Laying here I couldn’t help but think about a situation with a friend’s spouse. Over the last several years he and I have traveled similar paths. We’ve both went through physical problems as well as mental health problems. The difference lies in the fact that he has just given up on life. He is bitter, he leashes out at his spouse, and doesn’t seem try or want to improve his situation. He just sits there watching the world as it passes by. Listen I’m not here on my high horse and criticizing him or anyone else in this situation. The fact is I empathize and understand it all too well.
For a while now I’ve documented my struggles with self-worth and even jealousy. And how oftentimes those things still get the best of me. For days and weeks, I’d lie in bed, with the curtains drawn, enabling my demons and fears. But even in those moments I knew, there was something better, something more for me to do than just lie there. It’s taken me a really long time to get to this point of awareness. And while I am by no means a success story, at least by the world’s standards. I am now at peace with who I am.
Still I can see it in the eyes of so many other people. The vacancy, the loss, and the bitterness they carry. While many have not totally given up on life, they seem to have given up on living. These days are rough and they beat the best of us down. Still as I look in the mirror, I take assessment of myself, and move on with the gifts I’ve been given. Don’t let circumstance dictate your value. Do the best you can, breathe in the life around you, and live a life well lived. Please don’t let anymore moments pass you by.
Could I have any crappier a night? First off, the temperature is sitting where one more blanket makes it too hot and one less blanket makes it too cold. Then around 2:30 this morning my $3500 CPAP machine decides to die. Leaving me half asleep and half-awake for the rest of the night in this cold ass bed. But during the night I ended up reading an Instagram post of a young photographer I admire. I discovered the young lady is in the hospital. I felt compelled to send her a note of encouragement and advice, considering the number of days I’ve spent in hospitals.
She asked about my situation, which I spoke of truthfully. She then sent me a word of condolence, which I replied thank you and told her that I am fine; and for her to focus on her own recovery. It’s one thing for me to “spit and sputter” about my situation, which I brought on myself. But to see a young vibrant person, through no fault of their own suffer, that breaks my heart. We all have our burdens to bear. The trick is all in how you handle them. Do you treat the situation with a positive attitude or do whine and bellyache until we simply give up?
Honestly, I do a little of both. I allow myself a time to mourn, to lick my wounds as it were. But eventually I drag myself up and move on. None of this is easy to do. It requires patience’s, a strong dose of self-compassion, and of course self-forgiveness. It’s taken me a really long time to learn that lesson. That despite my own flaws I am worthy of my own forgiveness. It’s funny sometimes how it takes the suffering of another to remind us of that fact.
For the past 15 years I have more or less followed a Buddhist mindset. But for most of this time I've kept that fact pretty much to myself. I do this because of the heavy influence the Evangelical Christian community has on my family and friends. So instead of enduring the constant bickering about silly religious dogma, I decided to keep my mental condition and my ongoing therapies to myself.
After my initial diagnosis in 1999, I began searching for something more tangible and more relatable to help with my situation. My therapist introduced me to form of meditation therapy whereby I took moments out of my day to clear my mind through breathing. It helped me cope with the torturous noise that was going on in my head. So for the next few years I participated in one on one and group therapies, as well as, utilizing medication and meditative therapy.
Over the next several years I functioned well enough in society. Working and participating in family functions. But still there was a lingering emptiness, plus the negative voices within my head had never really calmed down. Affecting not only my work life, but my social and family life. Into 2005 I was still dealing with bouts of depression and low self-esteem. So I once again began searching for a more definitive answer.
As far back as 1999 I learned that trying “to praying through it” or “to have some booger cast out of me” wasn’t going to cut it. That initial breakdown, frankly broke me. I heard no voice of reason. No reassuring words of peace. All I could hear was the silent screams of my own fear. So I stopped looking for any religious escape. What I have learned are that most religious ideas are still rooted in some archaic system of “righteous perfection”. My wife whose beliefs are still firmly rooted in Evangelical Christian dogma, often refers to me as “The Heathen”. Yet we’ve learned to agree to disagree, tolerating each other’s beliefs.
I always knew within myself there was the potential to do better. Yet my unrelenting self-doubt and self-hatred kept me from pursuing my dream of a better life. So with the help of counseling I dove head long back into my University studies. But as often the case my self-hatred pushed me into bouts of panic and self-loathing. Desperate for an answer, I turned to whatever self-help materials I could find. It was during this period that I discovered the works of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
Through Thich's gentle voice and common-sense writings, I learned how to listen to the voices (emotions) within me. To not judge them and to love that broken child within me. I also learned through mindfulness how to live in the present moment. To forgive the past and to not fear the future. So over the last several years, mindfulness has opened my eyes to peace and acceptance. To have some compassion for myself and from there learn how to forgive.
I don’t mean to bore you with my mixed-up theology. But for a really long time I’ve kept this path mostly to myself. I don’t mean to stump on anyone else’s road to redemption. We must each choose our own way. But to force feed one’s beliefs to other or to condemn another for believing differently, if at all, isn’t right. The idea of it even goes against most religion’s freedom of choice. My path is a quite path that only asks that I walk in peace and awareness. So now that you know, I go in peace.
The sun’s not up yet, but I can hear the log trucks firing up from down the street. Pretty soon CO's from the prison will be driving by, then the school buses will start carrying kids off to school. The headlights cast rays of light across our bedroom walls. Reminding me that another day is about to begin. I for one am already up. I’ve pulled my CPAP mask off for the night, already went to the bathroom, blew my stopped-up nose, popped a Tylenol, and placed the heating pad on my sore neck.
Lisa’s curled up in a ball quietly snoring next to me. Thirty-two years of my late-night shenanigans doesn’t seem to bother her anymore. So I ask, where is life taking you today? Are you off to work, or maybe a doctor’s appointment? Or maybe you’re just doing chores around the house? I carry no concrete plans for the day, and while that might seem romantic or wishful. To many it’s a death sentence not having any purpose or goal. I try and spend my hours working on what you are reading now. Part helpful, but mostly therapeutic; it allows me to express emotions and concerns that I long held deep inside.
Still it concerns me to see so many living without purpose. Just trudging through the day with no life, no real goals or happiness. For a while I had to give up what I thought was purpose. Mostly because it became my only reason for living. When in actuality, it wasn’t a reason at all. My goal for existing is to complete the whole (myself). To fix the broken parts of me and to tell my story. Listen we all wish we could make an impact on the world. But that will only happen when we first learn to take care of ourselves.
At least my toes are warm, that’s what I keep telling myself. And yes, I realize I’m Southern so anything below 40° is cold. We heat the house with electric heaters, which means when one heater dies Dad does without. But I do have five blankets on the bed and a heating pad under my feet, so I’m fairly comfortable so I’m more than used to it. I used to tolerate cold fairly well, but after dropping over 100 lbs. I’m beginning to feel it in my bones.
As a parent, husband, and caregiver you learn to compromise. Sometimes silly little things like letting your son have the last banana or your serving of dessert. Sometimes you do without eating to feed the kids. You put off buying something new to pay for band camp. Give up sleep to watch over a sick wife or kid. Make sure appointments are kept. Be an advocate for those with special needs in our house. You know little silly things.
None of us that have to do these things do it for the glory. We do because it has to be done. When I was first in the hospital, it was hard for me to accept help. I mean I did literally everything myself. To find oneself helpless was not an easy pill to swallow. To give up control is still a real problem for me. The point I’m trying to make here is, don’t let your unwillingness to let go cloud your faith. If it wasn’t for me letting go of my hurt, I wouldn’t be here today. Sometimes it’s necessary for us to be in charge. But sometimes it takes a little faith to see our dreams come true. Trust what you’re doing, learn to let go, feel it in your bones.
I really want to write something beautiful, something with a message. But all I have done today is lay here in bed, listen to my stomach churn, and have cats sleeping on top of me. But I do have the window blinds open just to remind me there is life beyond this bed. From here I can make out branches on the trees stretching out like arms towards the sun. So while the rest of the world bounces across the speed bump in front of my home, the cats warm themselves in the rays of the sun.
I suppose you could say, “I need to get up and take over this day”. Or maybe that I need to get over myself and, “Man up, buttercup”. But at the moment all you would get out of me are a few choice cuss words telling you where to shove it. On the outside I’m a pleasant enough fellow, but deep within I can often be troubled. Growing up in an age of not expressing your emotions can do that to you. And believe me, I was a good student.
While some moments were meant for reflection, others are to be shouted from the rooftops. But then there are does moments when you just lay still and do nothing. Not every moment is meant to be remembered. Not every word meant to be repeated. Life often is what it is, a series of routines we carry out every day. I don’t mean to be so “uninspiring”, but often in moments like this, the most clarity shines through.
I’m slowly pulling myself out of this weekend funk. Where my digestive tract, mental attitude, and overall physical well-being have been at war. Leading me to come to the conclusion that I’m just falling apart. I feel like my hands are tied and that I’m tethered to a chain I’m unable to escape. I mean I shouldn’t feel this way, I’m surrounded by positive messages and positive people. Yet here I sit, without an encouraging word to pull me from this reality.
But this is not my first rodeo with depression, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. I wish I could talk about hope and beauty in the world around me. Instead I'm laying here with my belly going off like a Jazz band. Putting up with 25°f temperatures this morning. So I guess it’s left up to me to pull myself out of this funk. Or is it okay for me to just ride this wave of emotion till it runs its course?
I feel like I’m too damn old and too damn tried to keep asking myself that question. That maybe it’s about time for me to close my mind and become the drone I used to be. Unfortunately, I already tried that route and you can see where that’s gotten me. Life can lift us up, as well as, take us down. Leaving us alone to pick up the pieces. It is through this, that the fires of anger and resentment fuel the hate within us. So when given the choice, do you struggle through it and survive? Or do you just throw in the towel and die? I for one choose to survive. The question now is, what do you choose?
I feel nothing. I mean today wasn’t a bad day or anything. I guess I just feel silent, unwilling to listen to another soul not even myself. Unable to express myself, unwilling to listen or watch anything. I’m just in a blank, numb mood. My right eye has developed a dark spot again which I can see every time I blink. I can only guess it’s my diabetic retinopathy flaring up again. Considering that my Peripheral neuropathy has been flaring in my feet. It’s not surprising the eye situation wouldn’t pop up as well.
I keep thinking, maybe I should just shut down for a while. I’m also thinking a change of scenery would be nice too. But at the moment I’m not going to make any crazy decisions about either. So I’ll just sit here and chill. My partner in crime sleeps of peacefully next to me. If she had any idea how just jealous I am of that. But we have our own separate lives entwined by a long history. So many truths we just keep to ourselves.
I’m sorry there’s no real point to any of this, other than to waste your time, as well as, mine. But this is my craft, this is my art. Understand it or not. Define it as you will. The meanings I present are here are right in front of you. If I were to try and suppress all this, I would be taking two-steps back in my evolution. So here they are, my current emotions plated just for you. Bon appetite.
We finally got a sunny day, so before we left for town, we washed some clothes and hung them out to dry. A few hours later when we got back home, the clothes we hung out were already dry. I love the convenience of a dryer as much as anyone. But the smell and freshness of clothes hung on the line can’t be beat. You may think that romanticizing about doing without is just a way to justify one’s poverty. Hell, you may be right. But once you embrace a circumstance, it makes the inconvenience a bit more tolerable.
I sometimes miss the rat race; I could also miss the convenience of having a golf cart. But I sure don’t miss the racket either one makes or that damn gas smell. Life is what you make it. For a long time after my first heart attack, I had no energy to do anything. But over time I’ve regained some of that energy through walking and mindfulness. Making the most of out the menial task I had to do. With reasoning and acceptance most disabilities become second nature. The same can be said for money and status.
Sitting here in the bright crisp winter sun, I’m not missing warmer weather or a full bank account. Not even a clothes dryer. What I would miss is the peace and serenity that I’m currently feeling. If my life were only about getting ahead and the desire of more power. What a sad, burdensome life it would be. So much sadness drives by this corner lot every day. It’s a wonder anyone can still think or even reason. Don’t let the world temp you with convenience. When breathing and awareness are all we really need.
We so want to be accepted; we so want to be loved. In this social media age platforms demand more and more of our attention. Our likes, our clicks. Drawing us away from what is real, what is tangible. Listen I’m no different than anyone else I enjoy seeing the responses to my posts. The emojis people leave, the comments they often make give me a feeling of validation, that I am doing something right.
So this story isn’t so much a dis of social media as it as a message about how we should treat others on social platforms. A good number of the people I follow are either artist and/or small business owners. If I enjoy someone’s work, I try to support them. Now I know I’m busted ass broke and I can barely influence myself. But still I’ve walked in many of their shoes, so I know how hard it is to maintain a vision and create a dream.
So I give what I can. I lend support, encouragement, and even some cheap advice. Throughout my life I was torn down way more often than I was built up. So it’s easy for me to understand a fragile mindset. So I do my best to build up and not tear down. Now my kids may totally disagree with that statement, but I try. I suppose that’s why I’m best taken in very small doses.
My point is two-fold, first don’t ignore the real world around you. Second, don’t be such a dick on social media, even if you can. I get a lot of friend and follow request every day. But I don’t subscribe to each and every one of them. I only choose those that offer me value or are sincere in their ventures. Listen I know I am never going to change the world. But if enough of us snag a few friends and acquaintances. You never know?
Listen last night was just plain crappy, there’s just no other way to describe it. I mean it started out okay, but then my CPAP mask won’t fit right, then my heart started palpitating, and then I was having those crazy ass dreams again. But don’t worry at the moment I feel fine, just tired. I usually send out a lot of morning greetings to my social media friends and usually they’ll ask how I am doing in return. Being the Grandpa that I am, I usually tell the truth. The whole sad truth.
So this morning wasn’t much different, but the one difference is that I end my words with either a laugh or an uplifting remark. Believe it or not, I serious when I say those things. Not because I want to sound strong or phony, but because I really believe it. For a really long time I lived my life with a smile on my face and my heart dragging the dirt. I didn’t believe anything I told myself. My dreams, my hopes, my aspirations were nothing more than empty calories fed to a starving soul.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned to make little goals for myself. I went back to school and with each good grade, each pat on the back from my advisors and my fellow students; that I started to gain confidence in myself and my abilities. Listen nothing is a total success story, everything worth while demands hard work. I spend over seven years working towards my goal of graduating.
Then as I finished my goals, my bad lifestyle nearly killed me. After more than a year of intense recovery, I got back on my feet, but not without its effects. I suppose I have a great excuse to just give up, but I can’t. I have a story to tell and I plan on continuing to tell it. That life often isn’t fair but with each challenge or setback you continue to move forward one step at a time.
There are fewer and fewer moments like this where I still feel just a little bit normal. Used to I would bounce up every morning and start my day. Then came the sleepless nights. Then there was my failing heart health and its complications. Now in recent months the rapid weight loss, the fatigue, and being chained to a porcelain throne. So laying here, several hours past my usual get up time is a little weird. Plus the fact I that haven’t had to run to you-know-where, is an even bigger relief.
So I lay here motionless enjoying the moment. Not touching my coffee or getting up out of bed. Savoring each second of normalcy I’ve been granted. I watch my neighbors get in their cars every morning racing off to work. Those few that know me, envy my lifestyle of careless wonder. Yet these four walls often turn into a prison. Where your free to think, but never leave. Caged like a wild animal.
I suppose with most everything, there lies a choice. But with some things there isn’t. You’re simply left with no options; life is what it is. Right now, I guess I should give some speech about overcoming any obstacle. But instead I’ll leave you alone with a thought. Most of the outcomes in my life are due to my own choices. So I’ve resigned myself to live with them. But that doesn’t mean I should close up shop and suffer alone. It simple means I except how things are and move on from there. So don’t stop living due to inconveniences. Be who you are, live your life as fully as you can.
It was the end of the New South and Ronald Reagan was now in charge. We were going through a recession and the union jobs are fathers had were starting to fade away. It was the beginning of trickledown economics and birth of the information age. The cobblestone steps were slick and steep as we stepped into 1980’s, an underage gang of Miami Vice wannabes heading down River Street.
We watched the drinking age go from 18 to 19 and then to 21. Thinking how unfair it was that we could vote but couldn’t drink. But on Friday and Saturday night that never seemed to matter. For cocktails flowed while we acted out our grown-up fantasies. The days of protest were over, the Disco daze had given way to New Wave and preppy fashion. Tie-dye lost out to Izod, while Gloria Vanderbilt was sewn on everyone’s jeans.
Yeah that was me with my mullet hair and skinny tie. Spreading what little I had on a cool car and parties. I never quite fitting in, but at least I looked the part. Thinking these were the best of times, when under the surface they really were not. Drowning my insecurities in Long Island Ice Teas and a joint brought from Yamacraw Village. This was me; this was us, trying to be our dads in an ever-changing world, while dragging our baby sisters along for the ride.
Some of us still think these were the glory days. I’d rather think of it as just another phase. Another cobblestone step in a life nearly wasted. Thinking I knew everything when in reality I knew nothing. Fortunately for most life offers second chances. To right the wrongs and finally get things straight. Call it wisdom or just old age, but now some 40 years later I see things a little bit clearer. That’s because learning to live in the moment offers prospective and with that comes peace of mind.
Sometimes it’s difficult to look back at dark times. When things weren’t so good. In my life there have been a number of darker moments. The lost of family, the loss of a child, and divorce. Then there are the moments when I nearly lost myself. My first significant Panic Attack occurred while attending Correctional Officer training at a State Prison of all places. I had been there several weeks learning the ropes, feeling stressed, but doing okay.
During a training class on fire safety and rescue, I trained with a buddy using a Scott Air Pack. During the training the air is cut off and you have to navigate your way to safety. I got through the simulation and my buddy was helping me take off the respirator. As she was helping me she mentioned, that she had never seen such a look of terror as she had seen on my face. We played it off as simply a case of the “nerves” and moved on. But looking back that was the moment when everything changed. The next few days were nothing but episode after episode of panic and fear. Coming to a point where I was sent home fearing I was “coming down with something”.
What I later discovered was I had Panic Disorder. It got so bad so quickly, that I literally had to quit my new job and couldn’t even leave the house. For the next few months I lived through my version of hell. Undiagnosed I went through one test after another. Till one physician prescribed me Xanax as well as other sedatives. This at least allowed me to move, although not very well. During this time I gave up custody of the children to my mother. That way I could focus on my treatment.
At that point I had reached my lowest. The sleepless nights continued even with the medication. I had night terrors, voices coming from within me telling me what a horrible Dad I was. That I was such a failure and a loser. I’d lay there while my wife slept, praying for peace, but no peace ever came. The silence my prayers received was a deafening roar. It took several weeks to secure an appointment at the state mental health clinic. By that time I couldn’t even drive anymore, let alone go to the store. We went into bankruptcy, lost the loan we secured to buy our first home. A local mom and pop store extended us credit to eat and generously took me to my first clinic appointments. There I was a former Correctional Officer sitting in the waiting room of an underfunded clinic with prisoners and addicts awaiting treatment.
My first clinician looked fresh out of med school. First he pulled me off my medication cold turkey, citing they were too addictive, although I was taking my medication as prescribed. Then after some paperwork he sent me home. It was about another month till my next appointment. So without any medication and going through withdrawals, it’s safe to say that month was pretty much a blank. Somehow I made it to my next appointment. Only this time I met with a therapist and a psychiatrist. Between the two of them I was started on a regiment of medication and cognitive therapy. After some 20 years, several doctor and therapist changes, and dozens medication adjustments, here I am. To say this was easy would be a really bad joke.
I still have night terrors. I still have panic attacks. In fact it’s only been within the last few years that I can say my mind is a lot clearer. This is but one piece of my life, but one that has dictated a lot of other decisions I have made. I guess all I am saying is, even in your darkest moments, you can find a light. For me it was my family. The thing is find your focus, a spark of joy, and hold on tight. Because you are worthy of joy, you are worthy of life.
Looking in the mirror while shaving, I stare at my reflection. It’s in those moments when I think of the old man staring back at me. It’s been 27 years since he passed, and while the pain has long subsided. I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the old man I’ve become. You never quite get over the vacancy left in your heart by death. The fights, the laughter, the nods and winks, the inside jokes. Those little things that make a life.
Yet here I am, sitting on the porch at sunset. What few finches are still hanging around chirp a little goodnight song. While I type words that few if any will ever read. But that’s okay, for these words are my therapy. A legacy left out on a wire. It’s early winter, the crepe myrtles, the fig bush, and the pecan trees wait for pruning. Yet I sit here contemplating the natural passage of time.
It’s funny how in the moments we least expect it, we wonder where the years go. You would think by now I’d stop obsessing about such things. But there’s something ornate about death brings it back to mind. But before I dribble into depression about it, I remind myself of memories. The keys that anchor us to who we are, who we wish to be. That’s where I find comfort in change. Aware that time is a linear line that we all must walk.
I live in this little utopia I call my own. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it gives me a predictable blanket on which to rest. So when little crises take place, it tends to throw my equilibrium off pretty hard. I don’t want this to sound harsh or worse selfish, but in a way, I suppose it is. Because for the last few months my “nerves” have been frayed to the end by one stressful moment after another.
I apologize for writing from a single point of reference, mainly myself. But to be honest what other point of reference do I have? I meditate, I seek calm and quiet, I do my best to live in the moment. Yet all of that is bombarded by the actions and reactions of the world around me. I have bills to pay, a house to keep in order, other individuals that literally depend on me. So sometimes it just crashes around me. Leading to restless nights and undo stress on an already weakened body.
So I’m laying here, 3:48 am displaying on my phone, and I’m tried. Tired of writing, tired of fighting paperwork, tired of waking up in the middle of the night. I write this not just as a confession of my own weakness, but as a note of understanding to those that feel the same way, tried and exhausted. I often wonder if the speed in which this world now works is just too much. Maybe that’s just my age and health talking, who knows? But it’s how I feel. So everyone take care and be mindful of what your mind and body are telling you.
If you read my Blog then you have seen the images created by my best friend and collaborator Sandra Saxon Burnsed (Left). Sadly earlier this week Sandra's Bother-In-Law John Burnsed (Right) lost his long battle with Leukemia. The link on John's name will take you to a GoFundMe page step up to help cover John's funeral expenses and remaining medical costs.
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