Category Archives: depression

How to start running, according to the New York Times

I’m getting back into running after years on the sidelines. Running produces natural endorphins and when I ran years ago, it helped me manage my depression.

So why did I stop? That’s something I’m still trying to figure out. But the point is, I’m starting again. I plan to blog more about this, but for now, I was happy to see this running guide for beginners in today’s New York Times. I’m a beginner all over again — not for the first time in my life.

Check the guide out here.

For Philip, whose battle with life is over

Dear Philip,

I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to your memorial service. I really did consider going. But last-minute airfares to Atlanta are ridiculously high (like more than a thousand bucks high) and that just wasn’t in the cards for me.

I’m glad, though, that your friends held the service in a book store. That was so appropriate. So you. The Facebook invite promised “lots of laughs and crazy Philip stories.” I hope there were lots of both.

Speaking of Facebook, I know you’d find it more than a little ironic that Facebook is where I found out you died. I mean, all those times you lamented how social media and technology were robbing us of human connection. But, true to 21st Century grief, your Atlanta friends took to your Facebook page and turned it into a cyber memorial.

The first messages were kind of cryptic. One said “I’ll miss your stories about books and movies. Stay mellow.” What did that mean? I thought maybe you got fired.

But it was something I’d never even heard of — an aortic dissection — that killed you. Even after Googling it, I’m still not sure what an aortic dissection is. But I guess it’s like your aorta just thought “fuck this shit. I’m out.” One of your close friends said you were in pain, but not for very long. I was at least glad to know that.


Philip and I both hated having our pictures taken, so this is the only photo I have with the two of us. It’s from his 30th birthday party. He’s the guy at the far left. I’m in the tan shirt by the presents.


I was also glad to know that your death was not a suicide. After the shock, that was the first thing that popped into my head. It was one of the things you and I had in common — membership in the Failed Attempts Club. I was often worried that you would kill yourself. After all, in the past few years, life sure gave you a lot of reasons. You lost your home to foreclosure, and since your temporary housing was small and didn’t allow pets, you also lost your beloved book collection and your beloved cats, Simon and Schuster. So many times, you told me that if it wasn’t for Simon and Schuster and the books, you would have committed suicide a long time ago. My response was always the same: you had reasons to live, and you knew it.

When I told you about my own suicidal ideations, you didn’t flinch. You related. You were not surprised. I honestly wasn’t shocked when you talked about your past attempts, too.

I guess when you grow up together, there’s a bond that’s always there. Remember how we used to laugh at the name of our apartment complex? It was the Edgewater Terrace Apartments, only it wasn’t at the edge of any water. You used to say that the name was so ironic. I think I learned about the word ironic from you. I’m an only child, but when we were little, I sort of thought of you as a crazy older brother. I mean crazy in a good way. Even when I was little, I knew there was something different about you. While the rest of us kids were Crocodile Rocking to Elton John, you were fiercely loyal to Ethel Merman and Judy Garland.

You were always singing show tunes, but I knew you weren’t happy. I couldn’t blame you. Your mother weighed something like 400 pounds. She and your father always argued. Your sister became rebellious, then became a drug addict. And your home was always filthy. I remember balls of papers strewn all over your living room, and your mother seemed oblivious to it all.

That was a big difference between your mom and my mom. My mom was a neat freak. When we had company, everything was spotless. Still, our moms were best friends. I saw a lot of you. You saw a lot of me.

In fact, you saw much more of me than I realized. You saw through me. Remember your last trip up here to Boston, and that long conversation we had about everything over pastrami sandwiches at the S and S Deli? I told you how abusive my home life was. How I was molested at age 11, and how no one did anything about it because Alex was the grandson of mom’s friend Betty, and mom didn’t want to lose her friend. When I told you all of this, again you didn’t flinch. In fact, you told me how you just knew things were wrong. You heard my mother’s yelling. I don’t remember crying, but you remembered seeing me cry.

At first, I was relieved when you responded this way. Family and friends who lived nowhere near my home told me I was over-reacting. Being dramatic. Making things up. But you — who didn’t live in my home but lived pretty damn close — you knew.

For this, I loved you and hated you. I loved you because you believed me. But I hated you because there were times when even I would tell myself that maybe it wasn’t all that bad and maybe I have a vivid imagination. Your confirmation robbed me of that. Damn you!

I didn’t say this to you, but when you visited me in Boston, I couldn’t wait for you to leave. You were too real for me. Oh, and also, you complained a lot. About the world. About the human race. About the Chinese restaurant that didn’t have a bowl of crispy noodles right there at the table when you sat down. (“How could they not have that! I thought all Chinese restaurants had that!”)

After a few days, I just got tired of all your bitching. But then, when you got back to Atlanta, you called me and thanked me, and you even said this was one of the best trips you’d ever had. I laughed. I realized then that complaining was just your way of dealing with the world. I understood how you’d rather spend time re-reading your favorite classic books than spend time with people. Ruth Rendell, Margaret Mitchell, James Michener, and Harold Robbins (for those times when you just wanted something stylishly trashy.) They were the ones you turned to most. .

Of course, now I miss your complaints. My Facebook feed just isn’t the same without your carping that they don’t make good movies anymore, and that people have become so rude, and that there just aren’t any modern-day authors who know how to tell good stories nowadays. Some people try to hide their depression. You wore yours for everyone to see.

I remember a phone conversation when we both talked about our mothers. We were sure that our mothers both had some form of mental illness. You wondered why they didn’t talk about it. “They couldn’t,” I said. “If they talked about it, they could have been locked up. At least we can talk about it.”

Only now, we can’t. When your sister died a few years ago, you didn’t say that she died. You said she “lost her battle with life.” Those words were just so sad and powerful and raw and honest. You didn’t sugarcoat anything — even in death.

I wouldn’t say that you lost your battle. The last time I talked to you, you seemed pretty content. Well, content for you, anyway. But your battle with life is over.

An aortic dissection. Did you even know what that was? I guess it’s fitting that you died of something unusual. A good old-fashioned heart attack would have been too common for you.

But you don’t have to fight the world anymore. Rest in peace, my friend. If anyone deserves peace, it’s you.

Love, Alan












Choice: a tricky word for people with mental illness

Last night, I visited one of my best friends. If I told you he was fighting colon cancer, he’d be the first to correct me about that.

As he was reclining on his lounger, watching MSNBC, and doing his best to look comfortable despite two catheters, a deep incision in his abdomen, and his now having to wear Depends, John, almost out of nowhere, says “I don’t see myself as fighting cancer. I see myself as someone with a choice. I can look toward the sun, or I can look away from the sun. I’m looking toward the sun.”

With that, my eyes watered. I couldn’t get what John said out of my mind–especially the word “choice.”

As someone managing chronic depression and anxiety, “choice” is a tricky word, one which can easily cause me to become defensive. That’s because there are still too many people who believe that my illnesses are my “choice,” and that they’d be gone “if I really put my mind to it.”

No, my illnesses are not my choice. But what I do about them, and how I handle them? Well, those are choices.

John also has depression and anxiety. Maybe that’s why, when he saw my eyes water, he continued. “I came so close to ending my life on my own. Maybe that’s why I think about choices the way that I do.”

In an odd way, John’s cancer is giving his mental illness a run for its money. If his mental illness has told him that he wants to die, he now very much wants to live. John still doesn’t know if his cancer is incurable. If he has two more years on this earth, he will be very lucky.

Maybe that’s what makes what he said all the more meaningful to me. I know damn well that there will be days ahead where he’ll find it difficult, if not impossible, to look toward the sun. I know he knows it, too. But, just by being his honest self, John has really inspired me.


Songs I love: April 5th, by Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash, and Kris Kristofferson

This is a gorgeous new song that I can’t get out of my head. Only, it’s not really a new song. Elvis Costello, Roseanne Cash, and Kris Kristofferson recorded it several years ago, but it was never officially released. Elvis recently included it on his new CD, and now the song is finally getting attention.

It’s a song about having fears and wanting things, but not having what it takes to get those things. Yet it’s also about human connection and understanding. As someone managing depression and anxiety, I can relate to every word of this, especially the bridge of the song:

I’m not afraid
And I refuse to be
I can’t fall
There’s nothing to stop me

Take a listen.

I wish I could cry more

Occasionally on Facebook, I’ll see a post from someone who says “I’m writing this with tears streaming down my face.”

First, I think “yeah, right.” But in short order, I become a little envious of this person. Why? Because the only times in my adult life when I’ve had tears streaming down my face was when I’ve been suicidal. So many times, I’ve wished that I could cry more easily. Today’s an example: I had a bit of a rough day today. A good friend who promised he would come through for me didn’t do what he said he would. In no particular order, I was mad, hurt and upset.

I didn’t even consider crying in front of him. As hard as it is for me to shed tears, it’s even harder to let the dam burst in public. When I got home, I tried to cry. I really did. But all I could manage was a slight watering of my eyes.

Maybe this comes with being a man in America. When I tried to pick a photo for this very post, I went to my photo sharing site. Even when I typed man crying in the search field, there were very few photos showing men crying. In most, the men were yelling, slouching over at their desks with their faces hidden, or raising their clenched fists in the air.

But I don’t want to use this as an excuse. It may sound strange, but I believe that if I cried more, it would help my depression. It’s a very healthy release. And lets face it, hurt and pain have to get out of your system some way. The last thing I want is to store it all up. I’ve been suicidal before. I don’t want to be that way again.

If anyone has tips for learning to cry more, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.

When you die alone, what happens after that? Here’s the story from a New York Times reporter curious enough to find out

If I died alone in my apartment, how long would it take anyone to notice?

As someone who lives alone–and someone who knows that there are more years behind me than there are ahead of me–I think about this more and more. For better or worse, I like living alone. I probably like it more than I should. Even so, this death scenario scares me.

That’s the main reason that I can’t get this superb article by N.R, Kleinfeld in today’s New York Times out of my head. It’s the story of George Bell, a man who died alone in his apartment. With meticulous attention to detail, Kleinfeld spells out what happens after someone dies this way. I don’t want to give away too much, because I’m hoping that anyone who reads this blog will also read the story and find out for themselves. It’s a sad story, but it reads like an engrossing detective story.

I will say this much: George Bell was a hoarder, and he probably had depression. I have depression, and though I’m not a hoarder, I’ll admit that I could do a better job of keeping up my apartment. I moved into a new apartment two months ago, and there are still some things I haven’t unpacked yet. There is no logical reason for this, and I know I’m not alone. The other day, I talked to a good friend who moved into a new house this year. He too has depression–and he too has not totally unpacked yet. Not that I’m keeping score, but he’s been in his new house longer than I’ve been in my new apartment.

But, back to George Bell. The New York Times story takes us through all the details that have to be ironed out, and the mysteries that have to be solved, after someone dies alone, and there aren’t any obvious family or friends to take care of the arrangements. In George Bell’s case, there were people who had to go through everything he hoarded. As sad and tragic as this story is, I find it oddly uplifting to know that, even for people who lived very isolated lives, there are those whose job it is to try to put together the pieces of the puzzle that was that person, and to try as best as they can to honor that person’s last wishes.

Thanks to the people who were, in one way or another, charged with the task of figuring out who George Bell was, the story of George’s life eventually does become clearer. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that the story has some surprising twists. George Bell wasn’t quite what you’d expect him to be. Few of us are.

Everyone deserves some respect, especially in death. And everyone has a story. This is George Bell’s. Thanks to N.R, Kleinfeld and the New York Times, we get to bear witness to a life that too many people would rather ignore.

To read the story, click here.

9/11 remembered

Of course, I remember so much about that day.

At the time, I was driving to work. I was listening to an oldies rock station, and when they didn’t even wait until the end of the  song to break in with a news bulletin, I knew it was something big. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center. “Oh my, God,” I thought. Little did I know…

At that time, I worked in the Communications Department of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. As I entered the building, a guard screamed that a second plane hit the towers. At that moment, I knew: this was a terrorist attack. I raced to my office, In the early hours of 9/11, there were rumors that there were anti-Israel and anti-Semitic elements to the attack. News stations started calling our office for comments. My job became monitoring the national news coverage. For pretty much the whole day. I sat in my boss’s office and watched television.

That meant that I saw replays of the planes going into the towers–over and over and over again. That meant that I watched the towers fall, and I asked one of my colleagues, “Is this really happening? Am I going crazy?”

I got up from my chair only to keep my boss informed on updates. Another plane went into the Pentagon. Yet another went down in a field not far from Pittsburgh. That was truly surreal. I could see why terrorists would be interested in attacking New York and Washington. But a Podunk patch of land in Western Pennsylvania? I’m from that area. What could possibly be worth attacking there?

Well before that day, I had been diagnosed with chronic depression. While I was still on meds, I had stopped going to therapy. 9/11 put me back into therapy. Even if it was my job, I’m sure it was not good for me watch those planes going into the towers as many times as I did. I started having nightmares, and wanting to isolate.

I’m glad I got therapy. I know it helped. In a way, I feel weird putting these remembrances down, because there sure were a lot of people who went through a whole lot more than I did. I did not know any of the thousands who died that horrible day.

But I also remember that the Federation was one of the first organizations to organize an interfaith solidarity commemoration. We did that on the Sunday after that horrible Tuesday, and I remember thinking that I was, at least, a small part of a solution to all this madness. As it does this year, 9/11 fell very close to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, in 2001. I remember that the synagogue services were even more filled than normal, and that just about everyone cried.

Though I am not a “by-the-book” Jew by any means, I do believe in the power of prayer. I saw it with my own eyes in the days that followed 9/11. Now, I live in Boston, and I saw this again after the Boston Marathon bombings. One of my best friends, who is pretty agnostic, wanted to go to a church service, and wanted me to come with him. “I just need to be around people, and to be reassured in some way,” he said. I knew what he meant, and I gladly went with him.

I don’t think 9/11 will ever really make sense to me, and I guess that’s a good thing. But I try to think more about the better parts of humanity than I do the darker parts. In my warped sense of humor, I sometimes joke that, with depression, I have my own darkness to deal with. I don’t need any help from the outside world.

To this day, I cannot watch those planes go into the towers again. I cannot watch those towers fall again. All I can do is remember, and send thoughts and prayers who lost so much more on that day than I did.

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