Episode 2 is done, published and uploaded. You can listen to it from the webpage directly, linked below, and I have no idea if you can download it from your favorite app–I’m working on it. The battle between me and technology is almost on par with me vs Murphy (Murphy’s Law). It wins but I keep battling until I win.
I actually worked against myself for this episode. Doesn’t surprise anybody, huh? Just me being me.
I completed it! I thought it sounded pretty good through the headphones. Not great, but I am getting there. Then, I realized I forgot to hit the “record” button.
Take 2! Aye, practice makes perfect, right? I thought I had done a better job, remembered to hit the record button, finished it, packaged it, and even uploaded it. I tried playing it back and heard nothing. –I forgot to plug in the microphone.
Take 3! Not the most ideal time to record, but record it but I did, with microphone on and everything. So, here you have it.
I dive back into my secret world and you are welcome to join me on this journey. I talk about that secret world, communicating about it, and the difficulties in communicating about it. Then, I go out into the deep.
Now, I have some editing to do on my book. Episode 3 will be out next Monday. Hopefully, I’ll do a better job at only fighting technology and not helping technology in the fight against me.
Welcome back to The Coffee Chronicles, the podcast. Thanks for joining me.
The title, and the podcast, are still a work in progress–so bear with me. I listened to my first podcast again and realized I was about as monotone as that actor, Ben Stein, from Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. Anybody? Anybody? Buehler? I need to work on it. I figure by the 8th or 9th episode, I’ll work my way from Ben Stein to Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam.”
The title? Getting naked about mental health? I have always been lousy with titles unless they pop into my head. I’m still waiting for one to pop. Anybody? Anybody? Buehler?
First, 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 to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.
But how do you know if a loved one is in crisis? How do we know we are in crisis? It is something we hide well, not wanting to reveal our secret world to others or even to ourselves.
There is still a lot of stigma attached to depression–and mental illness in general. There is also a lot of misunderstanding. There can be shame, not wanting to show weakness. For my part, I did not want to share because I did not burden the people I love. I also did not know how to explain it. When I did try to explain it, something that I understood, it was difficult for them to understand.
And I could hide myself from it, escape it by ignoring it. For a while.
So, let’s get into my secret world, and then travel into the deep. The mental clothes and defensives are coming off as I make my way to the surf. And a soundtrack begins to play as I recall one of the oddest conversations I ever had with my brother.
One of my favorite albums is Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World Live.” I would start playing it here in the background, but I seem to get myself into enough trouble without even trying so why wade into copyright and fair use law?
The conversation with my brother started out normal enough, just two brothers chatting as I drove him to pick up his motorcycle. Then, my big brother started being my big brother and we started talking about financial stability, the future, retirement and safety nets. The conversation then turned to disability insurance.
“No, I can’t get that,” I said
“Why not,” he asked.
“I don’t know why but my diagnosis from 15 years back is still in my file: depression, PTSD and anxiety disorder. No insurance company will touch me with that in my file.”
Joe stopped, looked at me, and said, “Why would you have PTSD?”
If he had taken a crowbar and cracked me on my jaw–or maybe a human sized fly swatter–the effect would have been the same. I stopped, and for the briefest of moments, I disengaged from the present and tumbled through my past. A part of me screamed though 15 years, and then I was back in myself, complete, whole, and the only thing I could do was shrug.
He jumped on his motorcycle and drove off and I sat in my car for a moment or two. Then I drove off. When I pulled up alongside of him on the highway, I almost ran him off the road. Just a quick swerve into his Harley. Instead, I just made my way home with all of the “almost responses” percolating in my head.
Why would I have PTSD? Really?
For every action, there is a reaction. When my mind screamed through the last 15 years and hit the far wall, it came back with an echo of anger. The memories were softer and diffused, the anger softer and diffused. The knowledge of my present, where I was, steadied me.
He was aware of most of what I went through. Hell, one of the potential triggers made national headlines. Did I not communicate it well? And if I did communicate it, was he listening?
He’s been a good big brother. He’s of the old school, and, at times, can be cut from the cloth of the caricatures of the 50’s man. Emotionally stunted but prepared to do whatever he must, whatever he thought was right. He even mentioned once to me in another conversation something to the effect that he has the emotional intelligence of a shrub.
I will always be eternally grateful to him. There are many things he has done for me. He once even gave me a home when I moved back up to Philly, when I was trapped someplace else in a bad situation. It would become the stepping off point, the foundation, for all else that came.
You know: the good stuff.
In that moment, though, I was angry at him. How could he not know about my PTSD?
Echoes of echoes. When the anger hit the far wall of the last 15 years, it came back with a soundtrack, the opening chords of the album, “Secret World Live.” In the rising tide of the audience’s applause, the anger diffuses. In the opening percussions, the anger dissipates. And then Peter sings to me:
Come talk to me.
Oh, my brother, where do I begin? It was my secret world, my private world, known only to a few. But how I can explain it now without writing yet another lengthy introduction to my Coffee Chronicles?
The great play took place on stage, and that is what everybody saw. I was the adventurer and traveler, the college student and the Army Reservist. I was the romantic and the lover, the friend and brother and son and nephew and cousin. I was the dreamer and doer and spender and chef and writer.
To this day, I am not sure if it was all a lie.
Please, come talk to me.
On a side stage is where another play was taking place, the secret world, the private world. It was where the depressive lived, and the savior, the writer, and the lost one and the broken thing. It is where the cast was populated by demons and imps and devils. It is where I struggled to keep a tenuous grip on sanity while I arrogantly tried to force the first stage to become the only reality, the only world. It is where I lived the lie.
Just like it used to be, come on and talk to me
The truth was the struggle between the two stages that I never wanted anybody to see. It is the nature of depression, my depression, to isolate myself, to not reach out, to keep the battle contained from spilling over into the “real” world. To hide it, whether out of shame or fear of the reaction of others.
To not contaminate others with my own failures?
The struggle was titanic at times, and I lost many battles. But I became pretty damn good at keeping the mask on so that nobody, even you my brother, would never know.
More anger dissipates as the echo of the echo of the echo comes back to me. People saw what I wanted them to see. But when the mask that you wear does not fit with the actions on display–or the inactions in my case–people make their own assumptions. And without further evidence, without further communication…
We can unlock this misery, come on, come talk to me…
That all took place about five years ago. He still doesn’t get it at times, but the more I open up about it, the more supportive he is. Like I said: he is a good big brother.
But let’s get beyond brothers and cousins and best friends. I’ve made my way to the beach and it is time for me to start stripping down to enter the surf.
I have been procrastinating. Aye, you would too. A couple years ago, a friend, a psychiatrist, told me to step away from this project.
It was an especially difficult time. I wanted to write a book explaining depression but, after decades, my depression introduced something new into the equation: depressive attacks. I didn’t even know what the hell they were until I talked to my therapist about it.
A depressive attack is like a panic attack, but depression instead of panic. Instead of a lightning strike of panic coming from nowhere, it was like a sledgehammer of depression being swung by the universe to crash into my skull.
I would be having a fairly good day. Then, always around the same time of the day, about six at night, the sledgehammer would hit.
It would always start with a very small and inconsequential thing. A normal thing.
In one attack, it began because I did not get a reply from a friend who I had texted. It was stupid. We would text constantly at times and then not text for days or even weeks. Our lives would get busy, and the conversation would pause to be picked back up at a later time. That was normal.
I texted, she did not get a reply, and then the sledgehammer hit. The spiral downward from having a good day to being on the floor in tears happened within seconds.
How absurd is that? Because I did not get a reply from someone that I knew would reply when she had time became this awesome and terrifying event. The depression slammed into me and I wanted to kill myself to end the pain.
It passed. I went through it for a couple weeks until I finally talked to my therapist about it. It was a depressive attack, she explained.
“It happens at night at about the same time,” she asked.
“The clozapam you take at night for anxiety? You are taking one and a half pills? Take the half at dinner time and then the one at night before bed like regular.”
At that was that.
So, between the increased frequency of the sessions with my therapist, and on the advice from my friend the psychiatrist, I stepped away from the project. It was too close, to present, and they were afraid the experience of writing would pull me under.
Now, it is time to stop procrastinating. It has been a while. I need to get back to that book.
In the podcast, it is time to wade into the surf. Start swimming out so I can dive deep.
I had a funny conversation with another friend a few years back. For some reason, she always imagined me as the archetype tortured writer, typing away in the middle of the night, dredging the depths of my soul.
Nope, I told her, that’s not me. Midnight was my time to fly and revel in the writing. I’d sip coffee, sometimes play music, and have fun.
With the book, it is different. The working title is, “Broken Thing: An Odyssey into Depression.”
How do you remember things? For me, when I choose, it is like diving into a pool. I submerge in the memory and relive it, all the senses reactivating: sounds, smells, feelings, sights, and tastes.
It is what I need to do to write the book to try and explain depression.
I recently read an article on LinkedIn. “Five Tips to Cope with Double Discrimination” by Ashley Nester, MSW. The poster wrote: “I have learned that I am not responsible for another’s misunderstanding of my experience. But I can use my perspective to help and educate others.”
I added a reply:
“I love this, but I’d add something else: be understanding of their misunderstanding.
One of the things I’ve learned is I need to be an educator, especially to the people who love and care about me.
I think it is human nature for us to try to identify with another person by basing it upon what we know. It’s hard for people to grasp that my clinical depression is so much beyond what they understand as depression. It is hard for them to grasp such a distortion of reality.”
People suffering from depression get frustrated and hurt by the reaction of their loved ones, like me with my brother. The loved ones get hurt because they cannot help, or do not even know. I have been on both sides.
The thing I have come closest to that explains the struggle is from a science fiction show, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” Benjamin Cisco, the lead character, encounters a species that does not understand linear time, they exist in all time at all moments. He had to explain it to them.
Think about that on for a second. How would you explain linear time? Give it a second. I’ll wait.
How would you explain linear time to somebody? Hint: Cisco would end up using baseball.
But that is what explaining my depression can be like. As I said, it is natural for a person to try to identify and empathize by basing it upon their own experiences. I have learned, though, that for many, their depression is not like mine. They reach for feelings, like the death of a loved one, to identify with me. But that cannot come close. I have lost loved ones so understand.
Clinical depression, to me, at its heart, is a powerful illusion. It is a distortion of reality so profound that it cannot exist in normal reality. Worse, as we are experiencing that depression, we see that distortion of reality as normal.
Just as an example, I was in my therapist’s office for a session. We were discussing various things and in an aside, I mentioned my suicidal thoughts. Then, I moved on with the conversation.
“Wait, wait, wait,” my therapist said. “Let’s talk about the suicidal thoughts.”
“Why,” I asked.
I wanted to move on with the session. The suicidal thoughts were unimportant to me.
“How long have you been experiencing them,” she asked. “Don’t you want to talk about them? Do you have any plans to hurt yourself?”
I was puzzled. Confused. I was about 33 and suicidal thoughts had been a part of my entire life. I wrote that they were like gnats on a summer evening. I can have them for days at a time, weeks, or even months. They pop up in my mind a few times, or a dozen times, per day. I brush them aside and do what I have to do. Bringing them up in a therapy session was like going to my family doctor and discussing the pain in my back I’ve had since I was 14.
“Aren’t they normal,” I asked him. “Doesn’t everybody have them?”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, I’ll bring them up the next time they are here.”
I must be “here” now to discuss my depression.
I talked about the doorstep to suicide in my previous episode. I need to set up camp here to write the book. Maybe just off the doorstep a little ways. I forget the altered reality, but, to explain it and write my book, I need to remember. I need to dive into that pool and allow the demon to grasp my ankle and pull me down.
It is scary, but also therapeutic. I’ll be overthinking the hell out of this one. I need to tell my story. Maybe, by sharing, and helping people to understand themselves and their loved ones better, I will be able to find some peace. Find a purpose for going through what I have gone through. I may even be able to find some mercy that I seem to be able to offer freely to others but am unable to grant myself.
Shall we dance into the darkness? Do not worry. I know the steps, I know the tunes, and I understand the halls of midnight. We shall not go astray.
And that is a wrap for this week’s episode. Next week, I’ll be exploring burnout, singing along with Peter Gabriel again, and getting deeper into aloha.
If anybody knows Mr. Gabriel, can you ask him if I can use some of his music? I’d appreciate it.
You can find a transcript of this podcast on my website.
Thanks for joining me.
Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourself. Aloha.