30 August 2016

Born this Way

If you want to get the 'personal responsibility uber alles' people spinning like hot turret lathes, just mention, oh, pick any condition, and say the afflicted person was 'born that way.'

I'm tired of arguing with those people. Fuck 'em. I know where it comes from because I used to be one of those people. 

The effect is the same as being the marginally bullied kid on the playground who joins in the bullying of some other poor sap because it takes the attention of the bullies off of him. It comes from some pain that wasn't addressed in childhood that manifests itself in castigating those with similar traits to make themselves feel better. In other words - projection.

Beth Brownsberger Mader writes in her latest post on bphope.com that it took a good deal of time to realize that much of her difficulty as a person with bipolar, went back to childhood and repeated itself over and over.

She related her problems mastering higher math - a story I could have written. And like her, later on I 'got it' when only a decade ago, I couldn't fathom algebra 2 and trigonometry.

But the payoff paragraph is this:

But having bipolar and “not getting over it” is more than how my brain is built; it’s also how that structuring causes it, over a lifetime, to hold on to wounding events and latent pain. One incident often seems to echo or build on another, then another. Themes repeat over and over again, feeding past hurts, bringing them to the present, and leaving me locked and loaded for the next happenstance.

Themes repeat over and over again.

Feeding past hurts.

Bringing them to the present.

Leaving me locked and loaded for the next happenstance. . . 

You never really accept a diagnosis of bipolar until you're blessed with the gift of clear hindsight. When you have it, you can look back and see all the times when you did things that seem so illogical now. I call it the 'looking back with cringing' effect. I have so many of those moments and incidents, if I had a dollar for each. . .

Of course, the goal is to examine each incident, understand what triggered (there's another word the 'personal responsibility' crowd goes nuts over) the incident and how to prevent it from happening again. 

I got a later in life diagnosis. For many years, the psychologists and the occasional psychiatrist give me various pseudo-diagnoses that I would characterize as 'major depression, not otherwise specified.' Part of that is that bipolar is hard to diagnose, especially in children and young adults. Part of it is many mental health professionals wouldn't see it if it slapped them upside the head. The most obvious diagnosis is the first one, right or wrong, and then prescribe pills.

What I wouldn't have given for a diagnosis just a few years before I got it. 

Now that it might be too late. 

Mader writes:

"It’s also near impossible to “just get over it” because I have invested years and years in brain and body energy trying to manage life in a different way, learning what triggers are, teaching important folks and loved ones what’s up, making amends from either direction, and dealing with thoughtless people, employers, and bullies judging me and saying, “You ain’t all that.” All this while wearily telling myself I am a good person. It’s exhausting. Heck, I’m exhausted just writing about it, never mind living it. When it comes to “just getting over it,” I try. I cry. I try. I cry. And I’ll keep on trying."

Yes to all of it. Starting with my father and ending with my employer. 

In response to all of the people that say 'just get over it' to a variety of people different than themselves, I would say if we could, we would. What I wouldn't give not to get the 4 a.m. shakes, the brain fog, the terror of ordinary events, the inability to handle crowds, the mood swings, etc. What I wouldn't give to wake up refreshed, energized and with a positive outlook on life. 

No one would choose this. I don't want sympathy, just understanding and a little occasional slack. 

But there's that word - stigma. I think the stigma in our case is rooted in fear - fear that people like us will act out on subways, cause a public scene, get violent, or, in many cases, take public money away that could, perhaps, be better spent on military hardware. You know, to keep us 'safe.'

I don't want anyone's money. I just want to be able to work as well as I can, unfettered by irrational stigma. I think most people with bipolar and other mental illnesses feel the same way. A little understanding goes a long way. 

There are those that have told me that my illness makes me more empathetic, more understanding, a better listener and confidante. That may be true but it also, more often than not, makes my life what I call 'Hell's roller coaster.' And there have been times, whether in mania, depression or a mixed state where I have not acted well and spend a good time either apologizing or in the funk of self-recrimination.

But seriously. I really was born this way. And I wish I wasn't.

29 August 2016

Running out of bullshit

I performed one of my little Facebook experiments a week or so ago and just got around to writing it now.

Part of me (and not my condition) is wrapping myself up in righteous indignation at what I see is hypocrisy and injustice. You know the early childhood studies that show kids have a strong sense of justice? And then the culture beats it out of them? Yeah, that didn’t happen to me. In fact, my sense of justice (warped as it is) became part of my asshole persona at times.

This year, I had a therapist literally throw me out of her office because I made the case that although that life isn’t fair, I didn’t understand why it had to be so damn unfair? And yes, I knew all about ‘just world theory’ going in. I never said I was sane, remember.

Anyway, I posted a string of outraged posts on various police shootings, capitalistic nightmares (think epi-pen) and just other instances of the blatant hypocrisy of modern American culture. 

And, proving my point, my likes and comments went dead silent. 

Put a cute kitty on FB and ‘friends’ you haven’t seen post on your comments in over a year come out of the woodwork to fawn over it. 

I know what you’re thinking (seriously, I’m an empath . . . no, wait, is that bullshit?) – in the words of Cleavon Little in ‘Blazing Saddles,’ “what did you expect? "Welcome, sonny"? "Make yourself at home"? "Marry my daughter"?

Aside: Mel Brooks recently said that because of political correctness, ‘Blazing Saddles’ couldn’t be made today. He’s right. And that makes me very sad and is indicative of why movies today suck.
Anyway, yeah. It’s always the ‘everybody but you Keith.’ Now, I know that isn’t true and there are people out there as outraged as I am. I just don’t like them near me because I find them creepy. I’m an iconoclast (that’s a twenty-dollar word for ‘insufferable asshole’).

The other theory – people have absorbed enough stories of both employers and the government using Facebook as an electronic Stasi that they steer away from anything ‘controversial.’ Can’t really blame them. The ones who are really vociferous on FB know they are probably on ‘the list’ already and don’t care. Or they are agent provocateurs. See how the paranoid mind works?

And of course, there are people who just don’t want to get into fights on FB. They want to have a nice big happy family online where everyone just shares pictures of their cute doggies, kitties and perfect children. Pretty much in that order.

For so many of by FB friends it’s always sunny (not in Philadelphia, that shitpit) but on FB land where, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, where all the women are posing with their tanned legs at the beach, the men are all the real estate agents of the month and their glowing, perfectly coiffed children, are going to Harvard.

As for me, I’m sitting on the couch in my dirty bathrobe, sporting a four-day growth of beard on my face, about to lose my job, filling my face with chocolate chip muffins from Costco, scratching myself and getting ready to take my morning meds and make my psychologist wish she had taken physics in college.

I would not say that I am an empty man or of one of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Hollow Men.’ I’m not only full of shit, but also copious levels of snark, bitterness, recriminations, fat cells, gas, regrets, bacteria and psych meds. 

For some reason I feel like ending this epistle with a quote from Howard Beale, fictional newscaster in one of my favorite movies ‘Network:’

Good evening. Today is Wednesday, September the 24th, and this is my last broadcast. Yesterday I announced on this program that I was going to commit public suicide, admittedly an act of madness. Well, I'll tell you what happened: I just ran out of bullshit. Am I still on the air? I really don't know any other way to say it other than I just ran out of bullshit. Bullshit is all the reasons we give for living. And if we can't think up any reasons of our own, we always have the God bullshit. We don't know why we're going through all this pointless pain, humiliation, decays, so there better be someone somewhere who does know. That's the God bullshit. And then, there's the noble man bullshit; that man is a noble creature that can order his own world; who needs God? Well, if there's anybody out there that can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me that man is a noble creature, believe me: That man is full of bullshit. I don't have anything going for me. I haven't got any kids. And I was married for thirty-three years of shrill, shrieking fraud. So I don't have any bullshit left. I just ran out of it, you see.

28 August 2016

The Lost Weekend or Waiting for the Inquisition

Things seem to be getting worse lately with my condition and it’s beginning to scare me a bit because I realize what is going on but feel fairly helpless to stop it. 

Just as an update: if you’ve been reading this blog you know that my employer has not exactly been understanding of some of the byproducts of my condition and that a few people have taken advantage of my vulnerability to try to get rid of me.

I was almost killed on July 8, 2015 because of my employer. On Dec. 22, 2015 I was escorted off the premises by trumped up and untrue charges over something I supposedly said. All I need to say in my defense is that my employer’s own police investigator’s report called bullshit on the whole episode. But HR doesn’t care what their own police think. 

Now that incident is to be revisited with two ‘new’ incidents that are so unbelievably ridiculous I find it hard to even write about them. But one employee seems to be driving the train on both of them and has graciously given HR more ammo. I have looked in the face of evil and it is not pretty. It hides behind shy smiles and silence. I can’t understand it. 

My work since I have returned March 11 has been exemplary, as noted by my supervisor. It may not matter.

So this Wednesday I get to sit down with someone from HR and go through this charade again. My union rep will be with me. 

At times like these, with my condition, my moods tend to warp all over the place but this is different. When I looked at the email asking for my ‘cooperation’ in this newest stage of the Inquisition, I shared it with my wife who immediately went to pieces. She had not even left for work and I was worried about her driving. 

She has never been the same (nor have I) since the incident of July 8. I wish the people at work who are doing this could see her when she breaks down at news like this. I wish they could see when she freezes in the shower when the phone rings like it did July 8. 

The hell with me. I’m supposed to protect and care for the woman I love and it seems I can’t do that without being dishonest with her which I can’t do. We are a team. When she broke her ankle in January 2015, I was there for her. She’s here for me. But this continues witch hunt is putting an enormous strain on her and it is not right. 

This weekend has been exceptionally bad. I find my moods swinging so severely that even I am beyond distraught. I really don’t know what to expect Wednesday and the really bad thing is I feel like I am a wounded mouse being played with by a cat about to eat me. Just when I though this matter has been put to rest and I can continue to do my job and look forward to the future with some confidence, another email appears in my inbox.

This has now happened twice.

I can’t think of how someone not afflicted with a mental illness would take this. But I know what it is doing to me. My sleep is disturbed; my nerves are tighter than an overturned bull fiddle. My emotions are right on the surface. I’ll break into tears for no apparent reason. My appetite comes and goes. But seriously, one minute I’ll be laughing and cracking jokes and the next minute (actually about five minutes), I’ll be on the bed reaching for an Ativan and apologizing profusely to my wife for my inability to control myself, even though I know I don’t need to apologize. If I could control it, I would.

You can’t say to me (as some employees and the union rep said) not to let it worry you, it’s probably nothing big, just answer the questions, I don’t get the impression they’re trying to fire you, etc. etc. I remember very clearly the police officer, upset FOR me, telling me on Dec. 22, not to let it ruin my Christmas and the worst that could happen might be a small suspension. 

“Just treat it like a paid vacation,” he said. 

That paid vacation lasted 77 days. Strangely I did better in that period than I am doing now. It must be, as I have said, the cumulative effect of being dangled on a string for so long – just when you think you’re free, they jerk the string and it all comes back. 

One would think they had read their Kafka pretty closely.

I don’t understand any of this. All I want to do is work. I have never threatened anyone. Since I have returned I have bent over backwards to be cordial, helpful and friendly. I don’t want anyone to feel the willies around me. I want to have friends – very much so – but I don’t understand when the people you thought were your friends throw that knife in your back. 

If I screw up, I’m the first person to fess up. If I offend someone, I’m the first person to apologize, often profusely. I have talked myself blue trying to explain everything connected with my condition and would have offered a sincere apology to anyone who was truly offended or upset by anything I might have said.

But I was never asked. The accusers were unseen, anonymous, and worked in the shadows. The charges arrived suddenly, like a bolt of lightning. No one asked me to explain anything until months later in a tribunal (seriously) that was constructed as much to intimidate as it was to gather ‘information.’ And now this. 

I kid people I work in an environment much like a person living in East Germany. But I’m really not kidding. I’m not the first one there or nationwide that has been subjected to such treatment. I know that. My heart goes out to all of them. I don’t know how they survived psychologically. 

But here I am on a Sunday when I should be relaxing and, instead, my head is spinning, my nerves are shot, I’m filled with dread and the meds aren’t working. For an hour or two, I might snap out of it – I don’t know why – but then I’ll be cast down again. It gets worse at night.  It’s like being on a roller coaster from Hell.

I had to write this. I had to get this out. I probably set my own personal typing speed record writing this. It was all off the top of my fevered head. They say that writing is the best therapy. Right now it’s the only thing that seems to be helping me focus. 

I don’t know what the result of Wednesday’s latest interrogation will be. I don’t know whether I have a future. I believe this is a campaign designed to wear me down and pile up enough complaints to get rid of me. I fear this will never stop. I can’t quit – nothing out there for me at my age and with my experience. I’ve tried to find other jobs – no dice. 

I tell myself what a great lawsuit I have if they fire me. That may well be true. The problem is – do I have the stones to see an uncertain process through to the end? 

I’m trying to hold on. God help me, I really am.

"What has happened to me,’ K. went on, rather more quietly than before, trying at the same time to read the faces in the first row, which gave his speech a somewhat disconnected effect, ‘what has happened to me is only a single instance and as such of no great importance, especially as I do not take it very seriously, but it is representative of a misguided policy which is being directed against many other people as well.  It is for these that I take up my stand here, not for myself.... ‘There can be no doubt....  – there  can be no doubt that behind all the actions of this court of justice, that is to say in my case, behind my arrest and today’s interrogation, there is a great organization at work.  An organization which not only employs corrupt warders, oafish Inspectors, and Examining Magistrates of whom the best that can be said is that they recognize their own limitations, but also has at its disposal a judicial hierarchy of high, indeed of the highest rank, with an indispensable and numerous retinue of sevants, clerks, police, and other assistants, perhaps even hangmen.  I do not shrink from that word.  And the significance of this great organization, gentlemen?  It consists in this, that innocent persons are accused of guilt, and senseless proceedings are put in motion against them, mostly without effect, it is true, as in my own case.  But considering the senselessness of the whole, how is it possible for the higher ranks to prevent gross corruption in their agents?  It is impossible.  Even the highest Judge in this organization can not resist it.  So the warders try to steal the clothes off the bodies of the people they arrest, the Inspectors break into strange houses, and innocent men, instead of being fairly examined, are humiliated in the presence of public assemblies.  The warders mentioned certain depots where the property of prisoners is kept;  I should like to see these depots where the hard-earned property of arrested men is left to rot, or at least what remains of it after thieving officials have helped themselves” -- Kafka, The Trial (pp.45-46).

25 August 2016

Requiem for my father

I think in a way my father was lucky to have succumbed of lymphoma at 51. Never mind, for the time being, that he was grossly misdiagnosed by a doctor who said the painful palpable lump on his neck was just fat from . . . well being fat. Our doctor did not like fat people. He tried to get me on a diet when I was 11.

Ignore for now that my father’s cancer went through at least two stages until a biopsy stunned hospital personnel who could not believe a patient would have waited so long before being biopsied. What was my dad supposed to think? His doctor was giving him cortisone shots in the neck and he must know what he’s doing, right?

Also ignore that after my dad died fighting a hopeless rear guard action against the cancer, that the same doctors who were so ‘aghast’ at the obvious malpractice, zipped their lip when my mother’s attorney came calling.

In the end, it all may have been a blessing in disguise.

When they looked like this. And were great.
See, dad was a Sears man. It was the only job he’d ever had in his life; stretching back to 1962 when it was made clear to him he did not have the skills to create a career in art. It must have been a crushing blow to someone who studied with diligence for several years at the Cleveland Institute of Art to be told: you’re good, just not good enough. Dad, a Korean War Veteran, went to school on the GI Bill.

His parents thought it was a waste of time and money but dad had to know. 

Once he was disabused of the notion he would be the next Currier and/or Ives, he had to find a job. Straining to make mortgage payments and with a son (me) on the way, he turned to Sears’ salesman training program.

They made an interior decorator out of a Marine. That must have hurt too. 

Nevertheless, he forged on selling custom drapery out of his van all over the east side of Cleveland. He worked in the Carnegie Avenue store which was then, as it is now, a pretty sketchy area. 

He got yelled at by everyone, bosses, customers, and the warehouse. Kids would take a dump on his samples. But he kept on. Even though he never made more money than my mother (a school teacher), he kept up his end of the deal working a job that must have sacked his will to live, judging by the tirades we had to endure when he got home.

I remember more than one time my father saying to all of us “my days at Sears are numbered; they have it out for me.”

This was a (meager) draw against commission. The pressure to help put food on the table and pay the light and gas bills took a toll. My parents would get into screaming matches while going over bills. As I’ve written before, sometimes the phone would be disconnected; sometimes the heating oil arrived late to a cold house.

His only real escape was the great outdoors and the hunting and fishing he so loved. Had he been able to, he would have gone into the woods with his camping gear and never come out. He could live off the land. He really could. 

All he ever wanted. Really.
“To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off.”

There was only one time I ever saw him happy about his job. We were eating dinner and the phone rang. You couldn’t make my father angrier than to call at dinnertime. Mom answered and said “Ed, it’s for you.” My father’s face went into an instant twitch and scowl. He always expected the worst.
But within a few second I saw a look of pure joy on his face I did not think possible. When he slammed the phone back on the cradle, he literally danced for joy.

“Ed, Ed, what is it.” Mom asked.

“I got the job in carpeting,” my father shouted.

I asked what that meant, thinking going from selling drapery to carpeting didn’t seem like such a big deal to me.

“Bigger commissions,” dad said. 

It was the happiest I ever saw him. 

Sad, isn’t it?

“The only thing you've got in this world is what you can sell.”

But when he died on August 11, 1983, Sears was starting to go through a transformation which would eventually turn it into the shit store it is now – complete with the death rattle coming from deep inside a once great retail empire.

By this time, some of the wonderful things that had made Sears great were gone: the cafeteria, the driving school and the candy store where dad would pick up some bridge mix for us kids when he was feeling particularly generous.

About a year after my father died, Sears slowly began converting the commissioned salespeople to hourly employees. When I would return to the store at the Great Lakes Mall in the years to come, I would notice less and less suit and tie salespeople and more kids trying to sell merchandise whose features they couldn’t sell and, in many cases, didn’t understand.

By the early 90s, all that was left of the commissioned salespeople were in major appliances. Custom drapery was gone and carpeting would follow by the mid-90s. By the end of the century, Sears looked like a somewhat neater Wal-Mart with customer service to match.

Don’t think for a second that just because dad had issues with management and had a hard time handling rude customers that he didn’t believe in Sears. 

Everything, but especially tools.
Everything in our house was from Sears. Dad always said that he was proud his company stood by its products with that ironclad ‘satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back’ promise. 

I am convinced that if he had lived long enough, in fact, not that much longer, Sears would have broken his heart. Then they would have let him go. 

“You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit.”

He would have been in his mid-50s with nowhere really to go. If he got lucky, our neighbor might have been able to get him a job selling hardware to independent retailers – but that job died in the mid-90s thanks to the mom and pop hardware stores being crushed by the big boxes and Wal-Mart.

He might have sold cars. That’s about the only thing I could think of as a reasonable alternative. But the way cars were sold back then (and still today in some dealerships) would have also crushed his soul. Dad believed in integrity and that a handshake was as good as your word, which was a trusted bond.

And by that time, as it is now, companies didn’t want used-up sales retreads in later middle-age. They wanted fresh-faced young go-getters who were hungry and would work for peanuts.

My mom missed him terribly. I can remember, even moths after the funeral, her wailing in the dining room. I stayed in my bedroom listening and having my heart torn apart. There is no worse crying than that which comes from grief. 

Mom never remarried. She had one love of her life and he was gone forever. So she buried herself in her Catholic faith (with particular emphasis to charismatic practice) and changed so much that after a decade, I barely knew her anymore. 

It would have been far worse for both of them had dad lived. They had just gotten their heads pretty well above water when dad’s illness hit. His despair, I believe, would have brought the bad times back with a vengeance. My sister and I would not have gone to college for sure. The marriage may not have survived.

God only knows how he would have reacted to my two divorces, mental illness (which he didn’t or didn’t want to, understand), my sister’s issues, etc.

In the end, dad left mom with a small Sears pension and some minor investments which all added up to just enough to create a portfolio that grew steadily and allowed mom slowly begin to live off the dividend checks. By the time she retired from teaching, her pension plus the stock portfolio ensured she would keep the house and live out her last years in dignity. 

"After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive."

He never realized it, but it was truly his time to go; for mom, us kids, but most importantly, for himself.

“Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory.”