Category Archives: Essay

On Stable Ground

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. – James 1:2-3.

When it comes to depression there is a difference in feeling good and feeling as if you are on solid ground. Recently I realized that for years I’ve had plenty of times where I felt good, and thought I was cured, but I can’t remember a time when I felt I was on stable ground. I’ve always been standing on a pile of shifting sand trying to keep my footing.

Through group therapy I have learned breathing exercises and radical acceptance. I have come to understand that despite what my mind tells me I am not alone in my struggle. I have relearned that physical activity and forest bathing are essential, but they are not the linchpin that will keep me even keel. Writing and putting my work out there is also vitally important. It is cathartic for me to work through my writing process. It does not matter if five or five hundred people read my work; the point is that I am taking my experience out of the drawer. To write brings me great joy and I hope it will help someone to not feel so alone. It helps me feel not so alone.

In one-on-one therapy I have learned about my different parts. We have all kinds of different parts in us who want to be heard. Some of mine are protectors, some of them are cowering in the corners and some are just nasty. Those really traumatic parts that I thought I had dealt with years ago? I’ve discovered they were just pushed down as far as they would go, and I’ve been building off of them ever since. That does not make for a stable foundation

In this new stability I’ve found a new confidence in the way I think and feel. My feelings no longer run the show, not everyday anyway. There are still hard days, days I want to give up completely. The big change is that I can acknowledge and then work with these thoughts. I have come to understand that the events of my past are building blocks in who I am, but they do not define me. I am at peace with my feelings whatever they may be. I no longer hate myself because of them. I may not like some of the thoughts, feelings or actions I have, but I don’t beat myself up for having them. This is a big step for me. I’ve spent a lifetime kicking the snot out of myself. The things I say to myself and the frequency with which I say them would be grounds for a restraining order if I were to say them to another human being.

Depression is not something I or anyone can simply turn off. It is not something that goes away. It is just that sometimes I lead the tango with it and sometimes it leads me. I can never go off my pills, I plan to be in therapy for the foreseeable futureI’m ok with that. I’ve never been ashamed that I’ve needed therapy or medication. I think everyone should go to therapy; its an amazing learning experience. Just because I am doing all of these things does not mean that I will not stumble and somedays I’ll fall. There will be some dark times but just like following Jesus, there has never been a promise of a stress-free life of leisure.

Not Pulling My Weight

Even after a decade of being a stay-at-home-dad, I still, on occasion, find myself bothered that I don’t contribute monetarily to our household. I often worry that Erin feels that I don’t pull my weight because the house is not always clean, I sit around a good deal, I have all these problems, and I’m pretty sure I use my depression as a crutch. I have these wild ideas and want to do all these things and she is the one tasked with going to work and making ends meet. I am certain I am being selfish. I’m always spending money and never earning it. This line of thinking plays through my mind time and again when the darkness is leading.

There have been more than a few times over the preceding decade that I threw up my hands and declared I could no longer stay home. That I needed to get a “real job” for I was certain that would solve everything. What I needed was to come to grips with God’s plan, but I was blind to that. When we moved back to Vermont, I started a graphic design business, but I soon found that I no longer liked design and I finally accepted that I am not all that good at it. I also tried my hand at being a health and fitness coach for one of those multilevel marketing companies. I was feeling so good from their program that I wanted to help others feel that way too, and making money while doing that seemed like a good idea. I soon discovered this endeavor was far more time consuming than I thought it would be, I was not a good salesman, and being on social media all the time was not good for me. Neither of these forays made things better for me or the household; in fact, they made both worse.

The first year of Noah’s life I posted to this blog everyday, but by his first birthday I was burned out. Since then I have mostly put writing aside. I’ve continued to write in my journal, work sporadically on my manuscript of poetry, organized and reorganized the mountain of writing ideas that never seemed to make it out of the drawer. I was convinced that my writing was a selfish pursuit because it took away from taking care of the house and it was not making money. In fact, it cost money, because when I entered my manuscript in a competition there was a reading fee. I never thought of writing as a way to help me and thus help the household.

After a lot of therapy, self reflection, talks with Erin and being honest with myself I now know where I stand. I know that God’s plan for me is to be a stay-at-home-dad and to write about my journey with depression. My writing is important, it is not selfish, it is what I am called to do. I am sure there are days Erin may feel I am not pulling my weight, and some days I feel that way about her. That is just a part of marriage, dealing with the little things that drive you nuts about the one you love–but that is just a small part. Far more important is knowing that through it all we are a team with our own strengths and weakness, we are each others support and companions who have made a vow to love and cherish each other. Working together to create a loving household full of lasting memories matters more than who brings home the paycheck and who cleans the toilets.

Anxiety

When I opened my eyes this morning and saw the blue spring sky welcoming me to another day, I thanked the Lord that the gray and rainy weather that seemed to have been the default of late had moved on. I lay there for a moment, an unsettledness growing in me, as I remembered the dream about my father. In the dream he talked to me and I could hear and understand his voice–a rare occurrence since his passing eight years ago. It is not his voice that unsettles me but the topic we discussed. I had a terminal illness, perhaps it is cancer, like he had. An anxiety that I might actually have cancer begins to take root. I try to explain it away, remembering all the young patients Erin has told me about recently who have come into the hospital filled with cancer.

As I begin to go about my day, the anxiety and darkness grow stronger. My back is hurting, something that it has not done in a long time. Cancer, I am sure. I disregard the fact that my back has bothered me since I was nineteen and that I’ve been exercising less. I begin to go back and forth about going for a run, while berating myself for slacking on my core workouts because I know those help my back not hurt. This goes on so long that I miss my opportunity to run before it is time to wake the boys for school. Another failure to add to the list and berate myself over.

Now I’m feeling as if there is so much to do I don’t know where to begin. It’s all too much, I think, I have no time for all of this. I just want to sit and do nothing. I’ve only been up for an hour and already I feel worn and defeated, as if it is the end of a physically grueling and mentally taxing day. With the boys now up the anxiety has clicked up another notch. They seem extra loud and it is as if they are not listening to anything I am saying. This is all in my head of course, the darkness has begun to take the lead. My patience is short, I don’t know what to do with myself. Though I know the morning routine, I feel completely scattered and unfocused.

Luke, feeding off of me, is now berating himself for losing the pocket knife he got for his birthday the day before. When he gets frustrated or when he feels he is doing something wrong, he yells at us. This makes us upset, but I realize with some horror that he is doing exactly the same thing that I do–beating himself up inside and then turning that frustration outward, because you can only beat on yourself so much. Lord, I pray, help us help Luke not to become like me. We find his knife and I tell him that I do the same thing, beat myself up, and now I am depressed, on medication and seeing a therapist. Some might say that this is not something to say to an eight-year-old, but we gain nothing and help no one if we hide who we really are. I tell him that I know he puts himself down out loud and my guess is that he does it more often and far worse in his head as well. I do the same thing, I tell him, so that is how I know. He nods with fear in his eyes.

By the time we leave for school, the darkness is in complete control and my anxiety is so high I want to jump out of my skin. As I drive I try to reconcile it all. How do I release the pressure? I think about cutting myself, a long gash up my forearm–that would do it. The other day I thought about stabbing myself in the leg. At forty-one these are new thoughts. God, I am one fucked–up person. The berating begins anew.

By the time I get home, I resolve to sit on the porch and write. I’m determined to tell the world of my struggle. It is early June and there is still a chill in the air, so I put on my winter jacket and stick the radio out of the windowtropical music turned up loud. I sit at the table on the screened porch, my favorite part of our house. Erin and I, with the help of her dad, screened the porch in last year and I always have a feeling of great accomplishment when I sit out here.

A cup of coffee, a view of sunlit trees and blue sky, the scratch of my fountain pen across the page, my hand trying desperately to keep up with the thoughts pouring from my mind–this is exactly what I need. With each pass across the page the grip of the anxiety and darkness lessens until once again I am in control of this dance. I know that despite all of the turmoil I am incredibly blessed and I hold fast to that. I make every effort to slow my self down so that I can unshackle the joy that I know is in me. It is the only way to survive.

Forging Through Winter

The polar vortex has settled over us. This is all due to dislodged warm air from Morocco that wandered up to the arctic and displaced the lower half of the frigid arctic air, pushing it south. Our orange hued corpulent blowhard of a leader has climbed onto his favorite soapbox, asking when global warming is coming back and ranting about the giant hole in the glacier that “is disaster for beachfront homes.”

This is what I am thinking about while the wind buffets the house and I stand over a metal bowl at the bathroom sink stripped to the waist and giving myself a sponge bath because our boiler has gone the way of the Dodos. Buffett is on the radio, images of tropical islands dance in my head, and I wonder if the beachfront property that is in such peril could now be gotten on the cheap because I want out of this cold weather.

I wrote the preceding musing sometime in heart of the winter of 2019. The winters of 2017/18 and 2018/19 were two of the hardest winters I have ever experienced. The former being the worst because the previous fall I had decided to go off my antidepressants, wrongly assuming that I was cured and that much of my depression was situational–the truth is there is no cure. My depression is a part of me and if I want to lead the tango that I dance with it I must do many things, one of which is to take medication.

I  stumbled through the winter of 17/18 in a semi-lucid haze and the few memories of those months are seen through a thick fog. Details were lost to me and that was an extremely scary feeling. My notebooks from this time are filled with Bible studies, poems and scraps of story ideas. I was trying to escape any way I could. By the time spring came and my dour mood lifted slightly, I  began to wonder if I would ever be normal, or if I ever was normal. Erin told me that like any illness my body needed time to heal, and maybe it did, a little.  But by the end of September, I came to realize that the summer had passed much the same way that the winter had. I was forty and in the best physical shape of my life, but my mental state was in shambles and because of this I spent most of my waking hours berating myself for the slittiest infraction and for just being me. I also realized that I was scared witless of the winter that was looming on the horizon. I had been running regularly all summer long and I had falsely convinced myself that it was imperative that I run through the winter to survive.  In one of my notebooks I  made a code red list for what I could do if I could not run. The list included nordic skiing, yoga, and climbing. The list also suggested making a countdown to vacation or summer might be a good thing. The final item was the most important, I had simply written I will make it through.  This showed me that there is always hope, even if it seems unattainable to my depressed mind. I ended up not running much at all that winter. The cold hurts me now, and that was a level of suffering I was not willing to endure.

The winter started off better than the year before mostly because, for the first time since my father had died seven years earlier, I was excited about Christmas. Joy was rattling its chains and I was more than willing to let it out, but it was not to last, and soon the depression began to lead the dance again, and I was right back to where I was the year before., with one major difference: my perspective had changed and my notebooks reflect this. Instead of escapism I was on a quest to see the smallest speck of beauty and joy these cold gray winter months could provide. I cannot deny the beauty of a winter sunrise over a landscape blanketed in snow, the crunch of snow and the joyous yelps and shouts of children,  I wrote one morning. Another entry stated; A painted morning sky, the chickadees at the feeder, the laughter of the boys. I know all these things are signs from God letting me know I am not alone. This faithfulness allows me to rejoice in the gifts of the Lord.

These are the lessons I am choosing to take away from these past two winters and to use this winter as the struggle becomes harder. When I look for the joyous beauty in the world, as hard as it may be,  I will find it. Deep inside I will see the flame of hope, no matter how small, and hear the shackled joy rattling its chains. Then I will know that I am not alone and that with the love and support of my family and the Lord I can hold fast and keep moving forward.

Organization Is My Jam

I love to categorize, sort and label–give me some containers and a label maker and I will swoon. Lists are my lifeline to serenity and I become giddy when making them.

Organization, for me, is a meditation, a creative outlet–a way to refocus and bring calm to myself and my surroundings. Sometimes in the thick of it I can find myself overwhelmed, but it all settles out in the end, and then I can step back and take in the beauty and calm of this one organized area of my life ignoring all the other clutter that surrounds me.

I organize everything that I can. I recently organized our travel and camping gear. I sorted and sold unused items, pulled out the label maker and marked boxes and shelves so the rest of the family would know where things went and hopefully would return things to the proper place when the time came. The latter is more of a Christmas miracle sort of wish, but a guy can dream. When Apple came up with the folders feature for organizing apps on the iPhone, I did a little dance, I was that excited. Everything should have a home. My socks have their homes, athletic socks in one drawer, wool and dress socks in two other containers.  I organize my fedoras by hanging them from most worn to least worn. With a change in season comes a change in the order they are hung.  I organize the writing in my pocket notebooks with symbols so I know what the entries are about at a quick glance. When a notebook is filled, the creative thoughts (marked with an exclamation point) go into a list in Evernote, separated into categories, and then the notebook gets a number and a label and is put into the old card catalog.

Color-coding is the flare of organization and as soon as it seemed reasonable, I color-coded the family. Everyone has a color for the calendar and I color-code the boys’ stuff as well, using different colored tape. This makes it much easier as no one has to hunt for a name; we just look at the colors. I color-code my writing process. I’d color-code everything, but that can quickly take me into the realm of chaos which is not where I want to be.

A few summers ago I went a bit Lego crazy and wandered the countryside buying up Legos at yard sales. Then I had to buy plastic tubs to put all the Legos in. My writing desk is actually located in a room full of Legos, I’d love to have a nice reading chair in here but there is no space; it’s all Legos. The Dollar Store is a great resource for things to organize, not the maybe-it’s-a-dollar store, but the dollar store where everything is actually a dollar. One day while wandering the cluttered aisles, I came across cafeteria trays. I got a few different colors and they work great for a Lego project because you can organize the pieces you need. Brilliant!

Just writing this piece has made we want to organize. I am not sure I can think of a better way to spend a stormy day or any day other than sorting, organizing and making lists.