cut yourself some slack, give yourself the pat on the back that your boss should’ve given you, treat yourself to dessert without berating yourself for the extra calories. Tell yourself what the narrator of one of my favorite mindful meditations tells his listeners at the very end: He says, “You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.” You are doing your best, right? Well, that IS enough.

So shake the dust, my friends, and know that in your humanness, you are never alone,

Tim

 

*You probably know someone who needs to shake the dust. Share this with them. Or just give them a call. Or a hug.

**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!

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Hug a Transvestite

bruce-jenner-addicted-surgery-ftr-300x225Now that I’ve hopefully enticed you to my blog through a manipulative, provocative title, I hope you’ll stay awhile.

But back to transvestites.

This morning, I had breakfast with a friend I’ve known for 25 years. We sat and attempted to solve the world’s problems for an hour or two, and thankfully, we achieved our goal, so keep reading.

Here’s the solution to the world’s problems: Love people. All people.

When was the last time someone’s judgment of others changed anything for the good? Is ISIS convincing you to adopt their worldview? I suspect (and hope) not. Even if judgment changes external situations, it won’t change anyone’s heart. Speaking as someone who has recently gone through a drastic and difficult (and still occurring) set of circumstances, and speaking as someone who finds it really easy to feel anger and resentment toward any number of people who have hurt me, I can tell you first-hand that people’s love and kindness has softened me and helped begin a healing process that is surely (hopefully) only just beginning. People’s condemnation and judgment have yet to do me any good at all.

Now, I’ve never been a transvestite (thus far), but I have been an evangelical Christian with a Christian job, a family full of Christians, friends who were (and are) mostly Christian. And let me tell you, when your entire existence, from your marriage to your career, revolves around this aspect of your life, it’s a bit scary when your doubts and questions prove too persistent and powerful to dismiss any longer. Like many religious converts, I have ironically waved the white flag, surrendering to the doubts and questions that my faith can no longer quell. Let me tell you, this has not been a pleasant experience in any way, shape, or form. I have no more tried to lose my faith than I would try to lose my child.

The angst has been extreme for me: I’ve lived in a closet of sorts for the past few years, petrified that if I say what I’m actually thinking, I will be left by my wife, disowned by my family, disinherited by my parents, and abandoned by my friends who promise, patronizingly, to pray for me as I walk away into a lonely wilderness.

However!

My friends and family have almost exclusively met my struggles with mercy, compassion, and love. They have expressed this to me in ways that have humbled me to the core, letting me know that their love is far less conditional than I had feared (my issues…not theirs!). I’ve even had some beautiful messages of encouragement from people who tell me, despite what I feel, that I’m more “Christian” now than ever, that God still loves me, and that I’m still able to make a difference for Good in this world, no matter what my philosophical views are right now. Those messages have touched me in a way that is revolutionary and will continue to resonate in my soul as I practice meditating on moments of grace and compassion in my life.

(The voice in Tim’s head: Get to the transvestites, Tim. So far, this paper gets a D- for staying on its stated topic!

The more affirmative voice in Tim’s head which remains mostly silent a lot of the time (pathetic emoji here): But wait! You’re wrong, internal voice of guilt! This post is already very much about the transvestites you promised to discuss. You’re just taking a circuitous route to get there…you know, building the suspense. Cue the Jaws Theme.)

So, where was I? Oh yeah, transvestites:

No matter how you slice it, transvestites still remain very, very much on the fringes of “acceptable society members.” Homosexuality is widely accepted, even embraced. Bisexuality is, well, it’s getting there, but still on the fringe. But that “T” in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (and for the record, I’m aware that transvestite, transgender, and transexual are not all the same thing…)) acronym still struggles for acceptance. Thus, I picked that one to get your attention by using a radical example of my point….which is:

Underneath Bruce Jenner’s now-feminine appearance is a human being who is, without question, living a difficult existence (after all, even if his current gender transition causes him nothing in the way of angst, he was part of the Kardashian family for awhile, and that’s gotta be rough). Do we have to affirm his sex change to believe that people who are in emotional pain need friendship and support? And one step further: Do we owe it to Bruce, since we’re all friends with him, to tell him he’s making the wrong choice? That he’s dishonoring God? That he shouldn’t feel what he feels?

My point has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with arguing the morality or immorality of getting a sex change, being bisexual, being homosexual, being addicted to pornography, wishing your wife wanted to 50-Shades-of-Gray your unused room in the basement, or even ordinary, daily lust (ladies, I know you don’t deal with this, but Jerry Seinfeld puts it best when he says, “For guys, once you’ve seen one breast…you pretty much want to see all of them”).

No, I want to argue the immorality of judging people rather than loving them.

These days, I refuse to even argue the morality of people’s sexual preferences, assuming consenting adults are the only ones involved. Before we have that argument, I’ll insist on this one: Can you see that the person who’s making this “choice” is inevitably feeling judged, scared, and probably very lonely? And do you believe that people who are feeling judged, scared, and lonely deserve your compassion (this word literally translates “to suffer with” so consider suffering with them). Do you think your friend or family member whose “lifestyle choices” you disagree with might need your human compassion and kindness? And do you think you’re somehow doing God a favor by telling the person they have chosen a sinful path? Find me a person whose sexual preference has been magically changed by someone quoting condemning Bible verses to them. Once you find one, email me and I’ll reconsider my opinion.

For now, my firm belief, my soapbox about any and all “outsiders” is this: If you care about someone who is an outsider, the absolute best solution is to plainly, simply, only love them. You don’t need to argue with them about morality. It doesn’t matter if they “chose” their behavior or were born that way. What matters is that they are hurting because society has told them they are of less value than those in the mainstream.

A few years ago, I expressed similar sentiments in a devotional I gave at a Christian school. I was a bit more tame there and simply told the high school students that there were undoubtedly closeted, hurting, gay people in our midst, and whatever else I know about following Jesus, I know it means loving strangers and even enemies. There was a rather awkward silence that filled the room, and after I was finished, the Headmaster walked up to me and said something along these lines: “Tim, thank you for your transparency. I know that in the wake of what you just said that you will have students come out to you. And, Tim, I just hope you’ll direct them to the Bible.”

I smiled and nodded and thought, I don’t know what to say to that because I literally had just used the Bible to prove that we are commanded incessantly to love people radically, to wash people’s feet, to turn the other cheek, and in Jesus’s case, to pray for the forgiveness of people who are in the process of murdering us.

So, with respect, Headmaster sir, which parts of the Bible would you like me to point these coming-out-students to?

If you want to change someone’s heart, not just behavior, there’s only one route: love them…without trying to fix them while you’re “loving them.” Just love them, accept them, listen to them, laugh with them, feed them, embrace them, and treat them like a HUMAN BEING who is just as confused and broken and hurting as you are. Their hurt and pain are no more right or wrong than your hurt or pain. But they, the outsiders, are forced to live out their struggle in the midst of people constantly judging them simply for having the struggle.

And if you think, “But they’re CHOOSING a sinful life,” I must be a bit confrontational here: So are you. And so am I.

I am selfish, owning far more than I actually need at the expense of people who need the money I spent on the latest iPhone with teleportation powers. I am a glutton who eats when he feels like it, usually without much restraint. This is considered by Catholics to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins, so it’s no small “sin,” yet I keep on eating what I want when I want. I ignore people’s pain far more than I’d like to admit, failing to go very far out of my way to help people I know damn well have very immediate needs. And I’ll confess to at least one (maybe 3 at most) moment of succumbing to Jerry Seinfeld’s view of women since puberty. I am far more familiar with the ways of the Pharisees than those of the Good Samaritan.

I stand at least as guilty as you are of my failures, my “sins,” my weaknesses.

I think the most apt Biblical story here is that of Jesus with the “woman at the well,” who was, to use a more modern term, somewhat of a “ho.” Some people came up to Jesus, quoted to him from his own Holy Book – the Old Testament – and asked permission to go ahead and stone her as the Old Testament commanded. Jesus simply said, “Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”

The crowd of stoners (tee hee…get it? Stoners! I wonder if they liked Dave Matthews and Phish) dropped their rocks and walked away. The woman was dumbstruck and changed – truly changed, on the inside. Sure, a good stoning might have done the trick to get her to quit sleeping with every Tom, Dick, and Harry (so many sexual jokes that I am resisting based on those names), but her heart was only able to be changed by compassion, kindness, and mercy. Not judgment.

So, hug a transvestite today. Or hug someone who you’re prone to judging. Ok, you can just love them in some way without actually hugging them. But afterwards, don’t worry about telling them how to get their lives straight. Just keep loving them, no matter what. They’ll be changed, maybe not into a 100% heterosexual, upwardly-mobile, neighbor of yours. But far more importantly, their self-worth will be validated. They will feel less alone, and the more you make a habit of non-judgmentally loving them, spending time with them sans agenda, the more softening will take place in both of your lonely and hurting hearts.

 

**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!

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Always Certain (but rarely right)

customer wrongEarlier this week I had lunch with a friend I see only once or twice a year. I caught him up on my recent journey, and he listened with immense compassion and sincere sadness in his eyes. It felt so encouraging to be listened to that deeply by someone who I know genuinely cares about me.

And then he started to do what we all want to do when someone tells you their life has imploded: he started trying to help, God bless him.

In particular, he tried to help me reignite many of the Christian ideas that I used to find helpful. Unfortunately, these days, most of the Old Answers ring hollow, whether I like it or not. After all, one doesn’t intentionally TRY to rip his lifelong foundation apart without a new one to settle upon…the foundation cracks and crumbles, and before you realize how bad the problem is, you need a new house.

We spent three and a half hours at lunch (don’t worry, I left a very nice tip because I always feel badly for the waiter in those situations), most of it with him (kindly, gently, helpfully) offering the adages I’m very familiar with about why bad things happen, where God is in the midst of all of this, and how detrimental it is to be adrift from the God-anchor. I’ve had this same conversation in my head at least 4.82 zillion times, but a small part of me hoped he’d offer some new perspective I hadn’t considered. Sadly, he didn’t.

But in the midst of that conversation, my concerned friend said the very thing I’ve been saying for years: “I’m sure we’re both wrong anyway, Tim!”

Yes, yes, and yes! But why is it so hard for most of us to admit that? I suppose it’s very threatening to think that, when it comes to the Big Questions, I might be off track…even way off track. Who wants to live under the assumption that s/he’s wrong about very important things.

But let me defend wrongness for a second:

Think back to ten years ago – what you believed, what you naively thought life would be like ten years down the road, the advice you gave to friends that you’re now embarrassed to have said out loud, the things you said you’d never do/say that you’ve now incorporated into daily life. If you’re like me, you’d sometimes like to go back to your old self and kick yourself in the shin under the table before you open your big mouth. Or again, like me, you might owe a few people apologies for being “always certain…but rarely right.” The more you realize the second part of that equation, the more you (I) want to apologize for the first part. But even back then when you were behaving so “kickably” I’m sure you (and I) were trying our best. Even those old versions of ourselves deserve our compassion.

So after our three and a half hour conversation, my old friend and I both slowly conceded that the conversation wasn’t going to end with a tearful conversion…on either part. I suspect he was sad for me to be “lost,” and I was sad that it’s very hard to find people who see eye-to-eye with me these days; it gets lonely when your life raft gets lost in the fog and can’t find its way back to the group anymore.

But at least there was that moment of genuine human connection: “I’m sure we’re both wrong, Tim”

Think about the profound beauty of that scary statement. THAT is ALWAYS the point of our deepest human connection, if only we are brave enough to admit it. BUT! We can, if we are willing, connect with people who come from different, even radically different, places if we will start with the fundamental premise that we are all confused, sometimes desperate, human beings who simply long for acceptance and love.

Your angry, reclusive neighbor? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.

Your baffling sibling? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.

Your demanding, impatient boss? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.

Your spouse who doesn’t always say the right thing? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.

Your friend who keeps seeming to sabotage her own life? A human being who is confused and hurt and wants to be cared about.

I sort of doubt that this blog post will change the world (at least until later today), but I’d love to live in a world where people’s first reaction to everyone else’s expressions of loneliness, hurt, and pain is, “We’re in this together. I’m confused, too…and hurting…and lonely…and ashamed…and scared, but it sure is nice to have another single-occupant lifeboat appear out of the fog to let me know I’m not completely alone.”

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Be In the (Broken) Moment

be where you areIn my old boss’s office hung a framed picture that said: “Be where you are.”

It’s funny that one would need reminding to be where they are, right? How could one do anything other than “be where they are”? In fact, when people demand too much of us, we often say, “I can’t be in two places at once!” But ironically, we are rarely actually “where we are,” at least mentally speaking. We live our mental lives in the past or the future, in the to-do list or the frustration at a friend, in the what-if and the someday-I’ll…Can you even remember the last time you were fully in the moment?

Having a mental illness only makes us less likely to be in the moment. I recently underwent two brain scans at a place called the Amen Clinic (not the religious “amen, hallelujah!” but someone’s last name, pronounced like a hick saying, “I’m aimin’ fer that there buck over yonder!”). My brain activity showed five different areas where the function/blood flow is off kilter. This is why friends, family, and doctors always eventually call me “complex” (which I think is sort of like calling a girl “big boned”…it’s certainly not a compliment, but at least the person is trying not to say what they’re thinking: “Damn, Tim, you’re so annoying!” or “She’s fat). All this is to say that, when your brain tends to torture you in some way, being in the moment is the last thing you really want to do. Thanks to my OCD, I’ve spent roughly 98.43256% of my life very much outside of the moment, usually trying to solve some unsolvable “what if” question.



Enter mindfulness, which is the practice of being “in the moment without judgment.” I’ve been “practicing” mindful meditation for the past couple of months – by which I simply mean forcing myself to sit down for 10-20 minutes once or twice a day to “meditate” on what I’m thinking and feeling at that moment…forcing myself to live in the moment for at least 10-20 minutes each day. Last Sunday, I decided to give the nearby Buddhist temple a try last Sunday for a “compassion meditation” session. It was awesome. I highly recommend it! The monk who spoke looked like a younger version of the Dalai Lama, and I swear he must’ve done Yoda’s voice in the Star Wars movies. But what was really helpful was that he addressed the topic of meditation in such a practical way. He said that meditation is nothing more than training your mind to do what it’s not very good at doing – just like you train your body to do new things like swing a golf club or run a marathon. During the actual “compassion meditation,” we brought to mind a variety of people, from loved ones all the way to enemies and even “all sentient beings.” The purpose was simply to practice feeling compassion rather than anger, jealousy, or frustration, which, as he said, we’re very skilled at…no practice needed at feeling jealous! Most of us are pros at that from about age 7.

Having never done a compassion meditation before, I didn’t really expect much in the way of change, certainly not after one 20 minute session. But oddly enough, it was like it became a “mini-habit” for about 4 hours. Without even trying, I found my mind drifting toward compassionate thoughts toward anyone in my path. (This wore off around 4:15 when the Falcons blew yet another game in a comically pathetic way, and I started thinking truly terrible things about the players, coaches, and even the actual birds (falcons) themselves! I mean, I wanted to hunt down a falcon, or Mike Smith, and really let them have it.) I didn’t do either, but the compassionate feelings were gone for the day. Oh well! They made me feel uncomfortable anyway. I mean, I sort of like my anger and jealousy and petty irritations. Thankfully, having only been out of practice for a few hours, anger, jealousy, and general irritation came back just like riding a bicycle. Phew!

Man oh man, do I get off the subject! Anyway, what I was trying to get at before talking about Yoda and the Falcons is that my recent practice of mindfulness is actually lasting for more than a few hours. After a couple of weeks of forcing myself to sit down for 10-20 minutes (1-2 sessions) a day, something clicked and my brain started to remind me to “be in the moment” on its own. The “non-judging” part is actually the harder part because I’m so used to evaluating how I feel internally every single moment of my life thanks to usually feeling anxious or depressed and trying to figure out how I could feel better NOW. But not judging the moment means that it doesn’t have to be a perfect moment for you to embrace it and be in it. How many moments are really perfect anyway? Over the course of a lifetime, I’d venture to guess that the “perfect” moments can be counted on your fingers and toes (unless you’ve had some of them chopped off, in which case I’m sorry for this reference). Most (all?) moments are broken in ways big and/or small. The practice of mindfulness meditation isn’t to teach you how to “transcend the moment” in some mystical way. Just the opposite, actually: It’s training to be exactly where you are, even if you’d rather be somewhere else.

One of the phrases that a lot of the mindfulness meditation guides use is, see if you can “make space” for X, Y, or Z, even if X, Y, or Z aren’t what you want to be feeling or thinking. For me, the aha moment came a few weeks ago when I was feeling the tidal wave of depression starting to drown me yet again one morning. I wasn’t trying to do anything other than what I had been doing, which was sinking into the hole of “why me?” or “the world is such a shitty place?” But like any new physical muscle memory that finally clicks, the mindful approach suddenly clicked for me. My brain responded to the depression differently. I didn’t try to wriggle out of it this time; I just said, “Ok, I feel depressed. I wonder if I can make space for it today. Let’s examine what depression feels like in my body with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgment. Just examine it and allow it to be present. It’s what this moment has to offer. Sure it’s a sign that something’s broken, but I only get to live this broken moment one time. Might as well sink my teeth into it.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell you that my problems were solved and I haven’t felt depressed or anxious since then? Quite the contrary; I’ve felt both of them a lot. But something’s definitely different inside of me in my response to the negative feelings. Their power to ruin my broken moments of life are waning. Not gone, mind you, but waning for sure. I’m under absolutely no illusion that my brain will quit being a mess, but since this mess of a brain/day/life is the only one I’ll ever have, I should probably quit wishing moments away and just accept them as the hand I’ve been dealt.

If you’re thinking you should give this mindfulness meditation a try, I definitely recommend it. But here’s the thing: you have to actually PRACTICE it, as in sit down and do it even if you don’t want to. I have known of the concepts of mindfulness for years, but I’ve never taken the time to do the exercise itself. At first, it feels like a waste of time, honestly. But remember the last time you learned a new sport, and think how much effort it took for quite a while. If you’re into golf (or rampant sex with virtually anyone), Tiger Woods makes a good example: He’s changed his swing a few times, and every time he does it, it takes him between one and two YEARS before he becomes the old Tiger who once again dominates (he actually just hired yet another new swing coach because it’s been more than one or two years without returning to the old Tiger this time). This is the guy who’s by far the best golfer in the world over the past 20 years, but it takes him MORE THAN A FULL YEAR before imperceptible changes to his golf swing become engrained enough that the ball goes where he wants it to.

Or watch a child learn to write. My kids are both in various stages of learning that skill. My 4-year-old son’s letters are often backwards and usually hard to decipher. So were my 7-year-old daughter’s a few years ago, but now her handwriting is far better than mine (though admittedly, mine sucks). It’s a cool thing to watch someone learn something new, but it can be very hard to be the one learning.

So, if you’re up for it, challenge yourself to practice mindful meditation for a full month, at least 10 minutes per day. If nothing’s changed for you, I’ll happily refund your time at no additional charge.

But really, whatever you do, try to be more “in the (broken) moment.”

PS. As I’ve been doing lately, I’d like to encourage you to think of someone who might need a hug or a pat on the back or to read this post and reach out to them. The purpose of this blog is for you to know you’re not alone in your struggles. If this has done that for you, please share the love and let someone who might be suffering in any way, shape, or form know that they are not alone. How you express it doesn’t really matter…just do it. (Sorry, Nike!)

And one final plea for your help: If you find this blog helpful, you’d be doing me a big favor if you’d “follow” it by entering your email address on the home page rather than relying on Facebook or Twitter to get these updates. I’m trying to develop this blog into something that broadens beyond my immediate circle of friends, and the more people who follow the blog, the more likely that is to happen via search engines, etc. You’ll get an email when I post…otherwise, nothing will change. And I certainly won’t ever do anything with your email like sell it to cats.com so you can get cute cat quotes and pix (though, who wouldn’t want that?!). But really, it would help me out if you’re so inclined. Thanks!



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Religion and Mental Health

its not you

A few days ago, I was the guest on an internet radio show called “The Stigma of Mental Illness Radio,” hosted by my friend, Chrissie Hodges. Chrissie and I are kindred spirits – same age, similar upbringing, lifelong OCD, and a desire as adults to discuss our struggles openly so as to help others and erase the stigma of mental illness. The topic for discussion was religion and mental health (or lack thereof). Both Chrissie and I were influenced heavily by conservative Christianity over the course of childhood, which led to what is known in the OCD world as “scrupulosity” – excessive self-examination in hopes of keeping God happy, leading to compulsions that are intended to alleviate the anxious uncertainty about whether we are “in” with God or not.



For me, this version of OCD took center stage in middle school. Like many with OCD, I repeated “magic” numbers in my head to ward off Satan’s evil spirits that I was sure were swarming around my head and body at every moment, ready to find their way in if I let my guard down for a second. “731, not 666,” I would say over and over again, literally thousands of times a day. For some reason, I had determined that 7, 3, and 1 were all Godly numbers, and in case you are unaware, the number 666 is known as “the mark of the beast (or Satan)” in the Bible. In addition, every time I thought I might have sinned inadvertently…telling a story “wrong” and then feeling like I had lied; lusting for some girl (I think my middle school lusts involved hand-holding and perhaps a peck on the cheek!); or accidentally thinking some unholy thought about not liking a teacher…I repeated “the sinner’s prayer.” This is the Protestant’s prayer that supposedly marks the beginning of a person’s salvation. It goes something like this: “Dear God, I’m a sinner. I need a savior. I accept Jesus as my savior, and I ask for your forgiveness for all my sins.” This prayer is so magical, that once one says it, s/he switches from a destiny of eternal torture in hell to a destiny of eternal bliss in heaven. Wow! What a simple way to make God like you! Since I was such a terrible kid, what with these thoughts of hand-holding (and I’m talking the interlocking finger kind, people! Serious, serious depravity), I needed this magic prayer a few hundred times each day just to make sure that when the kidnappers came and captured me, only to kill me eventually, I would go to heaven, not hell. (Yes, I worried about the kidnapping incessantly, too.)

I was a bundle of fun, you see. Still am.

Anyway, I certainly can’t speak to the way that religion impacts every person with a mental illness, but I can add that once my depression sprouted wings, it has also mixed very, very poorly with my former religious views. Sticking with my favorite topic of hell, here’s what my depressed brain does to/for me when the topic comes up: “Just the concept of torture, even for one minutes, is beyond comprehension. Most people have never come anywhere near torture, yet Christianity blithely claims that ‘unsaved’ people will go to hell. Nevermind that, while claiming this, they are sitting comfortable in their living rooms while people die by the scores each day in their very own cities while said Christians binge watch Lost on Netflix. I mean, really, I dare you to rip out just one fingernail, Christian! That’s torture. Now submit to that for an hour, a day, an eternity…and you’ve got hell. Not only that but you don’t get the relief of death that usually comes at the end of a good torture session. You keep staying healthy enough to have more skin ripped off your body, more fingernails torn off, more limbs stretched until they rip loose from their sockets…no sleep, no relief…just torture. Forever. How could this God who supposedly loves us so much allow such a thing? You say it’s because he’s so holy that he has to remove us from his presence, but isn’t the story of Jesus about God actually wanting to be with us rather than wanting to be rid of us?! Then again, why wouldn’t hell exist? Shoot, I feel like I live in hell a lot of the time. Children are sold into sex slavery; poverty is rampant worldwide; human beings seem inherently selfish much of the time, and that asshole just cut me off in traffic (pause in worrying about hell so I can focus on shooting the bird to this evil, hell-bound driver who returns the gesture by making his hand into a gun and pretending to shoot me (this actually happened a week ago, but don’t worry, after I shot him the bird, I prayed for him to accept Jesus as his personal savior)). I mean, actually, doesn’t this world actually prove the validity of the idea of hell – an unfair punishment for people who never asked to be put into this insane world in the first place. I feel like Hamlet – a guy who wants to die but is too damn scared of what happens afterward to do anything about it. So maybe hell does exist, but one thing I am sure of is that anyone who actually believes in this sort of hell but who has failed to tell every single person they’ve ever encountered about it belongs there. ‘Effective witnessing tactics’ be damned! When a blind man is about to step into traffic, one doesn’t think to himself ‘Well, he’ll think I’m a lunatic if I just grab him. I’ll wait and see what happens and try to warn him of the situation slowly and gently.’ No, one grabs the blind man no matter what he may think of the tackler and leaves the befriending and explaining for later, after the man’s life has been saved.” I could go on for quite some time, but I’m wearying myself here, so perhaps you’re sick of my ramblings, too.

(Pause for a few days so Tim can calm down from how worked up all this rehashing of the agony my brain has crippled me with for so long.)

3 days later:

Now, where was I? Ahh, yes, religion and mental illness. What this blog post is supposed to be is a simple encouragement to those of you who are stuck in religious dogma to consider, as my friend Chrissie put it, “breaking up with God.” This is the phrase Chrissie used about her current “status” with God. I feel the same way about my own relationship with God.

Tim: “You know, God, this isn’t working. It’s not you (actually, I think you do deserve some of the ‘credit’); it’s me. I’m sorry.”

God:

Tim: “Ok, well. Good luck to you, running the universe and all. Maybe I’ll see ya around.”

God:

(Close scene)

I know, I know. I’m being a heretic, but I’ve become quite comfortable with my heresy, and here’s the weird thing: Letting go of my belief that I can have some personal contact with God…that she’ll someday explain to me the purpose of all I’ve been through…that I’ll reap rewards in heaven for serving God here on earth…all of this letting go has been enormously cathartic for me. There’s no more angry birds shot at the heavens (I mean my middle finger; not the red birds on your iPhone); no more “Why me, God?!”; no more searching the Bible for encouragement or hope. Just me in this moment, standing in awe of the great cosmic mystery and allowing it to be just that – a MYSTERY, forever. I don’t need to know all the answers. I don’t need God to validate my decisions. I don’t need to know what happens to dead people. To reference Albert Camus yet again, when we live our lives in the hope of some other, future existence (whether it be heaven or even retirement or the next job, etc.), we are committing a sort of suicide – failing to experience this moment, this life fully. To live in fear of hell is to kill my attachment to this moment, beautiful or horrible as it may be. To live as if heaven will be where everything is set right is to ignore the fact that things right here, right now are both wrong and right. We should be more concerned with embracing this momentary reality, this eternal NOW. We can deal with what comes next if and when that happens.

Now after expressing some of these thoughts on the radio, a few very wonderful people posted things on Facebook about how much their religion/faith has helped them, as if to argue with Chrissie and me. To them (to you?), I say this: I genuinely think that’s wonderful. Just the other night I was at a fundraiser for the disease that took the life of our 6-year-old friend a few years back. Ironically, her death has driven her formerly-agnostic parents to church while it played no small part in driving me out the church door. Not just because she died but because of the inadequacy of the explanations for how things work and what all of this means and where dead people go that I have found in the church for nearly 40 years. My questions led me to break up with God, and in that breaking up, I’ve found a surrender to life, to my experiences, that has offered me a greater peace than I’ve ever known. The little girl’s parents’ questions and fears led them to a different sort of surrender. Funny how these things go. But I don’t need any more to figure out which one of us is in the right place. They are where they are, trying to figure out their new normal without their child. I am where I am, trying to quit figuring everything out so I can exist in this moment. It’s helping.

Too often, we forget that religions are human inventions created for the purposes of connecting with the Transcendent, offering guidelines for a “good” life, and proving community. God hasn’t seemed terribly concerned with making sure that “all who seek” find the same thing. Spiritual seekers do find a lot of common experiences, but they never find the Whole Truth contained in a religion. Usually, spiritual seekers of the deepest kind find something far beyond religion; usually, they have become fed up with religion and gone looking for something that cannot be contained in a church or a mosque or a temple. Religions can be a fantastic way of beginning to connect with our spiritual selves, but if you stick with a religion for too long, you’ll become one of those people who think that God has remarkably similar likes and dislikes as you and your friends.

So I’ll sum all of this up this way: Wherever you are in your journey toward mental health, be all there. Don’t try to be more religious (or less). Be who you are where you are. Start by accepting this moment just as it is. Start by forgiving yourself for struggling…this is some hard shit! Treat yourself with the compassion you’d offer to someone else who felt like you feel. Love yourself as best as possible today; then tomorrow; repeat each day/moment forever. You don’t need to be any different than you are RIGHT NOW. And as far as religion is concerned, use it if it helps you, but make sure you are using it to connect with NOW, not just to imagine that when you die you’ll get “fixed” forever. If a loving God exists, s/he’ll wait around while you wander toward and/or away from him/her. If s/he doesn’t exists or isn’t loving, then abandoning him/her won’t matter anyway because s/he can’t be trusted.

I know this is a very, very loaded topic and that I have probably offended or shocked some of my (4-5) readers. I have no interest in upsetting anyone or in arguing whether I’m right or wrong about what I’ve written. What I do have an interest in is letting those of you who need to know this that you’re not alone, that it’s okay to jump out of the “God life raft.” The water’s actually quite nice if you’re finding the boat a bit cramped and stifling. All I hope to do is encourage. If you find my thoughts upsetting, please, please, please give them no attention whatsoever. Just go pray for those of us who are floating adrift but oddly, inexplicably at peace in the unpredictable water.

 

 

PS. As you know, I write this blog in the hope of encouraging others who feel alone. Please, if you know someone who might need to read this post or to know about this blog, then pass it alone or just reach out to let them know you care about them. Who knows? It might be just what that person needs. That voice in your (and everyone’s) head that says, “I’d just be imposing” or “I don’t want to make things worse” is full of shit…who doesn’t like being cared for and thought about by others?!

 

 

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Mindfulness and Your Favorite Color

Buddy gifYesterday at my psychiatrist’s office, I knew I was in bad shape when she seemed baffled and disheartened by my current state. She started throwing out words like “treatment-resistant depression,” “ECT” (electric shock therapy), and “alternative methods.” Eesh. What to do? Every therapist or doctor I’ve ever seen ends up saying to me, “Yours is a complex/difficult case, Tim.”

I suppose this is because there are no clearly-drawn lines inside my head. Between bad brain chemistry and a complex personality, I’m apparently somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to my psychological well-being. As a very tangible example, I submit this: The two strongest drives within me are for a) authenticity and b) people-pleasing. Ponder the paradox of those impulses for a moment, and you see a bit of what leads therapists to tell me my case is a tough one. On the one hand, I simply cannot stand fakeness in any form, within myself or others. I am compulsively honest about who I am (thus this blog!). Yet I am also petrified of disappointing people, and even the slightest hint of disapproval from those I love leads me to intense anxiety. Argh.

Another of my “complexities” is my inability to let go of the “big questions” in life. I ponder them incessantly. Just this moment, as I sit at Einstein’s Bagels, one of those cute, sweet little old men is talking to whoever will listen about what an answer to prayer it is that so many Republicans won the elections yesterday. One of the people he’s managed to engage seems to agree with him, but another is annoyed by how many incumbents kept their seats. And I’m sitting here thinking, “Do you honestly think that God answered your prayers by letting Republicans get elected? Do you realize that there are countless Christian Democrats and/or Independents who were praying for the opposite result? And if God is willing to answer your prayers, what does that say about those whose prayers aren’t answered, like my friend Riley’s prayers for relief from his brain that were never answered, leading to his untimely death? Or the 6 billion other examples every day of valid, urgent prayers that fall on deaf ears? How can a reasonably intelligent person possibly believe that ‘God answered his prayers’ with Republican victories?!'”



At this point, you’re probably, and rightly, thinking, “Geez, Tim, let it go. It’s just a little old man looking for someone to talk to.” Ohhhhhh how I wish I were able to do just that, but you see I have this “beautiful brain” (that’s what my doctor calls it; I call it a piece of shit.) that refuses to be still or quiet or peaceful. Ever. Even when sweetlittleoldman expresses his silly views, I’m wandering down the road of who-is-God and how-does-this-all-work and how-can-well-meaning-people-come-to-such-different-conclusions?

I’ve thought about these big philosophical questions for so long and from so many different angles that I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me at least, these fundamental questions simply do not have satisfying answers. Why do children get kidnapped and sold into sex slavery? I have no idea. Why do people like Hitler slowly rise to power while God does nothing about the situation until 6 million of “his chosen people” are dead? No clue. Why do I often hurt the people I care most about through my own foibles and demons when all I want is to do what’s right for them? Don’t know. If a god exists, s/he has never felt the need to explain things to us in any satisfying way. Every religion will tell you that theirs is a truly satisfying answer, but I beg to differ based on the simple fact that there are sincere seekers of God in all religions who have come to fundamentally different conclusions. At the very least, this makes God a not-so-stellar communicator.

All this, of course, leads me to this question: What’s your favorite color?

Here’s what I mean: You probably have a favorite color, but if I were to ask you why it’s your favorite color, you’d probably laugh and say, “It just is” or “I just like it.” There’s no answer to why you like it. You just do. And maybe that’s the same for the big theological and philosophical questions. There are no answers. Or at best, the answer is the cliche: “It is what it is.” Could anyone really explain why green appeals to them more than red?

It is what it is.

Maybe it’s the same with all of the big questions, too. It just is what it is. Don’t bother trying to understand why 9/11 was allowed to happen or why the Kardashians seem to be rewarded for being shallow and selfish (that one’s intended as a bit of levity in a heavy (so far, but be patient with me) post…I don’t actually equate 9/11 and the Kardashians’ fame). Some things have no discernible explanation.

Lately, I’m working on “mindfulness” – a practice born out of Buddhism that seems like one of those “duh!” concepts not worthy of giving a lot of thought to as it’s so simple. I have long believed in the idea behind it, but I have never pursued it or made it a daily practice until recently.

Here’s the basic idea: Whatever you’re dealing with right in this very moment is the hand you’ve been dealt for right now. Rather than trying to wriggle free of the negative aspects of your current experience, accept it, AND give yourself grace both for experiencing it and for the difficulty you may have accepting it. Put more succinctly, mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the current moment with a non-judgmental attitude.

Lately it’s my depression that lays on every cell of my being like one of those lead blankets you get when having X-rays taken. As I feel the weight settling in on me, I tend to think, “Not again!” or “Dammit, this medication isn’t doing its job,” or “I want out of this brain/life!” After practicing mindfulness for a few weeks, I have developed the hint of a new attitude toward my depression. Instead of the normal thoughts, I been trying to say this to my pal depression: “Ok, depression, I will just allow you to exist today. Instead of running from you, I will actually sit here and allow your presence without judging what it means or asking ‘why me?’. Since this is the hand I’ve been dealt in this moment, I might as well be fully present with these feelings, and I might as well forgive myself for feeling this way as I can’t force it away.”

I’ve spent my life looking for ANSWERS that will solve my inner turmoil once and for all. Usually, these supposed answers are religious in nature. How many times I have thought, “Aha, now I know why God has given me this struggle!” But those religious answers have all been drained of substance and meaning for me. At the end of the day, French philosopher Albert Camus is right: No philosophy or theology has solved the age-old philosophical quandary about God: S/he is either not entirely good or not entirely powerful. But Camus, believe it or not, has an optimistic conclusion very similar to the philosophy of mindfulness. Camus uses the ancient Greek character Sisyphus to make his point that any existence can have meaning and purpose, even in the absence of Cosmic Direction. You might remember that Sisyphus’s eternal fate (damnation) is to roll a giant boulder up a hill for eternity without ever reaching the top. Camus concludes that any fate, even rolling a rock up a hill or battling depression or facing a tragedy or simple daily boredom…can be assigned meaning. In fact, it is when we say that one fate or existence is inherently better than another that we get in trouble. For now, the rock I must roll up a hill is called depression, and the hill feels unclimbable. So what do I do? Camus says I have two options: 1. Kill myself (He really does say this; I’m not being dramatic). Or 2. Quit expecting a divine answer/explanation and roll my rock up the hill, not in order to get to the top, but because any and all fates can be imbued with meaning through our own freedom to choose to opt IN to each moment rather than OUT of the moments we consider unpleasant.

Camus called his philosophy Absurdism, by which he meant this: If there is a Big Meaning to all of our questions, we as human beings have never and will never have access to it. It is, therefore, “absurd” to continue beating our heads against the wall of “Why?!” Just like countless religious mystics, Camus concludes that this moment is all we have access to, so we’d better get busy “making meaning” in this very moment, whatever it hands us. To put it in more supernatural terms, this moment IS eternity. NOW will never quit existing, but if you wish NOW away, you have chosen to “kill” this moment and/or yourself. The choice is yours, every single moment.

One final thing: I’m a seasoned veteran in new-ideas-that-will-supposedly-fix-me, so I’m not remotely offering this as The Answer or The Solution. But I will say that this particular practice has led to one very tangible benefit for me…I’ve quit picking at my fingers until they are raw and bleeding, something I’ve done for my entire life. The practice of “being present with my breath,” as mindfulness teaches, along with the practice of accepting what each moment brings, good or bad, has alleviated a lot of my nervous energy. For the first time ever, there are no scabs on my fingers. So, whatever else may come of this new practice, at the very least, my fingers have appreciated the reprieve offered by mindfulness.

Since I grew up in Southern Baptist churches, you’ll forgive me for having a 2nd final thought: If you’re interested in doing some of these “mindful meditations,” there are lots of apps and lots of stuff on YouTube that will get you started. Plenty of the instructors are ridiculously annoying – like they’re trying to sound mystical and magical. But there’s so much out there that if you don’t like one person, just move on to someone else. I highly recommend the app called Headspace. It walks you through 10 minutes of mindfulness for 10 days. It’s a British guy, and he talks in a completely normal tone so as not to annoy easily annoyed people like yours truly (you can check out Headspace here). Whatever “instructor” you choose, I’d love to hear if this helps you make some tangible progress. Give it a couple of weeks and, if you’re so inclined, let me know.

 

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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?

 

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You Really Should Start Smoking

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I started smoking cigars when I was in high school. Throughout my teenage years, my primary act of rebellion was coming home 20 minutes late for my curfew…ONCE…and for good reason: I was making out with a girl. The only time I was even at a party where I was offered alcohol, it was a New Year’s Eve party, and my friend’s father was the one pushing the champagne on me. I was basically raised in the Duggar family, minus the sexual molestation of my siblings.

But I needed to act out in SOME way so I would be capable of telling my students some day about what a fucking rebel I was. So I smoked $3 cigars with my friends late at night, suffering God’s punishment of waking up with a feeling/taste in my mouth that resembled the after-effects of eating a live chipmunk. But man were those late night talks over cheap cigars some of the best memories from my adolescence.

Fast forward 20 years and I rediscovered the magical power of a cigar to force you to sit down and slow down for an hour. Once I took up the habit in earnest, my reading intake increased about ten-fold as I would always sit and read while I smoked. Then I discovered the various cigar lounges around Atlanta, and I’ve met some of my closest current friends in these shops. Almost two years ago, I met a plastic surgeon named Mark (he subsequently performed my penis reduction). Turns out he was a bibliophile and tobacco-phile, just like me. We started a book club that’s now been meeting for almost two years. We’ve gone on a fishing trip together (though my fishing abilities are equivalent to my ability for filtering what comes out of my mouth). In other words, I don’t fish well. But we’re going on another “fishing” trip soon. Mark will catch fish and I will just enjoy sitting near the river…smoking.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been in one of my lowest places ever. My depression has been so all-consuming that I’ve really wondered how I will keep going. But once again, cigars are helping to save me. My friend Marian called my cigar habit “sacramental.” Having lost any sense of the presence of God in my life, I have, in an odd sort of way, found the things usually offered by a religious community in the cigar shop on Piedmont Road, in the Disco Kroger shopping center. I’ve found a community of people who are willing to take me as I am. Some of them seem to want to talk; some want to be in their own little world; some are regulars; some are one-timers. But it sort of feels like the bar in Cheers – a place where anyone is welcome and no one gets judged.

I love Marian’s notion of the sacramental. Routines are so important for us humans. We need those little daily disciplines that help us remember what’s really important. For me, smoking a cigar reminds me to slow down; to savor the beautiful things our world has to offer me; to embrace life in the here and now without fretting over what’s going to happen down the road. There’s always that little voice that says to me, “But Tim, what if this gives you cancer?” To which I answer, “My life isn’t exactly the sort of existence I’m hoping to prolong for 100 years, and if this kills me, it will have caused me immense pleasure along the way. It’s far more important to find a way to make TODAY worth living than to worry about what might cut my life short.”

So today I’m celebrating the sacrament of a cigar: my daily reminder that this earth has beautiful things to offer me – the cigar itself and, even more beautifully, the sense of connectedness and community that comes along with it.

 

 

***Please share this with someone who might need to read it. Thanks!

 

 

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Riley’s Memorial and A New Name

TKwana

2 quick things in this post:

1. I’ve changed the name of my blog to toknowwearenotalone.com (to know we are not alone…comes from the CS Lewis quote on the front page). A few people had mentioned that the other title (bad-bad-brain had a (clearly) negative connotation). I agree, so I’ve changed the name.

2. I’ve posted the audio of my eulogy for Riley (above). It’s very similar to what I had previously written, but perhaps you’d like to listen instead…

3. I lied. I have 3 things. Thanks to all of you who have been very supportive in the wake of Riley’s death. I don’t know when I’ll quit feeling numb, but I still do for some reason. Wish I didn’t, but perhaps it’s a defense mechanism or something that will help my therapist justify another 100 visits or so. But my point here is this: Thank you for showing me the value and power of social media! I am grateful to Ann for posting about my need to hear from you all, and I am grateful to all of you who reached out to me. I wish we could always operate that way – letting others know we care for them and support them no matter how deep their current hole.

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