Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.
Let’s get naked about mental health!
In this episode…well, crap. Coming up with titles are difficult for me. Unless they pop into my head from some random point in space, I struggle. I had one for my new book! And now I have to come up with a new title. I don’t want to talk about it. But I will. I’ll also be getting into pearls, authentic selves, and I’ll even have a cameo by Michelangelo.
Before getting into the episode: the important stuff. I just want to remind everybody 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 into the episode.
The struggle is real. I can write thousands of words at a time. With two fingers. But coming up with a title? Impossible. They all suck. But from some random point in space, one hit me for my new book: Broken Things: An Odyssey Through Depression.
I liked it. It perfectly described it. I dated it for a while, got comfortable with it, began writing the book, and then it moved in and took up residence in my mind.
It was evicted this weekend.
I was checking out a new group I belong to on LinkedIn, Workplace Mental Health Forum. There was a post and a meme/quote by Dr. Rani Bora:
“You are not “damaged” or broken just because you had a difficult journey so far.”
Thinking about my book and this podcast, I responded, with manners–something many people forget.
“I don’t know,” I wrote. “I disagree? It is a semantics thing? I think of myself as damaged, broken. But I’m working on it. I reach out to others and tell my story with understanding and compassion.”
Dr. Bora, a mental wealth psychiatrist based in England, responded just as nicely. –it’s amazing what happens when civil communication is involved.
“Chris, thanks for sharing. No, it’s not a semantic thing. You don’t have to agree, and you can see it differently. I used to consider myself a Recovery oriented psychiatrist wanting the best for my patients. And I believe I was doing my best. I had a profound insight during a coaching session with my coach. The aha moment seemed to have come out of the blue. The insight I had was that although I considered myself a recovery psychiatrist, I saw my patients as damaged and broken and needing to be fixed. That was several years ago when I came across the three principles of understanding or Innate Health Understanding.
Of course, she wrote, people still need help and support, and they can work on themselves. That’s something I help people with. But my foundation has shifted hugely as I began to see more and more clearly that our true essence can’t be touched or broken.”
And that’s about when I had my “Oh crap” moment. I sat there thinking of my broken and damaged self as the movers came in and started clearing everything away. They even took the damn chair I was sitting in. They cleared the room and allowed me to see the entire field.
I started thinking.
It was good title! When a good title hits, that’s all I need to begin to craft a story around it. It anchors it and allows me to explore and wander while staying on track and ignoring the shiny things. I wasn’t quite ready to evict it though.
Who was this Dr. Bora anyway? How dare she challenge my perception of myself!
A long time ago, though, at a business conference, I learned the idea of “pearls” and knew the value of them. Ernest Cardinas had spoken about the pearls we take away from the meetings. The conference may last days, but it is the little nuggets, the pearls, that change us.
I dived deep. In an empty place, I began examining this concept, wondering if it was just one of many memes–or a pearl. I dove so deep, I came across a column I wrote a long time ago.
On February 23, 2007, I wrote the following column. It was inspired by another pearl I had picked up in the movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance, about how we can’t look at things as dragons to slay.
With Soft Eyes
…and the dragon twirls around a pole and transforms into a beautiful woman. I look down at the sword and shield in my hands. Useless, they drop to the ground.
I’ve always had one huge problem with the 12-step programs. As much good as they do people, I just don’t think that they are a solution. From what I have read, what I have seen, what I have experienced, they treat addiction like it is a dragon.
It is there in your life, breathing fire through a jaw lined with razor sharp teeth. With a beer, a snort, a shot, or a lap dance, it pounces. Always stalking you. Always there. So, you reach out to a program, and make it into a shield between you and it. As long as you keep that shield up, the dragon’s fire cannot touch you; its jaws cannot rend you.
By this approach, though, you make it a fixture in your life. Ever present. Just waiting for a chance to pounce. So it is perceived, and so it becomes a reality.
…and the dragon turned lady sways up to me at the bar, places her hand on my leg, leaning oh so close that her breasts brush against my shoulder.
Are some people just hard wired that way? I’ve learned that addiction runs in families. Maybe dragons do exist? My perception of reality is a bit different.
I see her there, all sweet and seductive. I can feel the warmth of her hand upon my leg, and that warmth spreading through me. But she isn’t a dragon. And there isn’t a dragon lurking in her shadow. There isn’t even a dragon within me.
There is an onion. (Don’t ask. It is the way that my mind works. I can’t help it; I just try to follow along. I cannot even come up with a good analogy to help you follow along.)
This is a different kind of onion, though. It is tucked away inside of my soul, my emotional growth, hidden within a fold of my subconscious. Maybe there is a little kid that traded a baseball for the onion. It is layered like an onion, but each layer is a different type of material: granite, steel, titanium…you get the picture.
Beneath all of those layers is the itch, the compulsion. I guess that I believe that if you are able to peel back those layers, get to that core, you’ll find that itch. Underneath all of those layers, you will not find a dragon, curled into a ball. You’ll find a wisp of smoke, that will be carried away on the breeze.
I’m not trying to knock the 12-step programs here. I wish that I could find one for Friday and Saturday nights. Help me pass the time. Ease my way through an evening, until the itch passes, until I can look upon my addiction again with soft eyes, instead of the steely eyes of a combatant. Aye, I would like a shield at times. But I also don’t think that it is healthy to make that shield a permanent fixture in my life.
That there is another way. A better way for me. All that I need to do is to be able to see it.
Yep, Dr. Bora was right. She had given me the pearl.
[Oh. Side note. Since writing the column, I also learned more about the 12-step program. It begins as that sword and shield, but can transform, through its meditations, into something much greater. But back to the podcast…]
I replied to Dr. Bora, remembering the column written 15 years ago:
“I LOVED how you put that! I wrote a column a long time ago that talks about how dysfunction is like an onion wrapped around our “selves,” that if you peel back the layers of the onion, you get back to who you are.”
That’s when Dr. Bora came into my mind –I imagined her with a heavy, steel handled walking stick. I guess it’s a British thing? Anyway, she came in and started chivvying the movers along, “persuading” them to greater speed to evict the thought that had taken up residence in my mind for so long. That I am a broken thing that needs fixing.
“I like that analogy,” she wrote.
Dr. Bora continued: “When Michelangelo was asked how he made David, he said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set it free.”
When we work on ourselves with love and understanding, therapy, coaching, etc. we are able to let go of our limiting stories of who we are or who we are not, then we find a deeper connection to our true self.”
Yeah, Michelangelo took his hammer and chisel and smacked me between the eyes.
I’ve never been to Italy –thanks to Covid– but I have heard of people encountering Michelangelo’s David for the first time. Men and women, the big, tough variety, weep.
It gave me a lot to think about. 15 years after I wrote about it. I’ve always been stubborn. And easily distracted.
But now I need to come up with a new title, a new anchor for my book. Ummm, any help? Inside the Granite? It will hit me eventually. Any help there Mike?
I think it was after I wrote that column, though, that I also began reprocessing about the 12-step program. When I wrote it, something didn’t jive right with me, something clanged against something else.
I have seen, and experienced, people trading one addiction for another.
Dennis Leary talks about addiction in his stand-up routine, No Cure for Cancer–another unlikely place I picked up quite a few pearls.
In his comedic way, very non PC in 1993, he explains how a lot of people quit doing cocaine in the 70’s by picking up a pound of pot and a case of beer.
The 12-Step program, working out, working, volunteering, or maybe just traveling 40,000 miles: people trade an unhealthy addiction for an addiction that might be healthier, but is still unhealthy.
I’ve seen it with the 12-step program, which is probably what influenced my views on it. Yes, it would help people. Save them. Save their lives. But then they became an addict to the program, making it their entire life.
To me, that is unhealthy. There should be balance in all things. Moderation in all things.
I heard, but could be wrong, that the British version of AA means just cutting back to a pint or two a night, not an all or nothing kind of thing. But I am also reminded of Leo McGarrity, a character in the TV show, The West Wing, explaining his alcoholism.
“Why can’t you have just one drink,” an intern asked, as Leo was about to fire her but gave her a second chance after she released private details of his life.
“Because I’m an alcoholic,” Leo Replied, “I can’t have just one drink. I need 12. Or 20. And then things get ugly.”
I wonder what Leo would think of Dr. Bora?
I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it. My mom had bi-polar disorder. I have, among other things, Major Depressive Disorder. I know people like the fictional Leo McGarrity that are addicts. We are hard wired that way. Just like with my speech impediment.
Even when I am not stuttering, there is still something called an internal stutter that says I can stutter at any moment. I get triggered, and the external stutter comes out. Many, many experts have said that the stutter cannot be fixed, only managed.
Yes, yes: I know. There are a lot of buts and thinking going on here, devil’s advocate and all that.
But I also remember a time in my life, a brief, glorious 2 1/2-week period that the experts say is impossible. I lost my internal stutter. I was 100% fluent. In between one syllable and the next, while talking to my buddy Josh on the phone, my stutter disappeared.
Nothing had really changed in my life. It just went away. I was even told by strangers, that Josh kept on throwing me at, that I was a wonderful speaker, had a beautiful speaking voice.
2 1/2 weeks later, I was pissed. I was angry. At God. I felt as if He had given me a miracle, and then taken it back. But that’s another story, a tangent, a bright shiny thing to follow another time.
I think it is all a discussion for another time. Whether or not there are broken things within us, chemical imbalances that can be triggered.
But let’s get back to the layers wrapped around our true selves.
I developed some very unhealthy coping mechanisms. I wrapped them around the hurt and pain, around the injury, like scar tissue. They protected me from worse, but also inhibited me from becoming my true self, my authentic self.
A great example is my addiction to strip clubs. Yes, don’t laugh. I was addicted to strip clubs. Still am as a matter of fact. It’s a struggle not to go on some nights, a struggle not to go see boobies and feel that warmth of a body pressed up against me.
Besides the money involved, there was the time. Hours and hours, night after night, weekend after weekend, hiding in strip clubs. What kind of potential did I allow to pass me by while I was in there? What kind of positive things could I have been doing for myself to pursue my true self? Who did I not meet because of where I was at?
But that can all lead into the no no’s of therapy. Should have, could have and would have. As I explained before, I still think they are good teaching examples, the way sports players watch their own film.
I just feel that with the strip clubs, and other things, I was adding layers of marble to the angel instead of carving to release her. But there is always today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. Days to pick up the chisel and hammer and begin carving.
Our authentic selves. We are such incredible, powerful, beautiful beings. If we allow it and get out of our own damn way.
I would love to go more into Dennis Leary’s “No Cure for Cancer.” There really are some incredible pearls in that routine. Instead, though, let’s move into something more palatable for the post 1993 PC crowd. –though I do highly recommend watching it if you get a chance.
Even where I am going is fraught with perils in today’s world. Big Willy, you made this episode difficult with that slap. That’s now just added to the criticism of the “Magical Negro” stereotype that killed one of my favorite movies.
Will Smith, though, in The Legend of Bagger Vance, a movie from 2000, gave me as much to think about as Dennis Leary and Dr. Bora. It was perhaps one of the most impactful movies I have ever watched.
Dr. Bora, this one might be right up your alley.
It’s based on the 1995 book by Steven Pressfield. The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life.
If you hate golf, forget the golf part. Watch it. Every time Smith talks about the “authentic swing,” replace it in your mind with, “authentic self.”
The film is set in 1931 Georgia. Matt Damon, once a famous golfer, was mentally damaged in WWI and now secludes himself during the depression. For a golf tournament to save her father’s country club, Damon is essentially bullied by his former fiancé, Charlize Theron, to play against the two best golfers of the time. Only, he can’t play.
Bagger Vance approaches Captain Junah one night while he is trying to hit balls, coming out of the darkness.
“You lost your swing, Mr. Junah. Let’s go find it.”
It bombed at the box office but, then, many of my favorite movies wouldn’t make the top 1,000 of all time list.
There is this one scene where Smith is talking about the field. I can’t even come close to doing it justice, and can’t include it here because of all those copyright laws and the internet police, but I’ll add a link to it on the transcript and my webpage.
The field. Smith is talking about systems theory, one of my soap box issues. How everything interacts and is connected with everything else.
A good movie for that…
Maybe tonight is movie night?
A good movie for that is Mindwalk, available free now on YouTube. I was forced to watch it in a science writing class in college. It changed my life. Mindwalk is boring as hell but a great introduction to systems theory. Break out the coffee coated popcorn for it.
It all leads back to those layers and what Dr. Bora wrote me.
Who am I? Where am I? Where does Christopher Gajewski begin and how do I get to him?
“When Michelangelo was asked how he made David, he said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set it free.””
I’ll leave you with that for this week.
A couple things of note. If you are enjoying the podcast, check out my podcast page. There are ways there to help me along.
I also just started a Kickstarter campaign. Finishing my book, “Disconnected: An Odyssey Through Covid America,” is in the final stretch. I could use some help making it to the finish line. I’ll be adding a link to that as well on the website. I am attempting to disconnect them all into their own private places.
It looks like I have a lot of work to do on my website this week.
But that’s a wrap for this episode. Instead of my usual “Aloha,” I’ll end this one with a line from another one of my favorite movies, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Aye, it wasn’t Academy Award winning material, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was fun. It was authentic.
Be excellent to each other!
The Legend of Bagger Vance Scene: https://youtu.be/_2l53XaK010