Category Archives: Friends

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When two depressed friends both have bad days…

I have depression. And I have a lot of friends with depression. Generally, this is a very good thing. We look out for each other, and we understand each other at times when hardly anyone else does.

But then, there are days like today. For a lot of reasons, I had a bad day today. So did my friend Kenny. He texted me, hoping I could make him feel better. But I’m feeling as crappy as he is, and I just don’t have it in me to be a cheerleader right now. In one of his texts, Kenny said “I’d love to go jump off a pier.” I wanted to respond with “I’d love to jump with you.” I stopped myself and just said “Looks like we both had shitty days.”

(Just I note here: I can say with utter confidence that neither Kenny or I really want to jump off piers. We often talk like this, but I know it’s just talk. And besides, we live in Boston. Any pier we’d jump off of would land us in icy water. After the winter we’ve had, neither of us would want to spend our last moments freezing our asses off.)

But I think we kind of are wondering what we should say to each other. Kenny said I could call him later if I’m up to it. I’ll do that. Maybe we’ll just find a way to commiserate. Or we’ll have a contest to see who’s more depressed. Who knows? But I do know of one thing we could agree on: we both can’t wait for this day to be over.


Why is it so damn hard to reach out?

Yesterday, my depression really got to me. I woke up. I saw rain outside my window. I knew that it was cold because this is Boston and this is March. How could it not be cold? But cold rain is a trigger for me, and just knowing that it was cold and rainy sent me into a tailspin. I really needed to do some grocery shopping, but I couldn’t even bring myself to do that. I could barely get out of bed, let alone get up and face the weather that was triggering me.

Sometime during the day (I don’t even remember when), I got text from one of my good friends, who is also part of my “tribe.” He, too, has depression. He asked how I was doing, but I was so down at the time that I didn’t even respond. Instead, I slept, which was not good for me because I tend to oversleep when my depression gets to me. It’s nice while I’m in dreamland, but when I wake up, I feel even worse than I did before.

When I finally did wake up, I at least got the nerve to text my friend back. I told him that I wasn’t having a good day. Immediately, he texted me back: “I’m still up if you want to talk. Just call me if you’re up to it.”

That’s not what I did. Instead, I went on Netflix in search of a movie–any movie–just to get me out of what I was feeling. For a reason that only my therapist could probably decipher, I picked Orson Wells’ film version of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. It’s the story of a man who wakes up one morning to find out that he’s been arrested, but he’s never told why he’s being arrested. The book is one of my favorites, because Kafka was a master at writing about loneliness, isolation and all-around unfairness in the world. So instead of reaching out to a real person, I thought it would be better to watch Anthony Perkins as “Mr. K”, Kafka’s hapless protagonist. Maybe I thought to myself, “This will help me, because this guy’s more fucked up than I am.”

It didn’t help. I couldn’t even get through a half hour of the film before I started feeling even more hopeless. I turned the film off and went back to sleep–again, not good for me, because in total, I probably slept around 20 hours yesterday.

When I got up this morning, I felt better. It was gray and gloomy outside, but at least it wasn’t raining. Then, I got a call from the same friend who texted me yesterday. This time, I answered. He asked how I was. I told him I felt better. He said he was relieved to hear that.

This is a guy who’s been going through a lot lately. Two weeks ago, his apartment roof collapsed, due to all the snow and ice we’ve had this year. Luckily, he wasn’t there at the time. He’s grateful about that, but he’s also been frustrated, because he still hasn’t been allowed back to his building to collect whatever possessions he may still have. He already has a new apartment, but he’s had to shell out hundreds of dollars just for life’s necessities, and he’s not wealthy to begin with. That’s a lot for anyone to deal with, but for someone with a mental illness? It’s hard for me to even imagine.

With all that, he sounded cheerful when I talked to him today. I asked him why, and he said he wanted to share an experience he had during the last week. He shared his story with another friend–and that friend responded with financial assistance to help him get back on his feet. My friend didn’t want to take it, but his friend wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I started crying when I heard this. I told my friend, “this is proof that there are people who care, and that there is human kindness in the world.” My friend agreed, but he also felt guilty about taking the money. He doesn’t know how or when he’ll be able to pay this money back. The only reason he was telling me this story was because he was acting on his friend’s one condition–to share the story with others and let them know that there is always hope, and it often comes very unexpectedly.

This made me cry even more, but my friend still feels guilty about taking the money. I couldn’t convince him to feel otherwise. But I know where he’s coming from. It’s not easy for me to reach out to people when I need to, let alone accept their concern and kindness. If it was, I would have called my friend last night, instead of going to Kafkaland. And it’s not easy for him either–even when he gets help that he wasn’t even expecting.

The cruel paradox, though, is that it’s especially important for those of us with mental illness to reach out and ask for help when we need it. Our illness is invisible to many, and we’re often good at making it look invisible if we have to. And yet, it’s so damn hard to do that. At least it is for me.

It’s something that I still need to work on, and I said that to my friend. Maybe it’s something we can work on together. In the immortal words of the Beatles, it’s a good thing to tell someone,  “help me if you can, I’m feeling down. And I do appreciate ya being around.” If only I could say that as effortlessly as they could.


No, the whole world is NOT trying to screw me

Several weeks ago, I sent a private message to a Facebook friend and told him about this blog. I’ve never met him, but we’ve communicated frequently through social media. He has done a lot of research on brain function and has even written a popular book about it. I figured he’d be a very good resource for the blog. He quickly answered, saying that I had a lot of “super information” in my blog, and he gave me suggestions about other resources and possible contacts.

In other words, he was quite encouraging and helpful. Ah, but I didn’t take it that way. I took his response as: “he just said what he said to be nice. He really hates my blog. He’s just trying to pass me off on other people.”

So, when he messaged me this morning, saying that he did some more research and discovered more solid suggestions for resources, I was surprised. I thought to myself, “holy crap! He really does want to be helpful! He really does like my blog!”

Chalk this up as another example of me dealing with people by thinking the worst of them. I know this is a very common characteristic of people with depression and anxiety. Needless to say, it’s not a big help when it comes to building connections, friendships, and relationships.

Like so many others who have trouble trusting people, I was abused as a child. The abuse was both mental and physical. Therapy has helped me deal with this. But I’ve never quite been able to get past the gut feeling that people are trying to hurt me. It’s one of those things that just won’t go away.

But the therapy I’m getting now gives me hope. It’s cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), where the focus isn’t as much on your past as it is on behaviors that can change your way of thinking. The idea is that even if you can’t quite control the thought–you CAN control your behavior (or reaction) to it.

When my friend messaged me this morning, I was able to take in his generosity and kindness. And he really does think my blog is “super.” It’s a step in the right direction that’s good for my ego and my confidence. I’ve said it before: depression and anxiety are liars. They make you believe things that most often are not true. My friend gave me kindness this morning–and a healthy dose of truth. I am very grateful.

 


Good books, good chocolate, and good wine

 

Holiday giftsThey’re all nice gifts. But the best gift of all today was being with friends who care about me; who know me warts and all, and know me well enough to know the gifts I’d like. (Including tangerines! I love tangerines!). I am oh, so grateful about that.

 

 


When the New England Patriots win, I win

Today is most definitely a good day. My New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins and clinched another AFC East title. The Super Bowl seems like a real possibility.

I watched the game — and even better, I watched it with one of my best friends. On both our faces, there were smiles all around. I’ve posted before about my love of watching sports, but I’ll say it again: if I’m really into the team and the game, nothing gives my endorphins I jolt like sports does.

That jolt came in handy today. My day started with a trip to the pharmacy because I needed a refill on my anxiety meds. It was a little disappointing, because I had hoped that my dosage would be reduced. After the week I had, though, I knew that wasn’t going to be possible.

But I had the game–and some nice social time with my friend–to look forward to. I just had to keep thinking about that.

So today, the Pats won. I got to spend time with a good friend. And yes, I have my anxiety meds–meds that do help me manage my daily life, even though I have a love/hate relationship with them.

Yes, today was big win, all the way around.


Another birthday

Tomorrow is my birthday.

Why am I telling you this? Well, just my announcing it is a step in my recovery. I’ve always had trouble calling attention to myself. Even on my birthday. Especially on my birthday.

I’ve been this way my whole life. When I was little, my mom would have birthday parties for me. She’d invite my classmates, and I would run and scream and hide in the bedroom. This went on every year until I was 6, and I begged my mom to stop having parties for me. I was having anxiety attacks even then. She did stop having parties for me. I’ve rarely had birthday parties since.

I don’t say this to elicit pity. I actually like being low on the radar on my birthday. It goes very well with my isolationist tendencies. Since the advent of answering machines, I don’t even have to pick up my phone. Friends and family can wish me a happy birthday on the machine, and I can accept their wishes with one layer of personal connection removed. I like that. I also like Facebook on my birthday. Here again, I can be showered with birthday wishes–once removed. For this alone, Mark Zuckerberg wins my unyielding gratitude.

It’s not that I haven’t tried celebrating my birthday with friends and family. It’s just that whenever I have, the anxiety attacks come. It’s happened every time.

But tomorrow, I am going to try again. One of my best friends is taking me out to dinner. I am determined to take in his love and understanding, and enjoy it. A big part of my recovery is all about celebrating the people in my life who do accept me for who and what I am. That acceptance is the best birthday gift I can receive.

At my lowest points during the past year, I didn’t want to reach another birthday. But here it is.

I am a lucky man.


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