Happy Birthday to this Blog!
Cupcake decorated with chocolate frosting and a green candle

Happy Birthday to this Blog!

 

 

Cupcake decorated with chocolate frosting and a green candle
Cupcake decorated with chocolate frosting and a green candle

I started writing this blog in July of last year. If my math is correct, that makes this blog just about one year old about now. Some reflection is in order. Bear with me as I recount the details of a difficult year. My point, ultimately, though, is to share with you what good has come from it, not just to complain. But first, I need to seem like I’m complaining.

The past year, as it turns out, is one that was probably well-worth documenting, though I didn’t know it would be quite so dramatic when I started writing. I started writing because I found myself in the depths of the deepest and most prolonged depression I had ever experienced. I still remember the moment it hit me like a Mack truck. It was April 30, 2014, my birthday. In retrospect, I had been somewhat manic for a few months – full of energy and enthusiasm for life. Anyone who has ever been around the private school where I taught knows that the spring semester is insanely busy, and I was feeding off of the frenetic energy around me. Also, my family and I had moved homes a month before, and despite all the stress that comes with that, I kept telling my doctor how great I was doing. She looked at me, month after month, appointment after appointment, shocked that I was doing so well. We both thought we had finally found the right medication cocktail. I thought I was fixed for good.

It all changed when I got called into a meeting where I got thrown a curveball. Nothing terribly dramatic or worth detailing here, but the short version is that I felt like my boss backed out on her word about something, and it really pissed me off. I walked out of that meeting an entirely different person from the one who walked in. Within that thirty minute span I had gone from celebrating life to everything in the world looking dark and foreboding. Every person seemed like s/he was out to get me. Every comment seemed to be a subtle jab directed at me. By 11 p.m. that night, I lay despondent on my basement couch. As Ann headed up to bed, she asked what she could do for me. The answer, as always, was “nothing.” Then she asked this: “Do you promise me that you’ll still be here in the morning?” As in, “will you be alive?” not “will you be out partying?” or “you’re not going to your mistress’s house again, are you?”

I don’t even remember what my answer was, but I can honestly say that it felt dark enough in my head that I was hoping I’d be dead by morning, though I didn’t have the guts to do it to myself.

I didn’t climb out of that hole for a few months. I believe it was sometime around when I started writing this blog that I began to feel some sense of hope again. I was pulled out of my depression, to some degree, by deciding that my work environment was no longer suitable for me. Despite the fact that every last practical reason told me to stay put in my job, I knew that I had become a square peg in a round hole. My Christian faith had been waning for years, and I wasn’t sure I could even pretend anymore to offer students the answers I was supposed to give.

I rallied, but when I returned to work in August, I was immediately dragged back into the depths. I hid from people in my office, eager to simply put my head down and get through the year and move on. I felt like some sort of a circus freak surrounded by people who saw the world so differently from how I did that I didn’t even know how to make small talk anymore. The loneliness of mental illness was reinforced by the loneliness I felt spiritually. The “family” of Christians I had always been a part of felt more and more foreign to me. I didn’t speak the language as fluently as before, if at all. The ten thousand small references to various Christian ideas and ideals no longer made sense to me. One doesn’t choose to walk away from everything he’s ever believed; one doesn’t choose to find himself half way through life no longer sure of anything he had staked his life on. My loneliness and depression got deeper than ever.

And then my dear friend Riley overdosed on drugs and alcohol and died on September 1st, 2014. This didn’t help matters.

I spoke at his funeral. I spent three weeks completely numb to his death, not shedding one tear, not having my voice break even once as I recounted his death. Then I sat in a Mexican restaurant in Dunwoody and fell apart in front of my friend, Mike. He couldn’t have handled it any better. He asked me what I would tell someone to do if I knew they were feeling like I felt. I knew the answer immediately: I needed a break from my work environment – a place where I couldn’t process my friend’s death because the pat answers and explanations were so infuriating to me. I was suffocating. I took three days off. When I went back the next Monday, I could only stomach an hour of work before I walked out the door for a “prolonged break”…which turned out to be a permanent one.

And then I spent the rest of the fall trying to climb out of the goddam hole once again. People who have never been depressed can’t possibly appreciate how exhausting it is. A week or two into my sabbatical from work, I decided to try to be productive by cleaning my garage. I only had enough energy to take a hammer from one side to the other side before I needed to sit down for half an hour, head in my hands, trying to work up the physical and emotional energy required to stand up and put one more thing in its proper place. I never managed to do anything else to the garage that day…or the many days or weeks that followed.

I climbed out of the hole to the point that I decided to start a business doing handyman work, something that had been a hobby for a decade. I survived the winter, but by the time my birthday rolled back around, I was back in the deep, dark hole. At this point, my wife wanted to put me in a hospital. I agreed to do whatever she wanted me to do. I was desperate.

So I entered a long-term, outpatient treatment program. I found a new job and a few new friends. I moved into an apartment to give my family some space from my ups and downs…to try to get my shit together, not that I had a clue how it fell apart in the first place or what getting it “together” would look like.

It’s hard to start putting a new life together when you aren’t sure of the rules anymore. It’s not like I went looking to abandon everything I once believed. Why would one intentionally tear up the only road map he owns when he’s already feeling lost? Now I was lost without a map.

However…while it has been quite a year, I am writing this post as a celebration of my growth, not as an attempt to elicit your pity for the difficult year I’ve had. I’ve actually learned some amazing things over the past year.

I’ve learned that when your friend Frank, from Chattanooga, finds out you’ve hit the bottom (again), he’ll drive the four hour round trip (on Father’s Day) just to hang out with you in the hotel room you’ve checked into so as to spare your family another “episode.”

I’ve learned that when your friend, Steve, finds out you’ve been struggling for awhile, he’ll fly to Atlanta and help you navigate one of the harder weekends of your life. He’ll sit in your car with you while you sob uncontrollably over the loss of just about everything you used to think and believe and hold onto. And he won’t judge you one bit. (And the next day, he’ll ask who drank the whole bottle of bourbon, surprised to find out that it was, in fact, him.)

I’ve learned that some of your religious friends, even the really conservative ones, will tell you that they still love you no matter what you believe these days; they won’t even mind it when you tell them you don’t want the Christian label applied to you anymore. They’ll stick with you when you tell them your views on God’s love for gay people and Caitlyn Jenner…even when you tell them you’re living in an apartment, separated from your wife and kids, in an odd effort to be a better, not worse, husband and father.

I’ve learned that the people whose lives are the most supremely fucked up are some of the most amazing people on earth:

  • The alcoholic friend who you don’t really know all that well will call you every time he hears that you’re struggling again. He’ll offer to do “what the fuck ever,” in his words, to help you through this time.
  • The friend who was routinely molested by her dad, who spent some time as an exotic dancer, will be the best listener you’ve ever talked to. She will understand you more fully and more quickly than just about anyone else on earth. She will truly “get it.” She will love you simply because you exist and your paths have crossed…no agenda other than friendship.
  • The guy who read your book, who lives across the country, who you’ve never met face to face, will write you one encouraging email after another when you post on your blog. He, too, gets it. He, too, is very much “with you,” even though you may never meet face to face.
  • The parents-in-law and sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s boyfriend will encourage you even as you navigate your difficult marriage. They will send you books and blogs and quotes, not to get you to be someone you aren’t, but to get you to love yourself better than you’ve been in the habit of doing. They will accept you even though they are directly involved in the complexity of your messy life.
  • The wife who keeps on loving you as you even when you move out. She’ll get pissed at you, but she’ll keep telling you that she’s on your team even when her friends tell her to kick you to the curb, as they think you deserve.
  • The parents who will offer unconditional support even as you walk away from most of the things they raised you to be.
  • The strangers and long-lost friends who will read something you wrote and take the time to reach out and tell you to keep it up.

These “ordinary” people are actually remarkably extraordinary. They are the folks who are far more equipped than your “together” friends to offer you a listening ear and a sympathetic hug without telling you how sad your life is or how often they are praying for you.

I’ve learned that admitting you don’t know the Answers doesn’t mean you lose your sense of right and wrong. Admitting you don’t know very much at all, actually, can be a pretty damn good starting point for figuring out what is important to you at the most fundamental level. I don’t know much these days, but I know I love my kids unconditionally and that I’m committed to fulfilling my obligations to the people I love most even if it looks different from what I originally envisioned. I know that I was made to teach and to write and to think about things that most other people don’t think about very often. This doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It just makes me…me.

I’ve learned that I might as well start figuring out how to like who I am rather than continually trying to change who I am. I am who I am, for better or worse. I can hate it or love it or resign myself to it, but I CAN’T change it, and I don’t need to. I don’t need to be perfect to offer something to the world. Maybe I am a bit more emotionally volatile than others…maybe I am a little (a lot) maddening to try to be in a relationship with at times…maybe I’m not the Ward Cleaver of fathers…maybe I’m not as great of a husband as Hosea (who married a prostitute…even though she kept on hookin’)…

BUT I’m pretty good at plenty of things…like caring about the people in my life immensely, even painfully…and wanting everyone in the world to understand me and to like me and to see things the way I see them. This, too, leads to a lot of frustration for me, but it’s not such a bad thing to want world peace, or at least interpersonal peace, is it? I think my new year’s resolution (at least in terms of this blog’s fiscal year) will be to see the good parts of my complicated personality. As one of my literary heroes, Walt Whitman, said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well; I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes!” He also said, “I exist as I am; that is enough.”

You see, people, if this year of losing pretty much everything I once staked my life on has taught me anything, it has taught me this: I am still here; still kickin’; still dancin’; still trying; still hoping. What’s left of me is less and less of the grime and dirt and tarnish that had built up over four decades of pretending to be something I was not…am not. What’s left is very, very raw and real. I used to be a tell-it-like-I-think-you-want-to-hear-it sort of guy. More and more I’d like to “sound my barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the world” (more Walt Whitman) sort of dude. I like this new dude a lot more than the old one. I’m still learning, still letting go of the old version of Tim Blue. But today I can say honestly that I think Tim Blue 2.0 has plenty to offer the world. I used to want to offer answers, but now I am content to offer my questions instead. I used to want to show you my shiny parts, but now I’d be happy to show you the dull, scuffed, and scarred ones because they come with better stories than the shiny ones. I used to want to offer others a way out of their pain, but now I just want to sit with them in their pain because that’s all I can really do.

And to you, my friends, I’d be happy to keep you company in the midst of your pain. That’s what this blog is for: to let you know you are not alone. Feeling alone is worse than depression or anxiety or spiritual malaise. Feeling alone is probably the number one cause of every bad thing that happens on this earth. I’m pretty sure that the reason people join every institution from the Nazi Party to the Unitarian Universalist Church to a college fraternity is quite simple: People just want to be belong…to be WITH others who are at least somewhat like-minded. Hell, people will even join groups that they have nothing in common with just so they can belong. We are hard-wired for belonging. We are herd animals through and through.

So, I hope you’ll keep reading. I plan to keep writing. But most importantly, I hope that this blog will somehow encourage you that you are not alone, and I hope it will inspire you to tell others that they are not alone, either.

Happy Birthday, bloggy-poo. Thanks for walking me through a tough year!

 

 

 

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

 

 

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Turtles, Parades, and Unconditional Love
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Turtles, Parades, and Unconditional Love

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My friend Scott recently put me on to a new country musician named Sturgill Simpson. I can’t remember the last time I got so hooked on a new musician. Part hillbilly, part existentialist philosopher, part drug experimenter, part brilliant musician and lyricist…that’s basically a summary of Simpson. If you have any fondness for country music, you should definitely check him out.

In the song “Turtles All the Way Down,” Simpson recounts his experiences with various drugs, saying, “Marijuana, LSD, Psilocybin, DMT; they all changed the way I see, but LOVE’S THE ONLY THING THAT’S EVER SAVED MY LIFE.”

Another artist I’ve been obsessed with of late is the beautiful, gut-wrenching writing of Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, which was made into a movie that was up for Best Picture at the Oscars. She also wrote a book called Dear Sugar, essays compiled from an advice column she used to write for an online magazine (nothing like the advice columns you’re used to). Strayed lives in the Pacific Northwest, which, by default, makes her a raging liberal. Every year, she takes her two young children to the gay pride parade in her city. Her kids find it entertaining. They love to see the people who are dressed up in their most thoroughly “gay” clothing…drag queens…Village People…the whole nine yards. But while her kids like the “costumes,” she says she always ends up crying, and her kids ask her why. Her answer is that they’re looking at a “celebration of love born out of hatred.” I am proud to say that, while relaying this story to someone just yesterday, I, too, choked back tears for the same reason Strayed does: People saying “this is who I am whether or not you approve” brings me to tears. It’s not that I understand homosexuality any better than any other straight person (I happen to believe that God’s three greatest inventions all exist between a woman’s neck and her thighs), but I don’t believe I have to understand someone in order to support their desire to express love and commitment to another human being. Like many these days, Strayed uses the “love wins” mantra to sum up her celebration of gay pride, gay marriage, etc. Maybe love does win…would that be such a bad conclusion to all of this human chaos?

 

Something else I learned from Sturgill Simpson is the turtles-all-the-way-down story. It goes like this: In the days when people believed that the world was flat, there was a myth that earth rested on the back of a giant, cosmic turtle. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, one of the smart kids finally asked this important question: “But what is the turtle standing on?” To which some unnamed genius responded, “Well, it’s turtles all the way down, you see.”

The turtles-all-the-way-down story illustrates a fundamental problem in the human condition: Our reason/logic will always reach an end point. ALWAYS. Christians use the Bible as their turtles-all-the-way-down trump card; Muslims use the Quran; scientists use data that will eventually be called into question or disproved. None of us really know for sure what to believe.

I’ve had to abstain from Facebook lately because of all the rhetoric lately about who’s right and who’s wrong on the gay marriage issue (or Obama Care…or South Carolina’s flag). It just gets me too worked up to see all of the us-vs-them or we-are-the-good-guys-they-are-the-bad-guys posturing. Human beings are not broken up into two (and only two) teams: good guys vs. bad guys. I genuinely believe that the world would be a better place if all of us would simply admit that we aren’t quite sure what the hell is going on around us. We’re not sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? We’re not sure whose religion understands the nuances of God better than the other religions. We’re not sure which political party has the right answers. We’re not sure of very much, in fact.

But we can be sure of one thing: That we are UNSURE.

I tend to think we are ALL wrong at some level about EVERYTHING. So let’s quit worrying so much about who’s right and who’s wrong and start with something we can probably agree on: PEOPLE NEED TO BE LOVED AND ACCEPTED AND FORGIVEN AND CARED FOR NO FUCKING MATTER WHAT. Wanna change the world? Start with radical, careless, overwhelming love and acceptance, and you’ll make some good progress.

I’d rather see humanity moving in the direction of loving and accepting and caring for MORE people rather than fewer people. I’d rather see us quit trying to conserve values that are fatally flawed in the first place…like the “sanctity of marriage.” Uh, people, ½ of marriages end in divorce. We should quit claiming that marriage is so sacred until we figure out how to honor its sacredness ourselves, as straight people. Once we’re above an 88.356% success rate, we can start talking about not wanting “foreigners” inside of our “sacred” institutions. For now, we should wonder why gay people even want the “privilege” of marrying. Are they that eager to hire divorce lawyers?!

As we try to figure out these complex issues as a country and as individuals, why not err on the side of acceptance and love rather than erring on the side of “reasoned” disagreement?

Your supposed reason is faulty.

So is mine.

But there is no doubt that human beings could use more love, affirmation, and acceptance. Even if they are morally corrupt, they aren’t likely to make changes because you have a more “reasonable” thought process than they do. People grow and change through love, plain and simple. Even if you’re right and the Supreme Court is wrong, expressing that opinion will ostracize about ten thousand people for every one it converts to your point of view. Showing people that you love them without needing them to “get their shit together first” will reverse that ratio, winning over ten thousand for every one you offend with your unconditional love (though it’s hard to imagine love like that turning anyone off, but I wanted to keep the math nice and tidy).

So whether you’re like Sturgill Simson, who realized through drug use that love is the most powerful drug on earth…or if you’re like Cheryl Strayed who cries at the bravery it takes for people to come out of any closet that society has locked with a dead bolt…or if you’ve spent so much time thinking about who’s right and who’s wrong and you’ve come to the conclusion that all philosophies eventually dissolve into “it’s turtles all the way down,” I, for one, don’t believe we will do the world any harm by opting for extreme and radical acceptance of our fellow humans as “simply human.” Like you, they are confused, broken, scared, unsure about God, unsure about what happens when they die, unsure about whether it’s more important to fit in or to be authentic. Gay, straight, transgender, murderer, or even Republican…all of us deserve the benefit of the doubt. All of us deserve the life-changing benefit of radical love.

So I’ll end with this admission: I’m sure I’m wrong about most things. But I, for one, do think it’s turtles all the way down.

But I’m willing to admit that maybe it’s actually giraffes. Or cats. If it’s cats, I’m gonna be pissed. I hate cats.

 

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

 

 

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Re-Parenting Your Inner Child

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

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

Abandoned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 
 

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Only as Sick as Our Secrets

SickSecretsThe very first psychiatrist I ever saw opened with this question: “Got any secrets?”

I was 25-years-old at the time, and had spent 24.9986 years believing that only freaks went to shrinks. To me, parking outside of a psychiatrist’s office was similar to parking outside of a strip club…Pray no one sees you getting out of your car and keep your head ducked until you’re safe and sound inside. Except when you go into a strip club, you’re probably happy to be there once you’re inside. Not so with a shrink. It only gets more embarrassing inside because they make you talk about shit.

(For the record, I’ve never actually been to a strip club. Strip clubs have always struck me as a great way to end up remarkably frustrated…like working up a good appetite, grilling a delicious steak, and then just staring at it. No thanks. Not to mention that I’d sit there wondering what the stripper’s backstory was, who had wounded her emotionally, whether she felt terrible about herself, I’d want to walk up on stage with a robe and tell all the oglers to have some decency: “She’s a human being, you assholes!” Around the time my friends tried to cheer me up with a lap dance, I’d probably start crying because I’d feel so sorry for the girl. I’d apologize that I didn’t have anything bigger than ones to tip her with. I’d promise her she was worth far more than ones as I shoved all of my dollar bills tearfully into her G-string. She’d feel bad for me and probably hold me while I cried, causing her to lose a lot of good tip money. Which would make me feel worse.)

But back to the shrink’s office, inside of which, sadly, I found everyone to be fully clothed. So after I made my way inside, I kept my head buried in an issue of Psychology Today until I was my turn to join the ranks of the certifiably crazy. When I got into his office, he didn’t make me lie down on a day bed, thankfully. I was allowed to sit up while he sat across from me and opened the conversation with the most direct question one could ask, I think: “Tell me your secrets.” He didn’t even have the courtesy to kiss me first. But, whatever; I’ve had worse first dates.

This was twenty minutes before I was diagnosed with OCD, so what I didn’t realize at the time was that the hyper vigilant internal survey I took of my twenty-five year life in the following four seconds was a symptom of the very thing I was there to treat: obsessive-compulsive disorder. I actually started to panic a little bit, wondering if the secrets that came to mind were “good enough” secrets to land me in this man’s office. I worried that if I told him the real secrets, he’d laugh at me and say, “Are you kidding? That’s all you’ve got? You don’t need to be here. Have a good life, loser. And get some better secrets!” Then again, what if my secrets were so bad that he’d have the opposite reaction: “You WHAT?! I’ve never heard of someone doing THAT. You are unfixable…warped…demented…you’re HOPELESS, Tim. Get out!!!”

So I told him I’d never been to a strip club. He suggested a few of his favorites, and I thanked him and went on my way.

Actually, what I told him is none of your damn business, but he diagnosed OCD (still the only diagnosis I feel entirely confident of despite having racked up about ten others now), and he prescribed Paxil. This subsequently killed any sex drive I had (for a twenty-five-year-old male, this “feat” would be akin to successfully making Donald Trump humble), and I quit taking it after about two weeks. I saw that doctor one more time, told him I didn’t think this was “for me,” and never went back to Dr. TellMeYourSecrets.

And here I find myself, fourteen years later, in a group therapy program, still trying to dig down into the secrets that are killing me. The therapist routinely tells us that “we are only as sick as our secrets.” As she says, when we talk to the group, we practice telling the truth to other people in a safe environment. We literally are there to practice saying our secrets out loud…And this does take practice.

We in the group have some remarkable secrets: most are about sex, drugs, or rock n’ roll. Excluding the rock n’ roll. You can look around the room and almost see the secrets hiding behind people’s eyes, wanting desperately to come out of the closet. But if you look carefully, you can see the anguish on our faces as we work up the courage to say what’s true – the thing we’ve never said aloud before. You can watch our eyes dart between the anonymity of looking at the floor and the risk-assessment of looking at these strangers, wondering how they’ll judge what we’re about to say for the first time ever. We’ve never said it to family, friends, spouses…even other therapists. It’s almost like the secret won’t really have to be true if we just don’t put words around it that somehow make it capital-T true.

So the secret sits there, festering, oozing, bleeding, never getting any better. Getting worse actually. Getting harder to say aloud with each passing day. The thing that one of us chose to do, or that was done to us…the thing that happened just yesterday and therefore is very raw and fresh…or the thing that happened fifty years ago that has lived inside for so long, it seems like the sunlight of exposure will hurt too bad to survive…whatever the secret, the secrets are what we are all dying from in that room.

What’s amazing, though, is how easy it is to start healing from a secret. All you have to do is tell it. You can do it right now, or you can wait until it’s got such a stranglehold on you that you need to enter some sort of a program in order to try to overcome the fear of telling people who you really are. Either way, the cure is the same: say it out loud. This truth is so powerful that there’s a rather famous website called “Post Secrect” (www.postsecret.com) where people anonymously tell the world their secrets. Given that it’s anonymous, I doubt it does them a ton of good, but it does show how profoundly we feel the need to tell our secrets to someone.

Mark Twain once said, “Mankind is the only animal that blushes…or needs to.” Animals aren’t afraid to poop in front of you, to have sex in broad daylight, to groom themselves without needing privacy, and so on. They are who they are. They don’t have secrets. They don’t blush. They don’t have any reason to blush. Mark Twain also called humans the “lowest animal” in a satirical essay entitled, well, “The Lowest Animal.” From a completely non-theological basis, Twain criticizes the Theory of Evolution by arguing that humans are evolutionarily inferior to animals in a moral sense, basing his belief on the fact that animals never kill more than they can eat. Meanwhile humans kill far more than they can eat, not to mention that they kill things they have no intention of eating.

Twain’s point, and mine: Humans are full of complex motives and desires. We are also filled with inscrutable sources of shame and self-loathing. Between the things we do to others and the things that are done to us, most of us have a secret or two stashed away somewhere that probably needs to see the light of day. Putting words around the memories that have been hiding inside of you will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But once you’ve done it for the first time, the second time will be about 1/50th as hard, and by the 5th or 6th time, it won’t feel a whole lot different from admitting that you had a sip of beer at age 14 when your dad left his drink unattended for a few minutes or that you held someone’s hand before you were married (interlocked fingers, too!). Each time you say it out loud, you’ll realize that, first of all, most people don’t look at you like you’re Hitler, as you had feared. Second, even if they do, their judgment doesn’t kill you as you thought it might. In fact, their judgment doesn’t feel nearly as strong as the relief you get from telling the truth.

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is a perfect example. Yesterday, Vanity Fair published the first picture of her as a woman (I just felt some of you cringe that I said “her”; you should get over this J). She (Caitlyn) said that her secret had been killing her for sixty-five years, and she knew if she laid on her deathbed without telling it, she’d have wasted her life. Whether you admire her decision or condemn it, what matters is that this human being was being crushed by a secret. She told her secret and now says that this new person, Caitlyn, doesn’t have any secrets. She’s at peace. Think what you want about being transgender, but my point is about secrets, not LGBTQ issues. Bruce Jenner, quite literally, had to kill himself slowly in order to reveal a secret that was, ironically, killing him. I’m sure he wishes he had told his secret many years ago. But it ain’t easy to look the world in the eye and tell them you’re a liar. Ironically, though, it’s the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself.

So I’m ready to tell you my secret. Here it is: I prefer bottled water to tap water, even though I feel guilty about the plastic bottles that go to waste. I judge people who drink from a tap, who say, “It’s all the same!” One should never kiss someone who drinks tap water. This is how every plague in history has begun: with tap water.

Ok, ok, that isn’t my secret. I’m still not going to tell you my secret(s). Sorry. I still have more work to do before I quit being afraid of your rejection, and I’m thirty-nine, not sixty-five, so I’m still twenty-six years ahead of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. But stick around awhile and maybe I’ll be bold enough to do so someday down the road. Maybe I’ll show up at your door as a female…You never know. For now, I can just promise you that the truth really will set you free. (And no, mom, I’m not actually a woman.)

 

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Dear Facebook Un-Liker

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A little background on this post for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook. When I posted my “Un-Fuck the World” post on FB last week, I received an update from FB about how the post was doing (on FB, not from the blog itself). Well, it told me that one person had found the content offensive and “hidden” it from their timeline. I found this funny (more on this in the post), but they weren’t done. Later that week, I got another report that said someone had “un-liked” my page, not just the post. This means that they, essentially, had un-joined the To Know We Are Not Alone Facebook page. To my knowledge, this is my first lost customer. This loss deserves some reflection…

 

 

 

To my first Un-Liker:

My temptation is to say “I’m sorry,” because in the past, I have lived in utter dread, every single moment of my life, of someone not liking me…of doing something that would push someone away from me. You see, I have what are called abandonment issues, and as illogical as it is, whether it’s the waitress at the Waffle House where I’m sitting and writing this at 4:47 a.m….or a friend I’ve had for a week…or a long-time friend…a serious girlfriend…a parent or child or wife…I live pretty much petrified that someone will walk away from me because of something I did. I’ve gotten my feelings hurt a million times by “losses” of people who probably couldn’t remember my name two days later

This is not an ideal way to function

I’ve worked on this issue, M(r)(s)(rs)(iss) Un-Liker, for decades. I know why I operate this way, and I could articulate it for you in about 4 sentences. Knowing my issues has never been my problem; changing the way I respond to life’s inevitable losses has been my problem. My friends lost their child; I have relived that loss every day for three years as if it were my own child. No doubt their pain is deeper and far more acute, but I don’t think I ever look at my children without thinking of their friend who has been gone for three years. My daughter’s best friend’s dad dropped dead three years ago; I think about it every day and wonder how to comfort my daughter about my own longevity. My dog died 6 years ago, and it’s still too painful to think about without crying. I stepped on an ant in 1982, and I’m still looking for its family to try to make it right

I’m sad for the drunk 20-somethings sitting across the Waffle House from me because I know that they kind of fun they are having doesn’t last very long (not meaning the hangovers they’ll have in a few hours, but meaning the few years from now when being awake at 5 a.m. will be for reasons more like mine than theirs (I’m not drunk (this time)). I’d sad at how damn happy all the people who work this graveyard shift seem, wondering why my own standards for my life are so absurd when happiness obviously doesn’t just come from job status or pay grade. I’m sad for Whitney Houston’s daughter who’s apparently never going to wake up from that suicidal coma. I am sad for Bruce Jenner (and proud of him), and I am also sad for his children and family. I mean, how in the hell is it possible for someone as cynical as I am to feel empathy for how much Khloe Kardashian is hurting because of Bruce’s decision? Or to admire Kim Kardashian for how thoughtfully she managed the family meeting about Bruce’s decision? See how far I’ve fallen? I feel proud of Kim Kardashian. This is cataclysmically scary.

As a friend told me this week, I have a “superpower” called empathy. It’s a bitch.

But back to you, Un-Liker. I hope you’re still reading. I can tend to ramble. As an English teacher and writer, I call this “using lots of detail.” When my students do it, I call it “rewrite it and make it much shorter!” So, you see, I am a “feeler”…emotionally unstable if you want to put a clinical term on it…and the number one thing that brings out this instability is other people’s rejection. And you’ve rejected me. In this context, I think you’re the first. Statistically, I know this is bound to happen. Somewhere between 300 and 400 people read these posts, and 1 out of 350 isn’t too bad, but to me, it might as well be 350 out of 350 who have unfollowed me in terms of how it feels to me.

Strike that: In terms of how it — USED to feel to me.

So when I discovered your departure a few days ago, guess what I did? I laughed. More importantly, guess what I felt? I felt genuine amusement and pride. Not the teeth-gritted this-is-how-I-want-to-feel sort of amusement, but the genuine, oh-well-not-everyone’s-going-to-like-what-I-say sort of amusement. Every time I have thought of it since, too, it has seemed funny to me. And I beam with pride as I look at my inner child and see that he’s growing up a little bit.

What sent you away, Un-Liker? I’m still curious about that. Maybe it was the overuse of the word “fuck” or maybe it was the message that everyone needs to try to make the world around them a little bit better…I don’t know which of the two turned you off. But whatever it was, I’m #sorrynotsorry. I’ve spent my whole 39 year life obsessively monitoring my status in the people’s lives around me. I get far too devastated by “losses” that don’t even cross other people’s radar screens at all – not even blips. Not too long ago, I wrote a post about how I care too much about the feedback I get on this very blog. I talked about how consumed I become by how many people read it and how many people “like” it and how many people respond with a comment. I’ve probably decided to quit writing the damn thing at least 30 times, and not so long ago, your “un-liking” would’ve undoubtedly been the final straw for me.

But something has changed in me of late. I think I’ve found the rock solid, proverbial “bottom.” It’s sort of like a grand finale at a fireworks show. You know how there are always a few times during the show when they set off a bunch of fireworks at once and you think “I guess it’s almost over”? But then it keeps going and eventually, when it really is the grand finale, there’s no doubt that THIS is the grand finale. I’ve had plenty of “is this the bottom” moments in the past few years, but this one even has other people telling me, “Tim, you’ve found your bottom” (it was in my pants the whole time!).

I’m not going to share with you how I know this is the bottom, but trust me on this one, Un-Liker: Where I’ve come from over the past month or two only has one final, lower rung – 6 feet lower to be precise. I know, I know, this sounds dramatic. Well, it has been dramatic. It will make for some very good blog posts once I’m removed enough to share the stories (you actually might want to re-follow me in a year or two for some doozies).

But the best thing that happens when you hit the bottom is you finally realize that the bottom is a softer landing spot than you ever would’ve thought. It’s soft enough that your friends and family will still visit you at the bottom; they’ll even still accept you and love you and root for you, even if you did plenty of the things that landed you at the bottom of your own free will. You’ll also meet great new friends at the bottom – the other who have landed there around the same time. You’ll be surprised at how similar they are to you – surprised that the “bottom-dwellers” aren’t all living on the streets or doing meth or pregnant by a guy they met on Marta. Most of them have respectable jobs and nice clothes and families and degrees, and most of them are suffering with the exact same affliction that has landed me on the bottom: the ICan’tDoThisButGoddammitI’mTrying affliction. I’m pretty sure that’s the one common diagnosis in my current treatment program.

It takes a long time to get to the bottom, and I’m not sure anyone can will themselves there any faster than the gravity of their lives will allow them to fall. But I do know that that final turn on the road to the bottom is on a street called YourRightYouCan’tDoThis. It’s the moment of surrender. Not a religious surrender, though for some it takes that shape. Certainly not a surrender to any new dogma that will only serve to reinforce how little you actually know about anything. No, it’s a surrender to failure and uncertainty and human frailty and death and I’llNeverMeasureUP and SoandSoWillNeverUnderstand, etc.

Here at the bottom, I can look square in the face at the fact that someone out there in the world does not like what I have to say. I can accept that because I finally, genuinely see that there’s no amount of effort I can exert that will change that fact…because I know that, when you’re at the bottom, you’ll realize that some people aren’t going anywhere no matter how many times you say the F word in a blog post…because the bathroom mirrors at the bottom tell the whole truth: that you have some ugly spots and some beautiful spots, and sometimes they overlap in ways that make it hard to tell which is which…because at the bottom I finally believe of myself what I have long accepted in others: people aren’t good OR bad; people are good AND bad (stolen from Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men).

I am good AND bad, and I am no longer capable of pretending that, if I only work hard enough, I can be completely good…or even that I can make people think I am.

So, Un-Liker, I’m tempted to send you off with an F-bomb farewell, partly for irony’s sake and partly to have the final word in this anonymous feud we’re having. But what’s funny is that I have absolutely no desire to get you back or to tell you to F off (see, I didn’t even try to sneak it in right there). I feel no animosity toward you whatsoever. I’m not sorry, but I’m also not mad. Maybe I’m a little sad that humans can’t communicate with each other more clearly, but that’s not about you as much as it is about the human condition. The human condition still makes me sad, and I doubt that will ever change, but who knows? Un-Liker, I actually wish you well. I hope you will find writers who say things in ways that help you, not hurt you. I understand as well as anyone the power of words to both help us and to hurt us, and if my words were not helpful to you, you did the right thing. Find someone who says things in a way that helps you. That’s my parting wish for you. I don’t think I’ll ever quit wishing for everyone I come across to “get my drift” at all times. But you, for one, don’t. And I’m cool with that while also wishing it was different. I think this is called intrapersonal growth, and I appreciate that you’ve given me the chance to see it in myself.

With the utmost sincerity, I wish you a great fucking weekend!

Sincerely,

Tim

PS. Come back in a year or two when I’m ready to share the stories of my reaching the bottom. Some of them are very entertaining, and by then I will most likely have quit swearing.

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Un-F*ck the World

Warning: If you are not a fan of unfiltered content, you might want to skip this post. My normally shitty filter is in the shop, and the filter mechanic thinks it might be broken irreparably.

Still reading? Okay, I warned you.


 

systemfailing3I saw a bumper sticker the other day that expressed the sum total of my sentiments about, well, everything in only 3 words: Un-Fuck the World.

If there is one thing I think every human ever would agree on it’s this: There is something wrong with the world. Every religion, political stance, philosophy, work of art, TV show, cardboard sign held up by a homeless man…admits this fundamental fact. Something is broken. Something is fucked. Big time.

People disagree (and kill each other) about how to go about this un-fucking of the world, but I think we’d do ourselves a big favor by simply admitting that something is wrong, and that’s about all we know. The world is fucked; let’s un-fuck it wherever, whenever, however we can.

At the moment, I’m working on un-fucking myself (that’s where the filter might have kicked in if it were working. Sorry again). I’m in a therapy program that goes from 8:30-3:00. It’s absolutely exhausting, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely raw and broken. This coming from the guy who writes, well, this blog…which is pretty raw from what people tell me. Well, all day therapy is raw-er.

I will avoid sharing people’s detailed stories since they are shared in confidence, but let me tell you once again: the world is remarkably fucked up. I mean like how-do-people-keep-going-after-what-they-endure fucked up. There are anywhere from 10-15 of us in the room each day; our ages range from 19-50 something; and most of the people look and act like the people you interact with every day. They don’t “look like” they are in “the bin,” as I recently heard it referred to. These are some fantastically beautiful people who have endured everything you can possibly imagine in terms of trauma and suffering. They are (we are) so ready to un-fuck our lives, but it’s much, much harder than the self-help books (or the God-help books for that matter) ever mention.

But right there in that little basement room where we are literally semi-locked-in all day, some spectacular un-fucking happens. It’s not because the therapist says magic things, though she is remarkably good. It’s not because people find God or finally confess something they’ve never confessed, though I think both of those do happen in various ways. It’s not because we breathe deeply or learn to harness our inner warrior princesses, though I have indeed harnessed my inner warrior princess, and she is a cross between Beyonce, Kate Middleton, and Margaret Thatcher.

It’s really simple why the un-fucking happens in that room…it’s proof of the whole purpose behind this blog. Plain and simple, people are at the bottom and willing to simply be who they really are. And the rest of us accept them just as they are. There is very little pretending and even less judgment.

That’s it. There you have it. The end. Problem solved.

Whatever it means to be human, at some fundamental level it means that we hide. From the clothes we wear to the make-up to the pictures we post on Facebook and Instagram to the fake “Finehowareyous” we offer to others 231 times a day…humans are FAKERS.

Some of us are more accomplished at this than others. I’m way ahead of most, and even in writing this “vulnerable” blog, I still hope I can manage people’s expectations and make them marvel at how well I’m handling my life’s pains and difficulties. The truth is that I’m handling them far worse than I will admit here, and it will be a very long time until I’m willing to share some of the terrible decisions I’ve made in the midst of this mid-life/mental health crisis. Being in this all-day therapy has shown me how dishonest I have been with those I love most and with myself, too. My addiction to fakery is so deep that I’m still not sure if I’m fully being brutally honest with myself. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough. Or maybe I won’t. I’m just not sure anymore what the whole truth is.

But rather than keep confessing what a liar I am, I’d like to offer a challenge: Quit faking it. It won’t and can’t happen all at once, and you don’t have to start answering the question “how are you?” honestly when the person at Starbucks asks you. But a good first step would be to pick one person and answer the question honestly. It will feel awful the first time you do it, and you’ll probably regret it. Then you’ll have to make yourself do it again the next day, like taking a terrible medicine. But it will be good for you, and eventually you’ll see the value in it. But you have to just do it first even though it sucks.

Or try this: Wear something that makes you feel self-conscious but expresses who you really are. I, for one, feel so self-conscious when I dress in some way other than my normal “costume” that this has been like something called Exposure Therapy, which basically means facing your fears head on. Give it a try. It will suck. But I think it’s good for you.

Practicing being real can be done a million ways. Maybe it’s not wearing fingernail polish when you always wear fingernail polish. Maybe it’s getting a Mike Tyson tattoo on your face. Maybe it’s writing a blog or confessing to a priest or going out in public after you’ve been crying even though you know people can tell. You gotta do you. I can’t tell you how to do it.

But I can tell you that you should do it. First, for you own sake…for your own un-fucking. And when you do enough of your own un-fucking, you’ll help un-fuck the world in a teeny, tiny way. And the world needs to be un-fucked.

 

 

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That Train Has Sailed

hamletWhen you read a Shakespearean tragedy, you know the end when you start the story: Everyone dies. If you’re surprised by this, you have a bad English teacher.

This haunts me, as you might have noticed. I want to know WHY?! it all has to go the way it does. I keep trying to write my way out of these questions, and from what I can tell, this is what most authors are trying to do: write their way out of something that haunts them, hoping maybe it will help someone else…or themselves. Meanwhile our writing comes from the chaos. We artistic types tend to be whirling dervishes of inconsistency and difficult relationships and fear and frustration. But we write to try to make sense out of some of that, and for a little while, it all feels organize-able.

I’ve had plenty of “aha’s” during my never-ending mental journey, and some of them prove to be more meaningful than others. Often, it feels like a two steps forward, two-and-a-half steps back affair. But the aha for this hour is this: The tragedy we’re afraid of, Shakespearean in proportions, has already happened. Or, to put it in Austin Powers parlance: “That train has sailed.”

For anyone with mental illness…for sure anyone with OCD…fear is the constant enemy. The WHATIF monster is as present as skin. And the whatif monster only knows a bunch of variations of the same tune – What if disaster strikes? Your child dies, you die, your parents die, you make a mistake that ruins everything in your life, you accidentally harm someone who’s completely innocent, etc.

Every single piece of psychological, philosophical, and even spiritual literature I’ve ever read has a lot to say about this issue – the disaster issue. After all, evil/pain/suffering comprise the fundamental questions and quandaries of life. Essentially, all philosophies and religions conclude that the only way you can find peace is to accept the reality of all the mysteries in life.

Cheryl Strayed, who wrote Wild, is my newest favorite philosopher. She’s not actually a philosopher but she’s very philosophical, mostly because she’s experienced a ton of pain. (What’s with that? Why can’t I be philosophical and pain-free? Damnit.) Strayed is not religious at all, so she, obviously, never resorts to the God-will-make-it-right answer when faced with a tragedy, which I appreciate greatly. And she writes far more vulnerably than I do. I’m still afraid everyone will reject me if I tell the whole truth, but Strayed certainly doesn’t seem to have that barrier in front of her, which I also love. I’m getting there.

Exhibit A of her radical honesty is shown in one of her essays when she talks openly about the sexual abuse she endured when her grandfather would babysit, regularly. And by referring to it as “sexual abuse,” I’m giving you the vague version; she doesn’t spare the details. Her conclusion about tragedies like her own is that sometimes all you can do is just look right at them and just stare – look them in the face, so to speak. Disaster is disaster, and all we can really do is stare at it dumbly and try to accept it, try to move on, and try to help those who are also impacted. The holes in the human conditions are very oddly shaped and far too huge to be filled up easily, if at all.

So here’s the thing we have to accept and make peace with if we’re going to be of much good around here: The crash we’re living in fear of has already happened. The disaster has already struck. The bad news has already been delivered. It’s called life as a human.

I really don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I actually think it’s an optimistic perspective. Here’s how the conversation in my head goes: “Okay, Tim, you’re already living in a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense of the word: Everyone dies at the end. So what now? How do you live in the light (darkness) of that? Maybe all you can do is get out of the smashed car and start looking around for other survivors who are fatally wounded but still ticking. You help them; you hold onto them for support; you hurt with them and maybe tell a few last ridiculous jokes just to laugh one more time; and you come to terms with what HAS ALREADY HAPPENED.”

Why did it happen? Whose fault was it? – Do those questions even matter now? Not much…it happened. There you have it.

Over the past few days this idea has been holding me up quite a bit: “The crash has already happened. Now what?” Every so often, my meditation practices come to mind and remind me to breathe into what is, no matter how much it might hurt at the moment. This even works with physical pain: If you breathe into it, it actually becomes more tolerable. Not pleasant, but not as consuming.

So I’ve been breathing into the fact that I’m about to go into a partial-hospitalization program for some extensive treatment. “Partial” means I don’t have to sleep there or remove my shoelaces when I go in so that I won’t hang myself with them…is that even possible when one weighs 200 pounds? But I’ll go all day long and experience various kinds of sessions that address different issues and strategies.

And I’m breathing into what’s happening right upstairs, about 30 feet away: My children are having the most absurd, childish sort of argument with each other, and as I just took the in-breath required to yell, “Stop being so fucking rude to each other, god dammit!”, I decided to just listen instead. Then I laughed because it’s hilarious to hear them mimic each other while trying to prove that the other one is at fault. Not hilarious in the this-is-pure-bliss kind of way, but hilarious in the this-is-so-just-the-way-life-is kind of way. And now, this second, the argument is flaring up again, and I’m just taking another deep breath and letting myself be the parent who is just too tired to deal with it. And I just laughed harder. And breathed again. I’ll deal with it next time, I suppose. As an old teacher friend told me, they’ll surely give me another chance to address this behavior.

And I’m breathing into how much I wish I was more sane and stable and letting myself be one very messy creature. From certain angles, my life feels like the one other people can look at and feel better about their own situations. From other angles, I’m still pretending I have a Leave it to Beaver life. But every time I crash yet again, I am more honest with my friends and family about how bad it really is. And there’s a lot of hope and peace in that brutal honesty. There’s the sense of being loved, too, even though my life isn’t too tidy of late.

And I’m breathing into the shame of having lost a job because of all this BUT ALSO the reassurance of having just been offered another teaching job that might well be just the right thing at the right time. It will provide a lot less money but a lot more flexibility, a trade-off I have to make right now. So, I’m breathing into the messiness of my career trajectory. I’m breathing into the comical beauty of the mess – the this-wasn’t-in-the-script moments that seem to have almost entirely replaced the “original script.”

And I’m breathing into the fact that there might just be some people who will actually always love me. ALWAYS. And that makes the mess and even the Shakespearean tragedy worth living in and through.

So, breathe…embrace the mess…get out of the car and help the survivors. And breathe again.

 

 
 

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Happy Birthday to Me? Well, Thank You!

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Gosh, it feels like just yesterday I was thirty-eight-years-old. Like all thirty-eight-year-olds, I was reckless and thought I knew everything. But when I woke up at 3:30 (again) this morning, after a full and restful night of 5ish hours of sleep, I knew immediately that something had changed. During those five hours, I grew up, learned my lessons, and now pronounce myself old and wise: ready to share with you what I’ve learned in thirty-nine years. You are quite welcome.

Oh, and I like Ferraris, free vacations to exotic locations, pet elephants, and rare diamonds, all of which can be found on Amazon. I do accept late gifts.

But I want to give you something, too, so here’s what I know at this point in my life:

  • Not much at all. I mean, virtually nothing, so you should probably stop reading.

 

  • Life, afterlife, themeaningoflife, why-do-bad-things-happen-to-good-people, do we owe God an explanation or vice versa…all of life’s biggest questions, in other words simply do not have clear-cut answers. If you think they do, you’re setting yourself up for a rude awakening. I’ve undergone my own rude awakening on this front, and it’s pretty brutal to think you have it all sort of figured out only to discover one morning that virtually nothing you thought you could be sure of is 100% certain. We/you/I will have to learn to live with the mystery – the whatthefuck – of it all if we are ever going to have peace. This is life’s ultimate irony: Peace comes from accepting uncertainty.

 

  • Dogs are probably the closest thing to pure Goodness that exist on earth. When people don’t make life worth living, a good dog can probably keep you going until you find a person worth living for.

 

  • Death is central to whatever life is all about. It may well be The Meaning of Life. It’s the only universal, and it’s something none of us will wriggle our way out of, and it’s something that starts happening, literally and figuratively, from the moment we’re born, or conceived even. No one wants to die; unfortunately, we don’t get a choice in the matter. But! When the lighting is just right and your mood is maybe a teensy bit alcohol-enhanced, you can start to see how beautiful death can be. I mean, seriously, this view of death happens for me about once every 6 years, 4 months, 17 days, 9 hours, 54 minutes, and 12 seconds. But I got a glimpse of it on Monday while I sat in my car crying, yes again, and listening to my “Sad” playlist (yes, I have one of those (see below), and you should, too). I thought about how hard everything had become, how everything redeeming and Good in my life had been stolen from me, either literally or through my own screwed up perspective that completely obliterates things that should be filled with joy. (Uh Tim, where’s the “beauty of death” part of this?!)…And then, after hours of listening to the same songs over and over again, that little glimmer of sunlight hit the world in just the right way, and right there in the midst of one of my lower moments, I just decided to accept all of the holes in my heart and brain as they were, to “not judge” them as a dear friend recently encouraged me to do. I just let them sit there and crush me, and for just a few minutes they felt like down blankets on a cold winter night, protecting me, embracing me, listening to me, accompanying me. Then I wanted to kick the blankets off again, but it felt like a healthy moment in the midst of a really bad afternoon. On the whole, we might as well try to become friends with Death because he’s a fairly insistent, stalker sort of “friend” whether we like it or not. I do not recommend becoming Facebook friends, though, as his page is really, really disturbing. I unfriended him a few weeks ago

 

  • Parental love is the closest thing to truly Unconditional Love that exists. Some parents reject their children, of course, but if there is justice, those people will someday receive the worst punishment imaginable – which is unconditional love from someone else, which will graciously but horribly illuminate for them what they’ve missed out on by not providing this sort of love for their children. But good parents can love just about anyone who they helped create: Jeffrey Dahmer’s dad loved him to his dying day (see some previous post that I’m too lazy to link to here); Dylan Klebold’s (one of the two Columbine killers from 1999) said she’d ask him to forgive her for not knowing how badly he was hurting, and she said she’d forgive him even though no one else would (listen to the Ted Talk called “Love No Matter What” for this account); Ted Bundy’s mom said he’d always be her baby boy…Point being, parental love is well nigh truly unconditional. I’m pretty damn sure I’d still love my kids no matter what they did, though a not-so-small part of me hopes they won’t test this by becoming like any of the people I’ve just listed.

 

  • All that matters is people…relationships. This one might be a cliché, but it’s also a cliché to say that something is “easy as pie.” If you’ve seen American Pie, you know that this is completely true: pies are easy (mom and dad, that is an extremely dirty joke, and I hope you don’t get it. I also hope you don’t blame yourselves for how much of a degenerate I’ve become. Like Lady Gaga, I was born this way. You don’t get that either, but just move on. And I love you. And thanks for your support!). But back to relationships. If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you probably are aware that I’ve been in some pretty deep holes lately. Holes that feel like going cave (scuba) diving and realizing you’ve become disconnected from the rope that’s supposed to lead you back out of the cave…you know, so you can live. But what always keeps me swimming for dear life back out of the cave is the people in my life. My kids are at the top of the list, with apologies to anyone else who’d like to be there (see #6). Not trophies or gold watches from promotions or paychecks or 2nd homes or the latest technology, but people. Sounds simple, but for some reason, it’s VERY not simple. People come out of the womb messy and die messy and even create some unnecessary messes along the way. But despite that inevitability, I do know that relationships are the only thing truly worth staking your life’s meaning on.

 

  • Finally, here’s what I know after 39 stupid-fast years on earth. Drumroll, please: Almost nothing. I will post again in 39 years and hope to have 16 things on the list by then, but for now, you only get 8. Okay 7, if you count 1 and 8 as the same. Which they are.

Have a great day celebrating my birthday!

 

PS. After receiving a few responses to this that made me realize how negative it sounded, I feel the need to offer this afterword:

I actually wrote this post from a pretty good “place.” Indeed, I’ve had a rough stretch over the past few weeks, but before that, I had one of the longer good stretches I’ve had in a long time. Also, every one of the points above has actually been a very GOOD revelation for me, even the one about death. Learning to come to terms with unanswerable questions, the pinnacle of which is the death question(s), has been a major part of growing and healing for me over the past six months. I don’t think I’m usually guilty of being tone-deaf to my posts, but I was to this one. It sounds very negative for sure. But it’s not. You might just have to take my word for it, though.

 

*The idea for this post was stolen from Anne Lamott, who recently wrote a similar post about turning 61: https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott/posts/662177577245222

 

*My Sad Songs Playlist (well, part of it and forgive the annoying format that I’m too lazy to fix from copying and pasting from Word):

David Wilcox (A folksy, guy-and-a-guitar, North Carolina-cult-following musician who had more influence on my college years than my penis.)
o All the Roots Grow Deeper
o Common as the Rain
o Language of the Heart
o Last Chance Waltz

John Mayer (You’ve probably heard of him, either because of his music or his inability to decide where his own penis belongs.)
o The Heart of Life
o Stop this Train

Tim McGraw (I know nothing about his penis. Sorry!).
o Red Ragtop

Lady Antebellum
o Heart of the World
o Need You Now

Johnny Cash (originally Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails):
o Hurt

Fleetwood Mac (or Dixie Chicks)
o Landslide

R.E.M.
o Nightswimming (there’s nothing particularly sad about this song except the sound of Michael Stipe’s voice, which means you could replace this with just about any R.E.M. song).

Eric Clapton
o Tears in Heaven (almost too sad to listen to most of the time, at least for those of us whose greatest fear is losing a child).

Sawyer Brown
o The Walk

Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss
o Whiskey Lullaby

 

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Bruce Jenner: My 2 Cents

Bruce-Jenner-Plastic-Surgery-Botox-FaceliftI assume I’m not alone in having watched Diane Sawyer’s interview with Bruce Jenner on Friday. In case you are Amish, I’ll fill you in really quickly: Bruce Jenner won the Olympic Decathlon in 1976 which, as usual, earned him the greatest-athlete-in-the-world label; eventually he re-emerged on the show Keeping up with the Kardashians as Kris Kardashian’s husband (Kris is the matriarch of the crew, and she was originally married to the man who got OJ Simpson off his murder rap (not that he did it anyway)); and now Jenner’s in the news for a third reason: he’s becoming a woman.

Some seem to think he’s doing this as a publicity stunt. Call me naïve, but I tend to assume that most people wouldn’t go quite that far just for people to pay attention to them. Not to mention that he started taking hormones way back in the 80’s after his Olympic fame had waned and before he was a reality TV star. I really don’t think he’s doing this for any other reason than that he feels like it’s what he has to do.

As I watched the 2-hour interview, I just felt sad for the guy (ironic choice of words, I guess…sad for the girl?). But I wasn’t sad in a judgmental, he’s-making-a-terrible-choice sort of way, but rather in an I-understand-his-loneliness sort of way. He said he’s felt this way all of his life, but he has never wanted to disappoint people or hurt the people he loves the most – his 6 biological children and 4 step-children primarily (no matter what you think of Bruce Jenner, Google his 6 biological kids and tell me that man doesn’t have some magic sperm…those are some good looking human beings, and the biggest tragedy in all of this might be his lost ability to keep procreating and making the rest of us feel ugly!). He said he was tired of lying to people and he had reached the point, at age 65, when he had no choice but to tell people the truth, no matter how they received it.

Honestly, I just found myself resonating with almost everything he said (except for his conservative political views…ha!). This isn’t the part where I announce my own gender transition…sorry, that would’ve made for an interesting post. Instead, it’s the part where I just reminisce about how I felt the same way he must feel when I started talking about all of this mental health stuff. After trying to be the Bruce Jenner of evangelical, white, upper-middle-class, private-school-educated, married-with-2.2-perfect-kids-and-3-ferrets, minivan-driving, perfect dad for thirty plus years, I felt I had no choice but to be honest about the inner realities I face. The truth became more important to me than other people’s perceptions. That sounds like a triumphant, even defiant, decision, but it was more of a decision of despair than a victory. I was exhausted from the lies I was telling and living and just didn’t have the energy anymore.

Being honest about who I am comes with its own set of difficulties. A lot of people are still very accepting and encouraging, but now there are the blank stares when I tell people how deep my depression can be; there’s the growing sense of loneliness when I repeatedly fail to find others who live in the maximum security prison I feel like I live in; and there’s the fear of never getting better no matter how hard I try. I could tell that Jenner was both relieved at having revealed his true self but also scared about the future…just like I feel.

One moment in the Jenner interview resonated with me most deeply. Diane Sawyer was asking him about his family members’ reactions. It’s a testament to his dedication as a father that all ten of his children seem to adore him and support him (with varying, natural degrees of difficulty in their own acceptance of watching dad turn into a woman). Even his “very conservative,” 80-something-year-old mother says she’s never been more proud of him for his bravery. But the moment when Diane Sawyer asked him what his now-deceased dad would think, you could tell that Jenner was really taken off-guard, that maybe he hadn’t even thought of this angle on things. Then Diane Sawyer asked him what he’d want his dad to say, and with a few tears in his eyes, Bruce Jenner said what just about any human being would say: “I’d just want him to tell me that he still loved me…that’s all.”

How much more human could that answer be? A 65-year-old man who has done everything from winning an Olympic gold medal to taking enough female hormones so as to have (albeit small) breasts…just wants his father to love and accept him. I don’t understand Bruce Jenner’s desire to become a woman; but I certainly understand wanting my parents to love and accept me, and I certainly understand wanting to be honest with people about my deepest, darkest battles.

I guess I just don’t look at Bruce Jenner’s struggle as being all that different from the rest of humanity’s…

I don’t understand the asshole who recently told me what a failure I am, but I know he’s just a hurting, broken human being like me. I know he’s just lashing out, as I often do, at someone who really isn’t the problem but who seems like an easy target. Personally, I prefer other drivers, and I wish he’d made the same choice to just honk at someone who cut him off or display his middle finger toward someone who is endangering his life by writing the Great American Novel in the form of a text message on the highway. But instead, he picked me. I wish he hadn’t; I will never forget what he said. BUT I do understand what it’s like to be a confused human being who often feels like a child in an adult’s body.

And I don’t understand people who keep their secrets to themselves. Why wouldn’t everyone in the world want to wear their heart on their sleeve like I do? But I suppose it makes sense that shame can be a crippling tyrant. I get that for sure; I just show my shame differently – looking for others who share in my struggles rather than hiding in case there aren’t those others out there.

And I don’t understand power hungry politicians who are lying douche bags (that’s my nice term for ALL of them), but I do understand that it’s great to be in charge and that it’s great to feel like my voice counts more than anyone else’s voice. I understand that desire for validation and affirmation about my self-worth.

I could go on and on because there are a hell of a lot of people who I don’t understand. My point is that I understand what it is to be human…to be broken but not quite sure where to put the band-aid…to be hurting but unsure where the wound came from…to be confused about the seemingly insane lack of logic that determines the fate of humanity…to be sad about things that haven’t even happened yet, like the fact that my dog will die someday…to find absurdly silly things hilarious, like Kevin Hart’s stand-up comedy routine where he mocks his drug-addicted, well-endowed, underwear-less father by dangling the microphone between his legs to about his calf muscles and walking around on stage like a drunk, microphone/penis flopping around for all to see… to say unkind things to people I really care about because I’m just too tired or depressed to be nice, even though I actually want to be…to send my kids mixed messages like when I tell them to watch their fucking potty mouths…to be insanely jealous of people who have stuff I want like New York Times Best-sellers and six-pack abs, or even just abs…to feel like life tricks us by making promises it doesn’t keep, creating all the grumpy old people that drive too slowly and wear the wrong color of socks with their shorts…to be terrified of death and then the next day to wish it would come sooner…you know: the stuff we all feel about four times an hour on the peaceful days.

So I guess the short version is this: People are human, so cut them some slack. See if you can meet people where you’re similar rather than feeling threatened by your differences. Bruce Jenner openly claims to be a Republican, a Christian, and a Transgendered man. I doubt you know very many of those, but at the end of the day, we’re all just about as odd a combination of things whether we will admit it or not. Call me naïve, but I think the world would be a better place if we’d just start our introductions to each other like this: “Hi, I’m very weird and confused and scared; I say things I don’t really mean and I do things that contradict what I believe to be right and true. Oh, and my name’s Tim. Nice to meet you, weird, confused, and scared new friend. So, what do you do for a living? And what’s your most crippling fear? Mine’s a tie between rejection and loneliness. Or maybe those are the same thing.”

 

 
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Bubble Boy

bubble boy

A friend of mine got a call earlier this week from a friend who was suicidal…as in he had picked a day to kill himself and had been cutting himself on the wrists. My friend, like most people, didn’t know what exactly to do. He didn’t want to interfere or to butt in, but he didn’t want to leave the guy hanging either (eesh, terrible unintended pun). Brad, my friend, did the right thing: he went over to the guy’s house. But once he got there, he had no clue what to do. Here’s what he wrote to me the following day:

“So I walk into this room and my friend is inside a clear bubble. He hears and sees the outside of the bubble but the laws of nature inside the bubble are not the same as those outside. There is no sense in even attempting to reconcile the world inside vs. outside. What is worse is that I can see that my friend is in tremendous pain. But the bubble eliminates all possibility of rendering aid. So all I could do was sit there, listen, and talk on occasion…provide a momentary break from the monotony of pain inside the bubble. It sucked in the worst way.”

And there you have it: the perfect descriptions of what both a depressed person and their allies must face. Being depressed is like living in a bubble. I’ve often said I feel like I’m floating in space, watching everyone else from miles away, aware of their existence but unable to break through into their world. And I’ve been outside the bubble, too. It’s the same sort of helpless feeling – like being the ghost in some movie who wants to shout a word of warning to their still-alive friend, but no matter how loudly they yell, their voice won’t reach the land of the living.

All that being said, my friend Brad still did the right thing, unquestionably. He did the brave thing: he faced the feelings of helplessness and concern head-on rather than excusing himself from the pain of involvement by “not wanting to interfere” or “leaving matters in the hands of his friends’ family members.” It’s easier not to get involved, and there are always excuses available to stay out of such situations.

But staying out of them is ALWAYS the wrong thing to do. What’s the worst that can happen by getting involved? The person might be mad at you and unfriend you on Facebook. Ok, but what’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t get involved? Your friend might kill himself; his children will be orphaned, his wife widowed, and you will be left wondering if you could’ve helped. For the rest of your life.

Am I being heavy-handed here? Maybe. But these aren’t “light-handed” sorts of issues. Just remember: The consequences of doing SOMETHING will always be better than the potential consequences of doing nothing. People who are depressed don’t have a damn clue what they need. You wouldn’t expect someone lying on the beaches of Normandy without his legs to rationally tell you how to doctor his wounds, would you? No, you’d take charge, comfort him, and do what you – the rational one – believed was the right thing. You wouldn’t leave him lying there, excusing yourself because you’re not a trained doctor (I hope). You wouldn’t listen to his shock-induced rants or even to his cries of pain. You’d act. And you’d hope your actions were of some use.

It’s no different with someone who’s deeply depressed. They’re lying on the beaches of Normandy without a clue what they need or want. If they’re still alive, they still want and need help, no matter what words are coming out of their mouths. Who cares if you don’t quite tie the tourniquet perfectly. Just tie the damn thing.

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