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Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Good Old Days

Looking in the mirror is becoming increasingly difficult these days.  Sure, I've lost weight and have a bit more energy than maybe a year ago, but when I look in the mirror, there isn't a damned thing I like seeing.  I'm more gray, my eyes often have dark circles from lack of sleep, I have more wrinkles from putting on so many fake smiles and pretending that life truly is grand and my scars from misspent youth are more prominent.

And then, there's the emotional stuff.  Yuk.

History is a fickle bitch, isn't it?  We often see the "good old days" as something that they really weren't, filtered through our lens of self-preservation and pride.  We convince ourselves of how the past was truly a wonderful place to be, only to learn years later that it was a facade, a smoke-in-mirrors illusion.  Those memories we hold near and dear are far too often little more than exaggerations of extreme mediocrity.  For example, I remember the holidays at my home, the moments of laughter and joy as we prepare for the celebration of the commercialized date of Jesus' birth.   Mom and Dad made sure that the house was festive even though we didn't really have a lot of financial resources at the time.  Years later, I find myself doing exactly the same thing during times of need - creating a loving memory that covers up the deeply felt shame of not being able to provide in a manner we desire for our kids.   We do what we have to, I suppose.

There are aspects of our past that are kind of refreshing, though.  For some of us who are old enough to remember, there was a time when we didn't have to stare at our smart phones for hours on end to feel connected.  We could actually visit people rather than send an impersonal email or text message.  We would gather together over a meal and share a part of our lives with one another.  Sure, there were problems then too, but it was nice not to be slave to technology.  Like when your car broke down, you didn't need a $7,000 diagnostic tool to figure out what the hell is wrong with it.  Or, how about just hanging out on the porch with friends, talking about the week, enjoying an adult beverage?

I remember what it was like to wake up, to live, to not have physical pain.  I remember looking forward to doing this, experiencing that, emotionally and spiritually hungry for life.  I remember when my demons were quieted by a simple smile, a gentle touch or even an encouraging word.  I remember the times when I realized that I was not the sum total of my experiences, but rather I have survived in spite of them.  Finally, I remember when just breathing, wanting to breathe didn't require gargantuan effort...those, my friends, were the "good old days."

If I could go back in time, there are so many things I'd change, but therein lies the rub - I know that I can't and I'm forced to face these demons who have followed me throughout the years.  They whisper in my ears that those "good old days" were the best of times, that my life today is horribly insignificant contrasted with what I had "back then."  Some of it is a lie, some of it is true.

To be honest, I'm not even sure why I wrote this blog - other than having another wrestling session with my own beasts, and somehow I know that I'm not alone.  Or, hell...maybe I am.

Marching on smartly...


Monday, December 01, 2014

The Politics of Mental Illness

He awakened everyone in the house that night with his screams.  The terror that engulfed him while he slept was almost too much to bear, his body trembling, covered in a thin layer of sweat.  He has suffered quietly for many years, keeping his emotional duress to himself, sharing only fragments with the women in his life in the hopes of finding understanding - only to see it used against him by the same people he trusted.  Time and again throughout his life, he tried to find respite, to have that one person who truly understands his struggle but he never did.  This particular night, it became overwhelming, invading his dreams, his subconscious thought.  After the family checked on him, and he reassured them all was well, he quietly got dressed and walked toward the door.  He stood there for a moment, looking back, realizing this would be the last time he would ever see this place he called home.  He left, never to be heard from again.

In American society, men aren't allowed to be emotional, nor is it socially acceptable for men to show weakness.  And in some cases, we can understand why it's so difficult.  The media pushes a traditional view of the "manly man" who should shun all things emotional and if you're a man struggling with mental illness, you're at the bottom of the food chain whether you like it or not.

The recent revelations about Scott Stapp (lead singer for the band, Creed) have been painful to watch.  He is an incredibly talented musician, fronting a band that a lot of the media elites enjoyed ripping to shreds, and now, he is at an incredibly low point in his life.  Wrestling with mental illness, Stapp is an example of the reality that everyone from every walk of life could have to face, the disease of mental illness.  And his case is one that proves that there will always be assholes out there to make fun of emotional distress.

Since the Reagan era when mental health was stripped of funding and multitudes of mentally ill were released from facilities and became the next generation of homeless, it's been a struggle to gain acceptance that there is still a desperate need for treatment and treatment facilities.  Conservatives see it as a problem that should not be funded by taxpayer dollars, liberals want it to be over funded.  Somewhere in the middle lies the answer - at least the beginning of a solution.

And this doesn't even begin to address the number of America's veterans who are wrestling with mental illness and are receiving horrific care.

The truth is that mental illness is an equal opportunity destroyer - it impacts people across the political and economic spectrum.  It impacts men just as much and just as deeply as it impacts women.  The fact of the matter is that men are just not hard wired to talk through their problems or to show weakness of any kind.  If men show weakness, we are somehow looked at as less than men, but rather a hybrid of sorts and the target of ridicule.  We can do better than this.  Our communities deserve better.

This is just my opinion and I could be wrong - but I seriously doubt it.