Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 Thoughts

15 years ago today, my wife and I walked into the oncologist’s office to start her fifth round of chemo.  I was focussed on making sure that everything was as good as it could be, given the circumstances. Anti-nausea meds? Got ‘em. Kids taken care of for the next few days? I thought so. Food that Joy could eat? I hoped that sushi would be OK, that it was low-odor enough for her to stomach. I was thinking that maybe zinc would help with the dis-regulation of her taste buds, something I had read in an old New Yorker article. I was a little wooly-headed from the stress. Joy was deep in her emotional upheaval. 

In the office, everyone was talking about the plane which had hit the World Trade Center. My first thought was, “How the hell did the pilot get that far off course?” We watched the tower smoking through our mental haze. The nurse got Joy settled into the lounger, and started the preliminary drip. So we were watching when the second plane hit, and we understood that it was an intentional act. We watched as the towers fell. We heard about the Pentagon. And we heard about the plane crash in Eastern Pennsylvania.

While my wife was hooked up to the evil red drip, I made some frantic phone calls. Our daughter had left that morning on a school field trip to Washington, D.C., and we figured out that the class would be very close to where the plane hit. I called the school, who had no information. I called my mother to let her know what I had seen and heard on the news (we were in White Plains, 45 minutes outside the city, she was at home on the Upper East Side) and to tell her to stay inside. Then I tried to call our family office on Wall Street, but the phone lines were out. Eventually the school called to let us know that the kids were OK, and were returning to school late that evening. That was good: I didn’t have to leave Joy and drive down to get our girl.

We went home after the session, and pulled the rug up behind us.

The next day we began to find out what had happened. People I knew had died, family and friends of close friends had died, Wall Street was in chaos. Our kids were home, my wife was sick, there was nothing I could do. We hung in there, tried to console each other and the girls, called our friends to commiserate and mourn.

Eventually the chemo and radiation were finished, my wife’s hair began to grow back, NY began to look more like its regular ugly self (despite being born there, lived and worked there, I have no love for the city. Yes, it is interesting. Yes, there are wonderful parts. Yes, yes, yes. I despise it.) Giuliani boasted of his accomplishments, the rubble and debris were mostly gone, there was a big hole in the ground.

It had been my mother’s 69th birthday.

After that, the years when we went to dinner, people gave us the side-eye, or occasionally direct confrontation: Why are you celebrating? Are you terrorists? Don’t you CARE? And we would have a conversation about “going about our lives”. 

America realized something that day: we are mortal, and life is unpredictable in its application of mortality. Predictably, we lashed out at the targets we could see, and equally predictably, politicians pointed us at the targets they though would make them the most news/money/votes. The “news” media had a field day, and ratings were never better! Everyone won.

Except you know, the 30,000 troops who died in the phony “police actions” that followed. Except for the 300,000 people who died under our bombs. Except for all the grieving families.  Except for all the countless soldiers who were ignored when they came home (except at NFL/NHL/NBA games, which, you know, is totally supporting the troops.)

Mortality. The notion that you could die at any moment, unpredictably, unprepared, unaware. Or, maybe worse, you might not die, but a family member, a child, a wife or husband, a parent might die and leave you alone. And it is SO convenient to blame ISIS/ISIL/DAESH for your fears. Why, if it’s them, then all we gotta do is nuke them until they glow, then shoot them in the dark, right? Right? THEN we’ll be safe.

And since we can’t tell who you are, anyone who doesn’t look like me, gets the terrorist treatment. And I’m “colorblind”, which is a great way to say, “You all look alike to me, so you're all suspects.” And since I’m afraid, I’ll scream and get laws passed that criminalize looking like a terrorist. THEN I’ll be safe.

I’ve buried 2 kids. I KNOW what it’s like to live in fear of losing another. I know what it’s like to want to wrap my family in bubble-wrap to protect them. It’s no way to live.

Our country still lives in fear. It’s no way to live.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Something came up...

And that's really why it's been such a challenge to keep up with the blog

So now I have a diagnosis. Wow.
More than a year later, it’s still a little hard to get my head around it. Aren’t I just moody? I feel normal. I mean, I felt normal before, and I still feel normal now, but it’s different now. (No jokes from the family about how I was never normal, please, or I’ll start writing about you!) How is it different? It’s hard to say, but it’s sort of like being more relaxed. It was getting very obsessive inside my brain, in a way that I didn’t like and felt powerless to stop. Not like, I’m getting ready to jump off a bridge, but sort of, I just don’t know how to deal, what’s the matter with me, why is everything so hard, over and over and over. It must be something I’m doing, so maybe I should just go away, and take my misery with me; that way I wouldn’t be trashing out other people. Or if I happened to fall in to the pool, would that be so bad? But feeling miserable is just indulging isn’t it? I should just accept my feelings and go with them, right? And then what? Is everything supposed to turn out fine just because I don’t fight my feelings (cue REO Speedwagon)? Back and forth, over and over and over.

I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, and terrified by the time I went for help. 

Not having those obsessive, intrusive thoughts is a revelation. Space to think. Room to consider. I had said to the doctor that all I wanted was to be able to take 2 breaths between something happening and feeling a desperate need to respond. Now I have plenty of time. I feel like I >can< take the time I need, even if I often don’t because, hey, I’m moving fast though this moment. But when I want to, I can and I do.

Being able to get up and write. Being able to stay on Weight Watchers. (Sometimes).

But the thing is, it felt like this was just how things are. You’re sad? Ok, then, you’re sad. Depressed, well, I’m not depressed, I’m just grieving and maybe I’ll grieve like this for the rest of my life. That’s just the way it is, right? All throughout this time I never had the sense that I was all that different from how I had been for years. This despite my wife (among others) telling me that I had changed. Well, of COURSE I had changed! Shit happened, wouldn’t that change anyone? Etc, etc. But what I wasn’t getting (and to be fair to me, neither was anyone else, including my therapist), was that the changes were accumulating and getting worse.

And you want to know something funny? People who are depressed can hide it like no-one’s business. From almost anyone, including their therapists. And it’s not like it’s something we work on: it’s just that it’s easier to talk about other stuff than the dreary reality of unhappy obsessive thoughts. So many depressed people are thought to be the life of the party, especially if their temperament is naturally extroverted. And yes, extroverts can be depressed, too. And introverts aren’t especially prone to depression. And your Myers-Briggs has nothing to do with it. And no, it’s not just that you need to get out more. Or just do more fun things. Or just do more exercise. Or any of the other stuff that people who have no idea what it’s like in our heads think would help us. Bless them, they’re trying to help. (Often because it makes them SO uncomfortable that we’re not “right”.) But for most people with any of these forms of mood disorders (depression, bipolar spectrum, borderline personality, and some others), what helps more is medication and therapy. 

(Another part of hiding things is that people, usually our therapists and loved ones, want us to DO things: Get out more, try this or that, read this book, look at this video. And we just can't. Not one more thing. I was running on the edge of collapse for a long time, and adding more to that would only hasten my daily dives. So I didn't (and my people with serious mental issues also don't) talk about how I felt. It's a protection thing that also happens to work against us while simultaneously protecting us.)

Now, there certainly are many people who manage their lives without medication and therapy, and my hat is off to them. I couldn’t. And I worked at it (not knowing what the problem was, to be sure) for many years. I wasn’t unaware of the fact that I wasn’t as happy as I had once been, or more easily triggered into upset, or generally more difficult to deal with. But I figured the best thing I could do was to work harder at the things I thought would help: meditation, therapy, exercise, finding a new hobby (once a month, usually, and yes, that was a symptom that we all missed) etc. For years. But because I kept thinking that the cause of all this chaos in my head was due to outside events (like my wife’s cancer, losing 2 kids and my parents, my daughter’s issues, etc.), I kept looking for answers in doing things. It wasn’t until it got so bad, and then stopped, and then started up again, that I got scared enough to overcome my distrust of psychiatric drugs and seek help. 

And now I am the poster child for medication working the way they hope. No unbearable effects (I’ll write about the pernicious use of the term “side-effect” to cover up all sorts of known issues another time), no physical challenges, and within a couple of weeks things had stared to calm down.

So here I am. Trying to wrap my head around this new way of seeing myself, and how things were in the past. What did I do that looks different in the light of new knowledge? What parts of the difficulties in my past were made more difficult by my then unknown and unresolved mood disorder? I don’t want to assign blame or causation for all the crap in my life to it, because not only is it not true, but it leaves me as a victim to it. And it’s not all of my life by any means: that’s the point!

Now i have some years of repairs to do: I forgot, missed, left out, ignored many things, including this blog. If you know me, you know I always have something to say, so I'm going back to that.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Changing course

So, I'm now done with Hillary/Bernie/Trump conversations. It's time to go downticket and talk about the House, Senate and local races. We have about 3 months to help position candidates for Nov 2 in swing states. They need our money, our time and our words.
Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to pull together guides to the most important swing state races, as well as for our propositions here in California. I am a political junkie, not a political expert; no-one pays to hear what I have to say and I'll likely be ass-backwards a few times. Please don't hesitate to call me out when I fuck up, when I mansplain, or when I marginalize. I will fix anything I can, and do what I can do to make amends. But I won't sit still during this one moment when we could literally change the course of the next 20-30 years.
One thing that we all can do is get involved in the electoral process. Whether by helping people to register, working the polls on election day (in LA County we need around 2000-2500 people to run the polls: it pays from $75-175 depending on what you do), take people to vote, help them get vote-by-mail ballots, etc. this is a big help to our/your candidates.
It's time, people. It's on us. Do we really want a better world? Do we really want a better country for ALL of us? Are we willing to do what it takes?
crossposted to FaceBook

Dusting off the blog

Now it's been another 18 months since I posted here. A LOT has happened: medical issues, family things, and handling those took precedence. 

But with the election only 3 months away, I've decided to go all out to say what I feel and think, and try to communicate in a way that is helpful. Helpful to me, because it helps me to think things through, and possibly to others who are after me every election to tell them what I think. In general, I have told people to look and think for them selves. But this time, no more Mr. Nice Rabbit. I'm going to PUT IT OUT THERE.

God, that sounds arrogant.

I am arrogant. But not so lost to reason as to think that my little corner of the web has any real influence over people. But I need a place to say what I think and a focus for all that thought, so I don't end up crawling down the tubes to choke some asshole who so clearly deserves it. Or ending up in a psych ward.

Off we go. Hang in there, people. It's going to be a wild ride to November.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

It's been a while, hasn't it?

About 15 months, to be exact-ish. What's up with that, hey?

Well, besides the usual stuff like family, work, construction, buying a house in Oregon, and generally taking care of stuff, there's also been a bunch of personal things that needed attending to. (Which I will get to later.)

My office is in boxes, as is a large part of the house. Why, you ask? Because we don't love the smell of smoke, of course! Most of the wiring goes back to 1924, when the house was built, except for the parts which were grafted on in 1946, 1971 and 1986, not to mention what we did when we bought the place in 2006. So it was a mess, and a lot of it was old knob-and-tube, cloth covered wiring, which had started failing in odd and exciting ways, like behind the walls. Where you can't see it. But you can smell it! Oh, joy!

To fix this little problem, we've abandoned the old wiring, and run new so that we can sleep soundly, or as soundly as you can sleep with a teenager who's almost 17 and feeling her oats. (More about her later.) But then there are all these holes in the walls and ceilings. Did I mention that the house is lath and plaster? It's not like sheetrock: it's kind of like thin concrete, only messier. Takes multiple coats, sanding between each coat. Which creates lots of dust. 

But we didn't really think that this was enough mess and uproar, so we decided to replace the failing upstairs windows at the same time. Old casement windows, they didn't meet in the middle any more, giving up excellent air conditioning in the winter and superb heat in the summer. Which we paid extra for! And since we're tearing open the walls, why not take out the windows at the same time, and save on plastering costs? Makes sense to me! 

And, of course, after all that, you have to paint, right? Why not do the whole house at the same time? Save on costs, take care of  the whole shebang at one time, and be done! A smart idea! At least I thought so until I came home and found my long-suffering wife huddled under the staircase muttering to herself about killing the plasterers and burying them with the painters.

I waved a bottle of wine at her until she came out, and wrapped her in a blanket (dust free!) and comforted her with the thought that it would only be another month and they would be all done. After prying her hands off my throat, I gave her some more wine and suggested a new prescription for valium. That was not well received, I can tell you. So tomorrow we'll meet with the painting contractor and find out exactly how much longer it will be. And then take a deep breath and hang on until they're done. With lots of wine.

Now, about that child. She's our youngest, and a dear soul. With her share of problems and issues, like all of us, compounded by losing her brother and sister and grandparents etc., one after another. She's a bit anxious, is what I'm saying. And she expresses this anxiety by occasionally (often) (sometimes), doing things of which her parents aren't exactly fond. Or are hysterical about, depending. Which adds to the general uproar that I was talking about up there. and of course, her parents aren't exactly completely stable either, given all the stuff that's gone on. 

So, now we come to that other part, which is me. I've had an increasingly difficult time since my daughter died 5 years ago. The technical term is "complicated grief", and I had seen a grief counselor, but that didn't really address my issue, which was that I was getting sadder and sadder as time went on. And more irritated, and less fun to be around. And my moods were darker and more unhappy than they had ever been. I've always been what is known as "labile" in my emotions (which basically means I change frequently and easily, so I was always called "moody"), but for most of my life this hadn't interfered with my day to day activities. Occasionally, I have had nasty spells, but then again, who hasn't? Don't most of us have ups and downs? It's not me, it's the circumstances, right? I mean, I lost my daughter, I lost my parents, how can you expect me to feel good all the time, hey? If everyone would just back off and give me some space, I'd be fine, I know it. But I must be a schmuck, how can my wife still love someone who's always sad, who doesn't listen well, who didn't stop their daughter from dying....

All day, and most of the night. I'd have good times, but they became fewer and farther between. And it got to  the point where I started to question whether I should just move out and let my family move on. And that was the point where I sought serious help, and got it. Thank whatever gods there are for a Dr. who listens and suggests, rather than just prescribes and prescribes, if you know what I mean. And so as of June 1, I am officially diagnosed with a mental illness (and if THAT doesn't seem odd to type, I'm not sure what will), and prescribed some useful meds and am much better. And can now DO the therapy that I was working on. Which is great, if difficult.

OK, that's enough for now. I'll be back, I promise.