Humor and Mental Illness

It’s no secret that comedians often come from very dark places. People often tell me that I’m funny, which I take to mean, “Tim, you should get help!” But they are completely right: I am funny. But seriously, I do think that, for me, humor and mental illness go hand-in-hand. I’m incessantly aware of life’s inconsistencies and ironies, and those provide perfect fodder for a few laughs throughout the day.

Last week, I watched a Netflix special that was so powerful and profound, and it got me thinking about this marriage between humor and mental illness once again. The show is called “3 Mics” and the stand-up comic is named Neal Brennan. It’s not spoiling anything to tell you that the whole 3 microphone concept goes like this: At each of the mics, he talks about different sorts of things. One is for silly one-liners; one is for normal stand-up comedy; and the last one is for, as he puts it, “emotional stuff.”

When he first went to the “emotional” mic, I figured he might be doing just a different sort of comedy – making fun of himself and what a crybaby he is or something like that. So when he started talking about his depression, I was intrigued. Here was a guy who clearly understood depression. I can always tell when someone truly speaks depression and when they just want to pretend like they understand to be nice. Neal speaks depression fluently. But he threw me for a loop because he never rescued the “bit” with humor. He was just plain and simply talking about his deep battle with depression. He was mixing humor and mental illness, but not by making mental illness funny as many try to do. Instead, he was giving it its full, brutal, weighty due.

Then he did more standp-up comedy (probably 70% of the show is stand-up comedy), but then he came back to the mic. This time he talked about his father. His father was terrible, but I’ll let you watch and hear for yourself. It’s horrific. But also powerful in a way that only tragic things can be.

Overall, this hour-long Netflix special felt like taking the perfect, soothing bath. I felt like someone had told it like it is in a way that made me feel like I had a new friend. I loved the comedy, too, because what else are you going to do when life can look so grim and tragic other than try to laugh a little. Brennan found the perfect marriage between humor and mental illness, giving each their proper place and weight. And while I’m pretty sure Brennan isn’t an avid follower of this blog, I felt the kinship that I hope to share with you: We may not know each other, or ever meet for that matter, but I hope you are encouraged to know you are not alone. Mental illness is a lot of things, but one of them is certainly LONELY.

So go watch Neal Brennan’s special or call a friend who gets it or email me or post a comment or whatever…find a friend because we are out here, and you are not alone.
 
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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).

 
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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.
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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!

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Born with Burns


Born with Burns

Sometimes I feel like I was born with a scorched body that never healed. I’m walking around in the world, a world full of sharp edges and prickly branches and concrete landing spots. These things hurt everyone when they pass them by or fall onto them, but for me, after 41 years of observation, I feel quite confident saying these things hurt me much more than they do the average person.

At the moment my wife 14 years and I are going through a divorce. It’s not that we don’t love each other or care about each other. It’s just that things aren’t working and they haven’t been for a long time. There’s a lot of friction that causes unnecessary pain and angst for us and for our children. It’s been a hard and years-long decision, but the last few weeks as we have taken definitive steps has been brutal.

On top of that, and forgive me for complaining publicly, but most of my closest friends and family have entirely failed to offer any comfort in the midst of this. I watch as my wife’s family and friends rallied to her side day after day and just feel consumed by loneliness at the lack of calls on my phone or texts to say “I’m with you.”

Today I actually feel like I want to die for the first time in a very long time. I’m grateful that his been so long since I felt this way, but I forgot how awful it is. I’m at that point just prior to being truly in danger where I just hope something tragic will happen to me and it will all be over. Like I said, I feel like a burn victim who is more wounded by the ordinary events of life than most others would be.

Life is painful no matter who you are but when you have a mental illness what might otherwise be tolerable pain becomes virtually intolerable. What might be deep sadness turns into soul-and-life-threatening sadness. What might be Xanax-requiring anxiety about the future turns into wanting to drink yourself into oblivion even though you haven’t had a drop in over seven months, as is the case with me.

As much as it may seem so, I am not writing to air any dirty laundry or to be passive aggressive toward anyone. I am writing because it is more apparent to me and ever day like today how much we need each other. People without mental illnesses simply do not and cannot get it. They can try and some of them are very very good at trying. But unless a day like today has led you to feel what I have described it is probably very hard to relate to what I’m talking about. I could understand if you wanted to say to me “Tim, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and move forward.”

But I’m not writing to those of you who feel that I should do such a thing. I’m writing to those of you who read what I said and immediately thought “I completely understand what he is saying.”

And I have a challenge for you that I will never quit giving as long as I write this blog: if you understand what I’m talking about please find someone in or around you inner circle and make a habit of inserting yourself into their lives.

All of us need each other. But those of us whose sanity feels so tenuous need the support of others all the more. If there can be one good thing that comes out of me having a really terrible day, I hope it will be that you are reminded of how much good you can do for another human being simply by understanding what they’re going through. That’s the greatest, and really the only, gift we have to give.

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The Haunted Dreams of Mental Illness

I tell people that my brain never stops worrying, even in the middle of the night, and it’s true. If I wake up to pee, the thing I went to be worrying about is still churning, churning, churning. Sleep is the closest thing to relief that I get, but last night’s dream demonstrates that even my dreams are haunted by obsessive worry.

In the dream, I was in my psychiatrist’s waiting room. When the dream began it was just me and a couple of other people. Apparently, I didn’t have a set appointment but needed a refill on one of the medicines I take that gives me a few hours of relief from the internal strife. My doctor had come out from her office in the back to talk to me, and we were discussing whether it was in fact time for a refill on this medicine. She was worried that I was possibly abusing it (this is something that is a real-life concern of hers, though it’s unfounded). We weren’t exactly arguing, but I wasn’t convincing her that I actually needed the refill. In typical “dream time” fashion, the waiting room was suddenly full of about twenty people, all with appointments to see her. I was holding them up, in other words, and in the dream, I was well aware of how far behind my doctor now was.

And that was about it. There was no clear ending to the dream. It just stopped. So let me play Freud here and offer an analysis…

First, I’m constantly worried about not having the right medication. There have been times when I’ve waited too long to refill my meds and then the pharmacy is out of something or my insurance company has decided they need prior authorization for a medicine I’ve taken for seven years or something like that. I freak out, come close to panicking, and then it gets resolved like no big deal. If only I could live in that reality – that it will work out – when it happens.

Second, there’s the worry that my doctor will quit giving me this particular medication that offers me some relief. It’s true that I have addictive tendencies, but it’s also true that I have never abused this medication. In fact, I don’t even take it as often as I’m allowed to because I’m afraid of getting addicted to it and because I always want to have a little left over to prevent the situation in #1.

Third, I am constantly anxious about time, thus the part of the dream where my doctor is running late because of me. My siblings and I joke about how my mom used to have dinner ready at 6:00 sharp. This didn’t mean 6:01 or 6:07, like it would in most households. It meant 5:59:43. If any of us happened to be out and about in the car and 5:57 rolled around and we weren’t home yet, the old school car phone would ring and we knew exactly why: “Where are you? We’re about to sit down. We’re going to start because everyone else is here and the food is warm.” Most of us were pulling up the driveway because we knew not to be late. But that call was inevitable unless you were 15 minutes early. So, to this day, when I start to sense that I’m going to be late or that I’m making someone else late, my anxiety level quadruples.

Finally, I want people to like me. In the dream, I could see the frustration building in the waiting room, and naturally, they were all blaming me for taking the doctor’s time rather than blaming the doctor who wouldn’t just write the prescription. I’ve said before that I battle an unwinnable internal cognitive dissonance: 49% of me wants everyone to like me; 51% of me wants to speak my mind and feel heard. These two do not play well together to say the least. Every time I pick one, I’m slaughtering the other half of myself essentially. But the part that needs to speak up usually wins out, and in this case, I needed for my doctor to understand my need for a refill, even if it meant all the other people hated me. But of course, that didn’t mean I didn’t have to suffer with all the anxiety that came with people being angry with me.

So there you have it: a night in the life of my anxious brain. There’s another dream I have, a sort of recurring (thematic) dream in which I need to get somewhere or escape something dangerous, but I am moving in slow motion or stuck in quick sand. The dream never comes to a conclusion…I just try to escape something or get somewhere with no hope of ever doing so.

There’s no off switch. Alcohol helps, but it makes me angry. Not good. Pot helps, but it makes me too numb. Not good. Psychiatric meds help, but in a slow and subtle way that quits feeling very magical after a few weeks. I’ve heard good things about Heroin, but I’ve also heard it comes with a drawback or two. Sleep helps, but only if I’m not having an anxious dream, and I have a lot of them. I honestly don’t remember life without profound anxiety, even extending into my dreams. It often feels like torture to be fully honest.

I wish I had a solution, like warm milk before bed, but I’m writing more to identify with those of you who feel like there is no escape than to provide some remedy. And twisted as it might be, that’s always my goal, really…not to fix you, but to encourage you. I know you’re out there and you’re not alone. Talk to someone who understands; hell, email me if you need to. But as always, my belief is that one of the best forms of help in our situation is to know that others are in the boat with you.

Sweet dreams.

 
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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.
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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!

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Let’s Cause a Scene

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” – Albert Einstein

Over the past few weeks, my brain feels like it’s stuck in a death-spiral. The conversations in my head are never ending: There’s all the tweets and emails I’m crafting to tell Trump that he not only seems petty but also remarkably stupid – his life seems to be a testament to the fact that money can buy you almost everything: wives, power, prestige, and even the most powerful seat on earth; there are the inner dialogues between me and my Trump-voting friends and family members, with whom I’m still having trouble communicating; and there’s always the meta self-talk that evaluates my own idiocy for even bothering to care about these issues since I can’t change anything. And it’s that impotent feeling mixed with a brain that won’t stop rehashing things no matter how hard I try to make it quit that feels so insurmountable. Peace feels impossible.

I mean…

Can I really change anything in the minds of the old men in the cigar shop who spew racism and elitism without realizing that some of us don’t agree? Should I really say something to these men I barely know?

Can I really do anything about the enormous injustice happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline? How is it even possible that we (“Americans”) would consider doing this to Native Americans? It seems unfathomable to me that the North Dakota authorities are trying to block the roads that allow the protesters to get food and water. Yet we decimated their population once; why wouldn’t we do it again for our own gain?

Can I really change my long-time mentor’s mind about Trump. We have been long-connected because we see the world differently; we are critical of group-think, and particularly the group think of rich white Christian people. How can I move forward without seeing him differently now? We’ve talked and said our peace, but I still feel stuck from moving forward.

The same scenario is happening with some family members: I don’t know how to express my feelings of disrespect for the choice they made while maintaining the overall respect of the relationship. So many people out there are calling for unity and what not, but I sorta think they’re unaware of what their asking for. We didn’t just have an argument about which football franchise is better, the Patriots or the Packers…We had a raging fight about which fundamental, core values will prevail moving forward. Certain matters can’t be swept under the rug, at least not by me. The list of people who want me to let these matters go is embarrassingly long. It’s not that I don’t want to, but when my screwball brain can’t make sense of something, it is incapable of peace. Whether the conversation continues in real life or not, it will continue in my brain. Some have been going on for decades, literally.

Which brings me back to my brain: It NEVER stops. EVER. When I wake up in the middle of the night, my brain picks right back up in medias res as I plan my brilliant letter to the world that will make everyone see the light. But then I read stories like the one of a man spewing racism in a drug store check-out line. A woman worked up the nerve to confront him and flat out asked her peers to join her in standing up to him. But they didn’t! At least not at first. After a few minutes, some of them joined her, but it didn’t happen quickly. So while this was a story presented as a triumph, I saw it as a story that confirms my fears: people are going to sit back and watch evil things happen because that’s what most people do. Even otherwise good people. Most people’s primary mantra in life seems to be, “Don’t make a scene!”

So I think of the Einstein quote, not just in regard to Trump; this is bigger than that. For me, the question is to what degree do I want to make my own people-pleasing life somewhat miserable by speaking up in the face of injustice. One way to look at it is that I am going to be miserable if I don’t speak my mind because of injustice, but I’m also going to be miserable if I do speak my mind because of my fear of rejection. If that’s the case, I suppose I’d rather be a pariah who speaks the truth than someone with lots of friends who don’t know how I really feel. Not quite a Sophie’s Choice but a shitty choice for sure.

I’ve been thinking out loud but I actually want to make a point and not just pontificate. The point is simply the one Albert Einstein made: our world is not endangered nearly as much by Trump’s climate science denying team as it is by those of us who think climate change is real but do nothing. Our world isn’t endangered as much by the kid who spray paints a swastika on a black person’s house as it is by the handful of neighbors who know which kid did it and don’t confront him.

On Wikipedia, they’re doing their annual fundraiser, and the banner says that if every user gave $3, the campaign would last 15 minutes. Think about that! Think about the power of doing something, even something tiny.

So, if those of us who are passionate about the environment fund environmental companies and causes, we can overcome any policy Trump’s team puts in place. And if enough of us cared about the pipeline issue to protest at Senators’ offices or even go join the actual protest itself, maybe we could do something. Our Facebook posts aren’t enough I don’t think.

But here’s the rub: it only works if all of us who might rather stay silent actually give the $3, or the like.

This isn’t, hopefully, just another rah rah speech from someone who happens to be angry right now. This election has made me feel invested in our country in a way I never have. Honestly, I have probably been as lukewarm about our country as I could be. But now that the stakes feel so much higher, I am committed to giving money to organizations that will be overlooked in Trump’s America. I am committed to being involved in causes that I think will make the world my kids inherit a better place. I’m passionate about the climate change issue; I’m passionate about equal rights for the LGTBQ community; and I’m passionate about fairness in our healthcare system for ALL people, especially those who have been overlooked in the past.

As for my mental illnesses, here’s where I (also) need your help. I get discouraged very easily. I need people who will stand with me and hold me accountable to staying this course of activism. I need other mentally ill people, who understand what I feel when I hit a setback or when I feel despondent about the state of the world, to help me keep my chin up. I need people who will make commitments that inspire and challenge me and others to take similar action steps.

I’m grateful for Facebook because, despite it’s potential for distraction, I have made new friends and reconnected with old friends who have made me feel much, much less alone, both in my political beliefs and in my mental illness. We are more connected today than ever before. That can make it easier for ISIS to organize, but it can also make it easier for us to organize. No matter what your platform is, you need to stand on it and shout. And so do I.

So whether it’s funding research for depression or raising money to educate people that Muslim doesn’t equal terrorist, let’s do something. I’m in a fighting mood. Who wants to join me?

Here’s a great place to start: http://jezebel.com/a-list-of-pro-women-pro-immigrant-pro-earth-anti-big-1788752078
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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!

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Aftermath

If you read my day-after-the-election post you saw my reactionary nature in action. I’m not proud of that, but being hypersensitive is a fundamental part of being mentally ill. Our brains are already on the precipice of disaster, pain, sorrow, anger, and it doesn’t take much to tip them over the edge. This same quality affects our day-to-day relationships, our careers, and our overall sense of sanity. You want proof that our brains work differently: just take a look at how poorly we handle over-stimulation of any sort. Like, say, having a possibly Fascist, certainly racist, definitely sexist man elected to run our country for the next (God, if you’re there, please make it only) 4 years.

Having a couple of weeks of perspective under my belt hasn’t helped too much. I still feel that this defeat is personal. I still feel betrayed by everyone I know who claims to care about the “little guy” and then voted into office the Great Bully of my lifetime. I still don’t know how to talk to the people in my life with whom I want to maintain relationships but at whom I’m so angry that the right words just won’t come out. I still feel crushed beyond words that the crowd I used to proudly run with – evangelicals – bought into Trump so thoroughly that it’s going to be a challenged to maintain those relationships with the mutual respect I would have hoped to perpetuate.

I’m not a little guy when you look at the outside: White, private schools, post-graduate education, wealthy upbringing…I’m privileged in so many ways on the surface. But on the inside, I’m something very different. The control panel inside my being’s core functions like a little guy’s: scared (always, even about nothing); feeling impotent when I try to tell people what I’m really feeling; powerless to change my own situation – having sat at the mercy of 8 psychiatrists and been told so many different things, I wonder if it isn’t somewhat like being kicked around the welfare system must be like. Simply put, I feel like a little guy is someone who can’t be sure her voice will ever be heard by someone with enough power to help. And in that regard, with The Great Bully as our president, I feel more like a helpless little guy than ever before.

But I don’t want this to be a political post any more than it already is. The deed is done. Now what?

This rally cry may sound very worn-out and even trite, but most cliches have a lot of truth wrapped up inside: We need to band together. Not just to fight for mental health research and reform in our government, but on a more basic level than that. More than ever, we need to let each other know we are not alone.

I wrote a post in a Hillary Clinton fan group the other night, and as a result 5 or 6 people who I do not know from Adam sent me friend requests. I accepted them and have already felt encouraged to see their posts in my feed. I’ve liked their’s, and vice versa, and voila – I feel like I’ve made some new friends who see the world in a similar way as I do. All of my problems aren’t solved, but I feel more connected to people I believe in and genuinely like. So, (I hate the words I’m about to use)…I “challenge” (that’s the one I hate) you to use this site to do the same thing: find some friends on here. If you keep seeing someone’s name pop up, send them a friend request. Hell, send me a friend request and let’s get to know each other beyond this forum.

I need you guys. I need you to survive. Literally. I need people who get it and who see the same quandaries and dilemmas in the world around them as I do. My core belief throughout my entire life has been simply this: We need each other. We don’t know who God is or where God is or if God is. We don’t know which political system is going to be best for us. We don’t even know if butter is going to turn out to be good for us or if it will kill us. We don’t know much. But I know that humans are pack animals, and I know that I need you. Reach out to each other; support each other; love each other. Start here. Or start somewhere. But be brave…do it.

 
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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!

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Mental Illness and Relationship Problems

There’s a sign at the Zaxby’s near my house with a quote from John Wayne that reads, “Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.” I’d like to make a similar sign that reads, “relationships are hard; they’re harder if you have a mental illness.”

I’ve come across countless people since I started this blog who have basically the same story: I’ve lost friends’ and family members’ support because of my illness; I have no one left.

My friend who battles profound depression had a group of friends tell her they couldn’t go through one more bout with her and they walked out of her life.

My friend with severe OCD had a decades-long friend ditch her because she couldn’t get over her germ obsessions to take the dog to the vet when it was sick.

Some don’t get dumped so precipitously. It happens slowly, too: This week I came across a great article by a college student about how anxiety is an unacceptable excuse for not being able to go out with friends. Most people will put up with an anxious friend who often backs out of plans at the last minute, but few will do so indefinitely. They give up and move on to people who aren’t worried about ridiculous things.

My own friendships have been harmed or lost due to my hypersensitivity. Over the years, more times than I can count, I’ve gotten upset by things that wouldn’t upset other people. I am incapable of just “moving on” and so I tend to tell the other people how I feel. Often I do this nicely; sometimes I don’t. But surprise, surprise…a lot of people don’t enjoy this quality of mine which is a mixture of OCD (I can’t just let it go) and anxiety (a fear of abandonment that leads me to wonder why other people have treated me a certain way).

Sometimes just telling another person they’ve upset me, even nicely, makes them distance themselves from me. Thankfully, many of my friends have been able to handle that version of me. What’s harder to handle is the anger that sometimes rears its ugly head in my confrontations. On an aware-of-the-world-around-me scale, I’m living at level 9 out of 10 all the time. So when something causes you to go from your normal 3 to an angry 6 (call it a normal argument level), I would then be at a 12. I say things I shouldn’t say; I get more angry than I should probably ever get; and our argument goes from something normal and irritating to something that might end our friendship.

I’ve had more of these arguments than I care to list. I’m incredibly ashamed of them, and I’m not even willing to go into much detail here because the shame is still so palpable. But over the past few years, as I’ve really struggled to maintain my grip on sanity, these blow ups have been painfully prevalent.

Those on the receiving end of all this perceive it as simply bad behavior. They can’t fathom why you’ve taken a “small” conflict and turned it into something enormous. The reality is, you can’t either. But you keep doing it because your brain doesn’t have a normal baseline, and sadly, your illness doesn’t show up on an X-ray; it shows up as “behavior that you should be in control of.”

If you are mentally ill in some way, I suspect you have stories of your own. Often the trouble comes from people who think you should just “get over it.” Sometimes it comes from your own quirky (I refuse to call it “bad”) behavior. Regardless, mental illness makes relationship more difficult than they already are. My hope is that this blog can in some small way be a touchstone to let you know that you are not alone and that you deserve better: You deserve understanding, patience, grace, and kindness. You are some of the most caring and tender souls in the universe and it’s a cruel joke that you often can’t find the understanding you need. Keep fighting; I hope you will find someone(s) who let you be you, quirks, relationship difficulties and all.

To those of you who are the supporters, this is where you have the chance to help erase the stigma. When someone you love has a mental illness, accept the very real truth of this…just as you would if they were in a wheelchair or had a chronic disease or even something like cancer. You’d change your expectations to accommodate for the illness. You don’t have to quit holding them accountable: you can still tell them when they’ve stepped over a boundary line, but you might start from a different place than consuming frustration or raging anger. Start from the same place you would if your friend in a wheelchair got frustrated navigating the park and just gave up and decided to lag behind for the rest of the trip. Maybe they were whiny; maybe they took their frustration out on you or blamed you for wanting to come to this hilly park; maybe they acted like an ass. You can tell them that, but give them a little grace, too. You’ve never been to a hilly park in a wheel chair.

Finally, please remember this if you take nothing else away: the quote at the top about those who cease to be friends is true. If you give up on a friendship when the other person is still willing to work on it, your part of the friendship wasn’t as genuine as you may have thought. I don’t say this to shame anyone; I use strong words here to drive home my point. Truly caring for a mentally ill person means there are going to be some tough waters to wade through. Please stay the course. We need people in our lives who will do that.

 
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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!

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Humanistic Compassion: My New Religion

A Spiritual Director once asked me to consider what my values would be if religion wasn’t in the picture. This question made almost no sense to me because I had been long trained in the belief that, without a religion or faith, one would be adrift in the moral ocean, incapable of consistency in his/her direction.

Nevertheless, I did my homework and pondered what I valued, even if there was no God up above telling me what to value. Some of what I came up with were very simple beliefs, nothing to write home about – I believed in fighting for my family…doing what it took to be healthy for them so my wife had a husband and my kids had a dad; I believed in doing work that felt like it contributed to the well-being of others; I believed in friendship and the power of companionship for those who are lonely or suffering…

I doubt if anyone wants to write the next best-seller based on my somewhat ordinary beliefs, but nevertheless, for me, these were somewhat earth-shattering. For the first time, I felt like I had picked my passions as opposed to being told what they were supposed to be. It’s like the difference between being a kid who plays football because he dad makes him and being that same kid whose dad leaves the picture and he finally gets to choose for himself.

And as I mulled all of this over, it became clear that I had one value that seemed to be defining the others: people, and in particular, the “little guy.” It’s certainly not earth-shattering to say that people are what really matter during our time here on earth. There are even cliches to help me drive home the point, like the bumper sticker that says, “No One Ever Says, ‘I Wish I Spent More Time at the Office.'”

But even if I was merely acting out a cliche, I felt autonomous for the first time in my life: This is what I believe in…This is what I want to center my life around…In post-modern parlance, “this is true for me” even if it’s not true for someone else.

Because of my belief in the value of people, I have gotten more than a little upset lately when people place their ideals about what the American flag stands for above the black mother of a teenage boy who has just been shot by police because he dresses like his friends do and looks like he’s up to no good. How can people fail to see that, even if you hate the protesters, their protest is on behalf of people who are oppressed, and every time one of us who is well-off and white opens her mouths to tell a pro football player to respect the flag, it’s actually an expression that perpetuates the mistreatment of black people. In these cases, we are putting ideals above human beings. Ideals should be held to firmly but only insofar as they serve individual human beings.

Then there’s the presidential election. Once again, so many people put their ideals over and above the individuals they are supposed to serve. Both candidates prey on our collective fears: of people who come from somewhere else, of the economic harm the other guy will do if he gets his way, of the possible impact of having guns taken away, or the possible impact of having hardly any restrictions on gun purchases. What’s lost in this rhetoric of fear is a collective awareness that not all immigrants are out to get us and the countless middle-ground options on gun rights that might actually help us be protected…from ourselves. We – Democrats and Republicans and Independents – forget about the human beings who will be impacted, and instead we focus on winning an argument rather than serving our fellow man as we create policy.

Truly, I’m not even trying to get you to vote for a particular candidate. I’m just saying that, sadly, most people vote based on how things are going FOR THEM. I think when you are facing systemic oppression that makes perfect sense. But the rest of us just want to make sure we are never the ones facing systemic oppression, so we vote in fear – trying to prevent ourselves from ever being the underdog.

Where does mental health come in to all of this? I think my mental health struggles have ultimately shaped this Humanism in me. I’ve often been the guy who is misunderstood but who could explain if given the chance.

I live daily with the fear that I will someday not be able to provide for my family. Whether it’s realistic or not, I imagine myself on the streets, trying desperately to find someplace safe for my wife and kids, so I’m passionate about refugees (from anywhere) and our responsibility to them.

And I can’t say that I was bullied any worse than any other kid in school, but seeing as how I was hypersensitive and had an obsessive brain that took even probably-not-directed-at-me insults to heart and stewed on them for days, I can’t stand it when anyone is bullied. If you read nothing else, please remember this: To use your advantage as a person of privilege to step on others to get what you want, you are doing essentially the same thing that the middle school bully does: he wants what he wants (for whatever reason), and he’s just going to take it, plain and simple.

The rights of all people are my passion, and there’s nothing that makes me feel hopeless quicker than watching the big guy pick on the little guy. So many don’t even stop to think and realize that they are, in fact, the Big Guy with the Advantage who might easily become The Bully. It wouldn’t be okay if it were your kid being bullied in the cafeteria, and it’s not okay when it’s someone who’s black, or female, or an illegal immigrant, or a peace-loving Muslim, a Syrian refugee either, or someone who’s mentally ill who doesn’t have access to proper care. They are all someone’s children. Just imagine they were yours.

So, in the end, I have replaced the religion of my youth with something that used to be considered a very bad word: Humanism. Yep, I believe in people, even people I disagree with. I believe that inside all of us is an overgrown child who spends his/her entire life trying to grow up – emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and mentally. Our bodies grow up and enable us to fool others into taking us seriously, but we all know that we need copious amounts of help to make it. And when we can learn to see that everyone we encounter every dad feels the same way, we can set of values that revolves around our belief in the value and beauty of every single other person. I would call that the philosophy (religion might be too strong) of Humanism. The values of Humanism can lead us where religion often tries to take us – to a place where others are more important than ourselves. I’m not there yet, and I’ll likely never get there fully. But I hope I can get a little better each day, and by the end of my life pretty darn good at it.

 
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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 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 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”]

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Podcast: Do What Works (but how do I know if it’s working?!)

Show Notes:
In this podcast, Tim discusses a mantra that he often references: “Do What Works.” The truth is that, for those who are mentally ill, it can be very hard to know what’s working since it often feels like nothing works. Tim attempts to offer some new ways to look at life that redefine what is or is not effective.

In the podcast, Tim references Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a therapeutic model based around the mantra, “do what works.” More information on DBT can be found at one of these links:

http://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-dialectical-behavior-therapy/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy

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*****
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 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 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”]

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Do What Works…But How Do I Know if it’s Working?

In this podcast, Tim discusses a mantra that he often references: “Do What Works.” The truth is that, for those who are mentally ill, it can be very hard to know what’s working since it often feels like nothing works. Tim attempts to offer some new ways to look at life that redefine what is or is not effective.

In the podcast, Tim references Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a therapeutic model based around the mantra, “do what works.” More information on DBT can be found at one of these links:

http://psychcentral.com/lib/an-overview-of-dialectical-behavior-therapy/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy

 

Tim’s Site: http://toknowwearenotalone.com/

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