Friday, July 31, 2015

TGIF - Adopt Us Kids

We have had a recent change in our household that has brought a rather new (new to us, anyway) issue into the spotlight. We have made our family a little larger by opening our home to someone who needed one, and we are learning firsthand that this is a remarkably complicated process. Not that we’ve never thought about it before, but we’ve never looked at it in detail, and there are quite a few details. Many of the surrounding details do touch on the various other subjects I write about, though, and I thought it was definitely worth a spotlight here.

The U.S. Children’s Bureau, in cooperation with the Adoption Exchange Association, launched Adopt Us Kids in 2002 with the goals of raising public awareness of the needs of and for adoptive and foster families, and to support States, Territories, and Tribes in their efforts to find families for children in foster care. Like last week’s spotlight on stopbullying.org, the specifics of adoption and foster care vary (and often vary greatly) from place to place, so it is difficult for someone like me, with a national and even international audience, to go too deeply into details, but it should come as no surprise that there are many young lives out there in need of a helping hand, and adoptuskids.org acts as a great facilitator between across those many places for those many kids.

According to current estimates, there are about 102,000 children and youths in the U.S. foster care system. It is safe to say that none of those children wanted to be in the foster care system. They want to be at home with a family that cares the way most of us take for granted that a family will care. That isn’t always an option, though. For one reason or another, approximately 102,000 children in this country are not taking that for granted right now. Not everyone is able to help, and only you know what you can do, but if you can help, You can bet that it would be appreciated.

In our case, we already knew the youth in question, and we knew a good bit about the situation before it got to this point. We’re lucky in that respect. We got a head start. Now we plan to put that head start to good use and give someone the best new home we can give. If you think you might be able to do the same, give adoptuskids.org, or your own local adoption or foster agency, a visit. Someone is sure to say Thank you.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Musical Therapy

Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. You spill the coffee, burn the toast, and drop the eggs all over the floor, and that’s just for starters. Then you make the mistake of turning on the news,where someone with an impossible haircut and 100-watt smile spends thirty minutes trying to convince you that the world is a cesspit sitting on top of a bomb, and the timer is about to kick into overdrive. Nope. On days like that, all you want to do is crawl back into bed, hide your head under the pillow, and then staple the edges of the pillow to the mattress, just to be sure.

Worse still are those times when you are already well into your day when it all goes wrong. Someone backs into your car in the parking lot, that special project you’ve been working on for two weeks goes to digital heaven and takes all backup copies along for the ride, or someone swipes your lunch from the office fridge and you didn’t bring any lunch money to work today. (Don’t think that last one is as big a deal? Try being a diabetic on a carefully restricted and scheduled diet.) You just want to scream, but the boss is already giving you funny looks, and that conference call is not going to dial itself.

There is no denying that sometimes life is so great that you just might explode if it gets any better.

That was sarcasm, by the way, just in case you weren’t sure.

Unless you live in a secluded hermitage or have achieved permanent balance through applied chemistry, you are probably going to have bad days from time to time. If anyone has discovered a solution to this, they do not appear to be sharing. They are probably chemically confined to a hermitage. Or something like that.

You are going to have bad days. Accepting that fact is the first step toward preventing it from being a major challenge. Step two is remembering that it’s a bad day, not a bad life. Nothing lasts forever and, easy as it is to forget, this includes most problems. “This too shall pass” can be a very handy mantra when having a bad day. The trick then is to prevent explosions until it passes.

One of my favorite tricks for getting through this period is what I like to call Musical Therapy. In short, get a collection of the right songs (“right,” in this case being defined as “right for you,” and no one can make that call but you), play them as loudly as you need for as long as you need, and let the music carry you away. Depending on your current location, headphones might be a required element of this therapy. For most situations, I would recommend using upbeat, high energy songs, but even that cannot really be narrowly defined because what works is largely defined by circumstances and personal taste.

It is worth noting that this recommendation does not mean that the music needs to be happy or uplifting. Sometimes that would be great - there is certainly nothing wrong with converting anger or frustration into dancing or laughter, if you can manage an honest transition - but sometimes it’s just not what you need. Sometimes what you need is a way to give voice to rage in a way that won’t come back and kick you (or anyone else) in the teeth. Sometimes sound and fury is exactly what the doctor ordered. Those are times when you want to crank it up to eleven and throw away the knob.

Just me? Anyone?

Okay, it’s not just me, but it’s not going to be for everyone either. Music can be helpful for most people, but not always the same music and not always in the same way, As with most things, I can give you some general pointers but, when it comes to specifics, all I can do is tell you my story and let you decide how it fits in with your life.

In my early twenties, when I was having more bad days than good, my neighbors probably knew far more of the lyrics to Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” than they ever intended, because that was my go to mood killer at the time. People who know me today probably notice when my Facebook feed starts to fill up with the likes of Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, and Avenged Sevenfold. I’ve mentioned in the past that my musical tastes are extremely eclectic, but there are times when only a screaming guitar will get the job done. A wall of screaming guitars might earn overtime.

There are other times, though, when what I want is to soar, to fly through a landscape that only music can reach. Yesterday, for example, I spent a few hours listening to Lindsey Stirling make magic on the violin. This inevitably led to a round of Halestorm, because I can’t listen to Lindsey without listening to “Shatter Me,” an incredibly powerful duet she has with Lzzy Hale, and then I need to hear more of Lzzy. So it goes. Some days I might disappear into the folk worlds of The Chieftains or Blackmore’s Night, and still other days, especially if I’m feeling homesick for Texas, only the rodeo stylings of someone like Chris LeDoux will do.

The point is, the exact nature of the music isn’t what’s important. What matters is that music can carry you away and left you over whatever is troubling you, at least for a little while. It can help you to find perspective, and it can help you to find peace. Sometimes it can help you to find that critical few minutes of just not obsessing over your troubles. When you can’t let go on your own, sometimes music can help you let go. Depending on your troubles, they may still be there when you get back from your musical odyssey, but you will hopefully be refreshed and in a better place to address them.

Music will not have the same impact for all people but, in my experience, it will have an impact for most people. Music is a major factor in my life, so it is a huge influence on my moods and thinking. It may not have quite the same pull for you, but most of us do have that song that makes us smile, or brings back a certain memory. Tap into that, and let it help you through the bad times.

Keep in mind, though, that this association can work both ways. If a particular song or type of music tends to bring up sad or painful memories, that is probably not the song or music you want to use to try to break out of a funk. Looking at those memories can sometimes be useful or necessary, but try to keep it in context. If you’re trying to overcome a bad day, pick music that will actually help you to do that. Don’t wallow.

It has long been understood that music can tap into a fundamental, primal portion of the human psyche. Use this to your advantage and let it help you to go where you want to go. At this point in my life, I would suggest that you be more courteous than I was back when I was educating my neighbors on the joys of Queensryche, but there are so many options now that this shouldn’t even be a problem. Find the music you love and that works for you, and let it work for you. Your life can be epic. Give it an epic soundtrack to help it along the way.

By the way, I've tagged some good examples all through the musical section of this one, in case you're curious. Give them a listen, if you haven't already.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Happy Hump Day 7-29-15

There is a common misconception that guys don't have emotional issues, sometimes expressed as "real men don't blah blah blah." Truth is, men and boys are just as prone to issues as women and girls, and real men admit that and do something about it.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sound and Fury

I am always somewhat amused when someone behaves poorly and then tries to excuse it with, “well, I was angry,” especially when it happens often. So? Do you think that you are the only person who has ever been angry? Do you lose all control whenever you have a surplus of some other emotion, or just this one? Should we treat you like a werewolf and lock you in a specially prepared room until the fit passes? Hide your children and small animals! Angry person coming through!

Anger might be an explanation sometimes, perhaps even a small portion of mitigating circumstances, but it is hardly ever a real excuse. You are still you - angry, happy, or otherwise - and your actions still belong to you as well. It is just as much up to you what you do with your anger as it is with anything else. You can control you, or you can let anger control you. The choice is yours.

It is not an easy choice, though. I understand that. Believe me, I do. I know a thing or two about being angry.

When I was a child, I was small, awkward, and painfully shy (none of which has really changed at all, aside from not being nearly as small as I get older). I was also usually too smart for my own good and had a temper that stayed just under the boiling point. Combine those ingredients and simmer in adolescent hormones. The resulting concoction is not recommended for human consumption. It’s not recommended for much of anything human, to be honest.

I’ve mentioned previously that I was something of a bully magnet, and this temper issue only made things worse. One of the popular games was to surround me chanting, “Temper, temper, temper,” until I exploded. Yes, it seems extremely childish now but … No, it was extremely childish, but we were children. Doing extremely childish things is part of the definition.

At the same time, though, I could see people in my life who were not children, but were still displaying the same troubling behavior. Being too smart for my own good often got me in trouble, but it did occasionally have benefits as well. I’ve always been a people watcher, and sometimes I even had the sense to connect the dots. I watched the adults around me who were struggling with anger issues and realized that wasn’t who I wanted to be. Even a child of ten or eleven can recognize damage as damage if it is overt enough, and I did have some fairly overt examples to drive home the point.

(Please bear with me while we take a small detour to address an important point of clarification. This is one of the areas where I disagree with some of the prevailing theories, and it will probably matter often in the long run, so I want to be perfectly clear before we go any further. My story is mine to tell, in all of its tragedies and triumphs, and I will tell that story in the manner I believe appropriate to the subject at hand. Sometimes that will require crossing over into stories that belong to other people in ways that are not flattering to anyone involved. The stories are what they are, but people are people, and people make mistakes. I am trying to help people, not harm them, and so I will intentionally avoid revealing identifying information whenever I believe that doing so could harm another person in my story. Whether or not they harmed me in the past is not relevant, regardless of some contrary beliefs in the field. I will certainly adjust my expectations based on observed behavior, but I will not brand anyone with a scarlet letter that can only hamper their journey forward. Thank you for understanding.)

While it would be many years and many additional decisions later before things would truly begin to take the shape they now have, that was the beginning. That was the first time that I took some part of my life that I didn’t like and said, “No more. I won’t be this way.” It was also good practice because, as it happened, this turned out to be one of the easier changes I have made.

It began with a decision: “That is not who I am going to be.” This, of course, was quickly followed by repeated failures. No matter what anyone might tell you, there is no easy way to change patterns of habit (which is even more true if you are a … pattern-oriented person, as many of us working on these issues tend to be, so good luck). You start, you stumble, you trip, you probably cuss and fume a bit while making many mistakes, and you keep going. Eventually you notice that you’re not struggling so much anymore. Even more eventually you may stop noticing completely. Ta-da! You just created a new behavior pattern.

For me, the first step was trying to ignore what was making me angry. In case you haven’t noticed by now, ignoring something almost never works, but it can sometimes be a useful starting point. If you ignore something for a while, you might come to realize that what you were ignoring didn’t matter all that much in the first place. This certainly will not always be true (and different situations will require different solutions) but when it is true, this realization can lead you to something better than ignoring. Ignoring is an active decision. Ignoring is something you have to actually do. When you realize there was nothing worth ignoring in the first place, you won’t move on to doing something else. You just won’t be angry. You will have entirely freed up emotional time and energy that can be put to better use.

That is all easy to say on paper, but please keep in mind that it took me years to go from one point to the other. There were many bumps along the way. To tell the truth, I am still on my way. I certainly haven’t reached a point where I don’t get angry, and I doubt I ever will, but I have found a place on the road where anger is less easy to come by and more easy to let go of, and where I, not my anger, am almost always the driving force behind my behavior.

Somewhere along the way I also learned something pretty amazing: Anger was never really the problem. Anger is natural. Anger happens. Like a thunderstorm, anger comes and then it goes and, like that storm, it can leave renewal in its wake. It can also sometimes leave destruction, so you do have to be careful, but most of the time, if you are careful, it’s no big deal. It is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Anger is usually only a problem when it is unnatural, when it is too quick, too hot, or held for too long.

Don’t be afraid of anger, but don’t let it be your master either. Learn from it, let it serve its purpose, and then let it go.

I know a bit about anger. Even today, after spending more than half of my life learning to not have a temper problem, I am still often angry. These days that anger usually comes because someone was cruel, destructive, or willfully ignorant, and then I try to put that anger to good use. I channel it into learning, into teaching, into being a better person, and into helping others find ways to be better. Then I let it pass. The world being what it is right now, that is a more common occurrence than I might like, but it is what it is. We do what we can with what we have. The rest is like a storm, and it will pass.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Motivational 7-27-15

Blogspot made a serious effort to damage my calm this week, since their restricted html coding is atrocious, so things aren't quite lined up the way I would prefer. It wasn't worth the headache of continuing to fight with bad programming. I hope you don't mind.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

TGIF - stopbullying.gov

From a legal standpoint, bullying can be a difficult situation to define, let alone address. In the United States, such laws are generally handled at the local or state level, though there may be some situations where overlap can occur with existing federal laws on discrimination and/or harassment. I believe that education and advocacy can accomplish more than laws, in most cases, but there are times when law is needed, and knowing the laws in your state or locality can be of immense assistance.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services maintains the website stopbullying.gov, which acts as a handy reference point for laws and policies across the country, as well as collecting educational information and tools that can be used for anti-bullying programs. If you or someone you know could benefit from this information, please take a look and pass it around. As far as that goes, I can't imagine there being anyone who couldn't benefit, so take a look and pass it around anyway.

Sometimes being a child can be difficult enough. Let's all do what we can to not make it worse.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Boy Who Cried Fire

Once upon a time, there was a boy whose job was to watch for fires. It was an important job, and he took his responsibility very seriously. The Boy understood that fire could destroy his village and, with it, everything he loved, so he did his job with diligence and dedication, determined that no fire would ever take him unaware.

He watched from the roof of the tallest building and clanged a bell to summon the Bucket Brigade whenever there was a need. If he saw a spark in the woods, he clanged his bell. If he saw smoke in the fields, he clanged his bell. If he saw a strange light glinting in the distance, like the light of the sun beating through glass at the right angle to burn an ant hill, he would clang his bell for that too, just in case. He even paid some of the village to give him notice if they saw something suspicious, anything that might be a fire requiring his attention. The Boy took no chances at all, and gave every adverse possibility the highest alert possible. He was the most diligent Fire Watcher the village had ever known, and he worked the Bucket Brigade like they had never worked before.

Unfortunately, for all of his good intentions, The Boy did not have the best grasp of resource management. He focused only on the task at hand, without consideration for possible future ramifications, and the Village Elders, who should have been more concerned with the bigger picture, did not want to dampen his youthful enthusiasm by suggesting that he should maybe tone it down just a little. So things went as they went, until they simply could not go any further. The local resources, not having any opinion on the matter one way or another, gave and gave and gave, until they were gone.

The day came when The Boy rang his bell and there was no response. This was not because no one wanted to respond, but rather it was become no one could respond. The people who made up the Bucket Brigade were laid up with various injuries and illnesses that had resulted from overwork, and their buckets were in desperate need of patches, new handles, and just general maintenance from overuse. Try as they might, the rest of the villagers could not take up the slack, and this was most unfortunate because this was no False Alarm or Maybe Alarm or Just In Case Alarm. This was a Real and True Fire Alarm, at least a Three Banger, the way the village measured such things, and all anyone could do was watch in despair as it ate everything in its path, despite the best intentions of all involved.

----

We are all familiar with the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, about the consequences of developing a reputation for dishonesty, but I believe that this similar message does not get nearly the attention that it needs. The Boy Who Cried Fire was not being dishonest, and he was certainly not doing anything just for a lark, the way his cousin the Wolf Watcher was doing, and yet the results were nearly identical. In the end, all was lost because the needed response was not there. Good intentions won’t change the outcome of bad decisions.

I bring this up because, far too often, it is a very real problem. People who believe that they are helping actually cause the problems they are trying to solve or, at the very least, interfere with the real solutions because they are not paying attention. They are crying fire at every stray reflection, without consideration of the drain on resources this has to cause. If you point this out, you are inevitably met with, “At least they are trying to help.” Well, maybe, but if I try to help my mechanic, I promise you that he won’t thank me. There is helping and then there is helping. It isn’t all equal.

It requires an increase in public awareness to deal with issues like bullying, mental health, and social pressures. We have to be ready, willing, and able to stand up and point when we see a problem, or nothing will get fixed. We also, however, have to manage our resources. The best intentions in the world will not produce infinite resources, and if we are spending so much time on False Alarms, Maybe Alarms, and Just In Case Alarms that we don’t have the resources left to address Real and True Alarms then we are making things worse, not better.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t address Maybe Alarms or Just In Case Alarms. We just need to do so in a manner that is conscious of our resources and attempts to cut down on False Alarms. Life is full of maybes. There is no getting around that. We have to do the best we can with what we have, and we have to accept the fact that sometimes that means waiting and watching.

That’s hard. Anyone who sets their sights on fixing a problem is usually chomping at the bit to fix that problem. Watching and waiting are not fixing. That is certainly true, but they’re also not making things worse. Just a little something for the impatient to keep in mind.

I have been involved with many Public Awareness missions over the years, and I have seen this problem come up every single time, so I believe that it is something which needs to be acknowledged and addressed early in our mission here. My own path to recovery and health management has not been the same as for everyone else, and the things I say, as a result, will not always be the same as from everyone else. Sometimes we need to say No, and sometimes we need to be told No. “I’m trying to help” is not always a valid excuse.

Good intentions are usually a great place to start. Odds are, if you’re looking to do good then you are, well, looking. You are probably at least launching off in the right direction. The part where people tend to get lost, though, is in not paying attention to the results. If you truly want to do good in the world then it is up to you to see to it that you are doing good. Don’t just throw your intentions out there and then go on about your business. Look at the results. Observe what happened. Was it what you wanted to happen? If not, can you identify why not?

Doing good in the world doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen just by wishing. Doing good is hard work, and intention is only the beginning. If you are not course-correcting based on observed results then you are actually part of the problem, no matter how good your intentions. That is why the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If you are not watching the results, you are flailing blindly and, in the process, blazing a trail that nobody wants to follow.

We need to be aware, and we need to make others aware of issues that can make us better people and a better society, but we need to do so in a conscientious manner. Don’t be The Boy Who Cried Fire. Don’t flail around blindly. Observe your results, and change as needed. Pair good intention with good action, and you will be far more likely to achieve good results.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Happy Hump Day 7-22-15

This one is a plaque on the wall of the parliament building in Edinburgh, Scotland. Appropriate, if a somewhat surprising location.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Beware When Fighting Monsters

When I was growing up, there were times when being around other people was the very definition of Hell on Earth. I was a scrawny kid with no real inclination toward sports of any kind, shy, and socially awkward. While I did have some very good friends occasionally (most of whom are still in my life to this day), most of my playmates existed only in my head. I didn’t have any of the right hobbies, interests, or clothes, and we all know how that tends to turn out far too often.

Children can be vicious, and none more so than the ones who perceive themselves to be “In” in relation to those perceived as being “Out”.

I was the one who would be accosted in the hall while someone made fun of my walk, or the way I stood, or just the way I was dressed. I was the one who tried to keep to himself at summer camp, and ended up having his personal letters shared around the boys’ dorm for everyone else’s entertainment. I was the one who would walk laps around the playground while everyone else was playing kickball, or tag, or whatever other group activity was popular at the time. Sometimes I would be fortunate enough to have one or two other people walking with me, and we would tell stories while we walked. These stories usually involved being from another world, or going to another world, or meeting visitors from another world; almost anything that involved some other world, really. In short, having perfect vision (and so, no glasses) was just about the only thing that kept me from hitting perfect marks on the classic nerd stereotype.

One day, while walking laps, another student ran up, punched me in the face, and then ran off as though nothing had happened. There is very little that can cement your place in the adolescent hierarchy quite like an anonymous sock in the jaw.

As a child, I didn’t understand why these things would happen. I would try my hardest to fit in, which often just made things worse. Those who fit in don’t usually have to try, and those who try will usually get a million little details wrong, and stand out all the more because of it. That always seemed to be the case for me, at least. It seemed as if there was nothing I could do to make things better, and everything I did just led to some new form of humiliation. There were days when the only thing that seemed to make any sense was wanting the humiliation to end, one way or another.

As an adult, today, I can’t exactly say that it makes any more sense, but I can better see how the dots connect. I know from experience that Activity A tends to result in Behavior B from Group C. Behavior B may not make any sense, in and of itself, but is can still be fairly predictable, when taken in context. Having learned these lessons, I have gotten pretty good over the years at either making peace with the reactions or avoiding the activities which lead to those reactions (even better when I can avoid the groups who participate in those behaviors, but that isn’t always as controllable). I’ve even developed some decent skill at pretending I can navigate social situations without looking for an emergency escape route. Practice may not ever make perfection, in this case, but it certainly helps.

What also helped was having the right people show up in the right places at the right times. I was very fortunate in that regard, and this is something that I always try to remember. A smile or a kind word at the right time could save a life, and you may never even know that it happened. It may seem like a small thing to you but, to the person on the edge, small things can make all the difference. A surplus of small things is often what put that person on the edge. The right small thing can sometimes be exactly what walks them back.

I don’t really expect that I will ever be completely free of that scared child from so many years ago - too much of who he was has gone into building who I am - but I do expect that I will never actually be him again. Some of the things that I have learned have made me a harder person that he was, but I try to not let that go too far the other direction. Who I was informs who I am which informs who I will be. Peace comes from letting go of the past while remembering the lessons it taught you, remembering your history without being weighed down by it. Those who have been on the receiving end of bullying and come out the other side know this better than most people.

Our culture today has become more aware of bullying than ever before, and that is a good thing on so many levels. We have outreach programs, educational messages, and support services that were never more than dreams to past generations and, as a result, we are saving lives. In fact, more than just saving lives, we are improving lives. Not only are some people who might have been bullies learning earlier how to live a better way, and some people who might have been bullied being spared that hardship completely, but we also have people who have been bullied learning like never before that life goes on, and it usually gets better. Despite these improvements, though, there is still much to be done, and much that we need to keep in mind while we move forward as a society.

There is an all too human tendency to take on the traits of whatever it is that you focus your attention toward. Spend your time around positive people and you will tend to be positive. Spend your time around negative people and you will tend to be negative. That is just the way we are wired. All things being equal, then, it just makes sense to spend more time around people who lift you up, and to limit time spent around people who drag you down.

All things are not equal, though. Most of us have jobs or school or some other social responsibility that limits our ability to choose who we are around. If nothing else, there is the daily bombardment of TV, Internet, and other media sources that aren’t exactly famous for focusing on the positive. It is imperative to remember that tendencies are not set in stone. We may tend to absorb surrounding traits, but ultimately we choose whether or not to abide by such tendencies.

This is important because there are many negative things that require our attention, and it does no good to focus on fixing these issues, only to become the negative ourselves.

I’ve known too many people who were bullied who then go on to become bullies themselves. They get a taste of the other side and decide that it’s time to get even, or decide that this is how they will never be a victim again. It is, in some respects, an understandable reaction. It is the cycle of violence given different expression. It is sad, though, because these people know better. They have a full understanding of what it’s like to be on the receiving end, and they are walking that road anyway.

A more insidious problem is the people who have taken so completely to the fight that they see bullies behind every bush and bullying in every interaction. It is important to be vigilant, and there will be times when pointing out bullying will be the unpopular thing to do, but it is also important to maintain perspective. Sometimes a joke is just a joke, and an interaction - even a negative interaction - is just an interaction. Context matters, and if you’re not paying attention to the context then you are not actually helping. If you cry Bully! at everything, it loses its sting, and becomes less effective when needed.

A world without bullying would be a fine thing indeed, but it is not likely to happen within my lifetime. We continue to build toward it, and we make improvements every day, but we don’t really expect to see the end result. I don’t, anyway, and that’s okay. I can see where we’re going, and the road has much to offer along the way.

Just be careful of the dangers, and try not to become a danger yourself.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

TGIF - LifeGift.org and DonateLife.net

Attentive readers will note that I have already given an informal plug for LifeGift.org and the larger project they are currently backing, Donate Life Echo 2015, earlier this week. I had debated with myself whether or not to give them the TGIF spotlight, because they are a region-specific organization (in this case, that region being a fairly large portion of Texas), but I ultimately decided that the message they offer is far larger than the region they serve, and it is a message well worth sharing in any form available. Plus, while I am more familiar with LifeGift, the larger project is not regional. So call it a two-for-one special.

I personally know people whose lives have been touched by this LifeGift.org and, while I would not dream to speak for them, I have seen the benefit from an outsider’s perspective, and encourage everyone to get involved.

From the About Us section on their website, LifeGift was established in 1987 as Gulf Coast Independent Organ Procurement Organization and is the designated organ procurement organization (OPO) for North, Southeast and West Texas. Aside from facilitating the lifesaving processes involved in organ and tissue donation, LifeGift also works toward education the public on the importance of such programs, and works with the families who are making these donations, to help them through such a difficult time. That last one is a part of this process that is so often overlooked when people think of organ and tissue donation, and the effort that LifeGift puts into helping families heal after a devastating loss cannot be overstated.

If you have not signed up to be an organ and tissue donor, please consider signing up today, through whatever facilities exist where you live. If you are in Texas, LifeGift.org is a wonderful place to start. For a more national view, visit DonateLife.net. In either case, any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated. Every little bit helps.

Thank you.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's OK To Cheat Sometimes

“Il meglio e nemico del bene.”

“The best is the enemy of the good.”

The saying is commonly attributed to Voltaire, and he did express such sentiments in multiple writings, but the idea probably goes all the way back to the caveman who took that first bone-jarring ride on a bumpy stone wheel (right up until he hit that first pothole and started thinking about pain relievers instead). It has recently gained new life in politics and leadership seminars and, if you’re like me, you are probably getting tired of hearing it, to tell the truth. It is, however, an aphorism with some important applications, and not just in the categories of Making Excuses and Passing The Buck. Its best uses come from more personal moments that won’t usually be shouted out from any stage or lectern.

When I received my diabetes diagnosis, it was a rather interesting health day, all around. I’ll be the first to admit that, prior to then, my health habits had been nothing short of atrocious. Most of my meals came out of a box from the Frozen Foods section. My job is almost entirely sedentary, and I was getting no exercise outside of work worth mentioning. Just about the only things I was doing right were I had stopped drinking sodas a couple years before, and I had quit smoking just a few months before. That latter one was after smoking up to two packs per day for about thirty years, so I’m pretty sure the quitting had not caught up to doing anything productive quite yet. In short, I was not just a health disaster waiting to happen. Running full speed toward that disaster was apparently the only exercise I was getting. Not terribly helpful.

My office does a health screening every year, toward the end of the year, for most of the basics: blood pressure, blood sugar, BMI, cholesterol, and that sort of thing. While it was not exactly a surprise, it was something of an eye opener when every one of those tests said something to the effect of, “Please consult your personal physician at your earliest convenience,” in the comments section. I’ve never been very good at doing what I was told, but I decided that time I should probably give it a try. My personal physician, entirely as expected, concurred with the tests in saying that it was past time for me to make some changes.

Heather and I went over the information and discussed the options. I was resistant, but only a little. This was not very long after we had lost my dad and, while my own issues were nowhere near so dire as to be immediately life threatening, it required no act of prophecy to determine what direction my road was heading. I am a stubborn man, but I can be reasoned with if you have a big enough stick. Those tests combined into being a mighty big stick.

I needed to make changes, so I made changes. That is one of the central principles I try to live by: Do What Must Be Done. All else can be discussed, questioned, ignored, procrastinated, or whatever else seems appropriate, but if it must be done then do it. Don’t waste energy and time fighting the inevitable.

Processed foods? Gone. Sugary sweeteners? None for me, thank you. Artificial sweeteners? Those are just another form of processed foods, so see point the first. And so on and so forth. We made diet changes. I discovered that fruits and vegetables are not the enemies I have always considered them (though I would still prefer they not be cooked, thank you). I started taking frequent walks. In a matter of months I dropped twenty pounds and brought all of those horribly high numbers down to acceptably human healthy levels. I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to Heather, who has not only been as supportive as anyone could have ever asked for, but who has also put quite a bit of work into this Get Healthy program herself, even though there was nothing wrong with her numbers. She does most of the cooking because, believe me, that is preferable to everyone involved (unless it comes off of the grill, people do not usually volunteer to eat my cooking), and the new diet involves making most meals from scratch. Yes I have a wonderful wife, and yes I know it.

It did not take long for me to be pleased with the results. When you’re that unhealthy, positive changes can stand out fast. I wasn’t the only one who noticed either. People at work began to congratulate me on the results, and even to ask how I had achieved them. I answered these questions as well as I could but, as always, I was quick to point out, “These things worked for me, but they’re just ideas. You’ll need to adjust them for you.”

I think it is important to remember that, for most things, there is no One Size Fits All solution. Human beings are walking sacks of variables and, while we do have plenty of overlap, we are still each as individual as fingerprints. I can suggest things that have worked for me, but you will need to compare that to your own set of variables to see how it fits. Sometimes, though I suspect rarely, the suggestion may be a perfect fit, and you may be able to plug it into your life with no adjustments and fantastic results. More likely, though, it won’t fit quite right and will require some adjustment, or it may not fit at all, but can highlight where some other idea may fit. Sometimes my suggestions will not do you a bit of good, no matter how much you file the edges or knock off the corners. We all have to figure these things out as we go.

There is one thing I found while making these changes that, though it might not be universal, does seem to have a higher than average amount of overlap. It’s simple, really: Don’t be a stick in the mud. Don’t be too rigid. Allow yourself to cheat occasionally. When it comes to diets, health changes, personal changes, and things of that sort, one of the leading causes of failure is It’s Too Hard. We set impossible standards for ourselves and then beat ourselves up when we don’t meet them. Setting yourself up to feel bad for missing your goals is not going to improve your chances of succeeding. In fact, if you’re already dealing with depression, anxiety, esteem issues - any of the concerns that we are here trying to figure out - you will have just made things worse. Don’t do that.

We cut out fast food, but I might grab a burger once or twice a year (and have water instead of a fountain drink, and make sure to add a salad, and maybe add an apple or some grapes for dessert). We cut out most sweets, but Heather will still make cookies occasionally, usually for holidays or birthdays, and I will usually eat a few (not more than one at a time, spread out over some weeks, and they were probably made with dark chocolate instead of sweet, and other minor adjustments of that sort). I could keep going, but I trust that you get the idea. Allowing yourself some small luxuries now and then makes it easier to adjust to the larger changes, and you can even adjust these luxuries so that they are a reward and still more in line with your new goals.

This also comes with a change in perspective. For many people, myself included sometimes, missing a goal ends up being an excuse to quit. “Oh well, I’ve messed that up, so there’s no point in continuing now.” This helps to remove that problem. The occasional cheat is factored into the plan, so it isn’t a goal-killing failure.

Keep in mind that you do have to be realistic about these things. It’s okay to cheat sometimes, but know your limits. In the preceding examples, grabbing a double cheeseburger with an extra order of fries and a large chocolate shake is not really the kind of cheating we’re discussing. That would be more like giving up.

This same principle can be applied to many things, not just to diet, but you’ll have to look it over a few times and compare the various angles to see where it will best fit into your life. The important thing to remember is that you are a human being, not a statue. Unless you are dealing with a medical condition that actually prohibits something, you are not built for rigidity. As almost every culture in history has expressed at one time or another, in one way or another, the tree that bends is less likely to break.

When done right, sometimes cheating isn’t really cheating at all.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Happy Hump Day 7-15-15

For today's Wednesday edition, we bring you some Zen meditation to think about. Enjoy.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Grilling Hat

Before we dive into today’s article, I have to point out that I have started and stopped writing this one several times now. I believe firmly that an important step in both addressing depression issues and making you a better you is confronting anything that might be getting in your way, eyes open and walking forward. As such, a recurring theme here will be discussing some of my own issues to examine what they mean to me and, hopefully, how I address them, using that to find broader applications that we can all put into play. It’s a grand plan, but grand plans are almost always easier in theory than in practice.

Sometimes, confronting personal issues can be quite difficult. That is pretty obvious in hindsight. If it were easy, none of this would be necessary. We would all be confronting our issues on a regular basis, and no one would need help from anyone else. I’m not sure what that would be like, but I am sure that it is not the reality we inhabit.

Consider this a courtesy warning: today’s article will be more deeply personal than what we have seen so far. The squeamish may want to look away now (though I do hope that you won’t). They won’t all be like this - I don’t think the human mind is quite that resilient - and I promise that there will even be articles that are pure happy, just not this one. We are here to examine the entire picture, and that includes the lows as well as the highs.

Now that you have been sufficiently warned and I have been sufficiently psyched up, let’s get on with the actual article, shall we?

I don’t post selfies very often. I have no philosophical objection to them. I’m just not very good at taking them. I do try occasionally. It can be a good way to share pictures with people you don’t get to see very often and, living as far from family as I do, that justifies a little extra effort from time to time. To be honest, I usually take several pictures, hate them all, and end up thrusting the camera or phone into the nearest unsuspecting hands, requesting help. Once in a while, though, I do get one that I will actually let out into the public.

The image attached to this article is an example of one that made it into the wild. It was a picture that I took while grilling a couple weeks ago, and it made it all the way to my Facebook profile. This prompted a couple people to ask about the hat.

Most people who know me are used to seeing me wearing a hat. If I’m outside, I’m usually wearing a hat, and I will even grab my hat for photos when inside, if that is an option. This hat, however, is visibly different from the others. It is rather crooked and dented up from copious amounts of handling, for one thing and, for another, it doesn’t really fit me. It’s too big. Still, if I’m grilling at home, this is the hat I will be wearing. It’s my grilling hat.

There is a reason for that.

You see, this was my dad’s hat, before it became my grilling hat. I snatched it from him once at a family reunion, and we made quite a few memories passing it around. This was back before I was routinely wearing hats, and was part of what led to my adopting that fashion. When my dad passed away in April 2013, my mom was good enough to let me take his hat as a keepsake. (Thank you Mom. I love you.)

If you knew my dad, you know that he loved to grill. It was one of the things he was known for when I was growing up. With that in mind, I wore his hat as a tribute the first time I grilled after I got home from the funeral. Then I wore it the next time, and the time after that. It quickly became a ritual. If I’m grilling at home, I’m wearing my dad’s hat. My grilling hat.

I miss my dad very much, as anyone who has lost a loved one will understand, but some parts of this are so hard to put into words.

We didn’t always get along, my dad and I. I was not always an easy teenager to handle, even in relative comparison to other teenagers, and this did not get better as I moved into my twenties. You might remember that it was in my early twenties when I began to deal with some of my own hangups, and that transition period is never a fun thing to share. My dad had his own issues to deal with, and neither of us was very good at talking about such things back then. He loved me, and I have never had a moment in my life when I doubted that (which I fully realize makes me far luckier than so many people), and I never had a moment when I doubted that I loved him, but we did have many moments where we didn’t really know how to say so. So many moments, in fact, that we spent a period of time not talking to each other at all.

We both grew as we aged (a trick that more people should probably try), and I believe that, in later years, we became closer than ever. Our time apart probably helped to teach us both what is more important but, if so, I don’t recommend using that method. That time apart is time that we will never have back so, if you can find a better way to recognize your priorities, use it. Don’t lose time that you don’t have to lose. Time is one of the most precious commodities we have, and we waste so much of it. Don’t waste time. You can’t get it back.

As things turned out, just as Dad and I were getting closer as people, we got further apart in physical space. I moved to Washington, where I spent the next several years, met the woman who is now my long-suffering and very supportive wife, and put in a lot of good time raising a family and living a good life. Then, due to realities resulting from the recession and employment requirements, we moved to Phoenix, where we currently reside.

We joked at the time of the move about this bringing us closer to family in Texas, and it did, in a strictly literal sense, but it didn’t really make any difference where it mattered. We were a solid thousand miles closer, but that still left a gap too wide to close nearly as often as we would have liked. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2011, my dad invited us to join the family for a Caribbean cruise. Cruising was something he had developed a passion for in recent years, and he wanted to share that passion with the people he loved. To be honest, Heather and I were not entirely certain that we wanted to go - being on a boat for a week surrounded by strangers with no way out seemed pretty daunting to people who had never done anything like that before - but we knew what it would mean to Dad and, because of that, we never even considered declining. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made, not just because we had a great time and would do it again in a heartbeat if it were more affordable, but also because the memories we made were unbeatable. Seeing my dad in that environment he had come to love so much was amazing. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I will be smiling about that trip for the rest of my life.

There are days, many of them lately, when I need that memory.

We still live in Phoenix, so this is where we were when my dad had his heart attack. If you have never had such an experience then there is no way I can make you understand the impotence of being 1100 miles away from the most important man in your life while he is lying in Intensive Care, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you have been through such a thing then you understand, and you have my deepest sympathies. If the universe were fair, no one would ever need to understand such a thing. The universe is not fair, though. That is a truth you have to feel all the way down in your bones if you are going to find your balance in this life. The universe is not fair, and wishing otherwise is as useless as wailing at the sea. It is up to each and everyone of us to make the best of things despite that fact. That’s how we do this thing called life.

I know this; I teach this; but sometimes it is so very hard to practice this.

My mom and I spent time on the phone, trying to make plans, trying to determine the best course of action. We knew that I would go down to Texas, but we were having some trouble figuring out When. Dad’s condition was very touch and go, and often seemed like it could go either direction at a moment’s notice. We knew that he might not make it, but we also knew that if he did pull through then there would be some heavy recuperation time on the other end. I went back and forth with the idea of heading south right away, but there was a financial limit to how much time I could take away from work, and we wanted to make the best use of what time I could get. We hoped for the best, of course, and tried not to think too hard about the worst, while planning for it all the same. I wanted to see my dad, in case I didn’t get another chance, but I wanted to be there when he really needed me, if it came to the best, during his recovery. We waited and we tried to parse the information coming from the doctors. Things seemed to be looking up, and we had hope. Dad had another heart attack on April 26, 2013 and, though they did all they could do, the doctors were not able to save him from that one.

My dad died, and I was still in Phoenix, and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

That may have been the most difficult sentence I have written in my entire life.

I want to make something perfectly clear: no one is at fault for my not being there, and I don’t blame anyone. We all did the best we could with the information we had. At the same time, though, not being there is a regret that I have had to work through every single day since Dad died. Such is the paradox, sometimes, of being human. We are often masters at carrying guilt that doesn’t even rightly exist. I miss my dad every day, and every day I have to work through the pain, the guilt, and the regret that stems from not being there with him at the end. Some days have been easier than others, but none have been easy. I’m not convinced that any ever will be. Grief has its own rules, and the universe is not fair.

We will all deal with grief at one time or another. Most of us will do so many times over. If you live and you love, you will lose. There is no getting around that. Whatever lives will die, but whatever dies must also have lived. There is the trick. That is the secret. The loss that causes grief reflects the love that will help you make it through.

Sometimes the only answer you can give to grief is your tears, and that is perfectly fine. Cry the tears you need to cry because they are an honest tribute to the love you felt, the love you feel, and - if you are very lucky - the love you will always feel. Pay your tribute, and then remember why you are paying tribute. Remember those memories that shine so brightly, they can never fade. Remember what made them special, what made them happy, and let them remind you how to smile. That is how we get through grief, not one day at a time, but one smile at a time.

I can remember my dad at the grill while we played baseball in the backyard. I can remember how much family meant to him, and how much doing things with and for his family meant to him. My grilling hat is a touchstone for that memory. When I’m having a bad day; when I’m missing him so hard, it’s a physical pain; when I’m so angry with regret that the world blurs around me; at my lowest points, I can look at that hat and be instantly reminded of some of my highest points.

That is why I wear that hat that is crooked and dented and too big for my head. It makes me smile. Sometimes that’s the best reason there can be.

I love you Dad.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Motivational 7-13-15

Don't try to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to self improvement and taking care of yourself, there are many great ideas out there already. Monday will be dedicated to considering those ideas at your own pace, and in your own way. I will be posting things that I believe are excellent ideas with which to begin the week.




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Friday, July 10, 2015

TGIF - Project Semicolon

Welcome to the first official Friday edition of Frequently Interrupted. I hope you’ve had a great week, and I hope you have a great weekend. I will be spending at least part of the weekend making plans to bring you another successful week (and yes, I am very happy with our first week together, thank you), but I certainly intend to just relax and enjoy life as well. That is what it’s all about.

Friday’s around here will be dedicated to small messages like this one, and to spotlighting something I have seen that I believe warrants the attention. It might be something inspiring, humorous, cool, or just some random item that caught my attention. No real rules there, so definitely stay tuned.

If you’ve been around and paying attention to the buildup over the last couple weeks, it will probably come as no surprise that the spotlight for our very first TGIF article is going to Project Semicolon. Project Semicolon was founded in 2013 by Amy Bleuel, after she lost her father to suicide, as a means to honor his memory and, hopefully, to inspire others to overcome issues that lead to suicide. The semicolon is a place in the sentence where the writer could have stopped but decided, instead, to pause and then continue. The idea behind Project Semicolon is that the hard times you might be facing don’t have to be the end. Pause, take a deep breath, and then keep going.

The idea has been gaining steam recently, including being featured in numerous news articles, social media posts, and all over Pinterest. I know that I have both shared it on Facebook and repinned it on Pinterest several times now. Many people are getting semicolon tattoos as reminders, often on the wrist, where they are both more visible and often side by side with other, more physical reminders. I have one planned, myself, though it is a bit more involved. I’ll share that with you in the future, when it is more ready to share.

Project Semicolon has grown over the years to include awareness for depression, anxiety, suicide, self harm, and drug addiction, as well as a more general awareness of mental health as a whole, and that makes it a perfect fit for our first spotlight. The overlap is obvious, and there can never be too many people raising awareness of these issues. We don’t come at it all from the same angles, and that is great. These issues need as many angles covered as possible. I don’t share the faith-based approach, but I applaud anyone who brings a good faith-based approach to the table. Many people need that, and we need programs that help many people. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Amy Bleuel for getting this ball rolling.

To all of you reading this, thank you for helping make this a great first week. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you Monday.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Who Am I?

Who am I? Have you ever really tried to answer that question? “Hi. My name is Rhea Jones. I was born in Beeville, Texas in 1971. I’m married, with two teenaged sons, and currently live in Phoenix, Arizona.” That much is easy. It’s just a plain recitation of public record facts, and tells the audience almost exactly nothing. I could probably fill a few pages with that kind of information, and it wouldn’t add a measurable amount to your understanding of who I am.

If you and I were to meet for the first time, you would see a man in his 40’s, about 5’6” tall, and carrying a little more weight than he probably should, though less than he was a few years ago (I have put some serious effort into that, so thank you for noticing). You would notice the full beard, considerably more grey than I would prefer, but most likely neatly trimmed and brushed. It usually is. If we were outdoors, or if we met as I was coming inside from outdoors, I would be wearing a hat, probably a cowboy hat, but sometimes a baseball cap. Occasionally it might be some other type of hat, depending on my mood and what I am doing, but those two are the most likely. If I have just come from the office I will be wearing slacks and a long-sleeved, button down shirt. Otherwise it will almost certainly be jeans and a t-shirt. Either way, boots will be involved. These days I usually keep my hair (still mostly dark brown) buzzed but not shaved, and I’m told that my eyes tend to be a standout feature. They are very dark brown, and just slightly slanted. I usually think they just look tired, but I might be biased. I usually feel tired.

Still don’t really know anything about me, do you?

I like to write. Too obvious? My musical tastes are all over the place, but usually lean on various forms of rock, country, and classical. If I’m not reading at least two books at a time, I might actually suffer withdrawal symptoms. My favorite genres are science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but I’ll read a cookbook if it’s well-written.. I am a comic book fan, mostly super heroes, but my list of all-time favorites includes such titles as Sandman (Neil Gaiman), Hellboy (Mike Mignola), and Poison Elves (Drew Hayes, R.I.P.), so I am certainly not limited to super heroes. I watch very little TV, but I love movies, especially the big, fun, special effects-heavy movies that fall under the heading of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. I won’t even complain if you change it from the book, as long as I still had a good time.

I have a very slight stutter that you’ll probably never notice, unless you happen to spend many hours in conversation with me. I have some very strong beliefs on things like politics, spirituality, and philosophy (that you will almost certainly notice if you ever spend hours in conversation with me), but none of them fall neatly under any organized system of parties or religions. People make me uncomfortable, unless I know them very well, and I find it difficult to function in large groups. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am terrified of falling. My favorite super power is flying, mostly because then I wouldn’t be afraid of falling anymore. We might be getting somewhere now, but we are still very much in Casual Acquaintance territory. If you and I work in the same building then you already know that I am a nerd who looks like a cowboy, with questionable tastes in music and a reading addiction. If we work in the same section, you probably know the rest. Not exactly groundbreaking.

I drink too much coffee, and almost enough water. I don’t often drink much of anything else. I like a cold beer or “adult beverage” now and then, but my alcohol intake doesn’t even register on most medical questionnaires. I quit smoking a few years ago, after smoking at least a pack a day for about thirty years. I did that one cold turkey, which I thought was fairly impressive. I avoid processed foods, and try to eat somewhat healthy, though I’m not, by any means, obsessive about it.

Are we getting into the details now?

I hate pills, and will actively avoid most medicines if there is not a serious need.

A couple years ago I was diagnosed with diabetes, and have to take pills for that every day. This required a rather obvious mental adjustment.

A couple decades ago I was diagnosed with depression, and had to take pills for that every day. This, too, led to a mental adjustment, though one of an entirely different nature.

That adjustment eventually led here.

Notice the descriptions getting shorter? I’ll have to watch that. When it starts to get more personal, I tend to start getting more clipped and more reserved. Despite the stated goal here, I don’t open up easily. Not for real, anyway.

I think that is true for most of us, but most of us don’t have have a real reason to find out. We tend to go through life without looking too closely at who we are, let alone telling anyone else about it, and that is really the whole point of this exercise. Think of it as cleaning out the attic.

It is usually pretty easy to tell people what they already know, or what is common knowledge. It gets more difficult as you start to dig a little deeper, and it can get almost impossible as you get closer to the personal core of who you are. For some people, there is no “almost” about it. For some people, the words just stop coming past a certain point.

Most of the time, and for most people, there is no need to ever go past that point. There is rarely any good reason to share more than you are comfortable with sharing. You should, however, be able to share with yourself. You absolutely need to be able to share with yourself if you have any intention of improving yourself. You can’t fix the dents if you don’t know where they are.

Get a pen and paper and start writing down descriptions about yourself. You’re not going to share this with anyone, so don’t worry about sentence structure or paragraphs or anything like that. Just be descriptive and, above all, be honest. If you can’t be honest with yourself then the rest of this becomes pointless. Believe it or not, you may have to start over a few times before you start being honest, even with yourself and in complete privacy. That’s normal.

Push yourself. Discover where your comfort zones are and see if you can find the rooms inside your head that haven’t been dusted in a while. We all have them. Throw back the curtains and let in a little sunlight. You might be amazed by what you find.

It has probably become obvious by now that we have changed directions a bit, but this is where we were going from the beginning. I had no intention of boring you with my deepest, darkest secrets. They’re not that dark and, to be honest, most of them aren’t all that deep either. They’re certainly not terribly exciting. When I air out the attic, which I do try to do periodically, I do so in private. I strongly recommend that you do the same. This kind of honesty is never easy, but it is easier if there is no fear of outside judgment.

Who are you? It’s a question that is more difficult to answer than you might think, but give it a try some time. If you ever find yourself at a point where you feel that something needs to change then this is a question you will need to answer. You may not like all of the answer, but that is how you determine what to change. It may also turn out that some of the things you thought were a problem really aren’t, or aren’t as big an issue as you had believed. That happens too. It’s all about perspective. If you start laying things out, side by side, you may find that you have tools you had forgotten about, or had not realized would work for a certain situation because you had not looked at them together.

It’s a scary process, but useful. Ultimately, it is almost always worth it in the end. Knowing who you are is the first step toward building a better you.

Do you know who you are? Is it time to find out?

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Happy Hump Day

As previously mentioned, the feature length posts here at Frequently Interrupted will be published on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Monday is slated for motivational messages and Friday is tentatively slated for humor. I'm still working out what I want to do with Wednesday, so it will probably be a little random for a time. For now, I do have some slightly larger thought pieces I would like to share, so we will do that for a few weeks, and see where we go from there.

I hope you enjoy, and Happy Hump Day.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Follow Me On Bloglovin'

Working on spreading the word, and this is a great place to congregate with other blogs. You'll find something for almost any reading interest, and you can help spread the word on Frequently Interrupted by adding us to your follow list. Take a look, and thank you.

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Finding My Zen

One day, when I was about twenty, I found myself in a field with no memory of how I had come to be there. I was about thirty miles from town and thirty miles from the last place I remembered being. It was an unpleasant experience, filled with unpleasant realizations, to say the least.

For the record, there were no drugs or alcohol involved in this story. I had experienced what is sometimes called a fugue state, a temporary loss of identity and memory that usually involves going somewhere, or, more accurately, going away from something. (Disclaimer: aside from a medical diagnosis of depression – more on that to follow – I have had almost no interaction with medical professionals concerning any of this. As such, I will try to avoid using official medical terms, though that will not always be possible or practical.) In colloquial terms, I had experienced a nervous breakdown, and my life took a very distinct left turn.

I was found by friends, taken to a doctor, and diagnosed with depression. That last part was not a surprise to anyone, since I had struggled with issues of severe depression for as long as I could remember, but this was the first time that it was formally diagnosed, and it was the first time that medication was prescribed. I have never been a fan of medication, and this did not change that perspective. In fact, I am probably even more hesitant to use medications today as a direct result of my experience twenty-odd years ago.

If you are surprised by the late diagnosis, do please keep in mind that I grew up in a small town in rural south Texas, a child of the 70’s and 80’s. Things were different, and one of those differences was that most people never spoke about depression. It was not an issue or condition, it was a weakness, and you didn’t admit to weakness, especially if you were male. That was just The Rules, and you broke The Rules at great personal peril. Never mind the fact that you followed The Rules at great personal peril. It took us a while to figure that part out. We are getting there, and things are much better today (though there will probably always be room for improvement) but, at that time and in that place, if it were discovered that you were receiving treatment for depression … Well, you would probably end up with more reasons to be depressed.

So there I was, twenty years old, freshly diagnosed with depression and taking pills that had a terrifyingly long list of possible side effects and warnings. That list was so long that it seemed the only people who might be safe taking this pill were people who couldn’t possibly have any use for it. There was a potential reaction to almost every condition you cared to name, and some of them were so counterintuitive, it didn’t seem possible. This medicine could cause depressive episodes and could potentially trigger suicidal ideations in the suicidal, and this was an antidepressant, being prescribed for depression! I have since learned that this is the nature of mental/emotional conditions, due largely to the fact that we still understand so little of what causes these problems, and that most of these warnings were for potential reactions that were so rare as to be almost impossible, as long as things were taken appropriately and with proper care. At the time, though, it was terrifying.

No, that is not entirely correct. It seemed like it should be terrifying. On an intellectual level, that list of warnings did make me question whether or not it was worth the risk, and I knew – again, on an intellectual level – that this should frighten me. On an emotional level, however, I had nothing. No alarm, no fear, no real gut-level awareness of anything at all. I was living in a cocoon of thick spongey cotton that blocked direct contact with almost everything. None of the more alarming side effects seemed to present in my case, but there was one that was never explicitly spelled out in any of the documentation: This medication might transform you into a glassy-eyed zombie. That one I got, in abundance.

My life had changed and, while it was supposed to be a helpful change, it did not take long for me to begin to wonder whether or not it was worth the cost. I spent some time trying to adjust, but the question occurred to me, did I want to adjust? Did I want to learn to live my life through a filter?

It took me some time to reach an answer through the cocoon, but that answer was ultimately obvious. I am a very This Is Me kind of person, and changing that through artificial means will never be an idea that sits well with me. For good or ill, it is very important to me to face reality without a mediator. Living in a haze was not a long term solution. That bottle of pills went into the trash, and I began the search for what I would recognize as a better way.

I don’t necessarily recommend this course of action. I am not a doctor, and cannot give advice on quitting medication, but they tell me that going cold turkey is usually a bad idea. It worked for me, but a sample of one is almost worse than useless. Do your own research, consult with a trusted physician, and make your own decision.

My decision did work for me, though. That much I can say. Here I am, more than twenty years later, fairly well adjusted without medication, and living a life that I really wouldn’t trade. I would tweak it here and there, don’t get me wrong. I’m sure we could all find little improvements that we would like to make, but that is actually one of the tricks, and one of the ways I know that I am now better adjusted. I can look at something that bothers me, and see it as something to improve, rather than as something overwhelming.

You can’t cure depression. If you suffer from depressive episodes then you probably already know that. If you suffer and haven’t learned that yet, I’m sorry. There is no cure. Maybe there will be, some day, but that will involve medical science that is not even currently on the horizon. There is no cure for depression. Have I beat that horse enough yet? It’s pretty important to this entire project.

You can’t cure depression, but you can learn to live with it. Remembering to keep things in perspective – in fact, remembering to actively look for the perspective – is one of the techniques that I used to learn how to live with it. There were many more. It was a long process that I eventually came to think of as Finding My Zen. As anyone who knows anything about the subject will tell you, Zen is not a destination. It’s a journey, and that journey can sometimes be rocky. Learning to live with depression is a continual process, and a continual reaffirmation of the process. Sometimes, even after decades on the road, you may feel like you have to begin again. You can, though, because the steps will be familiar, even if the terrain has changed.

I’ve reached a point where I feel like a reaffirmation is necessary. I’m 43-years-old, and feeling my years. I’ve encountered a number of changes recently that have rocked my equilibrium, and regaining my balance is taking a bit longer with each upset these days. I do regain my balance - and my confidence in that fact is, itself, a testimony to how far I’ve come - but I’ve had more episodes in the past six months than I’ve had in the past six years. That is concerning, but not alarming. I know the cause, and that gives me a place to start.

This time I thought I would try something different. This time I thought I would invite you to come along with me. It is a somewhat scary thought, because it does involve opening up and sharing some things I’ve never shared with more than one or two people, face to face, but I also think it would be helpful. I am a writer by nature, but I have not, lately, been a writer by habit. I have not been writing. Part of that is the depression. It gets in the way and makes finding the words more difficult than it should be. I start a project, get frustrated because my brain won’t click correctly, and end up abandoning the project. This, of course, just leads to more frustration because a writer who doesn’t write isn’t really a writer, and we who see ourselves as writers tend to wrap a very large portion of our identity around that label. A writer who isn’t a writer quickly begins to question his value in other areas as well. We can’t have that, so we address that part of the problem at the source. We write.

In this series I will be writing about my own experiences with depression as well as my own experiences with overcoming depression. It will often be very personal, but I hope that it will also be in terms that can have a more broad application. Knowing what has worked for me may or may not help you, but it almost certainly will not hurt you, and it might at least give you some beneficial ideas. That is another one of the tricks, by the way. When you suffer from depression, helping others can sometimes be an amazing way to help yourself, as long as you also maintain perspective. That means that I will be helping myself in three ways: I will be writing, I will be reaffirming my processes for coping with depression, and I will – hopefully, at least – be helping someone else who may find themselves at a rough spot on the road.

Finding my Zen has been a long road that I don’t expect to end any time soon. I won’t lie. It does involve a great deal of work, but it’s been loads of fun as well. I’m nervous about it, but I look forward to sharing this experience. I hope we have fun together, and maybe we can lean on each other, from time to time, when that becomes useful as well. The first step is the hardest, and that one is now behind us. Let’s see where this road may lead.

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