Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thoughts on Living, Dying... and Christmas

Living the kind of eclectic life I've lived, I've gained a perspective that others can... and in fact have... considered bizarre.  I was thinking about this recently when a dear friend of mine from high school passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

I was with her just after she was diagnosed, and did a portrait session of her at the time... which I knew inwardly her family might value when she was gone.  It was a gift from me to her.

From the time she was diagnosed, we spoke often on Facebook, and I was able to follow her through her anger, through her bargaining, through her stubborn resistance, through her outright denial,through her entire grieving process.  It tore my heart out.

One day, not long into her battle, in the midst of hearing her insist (yet again) that she would "beat this" and be "OK," I found myself getting emotional, and a bit indignant.  So I wrote her a message that I'm sure made her angry.  She was totally NOT expecting what I told her.  Keep in mind that she had just been given the news that she had Stage 4 cancer.

I said,

"I think you’ve been given a tremendous gift."

"Having been a paramedic for as long as I was, one of the things that never ceased to amaze me was the realization that every single patient that I treated that passed away, mostly from trauma... Didn't plan on going home that day.

"They were completely unprepared. They never had a chance to prepare. They never got to say goodbye. They never got to make their wrongs right.

"Each and every one of them would have given all they had for what you have... a chance to prepare.

"I think the thing that all of us forget sometimes in our illusion of immortality, is that all of us... without exception... are going to die sometime.

"The thing that matters is what we do with the time we have left.

"It may sound funny, but serve others. Immerse yourself in service where you can. And give your children the gift of your time, so that they can continue to create memories.

"They will cherish that. And write. Give them a part of you to keep forever. Write your personal history.
 She let me know that she didn't appreciate my sentiments.  She snapped back, "Thank  you.  But I'm not hopeless.  I still think I am going to make it."

Her response, while not unexpected, was disappointing to me.  If only we could truly appreciate the gift of time that each one of us has been so graciously given.  Time to heal.  Time to forgive.  Time to say goodbye.  Time to create memories that we will cherish for the eternities.  Time to do all the things we have been planning on doing "someday."

Someone told me that doctors rarely opt for treatment measures to extend their lives in the midst of terminal diseases... instead, knowing the kind of "quality of life" they will be extending for just a few weeks or months, they opt instead to prepare.  And from my perspective, that makes so much more sense.

Time is a gift.  This Christmas season, spend yours wisely.  You never know when your time will be gone.  It could be in an instant.  I could be over the course of painful months and/or years.  Prepare NOW.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Oh.... It's you."

Back in June of this year, when I was struggling with a particularly nasty bout of severe depression... I wrote a blog in which I uncharacteristically laid bare the demons that I wrestle with, and have, for years now. 

In reading over it tonight, as I sat at my computer, wishing that I were happily snoozing in my nice, warm, bed... I noticed that there were two comments on my blog post... which kind of surprised me.  What surprised me even more was that they were from my mother-in-law.

The first comment was rather long, and very compassionate... gushy, even.  I was actually becoming somewhat moved that my mother-in-law was showing so much concern, compassion and empathy for what I had been struggling with.  But then when I reached the end, it became clear that she was confused, and thought that my wife had written the blog... most likely because my wife probably shared my blog on her own wall, where my mother-in-law saw it.

The second comment is what really grabbed my attention.  She "walked back" her comments, saying "I think I have to back up here... " wondering if my wife or I had written the blog entry... and added that if it was ME, instead of her daughter, then she was "surprised because [she] would never have guessed [me] to be depressed."  She added that I could "talk to her if I wanted to."  End of comment.

Sometimes people around you... even family... especially family... can be so utterly clueless that you either have to laugh or cry.

This is a woman who has almost single-handedly destroyed my wife's life, treating her like she was garbage, like my wife was the family pariah, and like she was almost sorry that she ever had my wife as a child.  I can't even count the number of devastatingly horrible, hurtful things she has said to my wife just since we've been married.  Before we were married, when my wife's first husband was physically abusing her, my sweet mother-in-law once told my wife, "I can't believe that [her ex] didn't start beating you sooner," or something of that nature. 

When Tracy and I married, my oldest step-daughter was 14, and had been acting as something of a pseudo-parent to the other kids while my wife struggled as a single mom with 5 kids... many of whom, we would learn later, had serious issues.  When we married, she felt "replaced" when she was no longer needed in that role... and became deeply, sociopathically resentful.  Over the next few years, she pulled apart from the family, and became more and more disruptive, to the point where we finally had to ask her to leave our home.

Over the next couple of decades, she would succeed in turning the entirety of just about all the family my wife had left against me... and then my wife for "staying with me."  She decided to punish my wife for... well...  being my wife by cutting off all communication with her, and forbidding her from ever seeing her children... my wife's only grandchildren.

She falsely accused me to being "inappropriate" with her... because, when her grandfather died (who she was very close to), and she was sobbing, my wife and I sat next to her on her bed, and I pulled her up onto my lap and held her while she sobbed, while her mother hugged her as well.

Desperate to garner sympathy with her peers and to lash out at us, she starting leveling false accusations.  Behind our backs in a blog she wrote that she never thought we would see, that tender moment when her "papa" died suddenly turned that into a "strange middle-aged man forcing me on top of him," and she started calling herself a "survivor."  Words can't describe our feelings of betrayal and hurt on reading the fabrications she wrote... which she quickly took down when she found out that we had seen it.

And, quite frankly, it would have been one thing to have a bitter, petulant child do this.

But my wife's brother, and my mother-in-law, both bought into these lies (after all, they said, why would she lie?), and were cruel beyond belief to both my wife and I.  They constantly trashed us behind our backs to anyone that would listen.  This very vindictive step-daughter even began actively trying to indoctrinate our other children and turn them against us as well, which she succeeded in doing with several of my other step-children.

In the midst of all of this, my mother-in-law steadfastly sided with step-daughter in condemning me, leaving my wife without a family, without any love and support from those who should have been there for her no matter what... and most hurtfully, without her own grandchildren.  Her own mother cluelessly contributed to all of this mean-spirited, vindictive evil, apparently not even being cognizant of the consequences her actions were having.

It's been very difficult for me to wrap my arms around this emotionally, spiritually, and every other way.  How can someone who is supposed to be there for you... your own family... be so unbelievably cold, callous, cruel and hurtful?  I'll never understand it. 

The reality is that much of the severity of my depression has been fueled by the events that occurred in my wife's family over the last 20-odd years.  Seeing my mother-in-law's comment on my blog post just kinda triggered an avalanche of bitter feelings.  And when my demons show up... as they do from time to time... this is one that quite often leads the pack.

This is not how it's supposed to be.  This is not how any of this is supposed to be.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"For now we see through a glass, darkly"

When the apostle Paul penned these words to the Corinthians, he was referring to our limited knowledge as mortals of spiritual things.  But in another sense, this phrase represents an apt description of what it's like to be severely depressed.

I recently had an eye exam, and have always been fascinated by that machine... you know the one... "Is 1 better, or 2?"   "2 or 3?"  Lenses of different types flip back and forth, sometimes improving our sight, sometimes making it worse.  Sometimes it's impossible to see a change at all.  In the end, we hopefully arrive at that perfect combination of correction that allows us to "see" clearly again.  All too often, however, life serves up a strange array of lens combinations that completely screw up our ability to see clearly.

I realized, as I thought about this experience, that it was a perfect metaphor for the kind of depression that I suffer from.  To me, depression isn't just "feeling sad."  That's a gross over-simplification, and is actually pretty insulting to those who are deeply depressed, as it minimizes the depth and breadth of what they typically experience.  Severe depression is much deeper and infinitely more complex than that. It is an infinite set of layers of strange lenses.

Think about it.  If I were just "sad," there are a ton of things that I know I could do to brighten my spirits.  With serious depression, however, almost nothing helps, and even worse, you don't FEEL like doing ANYTHING.  It isn't something that is "once in a while."  It's EVERY "while."  Even as I sit here writing this, the overwhelming feeling is to walk away from this blog and do something else, because... what difference will it make?

Severe depression is an Insidiously Vicious Cycle from Hell.  It is relentless.  It never ends. And it relentlessly feeds on itself, growing stronger and more vicious.

A great example.

I often lament that I have no close friends, no one to really talk to, no one who will understand the good, bad, and the ugly that is me, and yet still be there for me.  I crave that.  I've had it at different points in my life, and those were the times when I can look back and say, "Now THAT was a good day..."

On the other hand, I understand perfectly why I have no close friends, and quite frankly, I don't blame anyone for not wanting to be close to me.  After all, I'm a loser.  I'm miserable to be around.  I'm a failure.  An insufferable asshole.  A pariah.  I disappoint those closest to me, and let everyone I care about down.  I don't even like me, so how can I fault anyone else for not liking me?  I'm not worthy of love.  I've come to accept that you'll never have what other people have.  After all, I don't deserve it.

But then... the loneliness.  "Gosh, I wish I had just one close friend..." and the guilt, shame, regret, and anguish come out to play.   It's both dizzying, frustrating, and demoralizing.  And it never ends.

You crave acceptance, understanding, and compassion, but the depression that grips your soul makes you someone so difficult to accept and hard to understand that it's next to impossible for others to feel compassion for you.

The undercurrent of irritability, anger and annoyance with just about everyone and everything ebbs and flows like the tides, but never really goes away. 

When the emotional "tide" is in and you're deeply depressed, it's difficult to be around anyone without saying or doing something rude, intolerant or unkind.  The compulsion to judge, to be harsh, to be abrupt, short, and untactful and undiplomatic washes over you like a 50-ft wave. 

When the tide comes back out, guilt and regret at how you treated people when the tide was in become your constant companion... and you vow to be different, to change, to "be better next time."   Until the "next time" comes.  But it's never better.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  You never get a break... never a chance to just be... happy.

Of course, those around you see you as either a Colossal Asshole, or a garden-variety asshole.  They never see the "real you." They never see the person you wish you could show them... the kind, loving, compassionate, funny, happy, upbeat, cheerful person that you imagine yourself to be when you dream.

And when you're not obsessed with trying to figure out what you can do to make people like you, much less love you, your depression takes the cue and steps into the forefront of your internal dialog to (very loudly) remind you of every petty, dark, disgusting, evil, horrible, selfish, hurtful, and despicable thing you've ever done in your life to remind you of just how utterly ridiculous you look trying to find something... anything... about yourself that can make yourself "likeable..." to someone.  And of course, your depression speaks inviolate truth.  Which is why you are a loser, and unworthy of friendship and Love.  Back to Depression Central.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

It's an unending Hell.  It's an infernal merry-go-round that never lets you off.  The only thing that keeps you from hurling yourself into the Great Abyss is the fleeting glances of the colors, sunshine, and happiness that others get to enjoy... and for a brief moment, imagining how they must feel.   

The bottom line to this rather depressing blog is simply this... severe depression (especially when it comes adorned with the cherry of PTSD on top) varies in type and intensity from person to person.  It's never simple.  It's always complex and convoluted and difficult to get your arms around.  And it's always debilitatingly painful.  And rest assured that you have no earthly clue what anyone with severe depression is really feeling.  You might feel like you can relate, because you've had "sad days."  Those with severe depression think that's absolutely adorable.

If there is someone in your life who suffers from this horrendous condition, here is the magic bullet... just love them.  Embrace them without judgment, especially when their emotional tide is "in."  Don't wait for an engraved invitation to let them know that you accept them.  Let them know, whether they know you know about their condition or not, how much you value them... no matter how they treat you from time to time.  Because it really isn't about you.  Hardly ever.  Doing just those little things will give them a sliver of hope... which could be all they need to hang on to.