A special birthday

Tomorrow is my birthday, and for most of my life I’ve dreaded getting older just because….  This year, the impact and importance of having a birthday has struck me in a wonderful way because not long ago, I was planning to end my life because of severe insomnia and unresolved depression and anxiety.

I am no longer suffering the exhaustion of daily insomnia.  I feel increasingly rested in the mornings as though my dreams have become less frightful and more hopeful.

This year my friends and family have given me extra indication that my life is important to them, and that they would have missed me had I completed my plans for death.

I am receiving responses to my applications for jobs, and I have spoken with incredibly cordial and intelligent business leaders.  All of these great things have happened since I stopped taking one medication that may have directly influenced my outlook, my ability to get restful sleep, and providing depth to mild depression.  I’m so grateful to be here.  I’m very happy for the readers of this blog who have taken time to write me and share their own struggles.  My sincere and strong hope for those who are dealing with profound problems and major depressive disorder is that you continue to talk to a trusted therapist or friend who can help you to sort out your feelings.  I am sending you positive energy in the hope that you will have a breakthrough as I have, and that you will put one foot in front of the other to decide what steps to take to build a new path out of darkness, back to functioning again.  Please accept my love and best wishes for your recovery and continue to let me know your own struggles so that I may lend an ear.

Wanna make God laugh?

This week the words of an old friend came to me as I reflected back on how I was frustrated for lack of a job offer. It’s been a few months now since I’ve been actively seeking the next job and it’s been an extended carnival ride.  The experience reminded me of my previous career as a learning consultant, traveling internationally to talk to young leaders, and to share my experiences about leading people through tough financial times.  This one class was for a favorite client in San Jose, Costa Rica.  As managers sometimes had done, there was an informal class standout who suggested those with flexibility plan to have dinner on the night of our last workshop day.  We were coming home from the dinner and Luis our arranger had asked permission to stop for gas after kindly offering to shuttle a few of us home.  Luis was a very busy Project Executive who had made time to socialize with me his leadership development class instructor and the few classmates able to join us for some great Costa Rican food.  He was divorced, successful, and a philosophical man, an excellent fit for the job of Project Executive, or as he called it the one-throat-to-choke contact for problems.  I’d noted several times during our 3 day workshop that his reflection, his thoughtful responses to difficult situations during his work and home life had come from his own life lessons.  We’d said in the car how fast change can come at us and sometimes be showered upon us like a cold rain.  Luis smirked and said “my father always told his kids, ‘you wanna make God laugh?   Plan your life!‘ ”   None of us believed God to be so cavalier or capricious and mean, but those words come back to me each time I’ve been struck by the events that compelled me to write a blog about depression and anxiety.  We can plan for small portions of our lives, but the universe has plans of its own, and our ability to cope, be resilient, and persistent will keep us sane and moving forward.

Depressed people are often obsessed with looking backwards in the rearview mirror instead of the path out of a dark depression.  One of my favorite films “Midnight in Paris” is a Woody Allen fantasy where the main character believes he would’ve lived better in France’s belle epoque around 1920.  In real movie life he was a frustrated but well paid horror movie writer who dreamed to run a Nostalgia store, and he was embarking on his first marriage to a beautiful, but totally ill-suited fiancee, as the fantasy unfurls. Each night he separates himself from his current day conflicted existence to take a walk through Paris at midnight when the universe sends an old Peugeot limousine to fetch him and show him how life might have been had he truly lived a hundred or so years ago.  My love of Allen’s fantasy movies is that he has the ability to pinpoint the foibles and sad regrets of his characters, and then create a memorable and delightful trek through “what if”.   In “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson’s character goes back in time through the Peugeot portal and shares his life’s dream, while receiving sage advice from famous characters TS Elliot, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein living in Paris.

I wish that were me.   I wish the Peugeot would come for me, the door open, and I could step back not to Paris, but to the points in my own life, which I’ve fucked up a time or two at junctures where I’d now choose a much different path.

The regrets of the typical middle aged man approaching senior/elderly status in life;  the junctures where I put work before the needs of people important in my life.  This is sounding maudlin, and I don’t mean for that to happen, but if there’s ever a man who needs a “do over,” it’s me. I should be set in retirement, ready for the Costa Rican casita near the Pacific, replete with monkeys, parrots, and fresh seafood at every evening meal.  Instead I’m looking for the next job, and seeking encouragement, composure, and the energy to move toward return to work.  God is chuckling about now.

I said earlier that God would never be mean and cavalier, and He hasn’t been.  He has placed some wonderful people in my path, and some of them have come to me through social media and through happenstance.  God, if you’re listening, I am grateful for every one of these sentinels– the kind of people who come close to the special level of wonderful that I believe only family truly attain.  I compare stories with these friends, and as we compare our lives I see that damned few of them has received all they’d planned for to date. If they have a stumble, they dust their asses off, and they get up and back to their lives to whatever place in their continuum they may be.  I want to be like them.  I can be like them.  I know that there’s a next step for me, and it’s just ahead.  It’s just right now feels like I am waiting in a long line of people, all waiting to use the only bathroom for miles, and I’m trying to decide whether I can make the wait & retain my dignity or make a run to pee on the sidewalk or behind a nearby tree.

For now I’d like to say thank you to all of the sentinel guardians, the real angels who have stepped into a burning building to pull me out before the walls implode. It feels like that sometimes.  Lights, I hope that I’ve told you how much I value your appearances in the storyboard that is this life. You keep me going, and hopefully I give something back to you in return, something that helps you to cope or distract you from a stinging reality that you’re facing.

So if planning our lives makes God laugh, then I guess choosing the plot we’d like our life’s continuum to match is a possible key tool to being happier, to setting attainable goals, and to surviving life with some greater degree of dignity and peace.  If you’re one of my points of light, thank you.  If you feel like you don’t have points of light, then I’d ask you to sit down in a quiet place, clear your mind of the imminent worries that bog you down emotionally, and see who comes to your mind.  There’s someone there, and I know this because life and God are not so cruel.  Sometimes our Buddha might be a neighbor, the person standing in a line in front of you, or someone you’re about to meet.  Look for them, cherish the time you spend together, and make plans even though some of those plans may give God the giggles.

Where is the outrage?

Many days of news coverage of families illegally crossing US borders, seeking asylum and instead they are received by Immigration Customs Enforcement officers separating families.  The cries of the children haunt the viewer, and the frustrating viewing audiences are left to wonder what can be done?

Clearly the Trump administration is holding hostage these children in order to secure funding for the border wall project that has been his hobby horse since the presidential campaign.  One has to wonder why Trump is not accepting responsibility for this policy– it was not put in place by the Obama administration, and it is perhaps the worst example of this administration’s capability to gaslight their base supporters.  With recent news that the Southern District of New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has filed civil suit against Donald Trump himself for mishandling of Trump Foundation monies, is it a stretch to imagine Trump misusing federal funds too?  Do we need one more example of how this illegitimate president lies about everything?

I’m very happy to write that I have not sunk into depression over this latest assault to my sensibilities, instead I’ve taken action to contact my representatives in congress and express my outrage in Jeff Sessions’ announcements that the Bible gives him authority to enforce laws that don’t exist.

To anyone who is reading this and wondering “what should I do?”  please take this opportunity to phone the Department of Justice, 202-353-1555 to express your opinions about detaining children separately from their parents.  We can easily project what may happen to these children in large, poorly supervised buildings.  Don’t let assaults, beatings, and rape happen to these innocent asylum seekers.  Please call the Department of Justice and tell them not to hold children hostage for border wall funding. Then encourage your family and friends to do the same.

Return to function

So many things go through my mind after I’ve had a bad flu or stomach bug for a few days.  It’s as though a prisoner of bad health has been set free, on a sunny day, with a gaggle of waiting family and friends to welcome you back.

Over the past 30 days I’ve made some decisions about why I continued to have nightmares and adrenaline rushes so frequently at night, interrupting my very precious sleep cycle.  Could I be causing these events by remaining loyal to medications I’ve been taking for too long? Maybe it was a theory worthy of testing?

One of my close friends is a seasonal allergy sufferer like me. She has it bad, and each spring and every fall we commiserate about how dreadful it feels to have congestion in the morning, and grisly symptoms of histamine havoc in our bodies.  Like two old pros, we began comparing our results with treatments, and I asked if she’d tried Singulair for her symptoms.  I’d been taking it for years, and it worked well, keeping sinus infections to a minimum, costing very little, and stopping the body’s response to the allergic reaction.  Lucky for both of us she had done reading about it and said “I’m anxious anyway, and I read that one of the side effects of that drug is increased anxiety, and sleep loss.”  I think the color left my face.  For years I had enjoyed the benefits of Montelukast, the generic name, and never once paid attention to the fact that it might contribute in some way to the increased anxiety I’d experienced.

In no way was Montelukast responsible for my pushing myself too hard for too many years of long haul travel, but when many little pieces come together, sometimes the aggregation can cause big, bad changes.  The words of my doctor came back to me… “take a vacation from Montelukast every once in awhile,” and my not thinking much about it because at that time I was  not suffering any ill effects of any note, I’d seldom stopped taking it, always right before going to bed.

Today marks a week without Montelukast.  I’m happy to report that the difference in sleep is positive and notable.   I fall asleep with greater ease, and I am not waking with unbearable sinus congestion though there is some to deal with.  A saline rinse takes care of the change, like using a Neti pot.

I’ve also had some great news with this return to function, that I’m feeling more rested, and more confident that I could successfully return to the work that I enjoyed so much, conducting training seminars for adult learners.  I’m so very grateful that IBM is looking at bringing me back after a 3 year sabbatical!   Living the values of a great company, valuing diversity, hiring people with disabilities, and providing a culture of great people, as I’ve described before as the highest achieving professionals I’ve known.  I’m excited again, and it feels great.  I was afraid to publish this news before now because I didn’t want superstitious jinxing to muck up my great outlook.  This is hope, this is returning to function, and this is a dream realized again– the first time over 30 years ago.

Wish me luck, and keep some hope for yourself, spreading it around if you can.  I’d enjoy hearing from anyone who has had similar results with medicines that no longer provide relief too.

Self talk

I’ve done it for years, and I have noticed others too. Self talk, the gentle encouragement, or the talking of oneself off a ledge, so important a coping tool for depression sufferers and those with anxiety.

It’s usually done silently for fear of being discovered by those around us. We fear being judged or avoided for being a nutbag. Today I view self talk as a sign of great strength. I was asked on social media, “What’s something you miss from childhood?” and I was surprised to learn by reading the first few responses that there were people who had nothing good to say about their formative years. One person had been adopted, another abused, both potentially severe traumas for young people. I miss most the encouraging words I received from my folks, my sisters, my teachers, and friends. I think that gift of encouragement in the form of talking me through challenges, led me to the practice of tapping into my inner messages. These are the most private messages sent to yourself when stressed or faced with some important task.

“What the hell have you done?”

“What gave you the idea you could do this?”

“Nobody knows how really scared I am right now..”

All of these types of messages, the self talk in our own heads, have to pass through your ear gate. In his book “Attitude is Everything,” Keith Harrell defines your ear gate as the source of entry of power or the lack of self esteem that people encounter throughout their waking life. I had the great pleasure of seeing Harrell speak at a seminar for professional skills trainers sponsored by AchieveGlobal. Harrell was one of the most dynamic motivational speakers I have ever encountered. He took his audience through a range of emotions, at times bringing us to tears with the power and truth of his message. I’ve hyperlinked his Vimeo story in case you need a lift in your day. It’s about 17 minutes long, but worth every second of your time investment, and it explains the importance of guarding your psyche from negative messages that we may let past our ear gates.

Self talk has helped me to dig myself out of a very deep and lasting depressive episode in my last 4 years. I’m now getting ready to re-enter the workforce and I am using self talk to help me regain the great confidence and love for public speaking I once enjoyed. Please give your impression of the value of self talk, and also your thoughts about one of my favorite people, Keith Douglas Harrell.

Is this destiny?

Have you wondered if you were meant to be just exactly who you are?  Did all the planets, and all the stars align on the day that you were born in order to produce you for whatever benefit to human kind that might come from your actions and legacy?  If I was put here for a great purpose, then was I meant to carry around this burden of being deeply depressed, anxious, and unable to sleep at night?

This question frequently haunts the depressed and anxious.  We sometimes wonder what we’ve done to deserve this anchor, the darkness that seems to follow us, drain us of energy, and engulf most or all of our enjoyment. One of my friends is an artist who eschews antidepressant medications because he believes his depressive episodes feed his creativity, and his art is the outlet of the darkness.  How about you?

If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I’ve discussed resilience, lost perspective, and how we could limit the grasp of depression on our lives through mindfulness. Many times that means medicines plus exercise, or psychotherapy with a worthy therapist.  One valuable lesson that my therapist taught me is that we can take control of our depression at time just by practicing awareness of what is happening to us, pausing the big DVR of our lives gives in order to give us an opportunity to put into perspective what is happening.

Another fact you may know about me is that I enjoy great movies, and this idea of accepting your destiny, even embracing it with all of its bumps and pitfalls may mean that we are made stronger and our lives enriched by what may lie just beyond the next hurdle.  This week I saw the movie “Downsizing,” billed as a comedy, but not at all what I expected.  Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, an Occupational Therapist who like many today is struggling financially to pay his debts.  Paul and his wife hear about friends who have undergone “downsizing,” or cellular miniturization in order to consume less, help the planet to use less resources, as the human body becomes 5 inches tall.  Paul feels with getting small he can stretch his life savings and provide a better new life for his family in a “small world.” If you suspend disbelief for just long enough to let the story wash over you, you will find Paul to be a good soul.  He genuinely cares for people and in his new life he is hit with many unforeseen setbacks that test his decision to get small.

Damon’s character and this very thought-provoking new movie left me thinking about these lasting, important messages portrayed days after seeing the film.  Paul is unflappable, and he meets some wonderful and strange people in the new small world.  During his adventure he never questions “why me?” or opines “poor me!” for the setbacks.  Instead his perspective, which comes at a pivotal point in this movie, is his belief that in fact the planets *did* align, the stars *were* just exactly where they were supposed to be, and life unfolded for him in its imperfect and very profound ways.  I will admit that I am a big fan of Matt Damon, with the exception of some of the Bourne films which I found to be repetitive.   This piece of wonderful cinematic storytelling is as powerful a work as was “Goodwill Hunting.”  The message for those dealing with depression is that we can choose to recognize the hurdles.  We may fall down, but that only means we must stand up when we are ready. We have experiences that are guiding us to take positive steps to minimize the duration of a bad episode of sadness or loss of functionality, and we move on to live another day.  If you enjoy fantasy genre movies that leave you awestruck and a little pensive, then I recommend that you invest the two and a half hours to watch “Downsizing.” Then please, let us know if you had the same reaction I did, or a different perspective to add to this blog.