Category Archives: Fighting Mental Illness

Breakdown Hangaround Hangover

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https://i0.wp.com/s.hswstatic.com/gif/hangover-1a-2.jpgBack in late May, I was at the beginning of the worst neurotic episode of my life. I’ve only had three real, true events most people would call nervous breakdowns and this one took the cake. June is really hazy and July isn’t much better. Finally, around the first week of August, the skies started to clear a bit and I realized I was going to make it out of this black hole one more time. For eight weeks, it was touch and go. Budge worried herself sick and did the only thing she knew to do, which was collect all my guns and have a friend of ours put them away for safe keeping.

That’s a funny story in itself because he is NOT a gun person and I’ve got a good many guns so he was trying to collect them without Keaudee biting his face off or one of the bad nasty pistols shooting him in the foot. He managed, but just barely. Of course, I didn’t know anyone was collecting my guns and I’m pretty attached to them so when Budge told me they were all gone temporarily, I was angry. Well, a little more than angry, but that’s another story for probably not another time.

My therapist was worried too. He’s shepherded me through a few rough patches, including the immediate aftermath of Mama’s death, but this was a new look from me. He told me at one point he was considering calling my psychiatrist who was ALSO extremely concerned. I’ve been Dr. Stephens’ patient for around eight years now and he told me later I was hands down the absolute worst he’s ever seen me. Both of them said they really wanted me to get some inpatient treatment, but after my last stay in a psych ward, they both knew I would have exploded at the mention of checking myself in and that I was smart enough to fool anyone they tried to use to have me checked in involuntarily. They were right, of course, on all counts. I’ve made it clear to anyone who’ll listen that frost will form on the hinges of Hell before I ever lose my freedom like that again.

So, eight weeks went by in a daze that wasn’t a daze. Here’s the irony of being in the midst of a psychotic break — you feel perfectly normal while thinking everyone else around you is batshit crazy. I had ideas and made up plans that sounded perfectly sound in my head, I mean some way out in ionosphere stuff, and I’d get all bent out of shape . . . well, moreso I guess . . . when anyone tried to point out how bad of an idea I had really come up with. That’s tough on me, but even tougher on the people around me. You may not believe me, but under the right conditions, your own mind can turn on you and try pretty hard to kill you if it can.

I cried a bunch, too. Of course, Budge said the crying wasn’t nearly as unnerving as the laughing. Sometimes, I’d just start laughing this absolutely maniacal laugh and she would get really quiet and turn kind of pale. This was especially hard on her because it was the first time I’d gone completely off the reservation and she didn’t have anyone to turn to. Before, she could always count on Mama to help wrangle me back around to the right path, but she was on her own this go round. I think she did just fine. She found friends and resources she didn’t know were around and people stepped up to help HER.

See, I’m a master faker. It’s a talent I picked up long time ago to deal with difficult situations. I can make someone who doesn’t know me think I’m right as rain and fine as frog hair when I’m actually in the midst of a major suicidal downward spiral. However, it doesn’t work on a very select group of people. I never could fake out Mama. Cook, my college roommate, could always read me like a book — even between the lines, and of course, after almost 20 years, I can’t get anything past Budge. It draws her down though, dealing with me. That’s what I mean by she had people willing to step up and help look after her and give her strength. I’m thankful for them for doing what by right I should have been doing when I temporarily lost the capacity to do for myself.

Then, the sky turned blue and unicorns started farting rainbows all over the place. For two weeks, I was not just back to normal, I was on the verge of a manic spell, which is almost as bad as a psy-break, just in another way. But now, things are settling down and that is where what I call the post-breakdown hangover comes in.

For awhile, after the danger has passed and your mind lets you out of the trap, you get this sense that everything is actually going to be okay this time. You think you finally did it and the dragon is slain and you are going to be normal at long last. Unfortunately, that initial euphoria wears off. Something pricks your balloon and sends you back to earth with a jar instead of a full on crash. That’s where I am now.

Instead of being back to “normal,” I’m back to “my normal.” I’m having a little trouble sleeping again. I have to remember to take my newest (4th) anti-depressant because it comes at a different time of day. Mama’s still gone. All the old problems are still there, they’ve just allowed themselves to be stuffed back into their carrying cases for me to pick up and carry on with. That feeling hurts. For a brief shining moment you get a glimpse of a life without any kind of depression or anxiety or other issues. Just for a little while, the sky is a spotless, cloudless blue.

However, just like I finally managed to let myself be led out of the valley, I don’t get to sit on the summit either. I wish I did, but that’s not how it works. So, I’m back to being me and not the close acquaintance living in my head who desperately would like to kill me for whatever reason. That realization always comes with a hint of sorrow and makes the recovery from such a terrible episode taste faintly bitter, and not bittersweet either.

So, the dragon just fell unconscious, but he’s not dead. I’ve heard the black dogs howling over in the distance — I know they are just reminding me that they are still around so I don’t get too cocky. It was eight years between episodes this time and they get worse as they go, so I’m hoping against hope this was the last one. Each successive round takes a little out of your soul and leaves you a little less whole than you were before, but for now, it is enough.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Way Down A Hole

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Anybody seen a white rabbit? Neo? Morpheus? Courtney Love? Anybody?

Anybody seen a white rabbit? Neo? Morpheus? Courtney Love? Anybody?

The worst thing about being perpetually hunted by the Black Dog is one never knows exactly what will excite him enough to come lunging at one’s throat. The day can be rotten to the core and dreary and yet you can somehow make it through unscathed if just a little blue or it can bright and sunny and you may not be thinking a thing in the world could possibly be wrong and the Black Dog jumps you seemingly out of nowhere, seizes you by the throat, shakes you like a Polaroid picture, drags you around, then drops you down a deep, cold, dark well.

Doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to depression attacks. Lots of times I’ll carefully go back over my steps and see if I can find a trigger. Sometimes it shows quickly. For example, certain songs will draw the Black Dog faster than huge anonymous donations draw politicians. I know most of those songs and avoid them like a collection agency. At times though, I’ve been known to seek them out. You know how it feels when you have a stomach bug, stomach flu, or alcohol overconsumpionits and your stomach announces its intentions to relieve itself of its contents forcefully, quickly, and in the near future? Some people fight the queasiness. They lay perfectly still or put cold rags on their heads trying to hold off the worship of the porcelain goddess. Others just embrace the puke. They’ll stick their finger down their throat and get it over with because it’ll be out of the way then and they can work on feeling better.

When it comes to songs, I’ve gone both ways. If I’m generally fit emotionally, I’ll run away from a song like “Simple Man” or “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” faster than Paris Hilton chasing a paparazzo. Other times, however, when I’m already about half an inch from the fetal position, I’ll just say “screw it” and crank up “Tuesday’s Gone” or “Comfortably Numb” or, if I’m feeling seriously masochistic, “Love Bites.” Then the descent into the abyss can begin apace and I can plumb the depths of the funk. It’s sort of like whistling for the Black Dog to come to papa, but the idea behind it is sound. I figure if I can fall into a blackness hard enough and get moving downward fast enough, I’ll bounce when I hit the bottom of the well and get a higher purchase to start clawing my way back up.

In my experience, the worst kind of depression is the one that comes on gradually. It’s like being the victim in a horror show so intent on looking behind her she fails to see the Black Dog lying strategically in front of the well of sorrow and trips over him to fall slowly to the bottom. Then Chien Noir hops on into the well with you and makes sure you’re going to be there for a nice long time.

So tonight, I’m falling. It happens. It was worse when I was a teenager then in college because I didn’t fully grasp what was going on. I thought I was supposed to pet the Black Dog; I thought he was my boon companion. Amazing what drugs and therapy can do. I will say this though, back in the day when I wasn’t taking meds and self-medicated and played my own therapist, I could write a whole lot more and a whole lot better than I can now. I suppose that’s part of the reason all the greatest authors and comedians seem to have some kind of abuse in or around them. It’s a great muse, but she’s a needy, demanding little bitch too.

This doesn’t feel like it’s going to last a long time. I’ve actually been expecting the Black Dog to rise up at some point sooner or later because it’s October and in my life, most of the tragedy, pain, and outright craziness for some reason or other has managed to occur during October. I’ve said to people before that if Mama had died in October, I’d go to bed September 30th and get up on All Saints’ Day. Pretty much the only good thing I know of happening in October happened back in 1978 on October 27th when Deuce came screaming into the world. Other than that though, not so hot.

That’s the way it is here tonight. I’m typing with a Black Dog gnawing my leg. I’ve been here before. It didn’t help that I could hear the Woodmont High School football game through the trees in the front yard. Brought back too many memories too fast. Songs figured into it as well, as did some other stuff. Right now, things could go either way. If the Sun stays out tomorrow and I get out and soak up some vitamin D, I’ll probably kick ol’ Blackie in the chest and pull out of the mire. If it rains all day . . . well, we’ll see.

Anyway, it is what it is.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: Shellshock

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“Simply put, after even the most obedient soldier had enough shells rain down on him, without any means of fighting back, he often lost all self control.” Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars

In every conflict, some men seem to hold up to the stress of combat better than others. In World War I, however, the increased combat demands on individuals managed to break the resolve of even the most resolute soldier. At some point in the ceaseless rain of steel and sulfur, each man would eventually reach a point where he absolutely could not go on. Some men broke and ran while others fell down into a fetal position and still others could only stand rooted to one spot gibbering like mad men. This phenomenon, first noted in the British Expeditionary Force of 1914, is what became known as “shell shock” and it is one of the iconic mementos and most lasting sorrows of the Great War.

The origins of shellshock lie in the type of combat men faced in the First World War. For most of recorded history, men had gone out to a battlefield, engaged in wholesale slaughter of one another, then retired to a base camp around dark if the day proved inconclusive or ran like scalded dogs from the pursuing cavalry of their enemy. In other words, battles were generally short, local affairs. To give some perspective, in the American War of Northern Aggression, the Battle of Gettysburg — the largest battle of the war — lasted for three whole days and it was considered near the end of human endurance. By contrast, the Battle of the Somme in 1916 lasted three MONTHS. The Battle of Verdun lasted ten months. These campaigns were not rightfully called “sieges” either. These were months of sustained contact with the enemy and, even worse, days upon days of unending bombardment by artillery which dwarfed anything used in combat before or since.

Not to make the ancient and medieval battles less important, but a man at Cannae or Agincourt could think to himself, “If I can just survive today, I’ve got a decent chance to get home.” This was far from the case in World War I. Every day a man lived with death flying through the air towards him in the form of shells or waited for him “over the top” in the wasteland of No Man’s Land. To be at the front was to be under constant stress from fear of death and eventually, officers noticed their men began to come unhinged.

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The “Thousand Yard Stare” of a man who has seen more than men are meant to see.

One of the saddest commentaries of the entire First World War is that for much of the first months of the war, shell shock was not recognized as a true malady. Men who cowered in the trenches in tears and shaking were not considered unwell, they were considered cowards and malingerers shirking their duty to their country. Men who could not make themselves go over the top were charged with desertion or leaving one’s post under fire in addition to the accusations of cowardice. The result was the same regardless — a court martial. If the board found the defendant guilty, the punishment for cowardice, desertion, or dereliction of duty was the same — execution by firing squad. In all 306 British Empire soldiers — all but 15 enlisted men — were executed during World War I. Records show the majority of them were shot for desertion or cowardice. Being deserted by one’s faculties was not considered a reason not to fight, never mind that the hapless soldier often could not control his bladder, much less his limbs to shoot or march.

Gradually, thankfully, medical professionals began to take notice of what was happening. Doctors at front line casualty clearing stations started seeing definite patterns among the men they were treating. Early on, they thought what came to be called “shell shock” was a result of unseen brain damage caused by the concussion of high explosive shells near the victims. Then, the began to realize many men were showing similar symptoms even though they had not been in the vicinity of an explosion. That was the moment the medical corps realized it was dealing with a malady of the mind rather than the will and began treating men instead of shooting them.

Unfortunately, psychiatry was in its infancy as a medical practice in the early 20th Century so doctors weren’t sure how to help these hapless men. The one thing that seemed to work best was rest. Eventually, a man who began showing symptoms of shellshock was removed from the front to a safer rear area. Sometimes, this would be enough and a week or two with clean sheets, hot food, and no lice a reasonably safe distance from the bursting of the bombardments would restore a man and he could return to the fight. Once this became documented, the allies started the practice of rotating bodies of troops between the front and rear areas rather than demanding one unit stay on the fighting line for the duration of the campaign. This practice helped a great deal and new shell shock cases declined.

For some men, however, no amount of rest and recuperation would restore their shattered minds. Some of these poor souls could not stand unaided. Many shook uncontrollably at all times. For them, if they were lucky enough to survive until seen by a doctor, the war was over. They would be invalided back to the Home Islands, but for many, the damage was permanent. Some would spend the remainder of their lives in asylums or “neurological” hospitals with symptoms which never abated.

Even those who managed to avoid any outward symptoms of shellshock were seldom as unscathed as they appeared.

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For many, coming home didn’t end the Great War. Look closely under the bed.

War correspondent Philip Gibbs wrote in his 1922 account of the war Now It Can Be Told of the mass of men returning from the war:

Something was wrong. They put on civilian clothes again and looked to their mothers and wives very much like the young men who had gone to business in the peaceful days before August 1914. But they had not come back the same men. Something had altered in them. They were subject to sudden moods, and queer tempers, fits of profound depression alternating with a restless desire for pleasure. Many were easily moved to passion where they lost control of themselves, many were bitter in their speech, violent in opinion, frightening.

At the time, people didn’t realize what was happening to these men, but their conditions demanded research.  These men, hale and whole in body yet shattered in mind and emotion paved the way for our understanding the soldiers of our later wars so that we no longer speak of “shell shock” but instead talk about Acute Combat Fatigue among our troops and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Combat Related once they transition to civilian life. It’s still not an easy fight as my daddy, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD could tell you if he could talk about it, but at least we no longer shoot our men as cowards just because their wills desert them.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean.

Life According to Statistical Probability

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flippingCoinChanging therapists resembles remarrying after a divorce or a spouse’s death. You lose someone who knows the most intimate details of the inside of your head, where all your buttons are to push, and the roots of all your issues lie and must start over from “Hi, I’m . . . .” with a complete stranger. It’s difficult at best and psychosis inducing at worst, which — come to think of it — really does make the marriage analogy apropos.

Early last year, my beloved therapist survived a hideous drawn out divorce from a man so thoroughly odious, so far beyond fecal-esque that monkeys wouldn’t fling him in a poo fight; as the dust settled, she got a butterfly tattoo over her heart, bought a little red Mazda Miata, sold “the scene of the crimes against humanity,” and relocated to a cute beachfront bungalow and a home office in the lower latitudes to start her life over. I completely understood, but was still devastated emotionally and not a little terrified because I was without her for the first time in seven years.

I have been most fortunate, however, to end up with an equally sage and compassionate — if not quite so flamboyant — new counselor. He helped me through the early days after my life’s greatest tragedy to date — Mama’s death — with coping techniques, good advice, and empathy. For the last fourteen months, I’ve managed to forge a bond with him similar to and maybe even more helpful than the one my last therapist and I enjoyed. In today’s session, he put a finger on the root of my core issue and the ramifications have kept me ruminating on his illustration ever since I left his office .

It started with our discussion of patterns.

We were talking about how our minds — in striving for maximum efficiency — seem hardwired to look for patterns in everything around us. It’s why we can read passages containing strings of words with jumbled or missing letters without much trouble. Whenever our minds encounter new data, we immediately see if we can fit it into something we have experienced before so we can make an informed and efficient decision on a course of action. Unfortunately, this automatic pattern-seeking has a dark side and, sadly, the same mechanisms our brains use to maximize efficiency in most things can also derail us emotionally.

For example, you know if you have a fair coin like the ones referees use before the Super Bowl or World Cup matches, the odds of it landing on heads is 50/50. That is a mathematical, statistical fact. Now, if you flip that same coin nine times and it lands on tails every single time, what are the odds of it landing on heads the tenth time you flip it? Well, it’s still 50/50. Flip the coin 999 times; even if it comes up tails every time, the odds on that 1000th flip? STILL 50/50. Take the example as far as you like. Go off into the millions of flips, but no matter how many times in a row that coin inexplicably lands on tails , the odds of the next flip will always be 50/50.

The implications for how we view situations in life are profound in some ways because the entire time we’re flipping that coin, the rational “us” knows the chances are 50/50 every time, BUT if we hit a string of tails or heads the pattern-seeking function in our brains starts to falsify documentation with some sort of interior monologue:

Pattern Brain says, “It’s been tails seventeen times in a row!”

Rational Brain says, “Right, but it’s a fair coin. The odds have to be 50/50”

“You’re an idiot!”

“Why am I an idiot? It’s MATHEMATICAL and even though you hate math, it still doesn’t lie.”

“You’re still an idiot! Can’t you see the freaking OBVIOUS pattern? It’s stuck on tails! OBVIOUSLY this coin is different from every other coin. It’s going to land on tails next time as well.”

“What logical reason can you give me for a fair coin defying the mathematical axioms of the universe and NOT having 50/50 odds? I know it looks like a pattern, but it’s not!”

“Piss on your logic, piss on your axioms, piss on you, AND piss on the freaking HORSE Y’ALL RODE IN ON! IT’S A PATTERN!!!”

“Look, Patty –“

“DON’T! Don’t you get that smarmy, condescending tone with ME! I KNOW WHAT I SEE!”

“Okay, take it easy. Listen, I know how it looks, I really do. We are seeing through the same eyes, you know? Big Dude’s only got the one set. I realize it LOOKS like a pattern has developed, but you HAVE to let go of the past flips. Each flip is a brand new event and no matter how the past flips turned out, there’s STILL the same 50/50 shot this time it’ll land on heads . . . let’s watch, Big Dude’s about to do the 18th flip.”

The coin leaves his hand. It flips over and over in the air, lands on the table, and rattles around. He smacks his hand down to stop it, slowly moves his hand away, and reveals the coin has landed on . . . tails . . . again.

“I TOLD YOU, YOU FREAKING MORON! IT’S RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOU.”

“But . . .”

“SHUT UP! Stop telling me to ‘ignore the pattern’ or ‘ignore the past events.’ It happened that way. It’s a pattern. IT’S ALWAYS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS.”

That’s life in a nutshell. We do something and fail miserably. Our pattern seeking brains log that data. The next time a similar situation comes up, even though the setting and players may be totally different, we stand predisposed — some more so than others — to believe we’re going to fail because “we ALWAYS fail when we do ____!” The most serious consequence is if we do enough things and have enough experiences to log a LOT of pain, blues, and failures, our brain starts to remove the “_____” and we run the danger of telling ourselves simply “we ALWAYS fail.”

THAT is the point I’ve lived at for over seven years. I’ve always struggled with “living in the past,” but somewhere around the time Papa John died, the pattern-seeking part of my brain went into overdrive and discerned an obvious pattern of failure, pain, and rejection. Even though the circumstances were unique almost every time, I’ve processed a lot of accurate data but drawn false conclusions from it. As a result, I’ve become deeply emotionally crippled. I just can’t seem to get my life into gear because my mind is screaming at me to not do anything else that’s going to HURT.

So, that’s where my journey’s brought me . . . now the question is “Where do I go from here?” At the moment, my honest answer is, “Damned if I know.” Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

 

 

Freefallin’

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It’s not the fall;
It’s the sudden stop at the bottom.

I get a sick feeling when life goes well for more than a day or two at a stretch. I see good times as a pair of steel shoes resting on the ground and as the good days stretch out, one shoe sits while the other begins to rise and gain size; the longer the good stretch lasts, the higher and heavier the shoe gets, right up to the point when the next crisis strikes and “the other shoe drops” — literally screams down at 9.80665m/sec² — thus the higher and heavier it’s gotten (ie. the longer and better the stretch of life has been) the more destruction it causes when it hits ground.

Things have been going entirely too well lately and the other shoe had gotten much too far and fat for my liking. Even though I know it’s just a construct of my imagination, I still picture it up there — waiting, looming — and I cringe as the days pile up without incident because what goes up is going to come down and the farther up it goes, the worse it’s going to be. Well, my small group leader ended the waiting and ruined supper by announcing after four great years together, our group will cease to exist come May. That sound you hear is the wind whistling through the eyelets of a gargantuan steel Air Jordan streaking earthward like the comet that killed the dinosaurs.

As I sat staring into my empty plate like a poor dumb T-Rex on the prehistoric Yucatan Peninsula all I could think of was, “It’s happening AGAIN.” What is happening again is my abandonment mechanism is going off. If you don’t suffer from abandonment issues, get on your knees right now and thank Jesus, Buddha, Ganesha, or Shiva (or Darwin for the atheists in the crowd) because of all the agonies of Borderline Personality Disorder, the one I would least wish on anyone (except Hitler, Stalin, or Mao — you know, the only three people going to Hell) is Abandonment Issues.

When I was five, Mama and Daddy started having “trouble.” By the time I was seven, they had separated; by eight, divorced. I see Daddy’s blue stepside Chevy truck driving off and me waving desperately from the front porch of the trailer as clearly today as almost forty years ago. Two key things I’ve learned at great financial and emotional cost in seven years of therapy are 1) children with single digit ages have limited ability to process emotional nuances that cause adults problems and 2) when you experience a devastating trauma at a young age, a part of you emotionally never gets any older. So, while the 43-year-old man I am knows Daddy and Mama had issues and it was best they divorce, the seven-year old still inside me just sees daddies aren’t supposed to leave, but Daddy left ME. I want to be crystal clear about something right now — this is not a “beat up Daddy” post. This is a “why I am what I am” post and the fact is, Mama and Daddy’s divorce planted the seed of abandonment in my seven-year old soul and, dear God, has it grown over the years.

For several years after the divorce, I could not stand for Mama to leave me as she might decided not to return too. I tolerated her going to work to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table only because I got to stay with my beloved Papa and Granny Wham. Otherwise, if Mama wasn’t at work and I wasn’t at school, I was welded to her hip. Naturally, this caused some problems. I smothered the life out of Mama. My mother was a drop dead gorgeous woman and she was single again at 25, but she couldn’t date because I would throw a royal fit if she left me at night. I remember one time in particular, several women she worked with begged her to go to Myrtle Beach with them for a long weekend and she finally agreed, but she knew how I’d take it so she didn’t tell me. Instead, I went to Granny and Papa’s as usual but instead of getting up at midnight to go home, I woke up on Saturday morning next to Papa Wham.

To put it mildly (and seriously, I’m not even going into the details) I FLIPPED THE HELL OUT! I screamed, cried, and thrashed but most of all, I kept repeating over and over, “She left me, she left me . . . ” I was so distraught I made myself vomit from crying and screaming. It scared Granny to death. It didn’t do me a lot of good either, especially because I had no idea where Mama was, when she was coming back, but most of all what was wrong with me. I literally COULD NOT calm down. Mama never went anywhere again without me. I sucked a huge portion of life out of my precious Mama because I couldn’t bear for her to leave me.

Through the years, that feeling of being abandoned has flared up with angry intensity on more occasions than I’d care to admit. When I was in sixth grade, the first little girl I ever had a crush on moved. That would be tough on lots of kids. I was sick in bed for a week. When I was a junior in high school, the first girl I ever was truly, madly in love with went out with another boy. Wreck. Later, when we were seniors, we went through another rough patch and ended up calling it quits for good when she said, and I’ll never forget it, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you and the good news is IT’S NOT YOURS now I guess you know the bad news too.” That one was the first time I ever made out a bona fide suicide plan and would have carried it out if Duane Craddock had not defied his parents to come to my house and take me to Amy Mims’ house at midnight so the two of them could talk me down off the ledge so to speak.

I’ve got more, but this post has already run over my 1000 word target so I’m going to wrap this one up. Maybe, if enough of you decide you’d like to hear the rest of the story, I’ll do a part two about how abandonment issues have pretty much crippled my life for years now.

In any event, know that I love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Howdy, I’m a Parasite!

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chd_tick_engorgedFor most of my life, I’ve believed myself to be a person.  Apparently, I was wrong.

I’ve recently become privy to the fact that I am, instead of human, a parasite. Specifically, I am a life-draining, blood-sucking, economy wrecking, nation dooming species of parasite. Apparently, I became a parasite a few years ago when I started drawing Social Security Disability checks. According to various authorities on arthropodology, among them Conservative talk radio hosts (Rash Limburger springs to mind), some more strident members of the faction of the GOP ironically called the TEA Party, and certain friends and family members who are unaware of my source of income, I am a parasite and if me and my kind could be eradicated from the face of the Earth, this planet (or at least the portion occupied by the United States) would be a much healthier, safer, economically sounder, and altogether more wholesome place where the “American Dream” could flourish as Providence, the Founding Fathers, and John Boehner intended it to be.

To make my personal lowly state even worse, I know now that I’ve been in various stages of parasitism for years. In my larval stage, I was one of the hideous brood known as the “unemployed.” As such, I partook of life giving substances like SC Unemployment Insurance. I was even crass enough to draw unemployment for longer than the 26 weeks this tremendously progressive state allows people out of work to find another job. Yes, gentle readers, when my SCUI ran out, I latched on — leech that I am — to the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation. I was lucky on that account. The exterminators up on Capital Hill have done yeoman’s work eradicating the parasites still clinging to EUC; I managed to metamorphize into my current form as a “disabled worker” before EUC dried up.

I hate it for all the now-hungry critters who were living so high on the hog on those massive $276 per week EUC payments. Lord knows I sure liked my payments so much more than I liked going to the job of my dreams every day as a school librarian (this is back when I was human, of course) and earning ten times that amount per month. It was nice to pare down and simplify life. People were really helpful too when they’d look away quickly before telling you they weren’t hiring. I REALLY enjoyed going on interviews 90 minutes from home just to be told the position was already filled. That was the highlight of my day!

I hope my fellow larval parasites manage to find a McJob before their nests get foreclosed on. If they are lucky, maybe they can take the advice on the old McDonald’s employee website and get TWO McJobs. Then they might actually be able to afford to choose whether or not to buy gas, food, or medicine. Who knows? With that kind of newly disposable income floating around, the country should be back on track in no time! Then maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to pay the soldier parasites their full pensions for fighting our wars for us.

As for me, I love my life as a parasite. Nothing’s grander than staring out the window at a sunshiny day and only seeing rain. Yeah, I’m THAT kind of “disabled.” I’ve got one of those “conditions” no one can see so it probably doesn’t exist. After all, who’s ever heard of Borderline Personality Disorder or Severe Dysthymic Disorder or even the elusive Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Can’t see it; must not be real. Shoot, that’s a terrific argument. Atheists have been using it for YEARS!

Oh and the things people say to us parasites — trying to be helpful, of course. Things like, “with all that free time you have, you should do X, Y, or Z!” Sure thing! I’ll get right on that as soon as the anti-anxiety meds kick in so I can go out in public alone for about an hour. Have to make sure to take extra or get home before they wear off. People tend to get really uncomfortable when they see grown male parasites with tears streaming down their faces for no apparent reason trying to find a short checkout line so they can get through and hurry back to the nest.

So, to all you hardworking humans out there, this parasite would like to apologize. I’m sorry for slurping up your tax money, ruining the future of the country, and generally just dashing all your dreams. I promise I’ll try hard not to flaunt my overly extravagant lifestyle in your faces as I drive by in my old truck on the way home to my singlewide trailer-nest. Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll even work up the courage to step in front of a bus or something and there’ll be one less blood-sucking mouth for everyone and Congress to worry about.Freshly pressed

For the rest of y’all, I really do love y’all. You keep me going. So keep those feet clean and watch were you step, we parasites are everywhere.

Mayday! Mayday! We’re Going Down In Flames!

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hindenburg-wide

Unfortunately, that’s not a Led Zeppelin album cover, but a fairly close rendition of the state of my project.

I thought y’all might like a progress report on my project for NaNoWriMo. After all, I did make a big splashy announcement in my last post about how I was going to finally start that novel so many people have been pestering me about. Well, here is my report:

OH LORD! The HUMANITY! THE HORROR!

Truthfully, I don’t think Hemingway or Faulkner either one did it this way. Of course, they were most likely drunk during the entire time they were writing so they may not have noticed anyway. The short precise’ is, this has so far been an unmitigated disaster, heavy on the unmitigated-ness. Let me give a bit of a rundown.

First, for over a week before Friday, I would have trouble falling asleep because the characters and plot points were dancing like sugar plums in my feverish little mind. I practically had the entire first chapters ready to go, and I was just waiting on Friday to begin like the rules stated. Woke up Friday ready to start . . . nothing. The blank page with the accusing little blinking cursor at the top was a Xerox of my mind. Everything was gone as completely as degaussed hard drive. I had one page of notes I’d made and I started getting them somewhat organized, but everything else was, to quote Mortal Kombat, “Toasty!”

On top of my sudden loss of information, I started suffering from my first cold of the season. My head was completely stuffed and my chest — the real worry — was as tight as Dick’s hatband. I was wheezing and trying to cough, but the cough was nice and dry and hacky. Long experience with my doctor let me know it would be futile as resisting the Borg to bother scheduling an appointment. Dr. Lopez does not believe in antibiotics for “colds.” I agree, since colds are viral and antibiotics are useless against viruses, but I’ve also suffered from recurring bouts of walking pneumonia since I was in kindergarten so my chest being so tight bothers me. Oh, and there’s the little matter of the rasping and wheezing which didn’t do much for my nerves since it hasn’t been all that long that I watched Mama DIE rasping and wheezing. So, the cold triggered unwanted memories of Mama’s last days sending me into a nice depression that even now is spiraling downward as I write this.

Those little tidbits would be enough to put the quietus on the project but I’m not done recounting this Job-ian disaster just yet. I soldiered on through the weekend typing what I could remember into this amazing new word processing program I found that is JUST FOR NOVELISTS!! It outlines your novel and keeps up with your character biographies and lets you storyboard the plot points . . . using it early Saturday morning had me thinking I’d found a successor to sliced bread. I typed in several character biographies and outlined parts I couldn’t completely remember. I was slowly making headway even as I fought the black dog down from my throat. One of the greatest points of this program is it runs off a flash drive so I can move between computers as the mood to change scenery takes me.

Except . . . it doesn’t.

Nope. I moved from the desktop to my laptop just fine. I typed up a few hundred more words, saved and backed up everything, then took a break. I took the flash drive BACK to the desktop, and that’s where, to quote the band Citizen Kane, “The bottom dropped out.” Not only was my project gone . . . the entire PROGRAM was gone from the thumb drive! I didn’t panic, because I backed everything up on my laptop . . . except I didn’t. While sorting out this whole sordid debacle, I found in the “readme.txt” file on this program (you know the ONE thing people read LESS than the EULA for new software?) that running the program on a jump drive requires you to create an empty .ini file, which I did not. As a result, my project saved partly on the desktop in some strange location and partly on the laptop in an equally strange location. When I FOUND the two projects and tried opening them, Marilyn, my trusty desktop, told me they were corrupted. Well OF COURSE they were!

So, I’m back to square ZERO and if I choose to continue on this path of agony, I’m going back to OpenOffice or MS Word.

I say “if” because of the LAST piece de resistance I discovered last night reading some headlines on MSN. Harper Lee, author of my second favorite novel — To Kill A Mockingbird, is suing her hometown for copyright violations relating to her work and the museum the town erected years ago in her honor. Apparently, as she has gotten older and more infirm, Miss Lee — or someone representing her — has become quite litigious over her sole written work. This isn’t the only lawsuit she has in the works. So, why should I care? Well guess what MY NaNoWriMo project novel was to be based on? The events and some characters from To Kill A Mockingbird!! Well OF COURSE it is!

I had planned a continuation of sorts delving into the behind the scenes actions in the jury deliberation room and the eventual fates of some of the characters. It was all going to be derivative which is supposedly fair use under copyright law, BUT I’ve found the law to be what the judge SAYS it is and the judge SAYS what the person with the highest paid LAWYER wants him to say. I don’t have a lawyer, highly paid or otherwise, so I’m at an impasse. I don’t want to waste time writing unpublishable fan-fic BUT, I don’t want to get sued by a little old lady from south Alabama either.

So, I’m in the shadow of my own end zone and I’m punting. What’s coming next is anyone’s guess but y’all will be among the first to know!

TIl then, love y’all and keep those feet clean.

The Perils and Pitfalls of Prescription PAs

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EffexorIt’s been a couple of weeks since my last post and I figured I owe my few but loyal readers an explanation of where I disappeared to for the past fortnight. Quite simply, my meds were screwed up.

For those who are late joining this party, I have some mental health issues that I’m not particularly proud of, but which I don’t make any pretense of hiding either. Without knowing it, I’ve followed the advice Tyrion Lannister sagely gives Jon Snow to “Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” I’ve just supposed as long as I’m open about my issues, no one can throw them up at me and I may just help someone else along the way.

But I digress.

First of all, you must know I am thankful for my wife’s very good insurance coverage which allows us to buy medicines with only a small co-pay. I remember some years ago when we went through a period with no insurance at all and it gave me a tremendous appreciation for those co-pays as well as an equally tremendous hatred of pharmaceutical companies which is a rant for another time. During that stretch, my primary anti-depressant — Effexor XR — hadn’t crossed over to the generic side of the street and a bottle of 30 cost slightly north of $200 dollars. Luckily, Mama was still making good money then and carried me for about a year buying that expensive medicine monthly.

Now, though, times have changed a bit. I require two capsules per day to keep on a somewhat even keel. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, our insurance company claims to know more about my mental health needs than my wonderful psychiatrist. According to them, I should STILL only need one capsule per day, and therein lies the rub. In order to get my two capsules per day allotment, I must obtain the dreaded “prior authorization” form and have Dr. Stephens fill it out and fax it to the insurance company.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with some ways insurance screws you over, here’s a jolly good one — they don’t keep you from getting as much medicine as you want. If you have a prescription with six refills on it, you can get ALL SIX refills at one time if you desire . . . but they are not paying for it. I can get 30 capsules (or fifteen days worth) for $12.50 but unless I get the PA signed and faxed, the other 30 capsules to finish the month will set me back over $100 — and Effexor IS generic now.

Oh look! It's a map of the Eleventh Circle of Hell!

Oh look! It’s a map of the Eleventh Circle of Hell!

I’ve had to do this moronic little dance now for over five years. My 12 month PA runs out in November and I have to get a new one pushed through so I can get my December prescription filled. Well, this year when I got my November refill, the pharmacist didn’t put anything on the bottle about my PA running out as she had done for the last several years. That got me to thinking I no longer needed a PA since this was the first year for generic Effexor.  I went merrily about my way and got a refill again on December 26, 2012 and still had no information about needing any forms renewed. When that bottle ran out, I called in a refill once again and picked it up. When THAT bottle ran out, I called in another refill and trouble started immediately.

Apparently, I DID still need a prior authorization back in December, but with no note or anything, I failed to notice the bottle only had 30 capsules in it. Furthermore, when I picked up the second refill in January, that bottle only contained 15 days worth of medicine as well. So when I went back to get refill two for this year, the computer shut me down. I couldn’t get my refill without getting a new PA on file.

Now in the past, the computer would shut me down in November so I would get the 15 day supply, download the form, take the form personally to Dr. Stephens, watch him fill it out, and fax it to them myself. This time, with no note, I didn’t pay attention — which is my fault — to either bottle I refilled so I found myself sitting at the window of the pharmacy being told I couldn’t get my meds without paying full price . . . well over $200, even generic.

I immediately went into a panic because I was OUT of meds. Now that might not seem terrible for any of you who have run out of cold medicine or cough medicine or some such before, but when you run out of psychotropic medicines, it’s a whole new ballgame. If I miss ONE dose of Effexor, I am lethargic all day. If I miss TWO full doses, I get a migraine headache that will incapacitate me for AWHILE, and those are the GOOD withdrawal side effects. Normally, if I see I’m going to run out, for whatever reason, I’ll take a half dose. I still feel like warmed over death on a stick, but I can carry on for the most part, except for the dreams.

Whenever I’m in full or partial Effexor withdrawal, my subconscious really has a field day when I go to sleep. Within a day, I begin having the most vivid, psychedelic nightmares you can imagine. I have been chased by Jason Vorhees riding a transmuted werewolf and leading a pack of orcs and zombies. I have been sacrificed, tied up for the kraken, and more other weirder and more terrifying dreams.

Sleeping. Is. Hell.

If you are here and don't know if you are awake or asleep, it's not ending well.

If you are here and don’t know if you are awake or asleep, it’s not ending well. Just saying.

Budge won’t let me sleep in the bed when I’m in withdrawals; not because she’s mean to me but because she’s looking out for her safety and the safety of our cats. I have woken up from a withdrawal nightmare in full combat mode punching the couch and stomp kicking the coffee table. I’ve woken up by diving off the recliner into the floor and hitting the coffee table on the way down. At a certain point, I start hallucinating and can’t tell if I’m dreaming or in reality. That’s when I stay away from driving and sharp objects. It is miserable and if I go too long and start back taking my meds . . . I get to experience the same effects while the meds ramp up in my system again. Did I mention HELL?

Luckily, the pharmacist on duty was a former student of mine. He fronted me ten capsules and by halving my dosage, I was able to make it til my PA went through, but it was a near run thing. I still had some kooky dreams but nothing like full-blown withdrawal. So that’s where I’ve been, everyone. I just haven’t had the wherewithal to make a post. Hopefully, I’ll be back in the high life again and can start up my former erratic schedule. Here’s hoping anyway.

Until then, keep those feet clean and know that I love y’all.

Friday Night Lights Shine on the Friday Night Blues

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In the five years since my last teaching contract renewed and I left education, I have endure a crippling wave of sadness during the first week of “back to school.” That sadness is never more acute and I never have to struggle harder to keep bullets out of my head, poison out of my system, or my car at the top of cliffs rather than the bottom than at six o’clock on the first full schedule Friday of high school football.

If you’ve never taught in a high school, I can’t adequately describe for you how important Friday nights are, especially here in the Southland. Any school with a football team is a beehive all day on Friday as the guys (and a girl or two) walk the halls in their jerseys and the cheerleaders wear their non-dress-code-conforming uniforms to school. The day is spent making plans for who is riding with whom to where and who is bringing the illicit substances to the bonfire or house party after the game.

I used to eat up every moment of it. Every Friday for the fifteen years I taught, I was young again for ten Fridays in the fall and as long as my school’s team managed to stay in the playoffs. The kids used to take me back to the Friday nights when my friends and I were the ones planning. From my freshman year through my junior year, I went to more games than I missed. I even went to a game or two my senior year even though the taste of bile and ashes had replaced the once-sweet euphoria by then, but that’s another story.

Several of my friends of those days were football players and one of my lasting regrets is never having tried to get on the team. I was acquainted with many of the cheerleaders and wrote essays for more than one of them so they could keep good enough grades to stay on the squad. My best buddy at the time, Robby, was first trumpet in the band, so I always sat as close to the band as possible. Another regret is never trying to get in the band. I guess I can chalk up my lack of participation to a few things. Some are gifted with athletic prowess and some with musical talent. My gift was, and is, memory. Some call it a gift; I lean more towards curse and agree with the Absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett when he says

“Memories are killing things. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”

God knows I don’t miss much about high school, but I do miss Friday nights. For those aforementioned years in education, I got those Friday nights back, especially the few years when my schools were desperate enough for warm bodies to ask me to be an assistant football coach. I have a painfully entertaining story of my first game as a JV football coach which involves me, an away game, and a whistle. Maybe I’ll tell the entire story sometime, but for now suffice it to say we lost the game and the night in general was a cascade of fiascoes one atop another. Actually, that phrase pretty much describes my whole football coaching career. Still, it was a lot of fun.

Now though, I’m a civilian. Here it is 6:30 on the first big football Friday. Oh, I know I could go to a local game anyway, but it’s not the same. Something about plunking down your teacher id and walking in the gate for free just adds a special sweetness to the night. The greatest reward, though, is the smiles on the faces of the boys on the field when they catch sight of you on the track or in the stands. Little Johnny may have been the bane of your existence in second block all year, but come Monday, when you tell him how awesome his one tackle of the night was, you’ll have him in your back pocket. Trust me on that one . . . I know from experience.

Go out and pull for your favorite teams and take care everyone.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Wasn’t Always Like This

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Oh, don’t worry . . . . I’m not going anywhere, LOL.
I’ll be around for a long, long time yet!

I haven’t written much in several months about my fights with the old black dog, but he has hung around the entire time nonetheless. This last month or so has been one spectacular fang and claw deathmatch after another and today hasn’t really been an exception. I came perilously close to a complete and utter melt-down in my local Bi-Lo today after the bank teller wouldn’t cash the check Mama gave me to replace what I’d used to buy a radiator for Rob’s truck so none of us would have to make umpteen trips back and forth to Simpsonville burning $3.33 a gallon gas.

The whole thing seemed simple enough. I bought the part and took to Rob when I picked Mama up for her doctor’s appointment. Mama gave me the check, the truck was fixed, I went to cash the check because it was after 1:00 and SunTrust Bank — which used to be CCB, which used to be American Federal, which used to be Southern Savings and Loan — holds any funds deposited after 1:00 until the next business day, UNLESS you deposit the funds in a “grocery store branch” in which case they hold the funds TWO business days. You can get around this rule by cashing a check and depositing the cash. If you do that, the funds are available immediately.

So that was the plan, but it didn’t work because the new “assistant branch manager” of something that technically isn’t a branch wouldn’t cash the check because I didn’t have enough funds in the account to cover the check and she didn’t care that the reason I didn’t have enough funds was because of the parts I had bought for which I’d been reimbursed by the check in her hand.

I just didn’t need this today because it’s already been a bad week. I felt the top of my head float away like it does at times like this and I strangled my words to keep from saying what I really wanted to say. I deposited the check and picked up some stuff for supper, went back to the counter and DIDN’T bite back what I’d wanted to say after all. Then left as she was doing that sickeningly sweet “hope you have a nice week, sir” to my back.

I just walked on when what I really wanted to do was whirl around and say, “No you don’t. You think I’m an asshole — mostly because I am — and you couldn’t care less if I win the lottery or die of an onslaught of necrotizing fascitis; in fact, if I were killed by a lightening strike in the parking lot seconds from now, you’d probably point to my demise as proof of divine justice being real and immediate and dance a little jig around my smoking corpse.”

But I didn’t because I was too angry and not at her but at me. Once upon a time, I didn’t live like this. Once upon a time, a little thing like this wouldn’t have held me up for a minute and I’d probably had something witty to say and we’d all have just laughed it off. Not anymore. Incidents like this cause a fury to engulf my emotions that I can’t really adequately describe.

Let me try to analogize. If you’ve ever had a very sore finger — severely jammed or even broken — you know that finger seems to become a magnet for door jambs, counter tops, and jumping dogs. No matter how hard you try, that finger gets bumped and banged and every time it does, the pain shoots through the finger and up your arm to explode behind your eyes in a rainbow of agony. Well, mostly lately my entire being is that sore finger. I find myself in a rage or else near to tears for absolutely no apparent reason. Sometimes, there’s no reason at all, apparent or otherwise.

Stress makes it worse which is even more infuriating to me because, once upon a time, I could eat stress for breakfast. I had adapted to the point that I thrived on stress and last minute stuff. Somewhere along the line, though, and I’ve pinpointed it to about nine months after I was fired from my high school teaching job ten years ago, I lost the stress handling mechanism and now, stress of any kind sends me into the stratosphere to paralyze me with anger or apathy depending on the caprice of the black dog’s whim. It’s gotten to the point that I just want to stay home and a lot of the time, that’s exactly what I do.

Truthfully? This mess just isn’t much fun anymore.