An Open Letter to the Parents of a Kid Who MIGHT Have a Mental Illness

suicide teenDear Parent of a kid who might have a mental illness,

Yeah, I know, I’ve heard your excuses a million times: “It might just be a phase that s/he’ll grow out of…no one wants to slap a diagnosis on their child…no school counselor is going to tell me how to parent my kid…no shrink is going to prescribe some pill my kid pops so s/he’s magically calm and focused.” And I know that, back in our day, the kids who took Ritalin probably just needed better parenting and firmer discipline…I know that, when you were a teenager, you went through plenty of times when you were “depressed,” and you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps…pumped some iron, got a new boyfriend who was a great kisser, made the basketball team, or just listened to some great music, and voila! All better in a week or two…your kid should do the same. I know, I know.

Maybe you’re right, Parent. Maybe your kid needs to get his/her act together the good old fashioned way. That’s entirely possible. But bear with me while I pose a simple question from two different angles. Then I’ll get off my high horse.

First question: What’s the worst that can happen if you get your maybe-not-mentally-ill child some professional help?

I know you’re worried about the horror stories you’ve heard regarding antidepressants. I’ve lived some of them first-hand. But they’ve also saved my life. The truth is, when used properly, anti-depressants are very, very safe. If you just go slow and talk to your kid about how s/he’s feeling, you’ll be just fine. And, people don’t get addicted to anti-depressants, so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sure, there are some psychiatric meds that can be addictive and dangerous, but you’re a lot safer getting your kid started while they’re still under your watchful eye than if they start taking some of the more dangerous drugs when they’re out on their own.

What you’re probably more worried about is the stigma and the label of having a kid who sees a shrink. I suppose your kid could develop some weirdo reputation. Worse yet, you might get labeled the parent who couldn’t help his own kid get his shit together. Forgive me for being slightly confrontational here, but…well…your kid may well already have a weirdo reputation. And you may already be seen as the parent who could stand to pay a bit more attention to what’s happening under your nose. Truly, having a kid who is a medicated and treated weirdo is highly preferable to having an unmedicated/untreated weirdo on your hands. And as for your reputation, well, you’re better than that. Living vicariously through one’s kids is never a good look. Be the parent who puts his kid above his reputation.

Second question: What’s the worst that can happen if you DON’T get your maybe-not-mentally-ill child some professional help. I’m tempted to scare the hell out of you by referencing every school shooting ever, but I’ll skip the scare tactics…Actually, no I won’t. Google Dylan Klebold’s mom. She’s the mother of one of the Columbine shooters, Dylan Klebold. This brave lady has recently begun to speak openly about the situation, and her main message is the exact same as every parent of every kid who’s ever pulled a trigger, taken too many drugs, or acted out in some overly dramatic way: she wishes she had said something other than, “I’m sure he’ll be fine; it’s just a phase.” You, Parent, still have an opportunity to, at the very least, always be able to say, “I did everything for my child.”

Much more likely than a scenario like the ones above is that your child will end up like countless students of mine, and like me: feeling very lonely and very confused and very scared. They’ll spend years, even decades, wondering why they are different from others, thinking they might need to see a doctor but scared of disappointing you, scared of telling their friends because they already feel enough like a weirdo or a psycho. They’ll probably, like most of us with a mental illness, try to self-medicate. It’ll probably be drugs or alcohol. Or it could be something “healthier” like work or fitness. Maybe it will be sex. It’ll be something. It’s called a coping mechanism, and all coping mechanisms do the trick, at least in the short term. But we all know that these coping mechanisms don’t work forever. Some people get on a slippery slope of coping mechanisms and end up face down and unresponsive in the ditch at the end of the slide. Some can be revived; some can’t. If your kid is one of the lucky ones who survives the slide, they’ll land in a psychiatrist’s office, scared to death but grateful to still have a fighting chance at a life worth living. If you wait…If you don’t get your child some help now,  s/he may well survive, but by the time they land in that shrink’s office, the scars they’ll bear will be permanently disfiguring.

The greatest news, here at the end of this preachy letter, is that you hold the power of God, at least for now, in your hands when it comes to your children. You get to say what they’re allowed to try in terms of getting help. The one absolute certainty is that they will try SOMETHING. It might be pot or beer or meth. Or it might be Prozac or Lithium or Vyvanse. I can’t guarantee you that the latter three will help your child. But I can guarantee you than the former three won’t. So, please, I beg you, be a hero who is humble enough to set aside your fears of a ruined reputation so your child can at least have a chance at his/her healthiest possible life.

High horse dismounted,

Tim

 

Get updates from this site when there’s something new by signing up here.

Or “like” the Facebook page here.

Continue Reading

Faking It

When-Harry-Met-Sally-when-harry-met-sally-restaurant-1200x675If you’re like me, you’re plagued by the fear that the people you’re with think you’re faking it. Whether it’s someone new, someone you’ve been with many times, someone you love, or someone you just met at a bar, there’s always that question: Do they think I’m faking it?

I’m referring to mental illness of course.

If you’re a paraplegic, I don’t think it crosses anyone’s mind that you were just tired of standing up. If you have cancer, I don’t think anyone says, “let me see those x-rays, please.” But mental illness is completely invisible, other than in one’s behavior.

If I can’t get out of bed because of depression, it would be easy for someone to say, as many do, “What you need is some sunshine (or exercise). You need to get up and get moving. Then you’ll feel better.” Would they ever say that to a cancer patient?

If I am consumed with anger and lash out at someone I love, it looks like I’m being a jerk. It looks like bad behavior. In reality, it is a symptom of a brain that won’t cooperate. I know I shouldn’t be angry, but I still am. I still lash out. And then I hate myself for it, convinced that I could “do better” if only I would try harder…try different.

And I know that sometimes my loved ones think the same thing: that I could behave differently if only I would get my act together…quit hiding behind my diagnoses and just make different choices.

A dear friend of mine is financially supported by a family member. Recently, this family member has grown frustrated. He has told her to exercise more, to get outside, to act healthy so as to become healthy. He’s even gone so far as to tell her that his support won’t last forever and she should find a rich man who will enable her as she lays in bed and “refuses to leave the house.” Would this family member ever say this to her if she had cancer? If she had ALS? If she was paralyzed? Obviously, no.

The fact is that it’s easy to worry that people think we’re faking it because, well, they do. Those who have never battled their own brains, understandably, think they know the answer(s) to our problems. When they feel a little sad, it helps to go for a run. When they feel like staying in bed, they are able to overcome that feeling and reap the rewards of getting up and moving.

But that’s like me telling someone with terminal cancer that I understand how they feel because I’ve had the flu. Imagine if I tried to tell someone with cancer how to get better based on my experience with the flu. That would be offensive in every possible sense of the word.

But mental illness is still a mystery. I even went to a talk recently where a psychiatrist talked about how to avoid weight gain when on bi-polar meds, which notoriously cause weight gain. Every ounce of his advice was the exact same advice you would give to someone who just likes to eat: snack on nuts, not donuts; don’t eat after 8; etc.

This was a doctor who treats bi-polar people all day every day. Yet he treated us like we were normal people who just overate, not people who were on medication that makes it nearly impossible to lose weight.

Honestly, I’m not complaining, at least I don’t think I am. I’m just stating the reality that, for those of us with a mental illness, it’s easy to feel like those around us must think we are faking it. Every single day, as I battle my frustrating brain, I wonder what people think. I know that some of them think I should exercise more often. Others think I should pray more. Some think I should fake it till I make it. The vast majority of them have the good sense to keep their opinions to themselves, thankfully. But that doesn’t change the fact that mental illness comes with a healthy dose of insecurity, at least for me.

I guess the takeaway is simply that those of us who struggle in this way need to be bold enough to be honest with people about how we feel no matter how they respond. Maybe they’ll think we are faking it. So what?! Some of them, thankfully, will actually believe what we tell them and will grow a little bit more sensitive to the issues we face on a day to day basis. Either way, some will get it and some won’t. We might as well speak up.

Continue Reading

The Foundation of Compassion

image
Most, if not all, of the people I know believe that one of the core purposes of this life is to love and care for other people. Just post on Facebook that someone you know has cancer, and the outpouring of kindness will be overwhelming. It even extends beyond humans. Just two days ago we watched out the window as someone kicked a dog out of his car and sped away. We took him in and posted who-wants-a-dog alerts all over the internet. The outpouring of desire to help this dog was remarkable. Today, just 48 hours later, he’s in a great home with two other rescue dogs and parents that were about as excited to take him as if he were a human baby.

I used to believe that one needed a strong religious faith in order to live an unselfish life. But I don’t believe that at all anymore. For me, compassion springs from shared humanity…complete with shared confusion, frustration, remorse, anger, unexplained joy, and intolerable loss. I used to feel compassion for people because I believed they were “lost.” Now I believe we are all lost. And my compassion for others feels far more genuine: I don’t feel sorry for them because they need something they don’t have. Actually, I do feel sorry for them, but I also feel sorry for me. Life is confusing; the road maps are hard to read; we’re all somewhat lost.

My friend, Brad, was telling me about parenting his 2-year-old daughter, who, by definition, is, well, possessed. Like any parent of a 2-year-old, he struggles to keep his cool when she throws a tantrum about wanting to wear un-matched shoes or because the $.25 toy dished out by the machine is the wrong color. But recently, he had an aha moment: He realized that being 2 is hard. It’s hard to be incapable of expressing what you want to say; it’s hard to have emotions that you don’t know how to manage; it’s hard to make sense of a world that seems..that is…unfair. By seeing his daughter as a human who is dealing with a difficult situation it changed the way he interacted with his daughter. And not surprisingly, it also changed the way she responded to him when in the midst of a tantrum.

I think that my lifelong battle with my mental health has made me have a heightened awareness that people might be (are) suffering from hidden demons that might be making life very, very hard for them. Somehow, I’m a mixture of the most judgmental person and the most compassionate person you’ll ever meet. I tell people that, in practice, I’m the least compassionate person around – quick to let others know what morons they are if given the chance. But in theory, I’m as compassionate as they come. If I sit and think about it for long, I can give Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer grace because I’m sure they had plenty of private struggles. I don’t know what the point of this paragraph is other than to say that I’m pretty bad at practicing what I’m preaching. BUT I feel a great need for all of us to practice this compassionate lifestyle.

Continue Reading

You’re Not Alone

Tonight at dinner, our waitress looked to be about 20 years old. If I’m allowed to acknowledge this, I’ll say that she was strikingly beautiful with the sort of smile that made you think she was incapable of having a bad day. Then she served us our dinner and I saw that her right forearm was covered in scars from cutting herself.

I wanted to pull up my sleeves and show her my scars so she would know that it’s okay to hurt. In fact, it’s even okay to hurt so bad that you would choose physical pain over emotional pain. I also wanted to make sure that she knew what I had found so comforting: that self harm actually releases a “high” in your brain much like taking a drug. There’s a reason so many people do it. They aren’t tempting fate; they’re trying to feel better.

***

Earlier today, I had lunch with my friend who has already written various instructions that will someday accompany her suicide note. There’s nothing about her life that isn’t filled with the darkness of depression. I don’t see suicide as the selfish act of someone who couldn’t hack it. I see suicide as self-defense against a brain that simply won’t allow for the things that make life worth living: hope, joy, laughter, curiosity, ambition, love, and so on.

I know that someday I will lose her, and you may think I’m terrible for not trying to talk her off the ledge every chance I get. But I just want her to know, while she’s here, that she’s not alone. And to be honest, I need to know that I’m not either.

***

Then there’s the friend from my childhood who recently left behind a wife and three children and killed himself. We hadn’t spoken in decades, and I have very little clue what led to his demise. Then again, do people kill themselves for any other reason than hopelessness/despair/depression? What more do I need to know? I just wished that somehow, some way I could’ve let my friend know I loved him and maybe even sat with him in his final moments. I wouldn’t have judged him or tried to fix him. I’d just want him to know he wasn’t alone.

***

I began writing this blog because I wanted to establish a community of people who could encourage each other. That hasn’t happened to the extent I had hoped. It was probably unrealistic of me to expect Oprah-like results within a few months, huh?

But over time, I had grown weary of writing, frankly, wondering if it was worth the effort. But tonight, seeing that girl’s arm reminded me of what I started doing this in the first place. More than anything else, I just hoped that one or two people would feel encouraged.

So this weekend, please, for whatever reason or for no reason at all, let someone who might be hurting know they are not alone.

Continue Reading

Writer’s Block

tools-to-battle-writers-blockLately I’ve been suffering from a case of writer’s block. As usual, I have this burning urge to sit down and get my thoughts on paper so I can feel like they are organized, but every time I sit down, nothing of any real substance comes out.

The other night I started to write an open letter to the Duggar family, telling them “I told you so” when in reality I only wanted to “tell them so.” Many years ago, I legitimately thought about writing a letter to these buffoons telling them exactly how this story was going to end…badly. I never wrote the letter, but for the record, I’d just like to say: Dear Duggars, I told you so. Or I meant to tell you so. Sorry about not actually getting around to the letter writing part, which I’m sure would’ve convinced you to get the hell out of the spotlight ASAP before one of those 19 kids turned out to be a flawed human being. I mean, statistically speaking, at least 1 in 19 people is flawed, so you just should’ve known the odds. But I’m guessing you’ve never been to Vegas and learned that the House always wins.

My letter just wouldn’t come out right, so I gave up and went to bed.

Then I tried to write a post about my new therapeutic mantra: “Do what works” and quit using the word “should.” It seems simple enough, but it’s amazing how hard it is to surrender all the “shoulds” in life…how hard it is to finally accept that if something isn’t working for you, no matter how persistently you keep banging your head against the same wall, your head will never stop being a head, and the wall will never stop being a wall. Unless your objective is a bruised head, banging your head against a wall isn’t likely to “work” for you. Once you realized that the result of your actions is an unwanted result, you might want to try changing your actions. “But this should work,” you say. Well…is it working? If not, try something different until you get the result you want.

But this post idea just kept making me feel defensive and angry toward all of the people who have shoved the shoulds in my face…and I promised myself I’d try to steer away from anger-laden posts since they don’t really do anyone much good. So I gave up on that one.

Then I watched Dallas Buyers’ Club, and I sat there in stunned, teary-eyed silence for awhile trying to craft a post about the power of such a beautifulbutmessyandtragic story. No happy ending; no deus ex machina sent from on high to make a terrible situation less horrifying. Just human beings – broken…very broken ones – learning how to love each other and, better yet, themselves. It’s the story of a man from Dallas, TX in the mid-80’s who gets AIDS from promiscuous, unprotected sex. He’s a misogynist and a homophobe, and if anyone deserved a terrible fate or “got what was coming to him,” it was this guy. Selfishly, he sets out trying to extend his life beyond the 30 days he is given, and he ends up helping a lot of people who are HIV+ extend their lives. And just like 99.9% of humanity, once he comes face to face with the raw humanity of gay people, transgender people, etc., his heart softens and he learns to love people he once hated. I cried hardest when the transgender man, played by Jared Leto, dies. There’s a scene where he goes to ask his estranged father for money, and his father clearly loathes everything about his son, yet somehow the son still shows kindness toward his dad. Not simplistic I’ll-always-love-you kindness, but the raw and broken kind of a son who has been rejected in the most awful way but still longs for things to be put right again somehow, for a second chance to love and be loved by his daddy.

But somehow a movie review just didn’t feel like a full post, so I gave up on that one too.

And then out of sheer frustration I started writing a post about having writer’s block. Maybe it’s because I just started back to work full time and I’m tired. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to get off of a medication I have been on for ten years and it’s rocking my world in the most awful sort of way. Maybe it’s because my doctor just told me again how complex my brain is and how hard it is to figure out exactly how to treat me. Maybe it’s because all my emotional energy is sapped by this confusing divorce situation I’m in the midst of – trying to remove the unhealthy parts of my complex personality from my home so I can give back the healthy parts in a consistent way. Maybe it’s because I feel extremely angry at about 80% of my supposed support system for not understanding why I can’t embrace their way of seeing the world anymore, for telling me, in regard to my marriage, “Try harder…Again. You owe it to God!” Every time I sit down to write, I can feel the hurt and anger bubbling up to the surface again, and I want to get it out, but I know it’s still too raw to write about in a healthy way. I want to write posts that encourage others as they deal with their own crap, not posts that whine and complain about my own crap. Perhaps someday down the road I’ll be able to write a healthy post about what it’s like to walk away from everyone and everything you’ve ever relied on – to choose what’s actually true for you over what’s supposed to be true for you. Right now, all I can muster is a snippet here and there about this difficult daily reality.

Or maybe, as all writers fear, I just don’t have anything left to say. Who knows? But until I figure it out, I’ll keep writing posts trying to figure out why I have writer’s block. You might want to find someone else’s blog to read in the meantime…

 

 

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

 

 

[fblike]

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below.

Continue Reading

A Daily Dose of Death (and Grace)

image
Let’s assume for a minute that this life is All There Is, that Death is The End. You get your 80 years, more or (much) less, but that’s the deal. One life; one death; done.

Pessimist that I am, I tend to look at death as tragic, but not so much for the dead person as for those of us left behind. And indeed, the untimely death of a loved one can and often does leave the lives of those left behind in tattered ruins, sometimes irredeemably.

Death is often thought of as a one-time event at the end of our confusing lives. We all know there’s a sand timer dripping out the sands of our days, never letting us know how much sand is left in the top half, and we’ve come up with many explanations for the seeming cruelty of all that is left unexplained as those sands drip through – why do dogs have to die? Why do children die? Why do we die? When do we die? Why can’t we know more? Why can’t we understand more? Why must we ask ‘why?’ despite the lack of answers to that fundamentally human question? Why? whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?

But on the other hand, while we are aware of the dramatic deaths of people taken by disease and tragic accidents, we are surrounded by small daily deaths that aren’t nearly as threatening to us:

We breathe in; we breathe out – a microcosm of life then death.

We wake up…a new day, a new life. We go to sleep…precious sleep, death to the day behind us.

Each step we take gives birth to a new moment, leaving behind the old moment, never to return.

Seasons come to life, slowly, gently killing off the previous season.

We embrace the new opportunities, the new stages of life, tending to look forward more readily than we look backward.

Death is forever all around us, but there’s something gracious, proper, and kind about our daily deaths. How many nights of your life have you lamented having to go to sleep? Are you ever sad to exhale? Worried that there won’t be another breath waiting for you in one moment? We might lament the passing of a beautiful fall or a life-bringing spring, but even summer and winter come with their pool parties and snowball fights – bits of joy in the midst of a season whose death comes eventually as a relief, as a moment of grace.

I don’t claim to know much about the religious stories’ validity. Is there a heaven? What about reincarnation? Or what if we just end up exactly as we were in the year 1743 – entirely unaware, literally non-existent.

I don’t claim to know or, frankly, to have much in the way of belief in these matters. But if I examine the fact that most of the deaths we die are actually not so scary, even pleasant and beautiful – just as beautiful as the precious moments when life needs a pause button. And isn’t it true that our permanent Deaths create the very Grace embedded within the frightfulness of ceasing to exist? Would anyone want to live on forever once their loved ones are lost? Once their health declines past the point of physical pleasure?

In most stories, immortality is a curse, not a blessing. The immortal character grows more and more embittered and estranged from the pleasures of the world but without the relief brought on by death.

Perhaps my argument is a bit circular…Because of the deaths we must inevitably encounter, Death becomes an act of grace. Just as circumcision is a gift to male children who will be surrounded by other circumcised children. Better to commit the horror of slicing off part of a boy’s most sensitive body part days after birth than to risk the rejection and mockery he might face in 12 or 14 years by not doing the slicing. Indeed, death is scary and largely left without satisfying meaning. I can’t pretend this isn’t a large part of Death’s Reality.

But for today, circular though it may be, I feel the need to acknowledge the Grace buried within the bosom of Death.

 

 

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

 

 

[fblike]

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also writes a newsletter that is sent out religiously on the third Sunday of May every fifth year when May has a blue moon and the average temperature is below 17 degrees Kelvin. Trust me, it won’t add to your emailbox frustration. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

Continue Reading

The Wisdom of Rust Cohle

rustIf you haven’t seen the HBO series True Detective (season 1) with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, quit reading right now, and go watch all 10 hours of it. Did you do it? Seriously, it’s way better than this post is going to be…go watch it.

Now that you’ve watched it, thanks for coming back to read the rest of this.

So do you remember the scene when Woody’s character tells Rust’s character that he has a really grim perspective on life and to basically keep said perspective’s to himself? Cohle responds, “Given how long it’s taken me to reconcile my nature, I can’t figure I’d forego it on your account.”

When I first saw this scene, I went back to this line over and over because I wanted to remember the beautiful line out of the mouth of a man who sees the glass as not only half empty, but what’s left in said glass is inevitably poison.

I’m only about half way done with my life, statistically speaking, but it seems to me that the first half of our lives is spent trying to become what other people have told us to be, and the second half (I hope) is spent finally “reconciled to our nature,” living out a life of authenticity.

One of my favorite books to read to my kids is called “I Like Me.” On the cover is a pig dressed like a ballerina. The pig spends the book telling her readers all the things she likes about herself, from her round belly to her curly tail. The book is clearly one of those everyone-gets-an-award, self-esteem books, but I don’t say that in any pejorative sense. I think everyone should get an award…at least everyone who brings something unique to the table…which is everyone.

Having spent my entire adult life as a teacher, I have had a front row seat to watch mixed messages get sent to still-developing adolescents. Schools/Adults/Institutions… tell kids over and over and over that it is great to be oneself, that every person’s unique gifts are needed and valued. Then we give awards to the kids who were good at school (smart), good at sports, or good at popularity. The kids who are great at computers or great at making the uncool kids feel cared for or good at diffusing tension between her friends…they just get overlooked because those skills are harder to appreciate and value than the skill of having the highest GPA.

It’s a hard problem to remedy (maybe impossible), but most of us spend a good portion of our adult lives unraveling the damage done to our psyches by the cultural messages we receive as kids about what makes people valuable or worthless. I’ve met virtually no one who felt that their Truest, Innermost Self was highly valued as s/he was growing up. Even the kids who do win the awards end up feeling like people aren’t seeing the Real Them.

Eventually, whether we were cool kids or decidedly dorky, we have to decide to love and value our truest selves no matter who is paying attention or wanting to hand us an award.

The beauty of Rust Cohle’s statement isn’t that we should all strive to be more like him. He’s essentially a Nihilist, so the world would get pretty ugly pretty fast if we all saw things through his lens. What’s so beautiful is that he accepts himself for who he is. No apology; no trying to be someone different because he makes his police partner uncomfortable. He just is who he is, like it or not. And that’s a pretty beautiful thing.

For me personally, one of the more harmful notions of conservative Christianity has been the belief that, to be a human, is to be something flawed. Think about that message for a second: From the moment you are born (conceived, even), you are tainted, broken, warped, sinful. That message doesn’t exactly help any of us grow up with a strong sense of our own value and worth. Add the societal messages of how our value comes from our brains, our athleticism, or our popularity, and we’re all basically doomed to see ourselves as pieces of poop (forgive the aggressive language).

Here’s the good news of the gospel of humanism: It’s ok to be you. Are you quirky? Quirk it up like a boss. Are you fat and can’t get skinny no matter how hard you try? Put on a bikini and rock it, girl (or boy). Fuck what other people think you should wear to the pool. Are you weird? Weird people are far more fun to be around than normal people; please, please, come hang out with me, weirdos! Are you neurotic? Yeah, me too. So what! Our brains don’t seem to have the let-it-go gene that others have. Letting it go isn’t inherently better than not letting it go, so just do your best to find whatever peace you can inside your neurotic head…but don’t hate your neurosis; they’re inevitably doing you some good, too. Start looking for it.

The pretty girl wishes she was the smart girl while the smart girl wishes she was the carefree girl while the football player wishes he could come out of the closet and get the lead in the musical. Reconcile yourself to your nature and then don’t fucking forego it on anyone’s account. You are beautiful just as you are. Anyone who tells you different or makes you feel different should be promptly removed from your Facebook friends list (and your life).

 

 

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

 

 

[fblike]

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also writes a newsletter that is sent out religiously on the third Sunday of May every fifth year when May has a blue moon and the average temperature is below 17 degrees Kelvin. Trust me, it won’t add to your emailbox frustration. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

Continue Reading

Dear Taylor Swift

Taylor SwiftDear Taylor Swift,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until today.

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

 

Sincerely,

Tim

 

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

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

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Honor Your Realities

Be-True-1-2-640x430Every so often, I use my bathroom mirror for some other reason than to take shirtless selfies (according to my computer, “selfies” is either misspelled or not a word…get with it, MS Word!).

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, my bathroom mirror. So recently I got the idea to buy some dry erase markers and write myself daily reminders on the mirror. I’m sort of thick-headed and need regular reminders about all sort of things – like to put clothes on before leaving the house (but after taking the selfies for the day).

The other day, I wrote this: Honor your realities, without shame or judgment.

Our realities are our realities, plain and simple, right? You can’t wish away the fact that you are older or younger or happier or depressed-er or fatter or skinnier or shyer or outgoinger or shorter or taller or saner or insaner than you are (apparently, Word doesn’t like some of those words, either…picky, picky!). People spend entire lives wishing that their realities were something other than what they are…but no dice. Our realities are our realities. Period.

So what should we do about them? Here are a few of the options I’ve tried in the past:

Resent them.

Pray for them to change.

Try to hide them.

Lie about them.

Overanalyze them, hoping they will morph into something else.

Philosophize about why they are what they are.

Talk to therapists about them, hoping to understand them and, by doing so, change them.

Numb myself to them with shiny new things or sudsy beverages.

And thus far, not one of these strategies has effectively changed even one tiny aspect of my realities…my truths, if you will. Some things are just true for me and they will never NOT be true for me (if you’d like to know what these are, there’s a whole year’s worth of blog posts for you to wade through at your leisure…I won’t recount them here).

So I decided to change my approach to my own realities: Instead of trying to analyze them away, I will honor them without shame or judgment. Why should I be ashamed of things I can’t change or even control? Why should I judge myself for that which I did not choose? Yeah, I’m moody and complex. Okay, there’s plenty of good stuff that comes with those qualities, too, so why shouldn’t I try to quit feeling ashamed of them? Walt Whitman, yet again: “I exist as I am…do I contradict myself…I am large…I contain multitudes…I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.”

Everyone’s realities are complex, messy, unsavory in some ways, beautiful and profound in others. Here’s a helpful metaphor: We all have bodies. Parts of our bodies are beautiful and appealing, and parts of our bodies, we don’t even want to look at in our bravest moments. Hopefully we all have something about us that we can acknowledge is beautiful, but I’m 100% sure that we all have parts of our bodies that we aren’t eager to post pictures of on Facebook.

But the fact is that every part of our bodies serves some useful purpose, from our internal organs to our kneecaps to our eyes to our armpits to our toes. Why do we spend so much time wishing our bodily realities could be different? They never will be. Ever! But isn’t it beautiful to see someone who’s “comfortable in her own skin,” even if that skin is wrinklier or more blemished or pudgier than the “ideal” skin is supposed to be? Of course! It’s beautiful when someone honors her realities without a sense of shame or judgment.

Children are very good at this, especially in regard to both their bodies and their emotions. They aren’t aware (yet) that their naked bodies aren’t something to parade around no matter who is looking; they aren’t aware (yet) that some things shouldn’t be cried about or screamed over. Children honor their realities without shame or judgment.

So join me in trying to look my realities in the face without the shame or judgment that almost always accompanies these truths that cannot be changed or undone.

 

 

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

 

 

[fblike]

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also writes a newsletter that is sent out religiously on the third Sunday of May every fifth year when May has a blue moon and the average temperature is below 17 degrees Kelvin. Trust me, it won’t add to your emailbox frustration. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

Continue Reading

Tiny, Beautiful Things

imageLast night, walking down the hall of the apartment complex where I am temporarily living, I passed a blue balloon. It was dancing down the hall without a string or any obvious owner. My first response was to think how excited my kids would be to find such a treasure…as excited as I would be to find inner peace, probably. Then I thought about being a good citizen and throwing it away. Then I thought about stomping on it to pop it just to blow off some steam. Instead, I just walked past, pulling out my keys.

But then I remembered something I read recently by my recent authorial obsession, Cheryl Strayed. In her advice column, she wrote a letter to her younger self, advising her from the vantage point of twenty years of maturity and growth. One of the bits of advice she gave her self was to accept “tiny, beautiful things” when they are offered to you. Oddly, in her case, she was also referring to a balloon – one offered to her on a city bus by a young girl. Strayed refused, believing that her recent heroin use and sexual promiscuity denied her the right to this small token of human kindness. The older Cheryl Strayed tells the younger one to take the balloon from the girl because even a drug-using, promiscuous person deserves “tiny, beautiful things.”

So I turned around and picked up my own tiny, beautiful gift from the cosmos and brought it into my apartment.

This morning I had coffee with a close friend who, like me, battles sometimes-crippling depression. He’s wading into a new romantic relationship after a decade out of “the game.” This morning, two Xanax hadn’t taken the edge off of his panic about this new relationship. He was tempted to scrap the few months of positive experiences because it would just be easier than forging ahead with all the potential pitfalls (of the heart and the head) of trusting someone new. But again, I thought of my balloon and reminded my friend that he has made some tiny, beautiful strides: Just allowing himself to date someone at all has been a big step, not to mention the three or four inevitable should-I-keep-trusting-this-person steps that come in the early stages of any romance. Each time, my friend has wanted to run away, but he hasn’t. Despite his fear…panic, really…he has trudged onward, insisting on personal growth even despite the discomfort involved. As I recounted all of this to him, he smiled bigger and bigger and said, “You’re right; thank you!” We had a moment of mutual awareness that some tiny, beautiful progress had been made, and was still being made.

Then I thought of my other friend, with whom I’ve recently reconnected. When we met, nearly a decade ago, he was in the throes of alcoholism, a heavy smoker, and in the midst of an ugly divorce. Since then, his grown son has died of a drug overdose. But guess what? My friend hasn’t had a drink in years; he no longer smokes; and he’s engaged to a woman who supports him and loves him. As the second anniversary of his son’s death approaches, my friend is holding strong, learning, growing, celebrating the tiny, beautiful things that still exist in his life.

And today I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the tiny, beautiful things in my own life: the friends who have supported me, the pleasure I get from hearing that my writing has helped someone, an evening cigar, the raunchy TV show Inside Amy Schumer, the weight I’ve lost as I try to make some healthy changes in life, my new job, a great book to read, the fact that my kids don’t need their asses wiped very often anymore, etc.

The past year of my existence has been a fruit basket turnover of mayhem, internally and externally. But I still get to smile and laugh and learn and love and eat and sleep and swim (preferably naked). Life is filled with tiny, beautiful things, even for me – someone who is decidedly convinced that the glass is more than half empty. I’m not…I’ll never be…a “just focus on the positive” sort of person. The negative is there whether I like it or not. But if I can just tweak my perspective enough to see that the balloon in my path isn’t another nuisance to be stepped over, but rather a tiny, beautiful gift, I can loosen up a bit, smile in thanks toward the uncertain giver of such a gift, and celebrate the tiny, beautiful things in my life.

 

 

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

 

 

[fblike]

Want to know when there’s something new here? Sign up for the blog below. Tim also writes a newsletter that is sent out religiously on the third Sunday of May every fifth year when May has a blue moon and the average temperature is below 17 degrees Kelvin. Trust me, it won’t add to your emailbox frustration. [jetpack_subscription_form title=”” subscribe_text=”” subscribe_button=”Sign Me Up”]

Continue Reading
Close Menu