3.29.2013

Roulette

We used to flinch whenever a disaster fell into our palms.
They are sent as distress signals through wires
that are snipped immediately, like umbilical cords -
whenever a finger traces the trigger.

Left or right, the direction makes no difference -
a sixshooter can no longer keep pace with our mourning.
There is no dearth of ammunition to gird the chambers.
A skittish flow of confessions and condolences
makes for a round where every risk is a gamble for a right to live.

Each smoking shell is a regret and every shot is fatal.
Our posturing is perfect as we stare down the barrels,
inviting them time and again to bore through our skulls.
Anxious fingers pine for a chance after every snapping concussion.

The shells spill to the floor like so many used coins.
We wade in them, our eyes never leaving the shaking on either side,
making them fit into the scenery of our constant suicides.

We have the hands to drop the bullets,
but never the strength to scoop them up.
Never the hands to shield ourselves,
only the dexterity to reload.

JDS

3.23.2013

Confession: Part Two

It's hard to be a good person.

If you're reading this, I am just going to assume that you have read part one. If not, by all means.

Moving up to Seattle was a giant risk. After going through pages (paper and virtual) of resources, talking to many people, and attempting to build up my courage for such a drastic life change, I knew that there was a point where I had done all I could do to be ready. Of course, I was yet to see how prepared I really was....or wasn't.

I almost had cold feet about it. It was June 1st of last year - just 2 or 3 days before I was to leave - and all kinds of fears really started to bear down on me. Obviously these feelings are natural concerning big moves, but my fears weren't associated with any impending discomfort at not having friends or being a stranger in a new place. I didn't really care about that - those factors never registered in my mind as being fear-worthy.

I was afraid of myself.

Not many people could have done a better job at getting themselves into the amount of trouble I got myself into in the period of time that I did. I had become the victim of intense jealousy, which affected my thought patterns, sleeping and eating habits, and overall mental stability. It led to a suicide attempt and an unhealthy relationship in which I deceived myself into thinking my progress was a form of healing. After getting out of it and swearing girls off, I proceeded to break the heart of one of my very best friends, relapse into old feelings that never got me anywhere, and take advantage of people. I even managed to make a few goodbyes uncomfortable in the short amount of time I was in California before I left. And I knew those habits wouldn't just stop with a change in geography.

The question that tormented me - "what if I go up there and self-destruct again and tear down all my relationships like I used to?" - would not relent. It was a very rational fear to have; I literally barely survived college because of the damage I had caused to myself and others. I would not be able to outrun any of the things that made me me. 

But I did not have to be defined by those mistakes either. I wasn't my past, I wasn't the sum of my shortcomings. Whatever I was transcended those mistakes, and that's the mentality I glued to my mind when I stepped into my car on the morning of June 3rd, ready to drive 23 hours to a strange place. I didn't yet know if my beliefs were stable enough for the road ahead.

Seattle baffled and amazed me. I instantly realized that I was going to be uncomfortable for a very long time, not understanding the things that drove people of the PNW to do what they did. I didn't get Pabst Blue Ribbon and it's prevalence at every social outing. It seemed everyone ate rabbit food. There were protesters,  inappropriate bumper stickers, and opinionated hipsters clad in counter-cultural regalia at every bus stop...and there were a lot of bus stops.

At the same time, I did not shy away from it. Like a scientist who draws himself closer to a dangerous animal merely for the purpose of studying its habits and patterns, I drank in the atmosphere of the Jet City. I wandered around the downtown area on the second day of my arrival for seven hours. By myself. In flip flops.

God saw to my needs almost immediately. Friends were practically forced on me, church was ever so inviting, and beds  were made readily available. A job eluded me for a while and I even had to go through a few failed interviews and even one bad job before I ended up doing what I do now, which is the last thing I saw myself doing. I moved 4 times before I was finally able to settle down.

But these are all peripheral details to my point.

I was sick when I showed up to Seattle and I'm sick now. Depression never goes away. It can't be cured. Pills can mitigate its effects on the body and therapy can help along the process of healing, but it will be a burden you bear for your whole life. You just have to decide where you want to hold it. 

People ask me what depression is like. I sort of have a hard time explaining it to them. How do you enumerate to someone what it's like to be sick in the head? 

I've heard it put like this: Depression is like scuba diving with your friends. Only, your oxygen tank doesn't work. Your friends continue to explore the reef while you choke and gasp and wonder why your equipment doesn't work like everyone else's. You're not able to join your friends in their exploration, not able to see the things they see in the same way. When you surface, your friends wonder where you were. Why didn't you join them? Why doesn't your equipment work like theirs? Can't you fix it? What's wrong with you?

When I came over to my friend's house in near tears this past September, I was asked what was wrong. Not as in "What's the matter with you?" but more like "What is dragging your soul down?" I couldn't make eye contact with him, which is something that I am seemingly unable to do whenever I've made a potentially harmful decision and I'm on the edge of suffering the consequences.

I had relapsed. Jealousy and depression had driven me to buy a plane ticket to Texas in a manic moment. I sat there on the couch as my friend listened to me drudge through my terms of surrender and defeatist declarations. Muttering words about going back. Not being able to stay. And then I tried to kill myself the next day

Fortunately, my friends were willing to pick me up on the corner of a sketch street outside a mental health facility in another city without asking any questions after my failed attempt and subsequent hospitalization  Friends were always the common denominator. I remember standing there thinking, "The last time I was outside one of these buildings, I left triumphant, with my family and a renewed sense of commitment. Now nothing but resignation and questions stand in front of me." 

I'll never understand it, but people have always been willing to take up the massive endeavor of caring about me, even when I am a highly combustible person to be around. I'm not trying to overstate my problems - I know there are those out there who have to take care of loved ones who cannot walk or even feed themselves or worse, who are no longer around. But all I know is my sickness, and that sickness is apparently not enough to keep people from investing in me.

I understand my family. They don't have a choice. It's the rest of you I don't get. I've seen some looks of pure apprehension when I talk about my mental issues. I've scared away some. I can't imagine how many times I've had to dig into vaults so deep within my brain they only open once or twice a year - just to explain to someone why I cut them deeper than I should have. It's shameful. It keeps me up at night, and I blame myself for alienating people. It's like I purposefully put up bridges between myself and everyone I know, then force them to pay a toll every time they cross over into my domain. There's taking but no giving.

It's 2013. I tried to make sure I didn't make it this far the previous two years. Both times I failed. Of course, they ended up being successes in the end. I know God didn't make all those blind, mute, and crippled people in the bible for no reason. Some of them never even have their names mentioned, but they are seemingly only mentioned because they encountered someone who could heal them, someone who could give them an opportunity to live life as they never had before.

I thought I would get that with this move. My fears ended up being true, and deservedly so. I would go on to hurt and be hurt even 9 months into my relocation. Sometimes it's a struggle to even convince myself that I've made any progress at all. The mind can be terribly deceptive when it's mired in self deprecation. But here's the thing - I know I've made progress. I know that while I can sit here and confess to whoever is listening to me about all the terrible things I seem to have done, I wouldn't have been able to do so a year ago. I didn't possess the clarity or the wisdom to even be able to dive this far into my reasons for what I do. If I wasn't meant to make it this far, no one would have barged through the door when I tried to cut myself. Those pills would have worked a lot faster.

I'm sitting here in a bookstore listening to music surrounded by dozens of people who are actively not noticing me. I'm in their peripheral vision, distant from their conversations. But they are all going about their business, and I'm not hurting any one of them. I'm not standing up and making a scene or dragging any of them along into my sphere of suffering. They don't know me and I don't know them. We are sitting within feet of each other but are completely unaware of the wars and campaigns against the self the other is experiencing.

I think that's how it should be, with the exception of this - you are all aware of my fight. I may not be aware of yours, but I want to be. I want to stand in the trenches with you and help you throw everything you've got at your assailants, or be at your side while you survey the aftermath of your struggle with solemnity. I am not the sum of my mistakes, and neither are you. 

Tomorrow you or I may mess up. Maybe not, who knows? Then again we could live. And I don't mean survive, I mean live - getting up and going, creating, loving. Even if it's just sitting in a dimly lit room with your friends watching Netflix (what up Green Dragon), anything is better than the isolation of your existence. You are your best self when you are with those you love. So be around those you love, often. Take them in the way I took Seattle in when I first moved here. 

Just use less caution. Let your wounds be worth it.

And for heaven's sake, be friends with people who clean up after themselves.

Cheers,
JDS

3.18.2013

Confession: Part One

I am not a good person.

Around this time a year ago, I was being tossed about the throes of deep, deep depression. It all came as a result of a collection of monumentally selfish decisions that effectively dismantled one of the most valuable friendships I had at the time and severely damaged another that I had put good time and effort into healing. Months of discipline and silence were uprooted in the course of one weekend because I had chosen to to pursue the most harmful course of action offered.

I would spend the following week (spring break) with family I hadn't seen in too long, silently harboring my hurt and not knowing where to put my tears. On a drive home from a day exploring downtown Atlanta with them, I could do nothing but stare out the window at the unfamiliar skyline gathering in the dusk. Nothing but stare and nurse the wounds that I had reopened again. When at last I could bear it no more, I broke down right there in the backseat of the car. My lack of response to my family's questions made them aware of my grief.

Someone asked "Is he ok?" To which my mother solemnly responded, "No, he's not."

I was not; I was a disaster.

Later that night while sitting on my bed in the loft, my entire family ascended the stairs, circled me, and embraced me with love and empathy. Such situations are always overwhelming for myself. Some would say that these types of interventions can only be met with stubbornness or helplessness. I chose the latter.

I remember not being able to do anything but weep as they, some of them completely unaware of what was tearing at the inside of me, all placed their hands on me and prayed. My six year old niece leaned her head against me and clutched me, wanting her to know that if that was all she could offer to soothe me, she would gladly do it. How can a man not meet any such display of affection with anything but brokenness and thankfulness?

A few more months of attempting to salvage what I had done over the course of those few days, and I again faced a choice that could possibly result in more heartache. I bet you can guess what I did.

This was May of last year, the week before I was to be free of my four years of undergraduate work at Abilene Christian University and an end to my six year journey through college. At the time, I was in the middle of deciding if I wanted to stay in Texas or go somewhere completely new to begin again, in a sense. 

When I inevitably made the  wrong choice, I ran away to a secluded place without so much as a word to those who cared about me, leaving my phone and any other way to contact me behind. I was also damning myself in an academic sense, neglecting my studies as finals were the following week. I remember spending the day at the lake, laying in my car with the sunroof open, Balance & Composure playing on my stereo. When I grew bored of such inactivity, I walked down to the edge of the lake and ambled around aimlessly, throwing prayers out like stray missiles to explode over the muddy waters. Night found me perched on the edge of an abandoned water tower overlooking the moonlit surface several feet below. I didn't have the courage to do what I wanted to do but I did not wish to return to the world where my pain was ever staring me in the face.

In the end I chose to return, but not before begging, and I mean absolutely crying out in utter desperation to God to take something from me so that I would no longer have the capability of wrecking my life. What did I choose? My eyesight. I screamed at the stars and threatened, dared God to wake me up the next day to nothing but a world gone black. I don't know what sense there was in that cowardly request, looking back. I wanted something so challenging that I would have to devote my entire attention to the struggle of it rather than uprooting the things in life that were precious to me. 

Of course, I woke up to a bright morning. I don't think I've ever been more distraught by the sunrise. After spending much of the morning reflecting on my stupidity at having run away and having to face the subsequent consequences, I eventually mustered up the courage to venture over to the house where all my best friends lived. After relating my story about where I had been the past 24 hours, one of them - whom I love and to this day would take a bullet for - looked me dead in the eye and said, "Why do you do things like that?"

I had nothing to say. 

For once, no answer. I normally have an answer for everything, some way to justify or rationalize my impulsiveness. And when a brother whom I loved asked me a very simple question, I had no words. Or rather - I did have words, they were merely far too painful for me to say out loud. I knew my actions were rooted in fear and selfishness. I have to admit, by that time my friends knew me all too well.

When I asked each one of them in full trust what they personally thought I should do when I finished school, each one of them told me the same thing: that I should go somewhere else, somewhere new. Somewhere where I could walk the streets without the demons of my present mistakes dogging my every step. Somewhere where no one knew me and where there would be an opportunity to repair the damage that I had caused to myself. 

The most important thing that I had to tell myself is that I wasn't giving up because I was getting out. The easiest thing for me to do in the short term would be to stay put, safe and secure in the environment I had built up for myself over the four years of my stay in Abilene. But it wasn't an environment I could thrive in any longer - it was a cage that was too easily broken, leaving me free to wander about and destroy things before retreating back to it in shame.

So I started to make plans. I looked at maps. I emailed trusted friends. I consulted my parents and those close to me. I did my research, weighed my options, buried myself in prayer. 

This is how I ended up in Seattle.

And unfortunately, new beginnings don't always have the luxury of being painless. 

JDS

3.14.2013

Cancer

In sleep, you wanted me more than a hospital bed,
and I wanted you more than I wanted my family.

Per your request, we all toiled ceaselessly
to avoid making eye contact with your disease.
So we passed homemade get-well cards around,
like we were at a grade school party
watching your hair grow instead of fall out,
trying to ignore your body
as it turned on itself and ruined you.

They passed a card to me,
and I wanted to show you how maddening,
how frustrating it is, when we can't
save the people we need the most.
Instead we cower in our closets like children,
closing eyes and numbing hands to a pulse
that beats fainter every second.

But I didn't.
I scrawled some words now lost to memory,
in an effort to make you laugh
because even now I know you,
and you could never resist a good joke.

3.13.2013

Spruce



It has scarcely been six months since
he climbed into the casket,
signalled the pallbearers,
and lowered himself into the fire.

Revival passed him the antidote in one hand
while poisoning him with the other.

Now he's at an intersection entombed in shrouds.
Four ways to walk, five ways to the grave,
at the corner of 11th and Spruce.
He takes the elevator to the sixth floor,
blood levels rising with the red numbers
above the metallic door,
eventually halting altogether in the ascent.

The cost of foreign hands is more than he should give,
but he'll give it anyways,
lying on that broken bed
in the skins of those who came before.

Their obituaries are etched into every inch of the
flame-licked walls, more deafening
than the eulogies they whispered
as they put him in the dirt half a year ago.


3.11.2013

The Bipolar Linings Playbook


Last year was a fantastic year for movies. The Hobbit, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi,  Lincoln, Perks Of Being A Wallflower - all hold a special place in my heart. Some of them (namely Perks) spoke to me in powerful ways, mainly because of the ease with which I related to the main character's struggle with depression and suicidal ideation. 

Once again, I'm rather late to the party but I finally managed to catch Silver Linings Playbook last week. When I first saw the trailer last year, I was mildly intrigued because it seemed like a football movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, whom everyone adores (how could you not?). I couldn't have been more wrong about the film's premise and I am happy to admit it. This film goes far beyond sports and romance, into a more sensitive and darker subject - the realm of mental illness. 

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, this is not a film review. I don't do that.

I was diagnosed with bipolar II back in October of last year shortly following my second suicide attempt (as detailed in an older post). I'm still trying to figure out the nuances of this condition as it is still a muddy concept. I know I have elevated moods, random impulses, am easily irritated, have episodic insomnia, etc. Perhaps you look at bipolar and see schizophrenia. I look at it and see a fogged up mirror. It seems I suffer from the disease of being human, for what person isn't easily irritated? However, the problem lies in the fact that I suffer from an excessive amount of this so-called human disease. I can't fully discern what it is that I suffer from even six months after my diagnosis but I know it is there because something is pulling at me.



I could throw words like hypomania out there, but instead I want to focus on something that I feel Silver Linings Playbook does very well: break down and bring to light the "stigma" of mental illness.

I read copious amount of reviews of the film after watching it, and the aforementioned word "stigma" was used in nearly all of them. Several reviews were written from the perspective of an individual who also suffers  from bipolar disorder, including a former Congressman. I learned that director David O. Russell made the film in part for his son, who is also a victim of this mental condition. He did this in order to show that he is a person - not a disorder - and that he too can accomplish astonishing feats.

The film itself flits between the stark and the cute. At its most harrowing, we see a family cave in on itself as mismanagement of anger, ritualistic obsessions and compulsions, and mood swings mount on top of each other in rapid succession. I realized these actors on screen were portraying the symptoms I have, but in far worse degrees. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has frequent outbursts of anger. He suffers from insomnia. He bristles and becomes defensive quickly. On top of that, he has deluded tunnel vision and bases his life on it, mistaking his pursuit of it as progress.

Cooper's cast mates are no exception. Lawrence's character Tiffany appears to have a case of nymphomania as a result of her intense depression. Pat's father (Robert De Niro) has anger issues and his quirks are reflected in his behavioral OCD. Pat's friends possess the same problems. We see a vibrant, unpredictable,  eccentric, and dysfunctional collection of souls striving to come together in a sort of crazy community.



Oddly enough, I feel that that last sentence could aptly describe any handful of six or seven people anywhere. Sure, most of us aren't sitting around joking about and comparing which medications are better or precisely what level of "crazy" we are, but we would be kidding ourselves if we think we're normal. Normal isn't exactly synonymous with boring (in a certain light), which is why I believe that we are all crazy - it's just that not all of us take pills for it. 

I mentioned earlier the "stigma" that seems to exist concerning mental illness. Let's be honest, most people just don't get it. I admitted earlier that I'm not too keen on what my own diagnosis means. People hear schizophrenia and think of split personalities and hallucinations. Similarly, bipolar people have exaggerated and frequent mood swings while depressed people mope and cry a lot while cutting themselves. What this film attempts to do is take those things we don't understand and put them in the light; in everyday situations being performed by people with ordinary problems. Even the word "problems" is....well, problematic because it fails to fully ascribe all of the appropriate attributes of humanity to a person, as if they could only be like the rest of us if those "problems" didn't exist. Or better yet, if they just got over them.

I'm not like "the rest of us" and I'll wager you aren't either. It's too easy to say you know someone who suffers from some form of mental illness (I mean, you are reading my blog...) because in all likeliness, most of us do. I will never cop out behind my chemical imbalances as an excuse to have low expectations in life. Similarly, I would hope that those who do not fully understand mental disorders would strive to seek that understanding, perhaps starting with that person you know who does suffer from one. It's not sensationalized. It's just a gritty and overwhelmingly human thing to have to grapple with, though not everyone does.

That is my disease. It seems I fit into my body altogether too well. There is no entry in the DSM-IV for what most of us have. We have the curse of feeling too much when we are in tune with our humanity. Even though my condition keeps me at arm's length from what I want most of the time, I respect its presence - but not enough to let it completely run my life. 

But even here, at a seemingly safe distance, I'll never outrun it. And that's alright - I'm completely fine with running beside it. It's my millstone, fully visible to the world. I think it looks pretty good.

In conclusion, go see this movie.

Cheers,
JDS

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UPDATES & SUCH

I finished reading Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child some time ago. Spoiler alert - it was depressing. Now I have to decide if I really want to read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, which I hear is equally somber. If anyone has any other suggestions for a happy story, please let me know.

I went through a Shai Hulud and Counterparts kick. Now I'm listening to a lot of Wide Eyes, Within The Ruins, and...Daughter. Also, this band called Unifier, of which I've provided a video below. They used to be called Future Ghosts.


I bought tickets to see New Found Glory (June 2nd), Now, Now (May 4th), Daughter (May 16th), and The Contortionist and Within The Ruins (April 4th). I may have went a little crazy, but I'm catching up for all those times that every band ever skipped over Abilene, TX during my four year imprisonment there. Consequently, these will be shows #6-10 since I moved here...which means I'll buy 4 more shirts. Yay! Best way to shop. Also, The Appleseed Cast's new album Illumination Ritual comes out on my birthday. You can bet I already preordered that mess. Annnd I ordered a My Epic T-Shirt. Ok, I love music. Call it a problem.

I won't bore you with any more of the mundane. Just watch the above video and go see this movie!