Deeper into Aloha

Episode Four is a wrap! I think I am getting better at this? The only technical difficulty I ran into this time was…I forgot to plug in my headphones so had to wait an hour before for them to recharge before I could record.

I even managed to update my website. The podcast page is coming very close to how I want it to look:

But me and technology are now through. For the week. We need a break from each other.I’ll be concentrating on my book editing, job hunting, and preparing the script for the next episode. I’ll be doing this weekly now, recording on Monday night and posting on Tuesday.

In this episode, I get deeper into the meaning of aloha, a state of being, and how the depression can warp time and memory.

You can use the above link to listen directly from the site or the below link to go to Podbean, where my podcast is hosted, to download or listen from there.

For those of who prefer to read, I am uploading the transcripts to the podcast on a Patreon account.

Finally, a new video! I went YouTube! –I told you I went all out into the tech. I created an “Intro” video for my podcast, to put a face to the voice.

Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.

Let’s get naked about mental health! –it’s the title I am going with for now.

In this episode, I’ll be stepping back in time to discuss aloha, a state of being, the warped perception of memory & time that depression brings, and I’ll even bring Rob Thomas into the equation, the lead singer for Matchbox 20–though I like his solo work better. Not him personally–I’ve never met him, though I heard he is a nice guy. Bilbo Baggins will even be along.

Before getting into the episode: the important stuff. I just want to remind everybody who might be listening that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any kind of professional with an –ist at the end of their title. I am just a guy who has been there.

If you are in crisis, or know somebody who is, I implore you to reach out to a professional. There is now a national hotline you can call or text. 988.

I’ll repeat that because it bears repeating. If you or someone you know is in crisis, I implore you to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.

Now, let’s get deeper into aloha.

I use the word often. As I am not Hawaiian, I sometimes feel like a fake. But I love the word, and the meaning behind the word.

Like most people, I thought aloha as a simple Hawaiian greeting, a way to say hello and goodbye. There is a deeper meaning behind it, though. When you say it to someone, you are offering them something.

From Wikipedia: “Aloha is the Hawaiian word for love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy, that is commonly used as a simple greeting but has a deeper cultural and spiritual significance to native Hawaiians.”

Seeing the word “Aloha” is very common in Hawaii. You constantly see signs like “Live Aloha” and “Drive Aloha.” Hawai’i’s nickname is The Aloha State.

Then, we can go even deeper into aloha.

The literal translation is –I’ll probably be mispronouncing these words– is taken from two words, Alo, meaning “presence” and “Ha,” meaning breath. Together, it translates to “The presence of life” or “Breath of Life.”

Aloha is a state of being. It is a force that binds the universe and all of us together. It is something that I have tried to integrate into my life to help with the depression.

One of the most important tools I learned in dealing with my depression was the idea of the net. As I traveled almost 40,000 miles across the United States, I highlighted my journey in markers using a road atlas. My travels became the strands and the stops the places where the strands connect.

On the west coast, I found a teacher, Sara, that taught me to do the same thing with my personal connections. Form a net. The paths between us and the people in our lives becomes the strands of the net and the people become the connection points. The more people we allow in, and recognize as being there for us, the stronger the net becomes.

Especially for me, nights can be like a highwire act across the chasm of depression. The fall can be awful, terrible. When I allow myself to realize the net is there, though, move beyond the perception of isolation, it becomes less terrible. There is a safety net if I do fall.

In the spring of 2020, before learning about the safety net, it was just me, isolated in an empty house during Covid, at night, contemplating aloha in front of the fireplace. A song was playing, Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street” from his album “So.” The song is about depression and suicide.

I tried singing in my last episode and that went about as well as it always does: awful. So, I’ll just stick with the reciting the opening verse.

Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness comes

Let’s take the boat out and contemplate the one word in the translation of “aloha” that never seemed to fit, but it seems more and more to encompass the definition.

Aloha has five “foundational” concepts. I get the first four: love, affection, peace, and compassion. When I say “Aloha” to you, it is what I am offering you. The more I think about it though, the fifth foundation, mercy, is what I am offering myself. And it is what I refuse.

Supplicant. Criminal. Just a broken man. On the floor, with arms outstretched to the universe. Tears coursing down my face. Pain compressed into a tight ball in my chest. Expanding. Searing along every nerve ending. Until it feels as if I am in that old torture device, an iron maiden, where I am in the body shaped tomb lined with nails and it closes upon me.

“Just a break,” I scream. “Just some peace.”

But it could just as well be, “Mercy!”

I’ve been there on the floor, and then huddled into my ball. Waiting for the waves of the depressive attack to wash over and through me, waiting for them to ebb, so I could stand again. Waiting for mercy.

But am I waiting for the universe to grant me mercy? Or am I waiting for myself to grant me mercy?

Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness comes

And the darkness has come. More nights than not now. Aye, I was expecting it. The darkness is like a vortex pulling me into the halls of midnight, a dark place, with the demons and imps and the regrets of 49 years. I was trying to run from it, was doing a damn good job of it, but it’s hard to run anywhere in lockdown. I was isolated, and isolating myself.

The word mercy? It is a noun that mean, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”

I’m beating the hell out of myself these days. The big three no-no’s of therapy, should have, could have, and would have, are standing behind me with their cat of nine tails, lashing me as I go about my day. Every time I sit still. 16 hours a day to myself, to do anything and everything I always wanted to do and yet?

Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness comes

I need to think about this some more, as the boat rocks in the cool night air on the waves of depression. Contemplate the unthinkable: forgiving myself. Being compassionate to myself. Showing myself mercy.

Fast forward just a little bit. It was still the spring of 2020. My thoughts of running away to Europe were shot to hell. Europe was closed. So, I was turning my thoughts to traveling across America.

I fell into the Covid hibernation along with the rest of the world. Staying still, but not really, filling my days. In the absence of mercy, being in motion helps. Peter Gabriel was singing to me most nights. Then, one night, Rob Thomas took the stage…

Welcome to the new spring. I don’t where you are, but here in PA the land just can’t seem to shake out of winter. We see spring weather for a few days and then freeze warnings the next. Flowers and plants are struggling to figure out if it is time to grow or not. My koi are wondering whether to hibernate or not? There was some funky looking alien thing popping out of the ground that I was about to rip out—only to be told it is fern and to leave it the hell alone.

Have you ever seen a fern popping out of the ground? It really does look like something from the movie, “Alien.” But I digress…

Is America doing the same, struggling with an awakening they are not sure about? Trying to shake free of a winter that won’t let go of its grasp? Awakening into what?

I thought I would reread Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck. And the commentary. It’s pretty interesting. I am picking stuff up that I missed before. –Maybe because I am not being forced to read it this time and just skimming the Cliff Notes before class? [My apologies to all of my former English teachers.]

Steinbeck hated what he found as he traveled the byways of America. In 1960, it was a nation on the cusp of a great change: the Civil Rights Movement. As a Nobel Prize winning author, he had taken to himself, removing himself from his roots in California and moved to New York. He had spent the last 10 years traveling abroad so wanted to try and rediscover the America that had inspired “Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men.” An old man searching for remnants of his youth.

He found a nation in the grip of impending turmoil. I wonder what I’ll find? Will the soup kitchens reopen? What will America reawaken to as this long spring dogs us?

[I have no idea why, but The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka keeps popping into my head. Will I awaken one morning in my Subaru Outback as a giant cockroach? A question for English teachers: why did you make me read that?]

But then the lights dim and the spot light shines down on me on the karaoke stage. In Alabama—the one state that has not made it illegal for me to sing. And to a quickly emptying –running—crowd, we hear the opening bars of what I always felt was an underrated freshman solo effort by Rob Thomas, Something to Be.

“Hey man

I don’t want to hear about love no more

I don’t want to talk about how I feel

I don’t really don’t want to be me no more”

The winter of my discontent? Restless. Staring back at myself in a mirror. I need a shave but I think I look pretty damn good for 49 but still?

“Dress down now I look a little too

Boy next door

Maybe I should find a downtown whore

That’ll make me look hardcore

I need you to tell me what to stand for.”

Standing at my fireplace. My naked back arched as I grip the mantle. It’s nighttime in this winter of discontent. Restlessness plus lockdown brings back the three big no no’s of any therapy session: should have, could have, would have.

“I’ve been looking for something

Something I’ve never seen

We’re all looking for something

Something to be”

But I have seen it. Experienced it. And like catching a fish in the stream with your hands, it wriggles, slips and leaps back into the stream, zipping away as you stare at the distorted reflection of yourself in the water.

I hear the rustling of whips being unrolled behind me. The scratchity skritch of the iron tips rustling against each other. I don’t know why, but it is something I invite.

And the lashes fall, crisscrossing my back. No big deal. I’ve been here before. Been here for a long, long time this time around. The red welts rising, the blossoming pain dripping with the blood, knowing that all I have to do is turn around and they’ll be gone. But I stare into the fire, the gas flame never touching the fake logs. Wondering, as the whips crack.

It was a good day. I met my stepfather and his club at Governor Printz Park in Tinicum. They rotate between there and North Avenue. Stories upon stories. Once the “breakfast club,” it has now become the “social distancing” club. Barred from meeting at McDonalds for their coffee, they now bring their coffee and lawn chairs on nice days to form a circle and chat about the old days and current days and the new days to come.

My stepfather is a pain in the ass. He taught me everything I know about being a pain in the ass and I excelled under his tutelage. Him and my mom fought with me for over 10 years about allowing me to buy them a computer. After my mom passed, I was worried for him. Worried about his isolation, so I pushed harder. He finally relented.

Now, I’m jealous. He has more of a social life than me. Uses the computer far more than I ever did. His forays into Facebook put him in touch with many of his old friends from high school and his breakfast club expanded. He’s learning piano and Spanish as well.

But with the tide coming in at Tinicum, and the cold wind alternating with the warm sun, they wondered if this was the new norm. Just guys talking about who the virus has touched and where. I got after Rich a few weeks ago because he gets rides to the club in Tinicum. As a liver transplant recipient, and older, he’s in the highest risk category.

He received his new liver the day my nephew was born, who is now 21.

“Christopher,” he said to me in that tone only an old man from West Philly can take, “I should have been dead 21 years ago. I was down to 5% liver functioning and knew I was about to die. I’m living now. Leave me alone. And come join us.”

Other conversations with other people. Talk of surges and spikes and flattening the curve, of border openings and how other countries are doing. Of people barricaded inside of their homes against an unseen agent. Of articles about spread and vaccines and tracing. Of a reality that we must awaken into, hearing again and again, “when this is over, we’ll…”

I especially love my house in the spring, the house I have to try and sell. I like the colors. My wife did an incredible job with the perennials to blend them with the existing landscaping. I particularly like the blue/purple ground cover at the base of the fiery red tree. But I also just enjoy the simple green slowly replacing the browns. All emerging at different rates to flower at different times.

“Hey man

Play another one of those heartbreak songs

Tell another story of how things go wrong

And they never get back

My pain is a platinum stack

Take that shit back

You don’t want to be me when it all goes wrong

You don’t want to see me with the houselights on

I’m a little too headstrong

Stand tall

I don’t want to get walked on”

And the house lights come on and I turn away from staring into the fireplace. A little too headstrong is an understatement. Something to be is something I know. It’s about staring down the should haves, could haves, and would haves. With a towering, fiery arrogance that can only be born of SW Philly, Infantry, and 49 hard years: “Piss off.”

It’s all about the now. What will I find out there with the music playing and the high winds wrapped around me urging me onward and outward? Will I find an America that I never really knew? Will I find a me that I knew so long ago?

And then back to the present day…

That’s another one of the tricks I learned about dealing with depression: the memories. I need to remember. Peter Gabriel helps sooth me into memories of myself, the side stage, where I need to write my book on depression. Rob Thomas helps me to remember the main stage. Life and living.

I’ve spoken about it before in previous episodes: the timeless moment, the existing in only the here and now. In the depression, it is the hunched shoulders, the listlessness, a reality of depression. The illusion.

I am 51. I know for a fact that my entire life has not been depression. I know, rationally, that the depression has only come in chunks. Weeks, months, and sometimes years as with this last episode. But it still only remains a small percentage.

I’ll hazard a guess at 5% of my life?

So where the hell does the other 95% go? I struggle for it in the depression. It can be like Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit. When he and Thorin Oakenshield and company are wandering for what seems forever in the Mirkwood forest. The dense and depressing forest is all that they come to know. It is all that Bilbo comes to know.

Then, being the smallest, Bilbo climbs to the roof of the forest. He struggles but is finally able to break through and stick his head out above the foliage. He is greeted with sunshine and a cool breeze. He sits in awe, but then has to return.

It is easy to forget who and what I am. It is easy to forget that I am not a depressive but only a person suffering with an illness, going through a depressive period. It is so easy to forget the 95% of my life filled with friends and family and happiness and love.

It is easy to forget the normal times, where it is just the day to day.

The reality becomes the moment, the 5% becoming the entirety of my life.

I am reminded, though, of the 95%, by the oddest things. Like a Rob Thomas song, that makes me turn from the fireplace and look at the depression and say, “Piss off!”

I just need to remember! We just need to remember.

Depression is such a powerful illusion. It twists reality and makes us believe it is the reality. The only reality.

And that’s a wrap for this episode. In next week’s episode, I’ll be getting into…

…oh hell, I don’t know. I was supposed to get into professional burnout in this episode, but things seemed to take me down other paths. I’ll know when I get there. There really is a logical progression for all of this but my tangents are well known and can be epic.

But thanks for joining me.


Depression is an illusion.

It is an illness.

It is treatable.

There is hope.

I am here.

I am listening.

And I will keep talking.


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