Category Archives: Mental Health

With Love (The M.T. Rule)

I have a couple of quotes/rules of mine I made quite a bit back. They are the result of a lot of agony. No disrespect is intended for anyone who has struggled with these issues – or struggled because they love someone with them. Over the weekend, one of the coolest actors to grace the screen, Michael K. Williams, aka Omar from The Wire, died as a result of his struggle with addiction. Don’t make the mistake of confusing addiction with intelligence, willpower, or environment. Once it gets its claws in, there are often no lengths those suffering won’t go to in order to feel something – or to feel nothing. That escalation scrapes everyone around them. If you’re in the periphery trying to get closer, you get entrapped in the ever-tightening spiral.

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Here they are:

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The M.T. Rule:The surest way to cause yourself heartache and anxiety is to interfere with someone who is racing to rock bottom.

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The M.T. Rule Addendum: NOT doing so results in identical heartache and anxiety.

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Covid has worsened people’s ability to cope. It’s largely hidden until the spiral does enough damage to draw attention.

Love, X

Anxiety Said No

Out of the blue, I got invited for a holiday get-together at a former supervisor’s house today. The same supervisor invited me to enjoy Thanksgiving with her and the family years ago; I enjoyed it. (And that was back when I was really crazy, by my own admission. No matter what Becky says, I know I drove her nuts a few times.) It was a surprise to be around Becky as a person. Knowing people at work compared to seeing them in their own private cocoons is always a treat and a revelation. Work requires us to deviate from who we are. It’s not something most of you would disagree with me about. I didn’t go to the get-together. Instead of making an excuse, I told her daughter that anxiety was the culprit this time. And it’s true. But the surprise invitation made me remember that there is an entire world out there. Such an odd thing, my reaction. Is this too personal? Isn’t everything?

My Feet Are A Time Machine

I put off laying down until I thought I would sleep like the dead. Thoughts of the day still swirled mercilessly in my head. Because of a promise, I took melatonin. Sleep grabbed me and pulled me under. And at 11:11, it spit me back out, leaving me awake and wondering what had prompted my brain to so completely jostle me out of my reverie.

This time I did as I had promised myself I would. I got up, dressed lightly, and left my phone, wallet, and usual artifacts of life on the stool I use as a table. There are times when walking without distraction can be one’s only peace.

I went outside into the night.

And walked, directionlessly.

Mile after mile, both time and distance unmeasured.

Despite finding the heat of the night and the sights and sounds invigorating, I realized I had to go back. Because I didn’t have my phone, I couldn’t Uber. I made it back to my apartment with time to spare.

But I used the calculus of those who often don’t sleep well to determine that I’d be better off to take a shower and go to work early. I did smile toweling off, seeing all the wonder and color of my new shower curtain.

Now, I’m trying to convince myself that I didn’t dream that long walk. The long muscles of my legs are whispering to me otherwise, though.

Returning, and looking at my phone, I laughed. My thoughtful cousin had sent me a link to read the next time I found myself gripped by sleeplessness. Ha!

I’m frowning at my sleeplessness.

And smiling at all those miles of asphalt and concrete.

A long day lies ahead of me, and a longer night lies behind.

I am here, enough, and waiting for next the next surprise. It’s Wednesday for us all, and yet I feel like I got an extra day between today and yesterday.

Love, X

Loneliness Crushes Vanity

“The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.” Thomas Wolfe.

He was right.

It is impossible to feel confident and optimistic when loneliness sneaks up behind you with clenched fists.

Like all things, it passes, often as surreptitiously as it came. But that’s like saying your hand was only on the burner of the stove for one second.

Someone smart once said, “If you feel lonely, dim all the lights and put on a horror movie.”

A Bit Of Vanity And An Admission

“If you’re going to worry, put a saddle on it and ride it out of the barn and into the sunlight. Most worry melts away with activity and exposure. If you’re not riding worry, it’s certainly riding you.” – X

I can’t thrive in the present moment and think about the past or worry about the future. Each of us has a finite amount of time, a limited amount of focus, and each of us probably suffers from the illusion that somehow we’re differently immune to negative thinking. I learned the hard way that intelligence in no way affects these things, other than perhaps to add window dressing to the rationalizations and justifications that people always use to excuse away what they’re thinking or what they’re doing.

Intelligence is both a kaleidoscope and magnifier to our excuses. Creativity grants us further ability to pull the wool over our own eyes. Worse, we push people around us into becoming co-conspirators to our unhelpful thinking.

Every couple of weeks, I find myself able to break my previous pushup record. I started doing them on June 1st, a few at a time, as many times a day I could manage. I’ve experimented with different triggers to do another set: bathroom trips, specific words, times. Friday, I incorporated something I learned in counseling. I started doing a set every time I found myself in a loop of fearful or negative thinking. Though it may reflect poorly on me, I beat my previous record so badly that I know there is no way I will ever do that many again in a single day. I did a lot again Saturday, a normal amount, whatever that is. But for Friday, I committed myself to no excuses. I knew already that I’m like most people and succumb to fearful and negative thinking, probably more than I usually realize. Doing pushups every time I realized I was in a thought loop was an excessive and forceful way to remind myself that I need to continue to do the work to stop fearful thinking sooner. Thinking of the worst possible outcome or scenario is a guaranteed way to rob yourself of happiness.

By taking control and action each time I realized I was doing it, I also learned that my pushup “limit” was as imaginary as a “safe life” is.

And so, despite writing the above yesterday morning, I eclipsed Friday’s record later yesterday. Someone commented to me, “You don’t seem to have done your usual number of pushups today.” I laughed. “I did two hundred just while walking this morning.” Those happened while I trudged through a massive rainstorm and flooded streets. I do hope people saw me and wondered, “What in tarnation is he doing pushups in the thunderstorm for?” Had anyone asked me, I would have jokingly replied, “To demonstrate that nothing will stop you if you’re either motivated. Or crazy.” I doubt saying, “I do pushups for exercise – and I do a set each time I find myself thinking negatively as a means to control my mind” would fall easily into people’s ears.

Likewise, when I finished the day Sunday, I laughed. Goals and records exist to be broken. (Just like the heads of obstinate people who won’t try a different way of thinking to see if it results in a better life for themselves.)

Every time I think I’ve reached my limit, I should assume it’s vanity and simply beat it.

Even though work today was strenuous, I got intrigued by the question, “Can I do this again today and break yesterday’s record?” The answer is yes. And I did.

Friday, I did an unbeatable number of pushups. I did it again Sunday. I woke up with no idea that I’d do it again today. But I did—a Monday.

Friday will stick with me because I channeled unhealthy thinking into a positive outcome. I haven’t mentioned a specific number. It isn’t 1,000. But I realized today that it could be if I wanted to. Now it’s stuck in my head that my pushup curve is congruent with the exact angle of my weight loss.

If you see me doing pushups, you didn’t catch me doing them any more than me putting on my shirt inside out by accident or wearing mismatched shoes. If people can stand outside and do crazy things such as smoke, dip, and ride recumbent bicycles, watching someone exercise shouldn’t be a shock to the delicate eyes of people observing me.

P.S. Not related to the above… today’s prank was that I used a roll of yellow CAUTION tape to make a massive X across someone’s doorway and prevent entry into same without ripping the tape down. No one has mentioned it on social media or to me. I can’t imagine they went inside through the back door. I think not knowing how the prank was received is most of the fun. You can blame the Fayetteville Walmart for reminding me that I needed to do this prank.

Anger’s Fishbowl

I sat next to the large glass window, my food, chips, and Tajin in front of me. I’d describe my mood as grateful and happy.

Outside, a woman with her mom and two children were eating lunch. They’ve joined the two small tables on the sidewalk to make a megatable. Before I’d entered, I could hear the younger mother chastise her son in a way that made me attentively continue listening. He was prancing around the perimeter, his feet tracing a path around a sidewalk pot of beautiful yellow flowers. The breeze was brisk, and the day was a treat. Fair or not, I decided that the younger mother might be an asshole.

As I sat at my inside table, I couldn’t help but watch the four people as they interacted. The two children, especially the boy, seemed to overflow with energy and interest. Grandma didn’t fuss at the children; she appeared to be a little dismayed by the frequency and ferocity of her daughter’s ire at the children, though. While I couldn’t hear the mother as she fired staccato bursts of irritation, her expression and body language were a red flag. Whatever was going on in her life, it was apparent that her kids were the outlet of her anger, which probably was true most of the time. I’d say the girl was three and the boy was five.

I turned away from the otherwise beautiful view of the street and goings-on outside. A few minutes later, the door in front of me opened, inviting in the mom’s grating and irritated voice. “I said stay the eff out here!” I looked to see that she was yelling at her son, who attempted to follow her inside. He flinched and stepped back away from her reach. I recognized the body language from my own childhood. It took me a minute to convince myself to do what I don’t do best: shut the hell up.

What should have been a delicious meal in a beautiful setting instead became a refresher course in the insidious curse of having too much anger in one’s life. I hate it when I notice it like today. I know what the kid’s lives are going to be like. Every ounce of free happiness they have will be squeezed out of them by someone who might not know how angry she really is. Maybe they’ll get lucky. Perhaps the mom will get help.

Here’s why if you look at the picture on this post, you will notice my eyes are a little misty. As the four left the tables and walked to my right, I waved at both the boy and the girl who trailed behind the two older women. They waved back. I finished my incredible lunch, thinking about all the needless anger and unhappiness around us. A few minutes later, mother and grandmother passed within two feet of where I sat, both holding drink cups. Moments later, the two children pranced by. To my surprise, they both waved at me AGAIN as they passed. I laughed and waved back. Mom turned to chastise the children to hurry and catch up and noted that I was waving. She snarled and said something I couldn’t hear. I’m guessing it was something along the lines of, “Don’t talk to my children!” And then she scolded the children, who both stood motionless staring at the ground. Grandma stared up at the canopy or nothing. I’m guessing the mom told them, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

I wanted to duck outside and tell her, “I think they’d be better off with strangers.” But of course, I didn’t. I bit my tongue. The universe will take whatever course of action it is supposed to. That’s the lie I tell myself, anyway. Having earned my merit badge in parental anger, I know too well that it is nothing more than a lottery.

When I left, I took a picture of the corners nearby and then one of myself. I almost always do. It reinforces the idea of the new me, the melted one I still don’t always recognize. I’ve been accused of being vain. That’s not true. I’m trying to convince myself that it really is me. Looking at the picture, I realized I should have wiped my eyes a little. They betray the slight jolt of listening to that mom fail to get control of herself.

I’m not sure I have a takeaway for this little story. Likely, I’ll never cross paths with those people again. I hope the children cross paths with people who find a way to show them that life is not as their mother sees it. Were I one to pray, that might be the one I’d write on my little piece of paper and tuck away into my heart.

Before leaving, I retrieved a piece of chalk from my car and wrote a few words on the sidewalk about anger being infectious.

Carpe Vinum Like a MoFo

This morning, I drove across town, heading back. I felt like I had been on another planet for a day. In a way, I guess I had. Whenever you find yourself in a transition in life, try to take a moment to snapshot how you’re feeling. That feeling later morphs into comfort or consolation, no matter what the ‘after’ you find yourself in looks like. Life is going to sneak up on you anyway. And no matter what you’re planning, some of the things that you dread reveal hidden treasures – while other certainties end up fizzling or filling you with disappointment.

Yesterday, to my horror, I realized that pink fuzzy dice are prominently featured in the amazing book, “The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste.” It’s a good thing my set of pink fuzzy dice can’t read English, or their feelings would be hurt. To my delight, many things I like had their respective pages. “Everything is in bad taste to someone,” I like to remind myself.

I also became a fun memory for someone yesterday. He’d never had someone come in and say, “I want however much pico de gallo $20 will buy. I ain’t here to negotiate. Whatever it is, it is.” To my surprise, it was a LOT. And they threw in two bags of unrequested chips and salsa for free. After I paid for my order, a shorter Latino man came around the corner. The cashier pointed at me. (He didn’t know I was looking at him askance.) The Latino man looked in my direction. I waved like I was recently injured in the head. It was apparent to me that he had poked his head out to see ‘who’ ordered so damn much pico de gallo. He hastily retreated as I waved to him. I told the cashier in Spanish, “Does spying cost extra?” He laughed.

I’m also 100% sure that the two workers in the liquor store I entered thought I was trying to steal. Naturally, I made at least five needless and random tours around the smaller store. I thought about ducking below the top to REALLY draw their interest but don’t want to be banned from another liquor store.

On my walk yesterday, I discovered so many hidden gems, hideaways, and unexpected pleasures. On one dead-end side street, I discovered new and fabulous houses. The style was so odd that I realized I loved it. It’s not something I would ever choose, but now that I’ve seen it, I’m impressed. At the outlet of that street, I stopped and did pushups. The smell of the towering mimosa tree was unbelievable. I stood under it as the purposeful wind swirled the scent around me.

I also got reminded this weekend of how much turmoil some people have to endure. Some suffer so much invisibly that they don’t come out of it alive. Having done the one wise thing I’ve done in a year and going to counseling gives me an entirely different appreciation for those who don’t go when they need it. Right now, I am sure that someone will read this and be one of those people who secretly have a private feedback loop running in their head, the one telling them that there’s no point or that maybe they shouldn’t be here. Counseling isn’t what you fear it might be. But it can be the starting point. And so many people would benefit from getting a handle on their issues now. We don’t realize we’re at the beginning of an avalanche until we’re half-buried in snow. The best gift you can give someone is the confidence you need in yourself to be able to tell them that they would benefit from getting help. And if you’re the person needing help, give yourself the gift by confiding in someone that you need help.

I stopped this morning and bought two containers of chalk, one of which I almost entirely used, making a ‘small’ homage somewhere in Springdale. A couple of people witnessed me in action but said nothing to discourage me. It’s too bad I wasn’t wearing pants. (Just kidding about the no-pants portion. Although that much chalk residue is a real problem at times.) It’s not like chalk is graffiti; it’s as impermanent as we are, though we cavalierly pretend otherwise as we move around on the face of this planet.

Leaving the grocery store, I saw an older Latino man ahead. Both arms were weighed down with liquor store bags. I slowed, checked behind me, and tossed the myriad mess from my passenger seat into the back. Pulling up alongside the man, I rolled my window down. (Yes, my Spark has roll windows, which is something that I love the idea of.) “Hop in,” I told him in Spanish. He politely declined. I insisted and repeated my first line with a bit of salty language. He laughed and put the bags on the floorboard as he climbed inside. I saw that he had Harps bags tucked inside each liquor store bag. (For those few people who don’t drink, black liquor store bags are much stouter than their grocery store counterparts.) About halfway inside, he realized how small the car was. “Where are you headed? I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.” It turned out he was staying a couple of miles up the road. I asked him he needed anything: money, food, a ride somewhere else… “No, but thanks,” he said. He told me he was working twelve hours a day and sleeping in the garage of one of his friends. I didn’t pry, but he volunteered that the last year was the worst year of his life. Without thinking, I said, “You’re paying the price now to have your life back.” He looked at me, and I realized that I probably touched a nerve. “Verdad.” He got out, picked up his bags. He nodded his head as a farewell as he walked up to the house.

I opened the garage door and fired up the grill to make grilled chicken breasts and portabello mushrooms. Almost immediately, a dog wandered up. For a brief second, I thought he was going to attack. Unexpectedly, he ducked his head and began to wag it back and forth, his eyes downcast. I kneeled and petted him like he was my dog, oblivious to the initial idea he might bite. After I finished petting him for a couple of minutes, he laid on the garage floor, content. I found some old smoked turkey breast and put it on the ground. He ate it, his tongue working across his snout long after he finished it. When I finished grilling, Guajolotero, as I named him, still was sprawled out on the garage floor. I cut up one of the huge chicken breasts, along with a portabello mushroom, and fed them to him. He ate slowly but thoroughly. Even though he still licked his chops, I petted him again. Afterward, he casually plopped down to rest again. Apparently, he adopted me. If that’s the case, I will hope he doesn’t expect freshly grilled chicken and mushrooms on the daily.

Two hours later, he’s still in the garage, chilling.

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“It doesn’t matter who you’ve been with, it matters who you end up with.”
Anonymous wisdom
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“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, if you’ve made amends as much as you can, it only matters who you end up to be. None of us are ever finished – and those who think they are, well, they are ‘finished’ in quite another way.” – X
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Something I learned in counseling.

Do you feel like you failed today, or worse, that you were a failure?

If you’re alive, you succeeded in doing something, even if it is the minimum necessary.

Tomorrow, survive again.

Stop expecting a dramatic crescendo of satisfaction from each of your days and eventually, gratitude for JUST the minimum will take root.
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I hope to get my hands on this door, to help in transition into something else.

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Love, X

A Personal Update

This is a personal post, so scroll past if you’re not interested in learning new and terrible things about me. I’m always one for transparency, even when it’s complicated. Especially when it’s difficult. I’ve not been silent out of apprehension or shame. I always feel free to tell my own story – because I own it. Being compassionate, I also realize that other people don’t want a rock dropped on their heads simply because their story overlaps with mine. I’ve waited to say anything specific out of deference to the other people involved. It’s my story now, though.

I’m getting divorced. Because people need to assign blame or frame such things in their heads, you can place the responsibility for the divorce directly on me. Of course, there’s more to the story – but it would be wrong for me to evade the finger pointed at me. Adding explanatory caveats would be equivalent to ruining an apology by offering excuses. Those who know me well know the story. When my marriage faltered, I turned my attention to another woman. While I did not consummate the relationship, I fell in love with her. That’s entirely on me. Not that anyone is entitled to know the details. But I’m not so stupid as to think that people don’t know. It’s human nature, and whispers travel faster and more loudly than headlines.

For the lurkers who are tempted to write something snarky, go ahead, but please take a moment to be creative in your attempt. I don’t mind contempt or passive-aggressive tomfoolery so long as it’s both authentic and distinctive. I can get run-of-the-mill snideness from several sources. Chance are your two cents won’t affect me. I’ve already paid the price for my choices; a few words can’t possibly inflame anything medieval lurking in my heart.

In so many ways, I failed and succeeded simultaneously over the last year. I hurt people who shouldn’t have been. I realize that my intentions are meaningless and irrelevant when compared to the consequences of my choices. I’ll try to take the successes and amplify them. Whether I’ll learn anything from my adventures and misadventures is always the critical question.

My wife is keeping the house. Evidently, homes and property should remain in the hands of responsible people. I’m not sure where I will end up. I much prefer having a roommate, but so far, that has been a bust. You wouldn’t know it, but I’m not nearly as crazy in person as you might think. (Admittedly, though, there is a disproportionate likelihood of tomfoolery.) If I move from Springdale, I’ll miss it terribly. I’ve grown to know it very well, especially during the pandemic. Barring something surprising, I will probably get an apartment in Fayetteville that’s too expensive for me, primarily because of work – and probably without a roommate or someone I know. I’d rather not live alone, even if doing so might be beneficial to me somehow. I’ve somehow managed to stay in the same job for 16 years without one of my co-workers murdering me. To be clear, I’m pretty sure there have been discussions, but luckily, no assassin has been hired, at least not that I know of.

As tough as things have been, I’m glad I had counseling. I was lucky. I put the pin back in before I made my life worse, as well as learning how to sleep again. Counseling didn’t fix all of my problems, of course, but it might have saved me.

My story isn’t particularly original and certainly not so during the pandemic.

There’s no need to react or comment if you don’t want to or don’t quite know ‘how’ to do so. This isn’t something you see on social media very frequently. It’s certainly something that happens all the time, though. By posting this, I’m removing the taboo of openly talking about it.

Love, X

Marketing 101

Today, when I walked in to see the counselor, I handed her this card. She’s accustomed to my sense of humor and laughs authentically when I catch her off-guard. I was incredibly lucky to randomly find her.

There’s a punchline to this. I told her that I came up with the perfect tagline for her as-of-yet written proposal for workgroup mental health discounts: Crazier By The Dozen.

“I’m not sure prospective clients would understand the humor.”

“Well, then they ARE crazy, aren’t they?”

I feel like I won at life in that brief moment.