Sunday, September 22, 2019

Y or Y not?

If you've been following my blog here, you might know that I suffer from depression and anxiety since I was a teen.  I've tried multiple treatments.  Some have had a positive effect, some negative, some nothing.  But one treatment I've come to know that is consistently positive has been exercise.

That's a dirty word to a lot of us.  Going to the gym isn't necessarily a fun thing, but, if you go enough and see results -- or let me clarify:  FEEL results -- you find yourself forming a habit and addiction that's actually good for you.  A good sweat session clears the head, purges negativity, and increases confidence.  While it may not be a cure-all for everyone for depression and/or anxiety, it's going to have a good impact on your body and soul if you let yourself in the right mindspace in conjunction with physical activity.  I wholly endorse it. 

Many years ago, the wife and I made the decision to join our neighbourhood YMCA once our taekwondo club closed its doors.  We didn't want to continue with martial arts, so we elected to take the plunge and join the Y with its large gym facilities.  It's just a five minute casual walk from where we live, to boot, so it was almost like it was meant to be. 

Our finances were in a bit of a shambles at the time.  We were very green to the process of buying a house, and we took the one we have out of desperation and necessity, since I was more or less dying of mould poisoning at our previous residence.  For real.  I went to the ER several times from not being able to breathe.  As it turns out, moving away from where we were to this house saved my life.  But, as I said about being green to the world of mortgages, we unknowingly signed into a horrible deal where we were going to pay an insane amount of our lifetime earnings for our dwelling space.  We did resolve this eventually, but not without considerable trial and error. 

With that in regard, spending over $100 a month on a gym membership was rather daunting, but we took the plunge anyway.  Months later, we realized we couldn't continue with it, and we sought out and tried other gyms, all of them considerably cheaper.  Then we learned about the Y's subsidization program, where you pay a fraction of the designated monthly fee once they see proof of your income and expenditures.  We wound up re-joining and staying with them for many years with this plan because it was affordable to us.  Their policy is that they never turn anyone away, and they didn't with us.    .......yet.

Janice lost an incredible 75 pounds through training at the Y, and I think it may have saved her life.  She developed courage to fight her numerous diseases and defied doctors who told her she couldn't do any kind of even moderate physical activity; she was even told she was going to wind up in a wheelchair.  But she persevered and transformed herself.  The welcoming atmosphere at the Y was just what we both needed to keep going back.  For myself, the consistent exercise that I decided to make a part of my lifestyle very much helped me manage my anxiety issues.  This was an integral part of the therapy needed to keep my issues somewhat at bay; not a cure by any means, but it made a world of difference. 

The counter staff were always very gregarious and understanding of our situation when it came time to reassess our income and expenses to meet the standards of the subsidization program.  Until March of this year.  During our last reassessment, a newer person discussed our situation with us, and upon this person's own view of our finances, starkly decided we didn't qualify for the subsidization.  This left us both in shock.  Nothing had changed, yet, although we knew with the new year coming, the time was going to arrive where we actually would be able to pay the full price of membership, but not until then. To make things worse, on the statement in question, there was a $200 balance in our account, which seemed to convince the associate that we were actually doing fine financially.  Telling this person we had car repairs to take care of that week did nothing to sway her opinion (those repairs wound up costing us $800, to make it worse).  But this associate was quite cold and demeaning to my wife when Janice pleaded her to reconsider and shut us down.  This left us both in shock.  We were welcomed there with open, friendly arms for years.  Now all of a sudden, we were virtually thrown out.

I was quite upset at the welcome mat being very rudely yanked out from underneath us, so I decided to contact the YMCA through their Facebook page via their messenger, on which they claim to typically respond within a day.  I sent this message in March.  I'm still waiting for an answer.  I know the message was read back then, because it's denoted on messenger that it was.

We made the decision to join another gym in the city, though nowhere near our neighbourhood, but the price for membership there is comparative to what we were paying under subsidies with the Y.  We're happy at this new gym, though.  It's open 24/7, is clean, with new machines and a spacious free weights space and stretching room.  It very well suits our purpose.  But we still feel very burned from our exile from the YMCA without any conversation whatsoever.

I figured six months was plenty, and so I'm going public now with the message I sent them.  I doubt this will have any affect whatsoever, but I do feel the need to put it out there.  Perhaps they can enlist any individuals at their desk with some kind of sensitivity training to learn how to properly deal with those reaching out for help, like we did.

This is the message I sent to them.  All of it is true and without exaggeration or embellishment. 

Hello, Just wanted to send you fine folks a few comments before my wife and I depart your facilities. We've been members of the Y for roughly 10 years, with a brief break somewhere in the middle. We came back after that break when we found out we could apply for subsidization, as we left in the first place because, with our modest incomes, we couldn't afford to go anymore. My wife and I both have registered disabilities. She suffers from psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, and even other illnesses that challenge her daily. Going to the Y helped her enormously in mind and body. It was with you that she lost 75 lbs and made new, healthy habits to give her hope in leading a better life than fate had first laid out for her. I'm very grateful for your part in this. As for myself, I'm 53 years old. In my youth I suffered a number of serious head injuries, resulting in concussions that would leave me with permanent lasting effects that I have to face every day. I wound up with severe depression and anxiety issues that rather hinder my ability to handle matters of sociability, and other things, not the least of which are self-harm episodes.. My wife handles most of our communication dealings, because my anxiety issues prevent me from articulating properly. Of course, this does not apply to writing. I take medication and am under care of a physician and psychiatrist to try to help me handle things. My wife deals with her illnesses much the same way. We have drug plan coverage which pays for the cost of our very pricey meds that, without them, we simply couldn't live a normal life. My wife struggles sometimes, but with her medication and physical activity, partly through help from the good people at the Y, she does well. As for me, as you likely know, physical activity is great medicine for depression and anxiety too. Thus, we've been regulars at the Y for these many years. We also had troubles financially through those years, which is why help through you for our memberships was a Godsend. But we couldn't afford to go to the Y any other way. As of right now, for example, at the beginning of every calendar year, each of us has to pay a $150 deductible fee before our medication is covered. My wife's is paid up. As for me, I'm rationing my medication until we can get our finances together to bring things to balance. These are just facts that we're forced to deal with. When my wife was summoned for re-evaluation, as per every six months or so for subsidies with you, the person who looked after us told us we were no longer eligible. We don't want to mention names or get anyone in trouble, so we won't, but it left us rather shocked. We'd never been treated quite like that from you before. Tonight, my wife and I made the regrettable decision that we have to leave because of affordability issues. We thought we might hear something like, "is there something we can do?", but it was the same person we dealt with before, so that didn't quite happen. We wish you offered some kind of program where lower paying members only required the use of the wellness center section, since we never use the pools or gymnasium or anything. Perhaps in the future? As it is right now, we can't afford to stay. We weren't looking for a hand-out, as much as we were a hand up. We regret having to leave, because the staff and fellow members are top notch. You really do have the best gym in town. Unfortunately, we don't even feel welcome there now in light of the treatment from this desk server. We have till next Tuesday left on our current membership. We will take advantage of those few days left and figure out what to do and where to go from there. We didn't want to leave without being honest with you first as to why we did. We'll miss the staff in the wellness center, and hope that you don't take this as a hasty act on our part, as we've carefully considered everything. We don't ask that you beg us to stay or anything, but we do hope you consider our story and remember it in the future for when you deal with others like us, which I'm sure there will be many. Once again, thank you for the years of support. We do hate to go. Regards, Michael and Janice

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Shaking Like a Human Being

Here's three unwelcome words:  Summer is over.  Sorry.

Summer has been very good and very bad to me over the years, like a lot of people.  I know I'm not unique in that way.  But my mental illness issues always dictate to me what kind of a season it's going to be.  Last year was quite nice, even the year before.  I exercised a lot, didn't really go anywhere trip-wise, but I was with my wife pretty much 100% of the time.  Whether or not she's with me doesn't necessarily determine if things will go smoothly, but when she's there, the chances of the good outweighing the bad always skyrocket.  I'm enormously blessed to have her in my life.  I've said it many times:  if not for her, I wouldn't be around today.

I have a friend named Tim who I've often proclaimed as a brother, and that's permanent.  He's a no-shit, good willed man of faith who's always willing to help someone in need.  When he expressed interest in seeing one of our mutually favorite bands, King's X, in Portland, Maine, I was all in, on the condition that Janice was with me.  That wasn't even in question for Tim, as he already knew.  His soon-to-be wife Marley was in on the trip too.  We had a lot of fun over the almost three day run.  Janice got sick to her stomach one day, we suspect because of carb overload - it's happened before - but she recovered quickly, thank God.  On the very positive end, the King's X show was incredible.  We were front row center in the club called The Aura, where apparently a lot of pretty good acts go, and we surprisingly got to meet the band after the concert was over.  I had a short discussion with Dug Pinnick, the bass player and lead singer, about how much many of his lyrics mean to me, particularly those about his battle with depression.  I told him how much King's X music helps me and has gotten me through some pretty hard times.  He was genuinely touched and there was a distinct connection we'd made there that Janice was witness to, having been at my side through it.  It was a lifetime moment for me.  I thanked Jerry the drummer and Ty the guitarist profusely for all they do and have done through the years.  We got pictures taken and autographs, the whole nine yards.  I thought of my friend Steve a lot through this whole thing, because back in the late 80's when I was a store clerk for Green Gables, Steve was the one who loaned me "Gretchen Goes to Nebraska", King's X's second release.  I didn't really 'get it' upon first listen, or second.  Or tenth, even.  But I kept playing it, and something clicked.  King's X's music is so rich with detail and rife with influences like Rush, the Beatles, Metallica and Black Sabbath, even KISS (King's X actually played on the KISS Kruise a couple of years ago), that I grabbed onto the sound and sought out the other two albums of the time, "Out of the Silent Planet" and "Faith Hope Love".  "FHL" actually made me rediscover my faith in God and Christianity, which has stayed with me since.  Anyway, with Steve being a hardcore King's X fan, we had a lot of discussions about their music through the years.  We even attended a show, with Janice, for the "Dogman" tour in Toronto at a club called Gasworks back in '91.  That too was amazing.  Steve pretty much arranged that trip and acccomodations, forming unforgettable memories I'll cherish forever.  We also all saw the KISS "Revenge" tour around the same early 90's era.  We amusingly made it onto MuchMusic TV as we waited outside the studios for KISS to make an appearance.  When host Erica Ehm asked fans what their favorite KISS ballad was, Steve proudly answered, "God of Thunder."  Classic Steve! 

So, this summer was going along pretty good.  Janice and me have been inseparable, except for when we have to work.  She keeps me grounded.  On the Portland trip, we were unaware that we were going to be gone for two nights, so I missed a couple of rounds of my meds, and so did Janice.  I wound up with elevated anxiety that I was able to manage with her help, and of course, I reciprocated in taking care of her as she dealt with the pain from her lack of medication, which can become intolerable if she goes without for too long.  It also probably contributed to her being sick.  All in all, it was manageable, and a great time was had by all of us.  But... I have this 'voice' in my head that tells me afterward how much of an ass I acted like, that I should have behaved better, that I shouldn't have said or did certain things... such is the life of a person with chronic anxiety.  I always feel guilty about something.

We've been going to the gym pretty regularly since we've joined Fit4Less several months ago, after we'd left the Y.  I'll get into why we left in the near future, because we departed under dubious circumstances that we're still upset over.  But Fit4Less turned out to be a good change.  Exercise has many benefits for everyone, but one in particular for me is to clear the cobwebs and just feel better.  I don't think I'm super fit or anything, but I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in, providing I don't get derailed from going.  Still, at least 75% of the reason I do go is Janice.  Exercise is absolutely crucial to her mobility, where her multiple illnesses ranging from chronic arthritis to fibromyalgia threaten to freeze up her body unless she keeps moving.  The two of us going is a whole yin-yang thing.  We help each other by training.

But one thing that does derail us from going, typically in the winter months, is work.  The retail Christmas season can be torturous.  My job is very physical as it is when it's calm, but when things get busy, it can get increasingly stressful.  I used to cherish the post-Christmas season, because that's when things typically level off, but this year it just didn't.  The best way I can describe my job as a receiver where I work is warehouse work.  There's lots of lifting, carrying, and moving things around, and I put a lot of miles in running around the place, chasing the doorbell for deliveries while I'm doing something else.  I typically work through my breaks and lunches, because I like to get things done.  If I'm going to literally put my name on my work, I want it to be the best it can be.  And I get upset if it's otherwise.  I want to be an asset to my employer, and I'm passionate about it. 

People go on vacation during the summer, of course.  That's just logical.  But when someone goes out where I work, that person isn't replaced, and it puts a strain on the rest of us.  Business didn't drop off very much at all after last Christmas.  At times, it even got more hectic.  The busier it gets, of course, the more stress there can be, especially when manpower decreases.  Thankfully, I had a week off in July myself with Janice.  It was a much needed breather for the both of us.  She also suffers from a lack of manpower where she works at a post office kiosk, of which she's the manager of.  But her higher ups hesitate to give her more workers.  Thus, for much of the year, it's been just her and our daughter Alexandra working there.  It's quite ridiculous, if I'm being starkly honest.  She's much smarter and stronger than I am, though, so she vents with me and it seems to help. 

News struck us a month ago that our dear friend Steve passed away suddenly in his home after a sudden illness in Halifax.  I felt like it was a horrible dream that I desperately wanted to wake up from.  The last time we saw Steve was when KISS came to the Maritimes, visiting Saint John and Halifax, and we went to both shows.  Steve hitched a ride with us for the second show, in Halifax, and we got what I now cherish as time that I wouldn't ever trade for anything.  He welcomed us in his home before the show, we had some deep conversations ... par for the course with Steve ... and Alexandra got to know him more and developed a sweet bond with him.  He gave me a copy of his album "Fresh Footprints", an instrumental disc dotted with his trademark humor and deft musicianship throughout.  In fact, it was my favorite record I'd listened to that year, I loved it that much.  I would have taken a copy of it to give to King's X when we went, but I selfishly didn't want to part with my own!  I told him how much I admired it and his talent, and he was profuse in his appreciation for my fandom.  I stand by it today, "Fresh Footprints" is a professional, bonafide classic that I think everyone should give a chance.  I wish that it got more recognition than it did.

When I went to Halifax with Alexandra (Janice had to work, hence the manpower issues) for Steve's memorial, as I drove into town, I distinctly felt his presence.  I know how corny that sounds, but it was a feeling unlike any other.  I so miss the guy, and I know on some other plane of existence, he knows that.  Along with the many others that were at his memorial.  I saw a lot of familiar faces there, and many friends, all of us more than heartbroken at the fact of the reason we were present.  Alexandra was heartbroken.  Steve was always very kind to her, and always treated her like an equal adult, even in her childhood years.  That's why she respected him so much.  She always was entertained by our conversations because they were so deep!  One particularly about the Mandela Effect, a deja vu type of theory that muses on whether or not people actually died when it was publicly announced that they were.  I witnessed an instance of it myself once, when Tom Wilkonson's death was announced on TV while we were in Welland, Ontario visiting my brother Pete.  It was right there on TV, but months later, he showed up on TV promoting a new movie of his.  Janice may not have been at Steve's memorial, but she certainly was in spirit.  Her and Steve always had that humorous greeting... he'd say "hey man!" and she'd answer with "hey woman!" which he always responded to with his distinct laughter.  When the memorial was over, there was a reception that we didn't stay for, as I didn't know how I'd react because of my elevated anxiety.  That was probably selfish on my part.  But I also feel like I don't really belong in that group of friends anymore.  That's on me, not them.  But I digress, as I don't want that topic to be about me at all.

But needless to say, Steve's passing weighed heavy on my heart ever since.  I think about the guy a lot, and I'm thankful for having known him.  His friendship and brotherhood were indeed a gift that I'll never overlook. 

We are both now just starting our second week of vacation as I write this.  And it couldn't be more timely.  This past week has been horrendous to my body and mind.  I've worked nine to ten hour days all week, no breaks or lunches, and it still wasn't enough to get done what I wanted, although I'm admittedly picky when it comes to my work.  But these long days ate into my downtime, and the fact that I work two of those days starting at 5am cuts into my sleep.  We were only able to go to the gym together one day this week.  A stressful work year only got worse with all these factors pitching in to take painful cracks to my endurance.

Last night was the first night of vacation after I'd finished up a 9 1/2 hour shift at work on four hours sleep.  I expressed to Janice how hard a time I had with it all, but perhaps I was a bit lax in describing it.  She's actually seen me work, but she doesn't really know the scope of what I do.  I know no one at my work recognizes it.  It's the most thankless job I've ever had, but I work at the level I do as a matter of pride. I left the building yesterday as a man on the verge of melting down under the stress. 

My brother Roy is celebrating his 70th birthday this weekend, and the party was yesterday, which I most definitely was in no condition to attend, very regrettably so.  We said we'd go today for a visit at least.  He's got a cottage with my other brother Greg at Caissie Cape, a community I'm familiar with because of Steve's family's history there.  He used to look after his family's A-frame cottage in the summer, and host his friends for parties there a lot.  My old YQM band actually recorded our demo at his cottage.  That community will certainly have a different feel now, sadly.  But at least I have family there.  And I just know Steve's spirit will be wandering around with us when we visit.  I only wish that the Mandela Effect would prove itself in bringing dear Steve back.

But we will go under the specter of what transpired last night.  I was eventually overcome by stress and anxiety to the point that I couldn't bottle it up anymore.  I shook uncontrollably... paced and ran around the house ... SCREAMING at the top of my lungs ... quite literally beating my head against the wall ... laid on the floor nearly naked quivering trying to get my bearings back.  And Janice witnessed all of it.  It obviously upset her terribly, as she cried and pleaded to help as she watched it all unfold.  The more questions she asked, the more anxious I got, which is not her fault whatsoever, of course!  But a man with my condition faced with making even the simplest of decisions can be very overwhelming, in this case, nearly catastrophically.  Janice gave me some cannabis oil, which after some time, calmed me down to the point where I was coherent and not shaking anymore, and ultimately calm.  She may have even saved my life with it.  Again.  She never left my side even through all this.  I love her.

I woke up today sore and stiff all over from last nights events.  I'm now faced with visiting family which I won't be able to see again for months if I don't go, so I must.  I shouldn't be anxious about it, there's no reason to be.  But I am. 

I need to also point out that I still haven't heard from my psychiatrist or doctors since my last visit months ago.  I now hesitate to go, because I truly don't feel they believe me when I tell them what goes on.  Hell, the government doesn't believe me either, because they no longer recognize my disability!  My only real hope is Janice.  She talks to my doctors for me and stresses to them that what I'm dealing with is indeed real and indeed serious.  Apparently, that's what it takes.  What I also worry about, is others who deal with the same kind of issues that don't have anyone to vouch for them.  Where do they go to for help??  We need the medical community to take depression and anxiety seriously, once and for all.  And government needs to smarten up about the fact that it needs desperate attention.  I'm skeptical about that ever happening, though.

But to anyone who may be reading this, I need to say...... if you are suffering, if you have anxiety that gets the better of you at times, if you're feeling depressed, you absolutely must get help.  You must!!  And it's best that you have someone to advocate for you, the way my wife does.  I do get taken far more seriously when she goes to bat for me.  She is my guardian angel.  Find yours.  It may be your wife, husband, mother, brother, sister, friend, or work colleague.  But find someone who takes you seriously, especially if your medical professionals won't.

God bless you, and thank you for reading.   

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Nature of the Beast

I get a fair amount of feedback on my posts about my dealings with depression and anxiety.  I'm guessing because of my outright honesty pertaining to it, and my frustration with getting adequate help.  Now here I go again with another frustration-laden post, so, spoiler alert.

There's still no word from my psychiatrist about a follow-up appointment after the one in the spring.  I don't get it.  I'm admittedly a basket case sometimes who's had self-harm issues and suicidal thoughts, yet it doesn't seem to warrant the attention necessary to remedy more attention than that of what I ask for.  So yeah, I'm on my own there.  Folks like me shouldn't have to go it alone on things like this.  Specifically with depression and anxiety.  When us patients with these problems actually muster up the courage to talk about it, you'd think it would be taken seriously, but I know I'm not the only one who feels this isn't happening.

You know what does get a lot of attention though?  The media gets all hot 'n horny over stories of gun-toting killers who are eventually discovered to be victims of mental illness.  Consistently.  In fact, more often than not, when you hear of a mass shooting or beating or whatever, I'd almost bet that most of the time, the perpetrator is a victim of psychiatric issues.  I won't take the assertion that these men (let's face it, they're pretty much all men, right?) have a crutch to lean on with their illness that justifies them to do such dastardly acts.  But let's face it.  In a broad number of instances, people are driven to madness to become these monsters in the media not necessarily for the attention, but because those around them for years leading up to these terrible events didn't bother to acknowledge the warning signs that they are, indeed, ill.  Neither am I blaming the people around them.  Rather, I just don't see the help readily available for those looking to get it that could prevent these things from happening to begin with.  I can speak truth to this, because I can't seem to get adequate professional support myself.  Not that I want to lump myself in with mass murderers, of course.  The big danger with me is to myself, and thus, those around me watching me disintegrate before their very eyes.

I can tell you that I'm okay one week, or day, but then the next everything seems to change.  I can have a great streak of days only to wake up one morning, like today, and feel this black cloud of dread blocking the sun from my consciousness.  That's the nature of mental illness.  Every day is a roll of the dice as to how easy or not it will be to get through the day.  Medication helps, if you have the right stuff.  But even if you do, you can still get derailed, and that's why professional help is still needed.

When I'm having one of these excruciating days, it's a good time to call off work and recollect my wits about me.  But I can't.  I'm allowed one paid sick day off per every two months of attended work.  That's pretty tough to accumulate.  I wind up being stuck between a rock and a hard place; the rock being work, the hard place being my illness.  99% of the time, I have to muscle it out and go to work.  If I don't, I know I have two days of work the next day waiting for me, because my shifts don't get replaced, and my work not covered.  This, obviously, creates heightened stress to get things done, which is obviously detrimental to my health because of my condition, the reason I called off work in the first place.  It's a vicious circle.  But we live in times where shareholders and CEO's dictate whether or not their workers are worth being cared for; in most cases, they're not.  And never mind going on disability benefits for any amount of time as I did last year... the tax collector will reclaim that when the season comes around.

And with mental illness survivors, it's tough being us.  We're always being told "it could be worse", or "help is available", or "be thankful for what you have".  Let's not forget the classic "only you can change your outlook".  If you want to know how to isolate someone with depression and anxiety even more than they already are, talk to them like that.  You might as well take the shovel away from them they're digging a hole with and be giving them a back hoe tractor.

As far as it goes with me, I've re-evaluated things a lot over the past year or so, at least.  I now see myself as the problem and the burden.  How else is one supposed to feel if they get shunned by the medical professionals they're pleading to get help from?  One of them virtually insinuated it was 'all in my head'.  Hell... when I got in-person counseling from a professional for a while, which I thought kind of helped a little, it ended with the person giving me a written evaluation of my writing work that I had submitted.  I was encouraged verbally to keep writing, but the criticisms written on my work made me stop cold.  This was nearly two years ago.  I don't know that my illness was taken into consideration when that kind of critique was administered to my work.  That's why I'm a little dumbfounded when I get compliments on these blog posts I write.  I'm grateful, but with all apologies, I can't help but question the sincerity.  "They must just feel bad for me."

I hear stories and see pictures of friends and family gathering and realize I'm not in them anymore, and it feeds support for my theory that I really am a drag to be around.  I have one person in my life that genuinely wants to be around me that I can clearly tell, that being my wife.  If I have a conversation with someone else, I try to avoid the topic of me, knowing that I'll most likely just scare them off.  I've learned from past mistakes.  In recent years, I've had friends that I was open to that I would share my feelings with, only to never see them again or have them become the hi/bye type.  I know that's my fault.  I know that's on me.  So why do I keep hearing that people like me with mental illness should talk more, and more should listen?  I even feel like I get the bum's rush from my professionals when I look for help.  I feel like my allotted appointment time can't be expanded and thus, sorry about your damn luck.  Happy trails. 

The only remedy for that which I can think of is to just remove myself from these pictures and gatherings before they happen.  A couple of weeks ago, I cried uncontrollably for a whole day when I came upon some of these such things.  I realized how irrelevant I've become at the expense of my illness.  And I am truly sorry to those that I've brought down, and I will refrain from it from this point out.  Such is the nature of the beast that I fight daily.

I don't purport to be a musician or percussionist or anything, because I really don't think I'm any good -- I've been told that enough.  So after years of owning drumkits since I was 13 shortly after my father died, I'm giving serious thought to selling all my gear and just getting real about it all.  I had a friend named Wayne who was kind enough to talk me out of doing just that many years ago when I was in a band with him for a short time where other members weren't too keen on my drumming.  Wayne insisted that was wrong.  I believed him at the time.  But times have changed.  It's kind of hard jamming with yourself, but, here I am.  And I'm wary of pity.

You might be asking yourself, "he's given up writing, his music, what's next?"  Now I guess it's just survival.  I know I won't get the help I need, so I'll keep going to the gym for a distraction -- at least until I give that up too -- and watching TV and being with my wife until she reaches the point she can't deal with it anymore either.  Which she insists won't ever happen. 

Ultimately, this post is yet another testament to how broken the health system is in treating those with mental illness.  I live in a part of Canada where medical professionals are leaving in droves because their workload is ridiculously heavy and they are underpaid.  Yet we have government after government telling us people in need they're in the process of fixing it.  The check is in the mail and... you know the rest.

But this blog post should at least serve as a shout out to those who are also suffering, to tell you, you aren't alone in your frustration, as much as it feels like it.  We have to stick together and hang in there and support each other.  And for God's sake, Don't.  Give.  Up.

God bless and thanks so much to care enough to read.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Darkness and Light

I hear it's Mental Health Awareness Month.  Being a person who's dealt with mental health issues all of his life, I wanted to throw in my own thoughts on the issue.

Firstly, "Awareness".... it's not really the appropriate term.  Not to me.  Everyone knows about the issues surrounding mental health illness and its pervasiveness.  The real, true issue is the lack of action taken with it.  There's lots of talk, lots of corporations (I'm looking at YOU, Bell Canada) getting kudos for raising so-called awareness about it and trumpeting how much cash they're throwing at it, but from what I can see, few benefiting from it, other than the businesses getting all kinds of publicity because of their grandstanding on the subject.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm glad people are talking about it more.  I'm glad the stigma is coming down.  I'm glad that more people take it a lot more seriously now than they used to, say, when I was a teen back in the 80's, when no one would blink an eye at the word concussion because they didn't think they were all that bad.  I had several of them in my teen years.  Clearly, today medical professionals would keep an eagle eye on someone who's gone through something like that.  Me in the 80's?  Not so much.

Concussions are a big deal now in the sports world.  Namely football, hockey and pro wrestling.  This month a lot of discussion is being made over the death of a young female wrestler named Ashley Massaro, who broke into the WWE through a talent competition many years ago.  Her career was dotted with an array of concussions, and subsequently, she joined a class action lawsuit against WWE over consequences related to those injuries, holding the company liable for not taking better care of their talent.  She suffered from depression, mental lapses and suicidal thoughts, and ultimately took her own life, leaving behind a young daughter and countless supportive colleagues in the pro wrestling world.  This re-ignited discussion on the care, or lack of it, being taken in sports, or for that matter, life in general.  My concussions never arose from sports injuries, for example.  But, I experienced similar, if not identical, symptoms as Massaro had.

I don't think I need to write much about the correlation between concussions and mental illness, as pretty much everyone knows the major connections.  My concussions didn't end with my teens.  There were others that occurred in the following years, but they were brought on by self-inflicted injuries because of the those troubles I had in my formative years.  To this day I deal with self-harm issues.  Perhaps not as frequent in this present day, thanks to medications that are actually working, but as little as two months ago, I suffered from suicidal thoughts.  I brought this to the attention of my physician and psychiatrist, both.  My wife was in attendance with these professionals when I saw them.  So what actions did they take?

How about a big fucking fat nothing?  Not even a follow-up appointment.  THIS is the state of mental health treatment in the world today, at least in these parts.  There's actually a sign in my psychiatrist's office waiting area that states not all treatments are covered by medicare.  That's pretty damn encouraging, isn't it?  If I had a broken bone, a major cut, even a bruise on my head, I'd be seen promptly and given treatment.  Now, when I proclaim to my doctors what happened in my past and my suspicions that it contributes to my illness today, I get a proverbial shrug like they're questioning whether I'm telling the truth or not.  I've experienced the same in the past with friends and family.  This is maddening.  But that's where we are right now.

There are plenty of people who would say, "well, you're dealing with it at least, good for you!"  Self awareness of it is a major, massive first step, but it's a step I took back in 1996 with the birth of my daughter.  It was then when I went through some wicked self-harm incidents that I realized I need to get better for my daughter and my wife.  I must note, I was never abusive toward anyone else.  It was always to myself.  Through the years, I was plagued with self-loathing and an extreme lack of self-confidence.  That hasn't waned, either.  Indeed, it may have worsened.  I continue to battle it daily.  It ebbs and flows, and I have to deal with it whenever it rears its ominous, ugly head.  I've stated many, many times, if it weren't for my wife and daughter, I would not be alive today.  That is 100% true.

Thank God I have the understanding of those two.  I'm certainly a handful to deal with sometimes.  I try to keep things in check, like putting myself down in front of others and insulting myself, but the fact is that I'm literally ill.  I will be till the day I pass.  I just have to keep looking for ways to deal with it.

When I say I'm a handful, I mean I am with everyone.  I can be a jerk (read:  I think I AM a jerk), and that's something I'm working on especially recently.  Over the years, I know how opinionated I was, and it's only in the last several months that I've come to see things through the eyes and ears of those I see and talk to.  I hate having my feelings hurt.  Why would anyone else be different?  Realizing this made me re-evaluate myself as a person in a major way.  I think that's a good thing.  The bad thing is, it has the potential to bring on more self-hatred.  It's very tricky.

With Mental Health Awareness, it's good that focus is on the young and women, but the truth of the matter is it's a human issue.  I don't believe people should be categorized and grouped into neat little boxes for the sake of statistics.  Mental illness is something that needs to be attacked head-on without discrimination.  And I say especially mental health, because if there's too much focus on one group than the others, that sends a message to the others that they don't matter as much.  I sure as hell feel that way.  I'm a 53 year old male, and my category isn't talked about at all.  And I don't want my category talked about.  I want the entire problem to be handled and addressed, without bias or priority.  It's the fairest and most responsible approach for all victims of mental illness.

I participated with my wife in a corporate sponsored run open to the public that donated funds to, among other women's issues, women's mental health.  This might make me sound hypocritical, except that I know that the funds raised do for a fact go to a local women's shelter.  I applaud that kind of effort to combat such challenges facing women in these modern times.  I only wish that those outside the limiting parameters of such fundraising could benefit from these kinds of things as well.  You don't see a lot of active causes raising awareness for middle-aged victims of mental illness, for example.  At all.

But I digress.  It shouldn't be about isolating one group that seems to be affected more than another.  For that matter, all the fundraising that happens continentally didn't seem to help the likes of Massaro much, if at all.  Ignorance seems to have taken the top spot on the podium in that case, as is all too common.  To those struggling to find help and understanding, it's incredibly frustrating.  We keep hearing, "speak up!  Talk about it!  Get help!"  I don't know how long Massaro sought help for her condition - probably a long time.  But I do know I tried in vain to see a psychiatrist for years... over a decade, almost two... only to feel like I'm being rebuffed, despite getting some help with appropriate medication.  These are the challenges men, women and children face when we try to make people listen to us.  We do speak up.  We do talk.  We do get help.  But all too much, it's like trying to break through a concrete wall with a plastic spoon.

I'm not trying to say to others that you need to treat people with mental illness with kid gloves or walk on eggshells.  I'm only trying to point out that care needs to be taken when it comes to common sense observations.  Exclusion is one of my biggest enemies.  If I'm shunned or left out of something, even if it were short-sighted, it ignites doubt in my self worth and how much I matter.  Whether it be a gathering of friends or family where I'd most often be invited; even if I didn't go, it counts in a big way to be thought of, at least.  I've dealt with exclusion a lot over the years, but it doesn't get easier.  It may even be getting worse.  I don't blame those that don't want me around.  I've mentioned I realize I'm a handful!  But it also signals that I'm not worth dealing with.  And I get it.  I can be quiet and reserved, perhaps not terribly outgoing, I hate talking on the phone with a passion, etc.  You might say I'm only asking to be shunned.  Or, if you knew what I struggled with, you might see me differently.  I'm a wide open book when it comes to my depression and anxiety.  I tell everyone in my challenge to help me defy the consequences of what can become of my behavior.  But it might be a failing strategy.  Perhaps speaking up, talking about it and getting help doesn't work at all?  If not, then what does?

In the end, I do still implore those with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses to seek out help and talk about it with loved ones and professionals.  I did find at least two people that listened, with my wife and daughter.  My boss at work understands somewhat.  Sometimes even my doctors listen.  My point is, if you don't try at all, you're guaranteed to not make any traction.

If you know someone suffering from any of this, I invite you to be a lamp post on that long, dark road.  The more light that's shed on that path, the less likely the car is to go off the rails.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

In Pursuit of Happiness

Time to break the silence.  It's been a long time since I've posted.  And I do know there's the odd person who does read these, so I figured, why not.

It's been quite a while.  Let me get you up to speed, if you're not regularly in touch with me.

I took the first three months of '18 off because of a breakdown that I had at work.  As anyone who knows me realizes, I'm very open with my mental illness issues, in the hopes of getting others who are silent to open up and get help.  There is no shame in it.  Anyway, Christmas of '17 was particularly stressful... not unlike many Christmas seasons, especially if you work in retail like I do... and where I work, as a receiver, I'm out on the floor of the store when I worked every third weekend.  Weekends are busy there, and the clientele is particularly bad mannered and cranky.  If you're dealing with mental illness, this kind of stress is very hard to deal with.  My way of dealing with it is removing myself from it, but if I'm working, that's somewhat near impossible.

In early January '18, just after New Year's, it got to the point where someone attacked me verbally in the store and made me look and feel stupid.  This is one sure fire way to ignite an anxiety attack in me and confront myself.  Long story short, I found a place in the back where I would be alone and concussed myself and dragged my box cutter across various points of my skin, leaving me bleeding and in a lot of pain.  I'm not proud to exclaim this, but I figure the more open I am about it, the more awareness to the issue it brings, not just to myself - but others suffering with depression and anxiety.  I do know some of  you, and believe me when I say, I am with you

I was at wit's end on this day.  I wrote a note to my manager telling him I wouldn't be back to work until further notice, and I'd gotten things taken care of.  He does know that I have issues with anxiety, to the point that it can get quite debilitating.  This was a major step that I needed to take, although the idea of not going to work and earning my keep played on me.  The thought of going on paid leave for mental health issues felt defeating in a way.  In retrospect, I see it as a bit of a brave act, just not one I care to repeat.

Three months at home passed while I decompressed from the stress and anxiety of the holiday season at work, and that every third weekend there, where my blood pressure was tested as well.  My family doctor took me off work in increments of about three weeks at a time, subject to evaluation.  Janice accompanied me to my appointments to give her input on how I was doing, both to corroborate my own claims and offer information I might not be quite open enough to give.  As the visits passed, I finally went back to work in April, rested and relaxed, on new meds and ready to try to make things work once again.  It was good being back to work.  Being at home not working bored the crap out of me, but it did force me to rest and find peace.  I did worry about how things would be at work while I wasn't there, as I felt that I might be missed since I work quite steadily.  That worry was unfounded, as they made out fine without me.

However, about a week in back to work, an incident happened at work that caused me to deal with another bout of self harm.  Without getting into too much detail about that, it thus caused me to lose faith in my meds altogether, and I stopped them cold turkey.  I would not recommend anyone on meds to do this.  It's actually quite dangerous and could lead to very serious consequences.  But that being said...

I went through the rest of April with the presence of mind that not taking meds will likely affect me adversely, so I braced for impact, so to speak.  Surprisingly, I made it through a whole month, before I took another serious anxiety attack and immediately rebooted my meds.  It got to the point where I was a danger to myself, and thus, to Janice -- not in a physical sense, but her watching me go through it was quite distressing to her.  But she is a kind, loving devoted soul, and was with me through thick and thin.  And is. 

As things turned out, this rebooting of my meds seemed to kickstart their efficacy.  As I leveled off, I experienced a sense of normalcy I hadn't experienced in years.  Add to that the good news that my manager gave me all weekends off, which did miracles for my peace of mind, knowing that I didn't have to stare down the anxiety monster every third week and hope for the best.  The way my work is, anyway, is I do 8 to 4's, except Tuesdays and Fridays where I go in at 5am.  As you might imagine, as someone with lifelong brain injury issues, this played a factor in my sense of security within myself.  Knowing I didn't have to face this seemed to have lifted a very heavy weight off of my head.  This coupled with rebooting my meds did a whole lot for my mental stability.

Last summer was one of the best I'd experienced in my lifetime.  My mental health was in the best shape it had been in years, and with Janice constantly by my side, I felt like my life had been renewed.  Our daughter was doing much better, too, and would continue to improve as the year progressed.  Although the one issue with her and her boyfriend is their living quarters; I feel like they deserve so very much more, but they're cash-strapped too much to change it -- although things are getting better for them financially due to work upgrades, so I have high hopes that this issue will be rectified soon.  Janice and me have been there, after all, in virtually identical circumstances.

As time went on, it caused some reflection, where I would look back on how I handled things and how I approached problems in general.  Of which I'd give myself a failing grade, really.  I have to be careful not to be too hard on myself, but these periods of refection also help guide me how to handle things in the future.  Looking back, I see myself assigning blame from time to time that wasn't warranted, and I realize that perhaps I was this way because of my mental illness issues in the first place.  I was often reactionary to sudden issues, and looked sometimes... not always.... to others to lay culpability to.  Now, I have to be careful not to blame myself too much, or risk suffering more anxiety attacks.  So there's a fine balance there, middle ground that I have to seek to find where it's stable enough that I won't fall, and just as importantly, don't bring anyone down with me.

I don't judge things like I used to now as a result.  I've learned that I need to be more aware of others' feelings, so I measure my opinions and advice accordingly --  don't tell anyone anything you wouldn't want to be told, unless there is fruit to be harvested from such situations.  Nonetheless, negativity is something I do try to avoid.  Not just coming at me, but especially from me.  Better to prop others up than knock them down, regardless of who they are or what the situation is.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that; darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that, to paraphrase a certain King.

I went through the better part of a year 'without incident', as I express it, where there were no issues of self-harm.  But I experienced another attack a couple of weeks ago now, where I took something out of context, perhaps, and shamed myself image-wise and gouged my stomach, probably leaving yet more scars due to this stubborn illness.  As I type this, I'm still leveling off somewhat.  I still look in the mirror and see things that others maybe don't.  My self image is admittedly poor; but at this point, I don't know what to do about it.  I've seen a psychiatrist, physician, psychologist, you name it.  But the poor self-image thing is a bitch to eradicate.  Self confidence has always been a tough issue.  I will never feel like I'm smart enough, look good enough, or be good enough to actually succeed and thrive at anything.  I've tried!  But I'm one of those types that doesn't take insults or condescension  very well.  What I need is patience, but I've isolated myself to a point where I don't really give anyone the opportunity to grant me that, beyond my wife that is.

Before I sign this off, I would be remiss not to mention a few things to address some people who've gone out of their way to shine some happiness into my days.  There's this friend of mine I've had since back in the days I worked at Green Gables corner store in the late '80s.  We've stayed in touch throughout the years... him to me more than me to him.  Acceleration of my social anxiety prevented me quite a lot from connecting with friends, which is why I've lost so many.  But Tim never gave up on me.  Tim's a jet-setter, and travels a lot in his line of work.  He often brings me treats from abroad, chocolate and snacks and stuff, knowing that I'm quite the junk food connoisseur.  Sometimes he brings me to a show when a band is in town.  His thoughtfulness is off the charts, if I'm to be very honest.  But this past Christmas, he went above and beyond, I think too much.  Tim and me bonded in part from a band we liked a lot way back called The Pursuit of Happiness, or TPOH.  Back in the day, I insisted to him that he see this band because they impressed me so much when my buddy Pete went with me once.  Tim became a hardcore TPOH fan from that day on, and we saw them several times through the years, until the band went on a sabbatical of sorts and disappeared for many years.  They got back together recently to have a reunion show in Toronto to celebrate the release 30 years ago of their debut record "Love Junk".  So Tim shows up this past Christmas, tells me how good a friend I've been along with Janice, reminisces about the old days of seeing TPOH, and drops tickets on us to see the show in Toronto in January, with round trip airfare.  Needless to say, I was aghast and speechless.  He even paid for our hotel and crazily-priced cab fare.  It was a joyful whirlwind trip where we flew up one Saturday morning, saw the show that night, and flew back the next morning.  We went up the CN Tower again, he took us to the Hockey Hall of Fame, we ate at a couple of great places in downtown Toronto, and of course, joyously saw the show, front row, at the Danforth Theatre.  The place was packed and excited, but none more excited I think than us.  Tim's not just a friend, he's my brother.  Though he's younger by four years or so, I'd say he was my big brother.  For whatever reason, he's always looked out for us.  I'm very glad to say that he's very blessed to be with a woman named Marley with whom I pray they've found lifelong happiness with together.  Marley's a bright, ambitious, beautiful woman that I would dare say matches Tim's monstrously gregarious personality.  It's heartening to see them both so happy.

Recently, like a matter of days ago, I got this package in the mail that I had no idea about.  I didn't order anything... did I?  Janice didn't.  Alexandra didn't have anything sent to the house.  So I opened it up, and it was from my buddy/nephew/brother Shawn from Vancouver.  KISS had just begun their "End of the Road" tour there, and they're pulling out all the stops with their new show to say goodbye to their faithful fans (they're just about in their 70s, after all!).  Shawn only found out about the show at the last minute, and being a huge KISS fan himself... because of me, he says... he took some amazing shots with his phone camera where he was super close to the stage, as he lucked out with tickets where they opened up some seats after stage production was settled, and he wound up right beside them.  In this package among many things he sent were great printed photos from the show, some confetti that fell during the finale, and a guitar pick that he caught from Paul Stanley.  What a supremely thoughtful gesture on his part to do that!  I'm going to frame these pictures and the stuff that came with them as a keepsake of sorts from the very first show of the very last tour of my favorite band, and thankfully Shawn himself is in one of these pictures.  How lucky I am to have such people in my life to think of doing things like this.  Actually all my nieces and nephews are an amazing bunch, like their parents.  I'm fortunate to be a part of such a great family.

Something else that we received a little while ago was this mechanism for pain relief that was given to us by Jana, my awesome nephew Chris's wife.  I'm kind of ashamed to say I don't know what to do with it!  And just as ashamed to say that I've been afraid to ask for help about it.  So if you're reading this, Jana, know that we so very incredibly appreciate it so much, that your thoughtfulness is appreciated more than you can know.  I'm guessing she's read my blogs and seen what we go through and wanted to help.  Yet another selfless family member reaching out.  Again, we are so blessed.

My brother Rick's woman, May, has been instrumental in helping us as well.  Speaking for myself, she's helped in getting medication for us that has helped me find restful sleep again, which is extremely important to someone like me with mental illness.  It may be the most important factor, perhaps, in my dealing with it; certainly one of the most important.  May suffers from health issues of her own, so to look past them and reach out to help us is tremendously appreciated.  I can't thank her enough, really.

I have this friend who's an accomplished author, Michelle, who's always stuck by me too.  She keeps offering kind words of assurance and encouragement and advice, and is yet another one who seems to always watch out for me.  As I do for her.  I care for her a great deal.  She's a wonderful human being the likes of which planet earth needs many more of.

Finally, I want to thank my wife for endlessly and unconditionally supporting me through good times and bad times.  I will always do the same for her.  She knows this.  I have an eagle eye on her health and happiness levels and will always and forever do whatever it takes to constantly make things better.  I've said it many times, I am alive today because of her.  If not for her in my life, I'd be long gone.  I'm just as fortunate to have my daughter faithfully protect and defend us at the first sign of need. 

And thank you, family and friends, for keeping me in your thoughts and your prayers.  Thank you for your patience with me and for being so loyal.  I appreciate and love every one of you.

Till next time, fire up the colortinis and watch the pictures as they fly through the air!

And have a good day, week, month, year and life. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Random Thoughts June 2018

Politics are front and center of media these days, thanks to Trumpworld.  Every day... he does something to piss off the masses and prop up his minions.  If you support this monster, I don't have a lot to talk about with you.  You are backing a chronic liar and someone as close to the antichrist there's ever been since Hitler.
I said it years ago when he got elected that I was worried... but NB premier Brian Gallant is driving our province further and further into debt, like his predecessors David Alward and Shawn Graham.  NBers go to the polls soon.  Will they choose more of the same yet again?  Yes, they will.  I've lost a lot of hope.
I've taken a real liking to CNN these days.  They've taken on a galvanized anti-Trump tone that I think is necessary, simply because of the mere existence of Fox (or Faux) News.  Yes, it is flawed.  No, they're not truly a 'news' network, because they don't actually cover much real news.  But they do cover much of the truth that needs to get out there.  Watch Chris Cuomo's show on weeknights if you want to see what I mean.  #LetsGetAfterIt
I do find it encouraging to see so many States south of us eschew Trump's pro-coal, pro-fossil fuels agenda and reap the benefits of renewable energy.  The only way countries can achieve true independence is to generate their own power through non-polluting means.  The tech exists.  It must be embraced, and we need governments brave enough to do so.
The world seems to love Justin Trudeau.  In comparison to other 'leaders', yes, he is quite appealing, but that's setting the bar remarkably low these days.  I've not seen a prime minister as vain as he is, and so conscious of his own image over that of his policy decisions.  I'm not sure how much longer Canada can afford to vote red and blue.  If the definition of insanity is to repeat the same action over and over and expect a different result, then North Americans are truly crazy.
Sometimes people ask me what music I listen to these days.  The answer would be, none.  Nothing new at least.  Music is made exclusively these days for young girls.  Nothing for the masses.  You won't see a whole lot of guys at shows by 'heart-throbs' like Bieber or Shawn Mendez or all-singer girl groups, or solo girl singers even.  You can argue the Beatles were a boy band, but they played their own instruments, without backing tracks, they all sung, and guys and girls equally loved them.  By the time the 2000's hit, that kind of act evaporated.  And here we are.
Looking good for my Boston Red Sox these days.  One sticking point I have with the team... they've overtaken the Yankees as the highest spending roster in baseball.  That's not something to be proud of at all.  Hey... for years I railed against New York for having that distinction (I believe they are now 7th on the list), because ultimately I don't think it's fair.  It's also unfair to not criticize yourself if you assume that title.  But, I'm still a loyal Bosox guy.
Speaking of sports and music, something that's always rankled me, especially since the 80's when the Reagan era changed the world for good - and for the worse - there used to be a time when anyone could afford to go see a game or show; bring their families or treat their friends.  Now it seems you almost have to be among the elite to do that.  Musicians and athletes get paid ridiculous sums of money to 'play' sports and 'play' music.  There's a reason they say 'play', because it's largely not 'work'.  Work is what you do at least 40 hours a week to survive, and even then, you likely don't get paid enough to eke out a very good living.  Not most of us.  Police, the military, civil servants, teachers, etc., actually work, and will never earn in a lifetime what some athletes and musicians and movie stars earn in a year.  There's a massive inbalance when such rich people get tax breaks and corporate welfare exists in a time when there are so many homeless and without adequate healthcare.
I didn't read the book, but I did see the movie for "The Shack" recently.  Yes, it's a faith-based film, and that's not a sufficient enough reason for you to snub it.  It helped change the way I see a lot of things and helped renew my faith.  And I needed it...
...because I had another visit from a friend of mine recently who's a sister of the Catholic clergy.  What I learned floored me.  She was oblivious to everything the Trump regime has done wrong in the world, telling me he's a great man who's done great things.  Her news source?  An outfit called EWTN, a Catholic based news channel online.  I've seen some of their ramblings, and it scares me.  To ignore the plight of the world as it's plunged into darkness by the likes of the far-right and focus on tunnel-vision for your own interests is blatantly ignorant and extremely dangerous.  It's not what they say so much as what they don't.  And my friend, the sister, and her fellow sisters, are not allowed to view any news sources besides what they are offered.  This is widespread, and a large part of the reason why there is so much deception in religious ranks today.  Our own Pope Francis is even ignored by these people.  If that doesn't scream that these are dangerous times, what does??
Pot is going to be legal in Canada for recreational use in a few months.  To the naysayers... until you tell me what you've done to further the laws to penalize drunk drivers or help those who've been victimized by them, don't tell me everything that's wrong with it.  I use cannabis oil to help me sleep at night, and it's done a world of good for my mental illness issues.  I know for a fact that alcohol is a depressant that has few redeeming qualities (and spare me the 'red wine is good for you' stuff... too much of anything will harm you, especially alcohol), and I've seen it strip the personalities away from far too many close to me, including my own father, whose life was lost because of it when I was a kid.  And don't give me the bullshit that marijuana is a 'gateway drug'.  It that's true, then what's alcohol?
We saw "Avengers:  Infinity War" recently, and I was struck by how brave the filmmakers were at the choices they made for that movie.  It was by far the bleakest, darkest ending for a Marvel film yet, although to be fair, it's not unlike "Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back" in that clearly, the end is not really 'the end'; there's more to the story to come.  'Infinity War' is a 2-parter, of which the second part is coming next summer.  Still... that ending, though...
Very interesting, too, to see James Cameron's short series on the history of science fiction on AMC recently.  I was especially jazzed to see Cameron sitting across the table from my film hero Chris Nolan talking about the relevance of time in sci-fi.  Interesting to note, they spent a lot of time talking about Nolan's "Interstellar", in which physicist Kip Thorne worked on the film for logistics, and actually came up with discoveries during the making of the movie that earned him a Nobel Prize.  I'm anxiously awaiting Nolan's next project.  I have no idea what he's doing next yet.  Also anxious for Cameron's continuation of "Avatar", which is set to revolutionize the movie-going experience yet again when its next sequel comes out in a year and a half.  Also interested in seeing what Cameron does with his beloved "Terminator" franchise now that he owns the rights to it again (or will very, very shortly).  He's co-writing what is essentially a sequel to 'Terminator 2', ignoring all the other T movies that came after that, getting "Deadpool" director Tim Miller to direct.  Even the original Sarah Connor will be back.
It got off to a slow start for me, but the second season of "The Handmaid's Tale" has really come around.  That show makes me pretty friggin' glad to be a Canadian.  The parallels to that show and what's going on in the U.S. right now is alarming, unsettling, and serves as a warning of what's to come if paths are not changed.  Now if we can just get Elizabeth Moss (the show's main character Offred/June) out of the Scientology cult, it might look less hypocritical.
I'm pretty excited about Paramount finally getting off their asses with the Star Trek franchise now, too, and looking to create a whole lot of new content based on that universe.  I love the new Trek show, "Discovery", and all the chances that it's taking.  It's sure to alienate some old fans while it creates more new ones, but I'm not one of them.  I'm desperately looking forward to Quentin Tarantino's take on Star Trek, of which a movie is in development for him to direct in a couple of years.  He wants to revisit some past stories on Star Trek series and expand on them, and there's such a wealth of stories to do that with.  Great stories, I might add.  I've often considered writing essays on some Star Trek episodes just to flesh out how important I think some episodes are.  I'd love to see Paramount issue a miniseries or cable movie based on the history of the episode/pilot "The Cage", in which the few remaining inhabitants of the planet Talos IV are looking to help their world continue its survival after it nearly annihilated itself with its power of illusion.  Kirk wasn't yet captain of the Enterprise, and the only familiar character to the original series as people know it was Spock.  I would love to know what led Talos IV to become the barren planet it became.
"Stranger Things" season 3 is coming soon, looking forward to it.  It's fun watching these kids grow up in the 80's, as it directly appeals to my generation.  "Better Call Saul" drops its next season in August as well.  I want to see the further descent of Mike Ehrmantraut into the underworld, and what leads him there.  It's quite sad, ultimately.  Plus I want to see if Jimmy's brother is actually dead or not.  And how does Hector ultimately wind up in a wheelchair?
That'll about do it for this installment of RT.  Thanks for reading as always. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sometimes, You Can't Make It On Your Own

Everybody knows about the Parkland shooting in Florida where 17 kids were killed recently. 

And everyone also knows about the efforts nationwide in the U.S. to enforce stricter gun control laws to prevent it from happening again. 

It happens every time there's a mass shooting in the States, which is a lot.  But there's something about this event that seems to be resonating a lot louder.  Kids are tired of feeling unsafe in their schools, and they're even more tired of people in authority not doing anything at all, whatsoever (besides bogus lip service), to forward their cause.  Let's face it, it happens with shocking regularity there. Sadly.  And, also, infuriatingly.

There are people to blame when things like this happen.  Victims and their families largely point fingers at lax gun control laws, and a lack of funding for mental health care for people in distress who culminate their free time on earth by easily purchasing an automatic or semi-automatic weapon at a gun show or Wal Mart with appalling ease to carry out their deranged plans.  The NRA and GOP both blame mental health issues and not a hell of a lot else.

I have a friend in the U.S. that I've known for a long time now who's a big proponent of the 2nd Amendment, which grants the people the right to bear arms.  Once upon a time, I was staunchly against gun ownership, outside of hunting rifles, as guns are built for one purpose, and one purpose only:  To kill human beings.  This is true.  They're not built for collectors, gamesmanship, or shooting bottles off of fence posts.  They're made to end someone's life.  Detractors will say it's for self defense. 

My friend explained to me that they live in a rural area where the police would have to take some time to get to them if there was some kind of incident where their property was being invaded, thus, they should have the right to protect themselves.  This makes sense.  If someone's breaking into your house and the police are ten miles out, it's probably far too late for their assistance.  Protecting yourself in circumstances such as this is quite warranted, provided said gun owner is responsible with their firearms.  My mind was actually changed when we discussed this.  It's hard to argue against ownership of a handgun when you're faced with such a dire prospect, even if the chances of it happening are quite remote.  So with utmost care and caution, I do agree with this person's stance.

I do not agree, however, that anyone outside of law enforcement or the military should be able to possess a weapon that can inflict mass casualties in a matter of seconds.  That's just ridiculous.  When it was revealed that the 18 year old shooter of the Parkland massacre had an abundance of them, it left the vast majority of us shaking our heads.  How could a teenager amass such an arsenal of military grade weaponry and not be noticed? 

But that's neither here nor there in the context of this blog.  The fact of the matter is, this individual (who I won't name for various reasons, fame being the biggest) was a sick man.  Barely a man, at that, by any definition.  He was a monster, a deranged villain of the people with a premeditated plan to carry out an attack that would inflict the most carnage possible.  Only monsters can do such a thing.  A sicko with a perverse agenda.

Upon stating that, I either elicited overwhelming agreement from the reader, with furious feelings that would make one call for the death penalty; or, if you're someone like me, you're asking a hell of a lot more questions.  A hell of a lot.

A child is born equal to everyone in God's eyes.  The moment that child is taken care of will help shape his or her destiny in the years to come.  In the post World War II era, people came back from overseas and got the help they needed to set their lives on a normal track.  Manufacturing, steelworking, textiles, you name it.  There was a need for it, and those needs were met.  Good money was made to help raise families and for everyone to prosper.  It's not a perfect world; obviously some will fall through the cracks, but the picture was a lot rosier then when it came to getting a decent paying job and raising a family.

Then Nixon showed up.  The republican party swapped platforms with the democrats.  Kennedy was assassinated.  Vietnam happened and spurred rebellion, which prompted kids then to stage a relentless peace movement across the country (sound familiar at all?).  Things settled down a little in the 70's, until Reagan turned up in the 80's.  Goodbye to unions and manufacturing and the good paying jobs that came with it; hello to trickle-down economics that turned out to be a farce and left millions upon millions poor and broken and homeless.  The 90's saw more war in the Persian Gulf for what was apparently nothing to do with Americans.  U.S. forces returned home with Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD, blown-off limbs and various diseases and largely no support to help them recover, thanks to governments that would not allow spending to happen to make it so.  Democrats would apply bills to the GOP dominated congress for assistance for veterans, only to not get passed, because after all, in the eyes of republicans, more military spending is far more warranted.  Don't forget the massive billions spent on the ridiculous nuclear arms race in the 80's, again pushed by the GOP.  The debt did indeed recover under eight years of Clinton, but once people got wind of a stain on a blue dress, impeachment enters (and fails) and republicans once again ruled the roost in the new century.  The twin towers are annihilated.  Welcome back, middle east war (with the wrong country, no less) and thousands more are killed, maimed, and sent home in the name of profits for weapons engineers like Halliburton, connected at the hip to the vice president.  Only this time, there's even less help and less political will to endorse help for wounded vets.

As is always the case, the democrats under Obama come in to clean up the massive mess.  And, as always again, congress is dominated in the second term by the GOP and stonewalls any democratic attempts to bring assistance to sick and wounded veterans.  But, the deficit again was largely cleaned up, left by the Bush administration, and hope was beginning to set in again.

Enter Trump.  I don't need to go into anything after those two words.

Today, poverty and strife is rampant across the U.S. and is getting worse.  The rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  The unemployment numbers and economy are great, though, showing a massive turnaround from the previous decade... but that began under the previous administration, which inherited the worst deficit and recession from the Bush-9/11 era. 

In Trump's America, racism, xenophobia and hatred are king.  It's inevitable with such discord that anger would descend upon American civilians in such a volatile environment.  With the air of such hopelessness flooding the land, it's bound to permeate itself into hostility and anger that, with the readiness and availability of something like guns and ammo present, can only culminate and continue with more desperation and aggression, in this case, in the form of violence against one another.  What a sad and hopeless state of affairs.

In this day and age where bullying is frowned upon and its perpetrators punished, and such measures are clearly not working, a harder, more detailed look at the picture is warranted.  Punishing the bullies is one thing.  It's easy to take a bully, tell him or her that their actions are wrong, and marginalize them for what they've done.  That's one way to deal with it.  But it's not really working, is it?  Maybe it's time to take that skipping record and flip it over and see what's on the other side. 

So once again, a child is born equal to everyone in God's eyes.  Then, it's up to us how we mold that child.  It's the luck of the draw in a world where not every family has an equal shot at doing a good job at raising a family.  In the case of the Parkland murderer, the odds were stacked against him very early in his life.  He wound up not being raised by his parents at all, but shuffled off from one foster home to another.  If children need anything in their lives, it's stability.  And without it, depending on the environment surrounding them, lack of that stability can wreak some very tragic consequences.  None more extreme than what happened in Parkland.  Now there are calls for this kid's head to roll. 

Upon further public investigation, we learn that the shooter had a history of mental illness and a very, very difficult upbringing.  I say "upbringing" very loosely.  More like slowly lowered into the fire.  I'm not sticking up for the kid.  Rather, I'm trying to look closer at the dots in the picture, which too many aren't doing.  I'm asking only one question about this entire affair:  What made this man, who is, again, barely a man at 18 years old, become the notorious murderer that he's become? 

Victims and their families are entitled to be furious at the event that took place in Parkland.  Even locally, the people have the right to have their emotions upended in the face of such shocking, ugly tragedy.  If your child was murdered in school by a sick (literally) individual with a gun that should never have been available in the first place, you'd likely wish for the same fate for the gunman.  I probably would!  Thus, the death penalty is being sought by prosecutors for this heinous event.

But we as a civilized society need to find the strength to look deeper into the abyss that is the mind of a killer.  We need to know what made him tick.  What led him to do the terrible things he's done.  Would he have done this had he been born into a family with more stability?  If other kids hadn't made his life the hell that he supposedly lived?  Would he have done it if he wasn't able to so easily acquire a weapon like an AR-15?  I sincerely doubt it.  So do you, deep down, even if you disagree on the surface.

Moreover, he was afflicted with mental illness that he wasn't born into, but developed under the circumstances that his life dropped on him.  He was a mentally ill person for a long time who needed help.  The signs were already there that he could be a problem.  Even the FBI tremendously dropped the ball on stopping this outcome in its tracks.  It has ignorance written all over it; it'll go away if we just don't pay attention to it.

The big reveal here is, to those who don't know me, that I'm a sufferer of mental illness myself.  My upbringing was rough.  I was bullied, had an alcoholic father, was brought up poor, suffered numerous serious injuries both accidental and self-inflicted, did poorly in school because of it all, and may well have turned out quite differently if not for the iron wall of support that was my mother.  I still suffer today and deal with it on a daily basis.  In fact, as I write this now, I'm on leave from work due to my illness.  The differences between the shooter and myself is, there was help readily available, though our mental health processes here in Canada need some serious tweaking; but I got it - and it may have made a massive difference that guns aren't readily available like they are down south, or I may have done myself in very long ago. 

Most people who know me will tell you that I'm a pretty nice guy, that I'd do anything to help, not to toot my own horn.  But that's how my mother raised me, and my siblings set the same example.  I was fortunate to have a support system that the mass killer apparently didn't. 

So to hear the NRA trumpet in the media along with Trump and his cronies that the Parkland killer is a 'monster', 'crazy', a 'maniac', and a 'mentally deranged sicko', make my blood boil.  They are essentially telling all of us dealing with mental illness are crazy sickos, ready to shoot up the town if we can get a gun.  This is the most intolerant that people in authority could possibly sound in the face of such a crisis. 

We with mental illness are definitely ill, and need treatment, and maybe medicine.  Some of us need supervision.  But to say that I am mentally ill, with the connotation that I chose to be that way, is absurd beyond levels I can't describe.  And watching Trump and the NRA spew their hatred toward people like us, and re-marginalize us after much progress has been made, is both heartbreaking and infuriating.  True to most GOP standards, it turns the clock back on any progress that has been made in recent years, and incites more hatred, fear, aggression and ignorance toward us.

I guess the reason I took to writing this is, to anyone that it may reach, that if you do not suffer from mental illness -- you need to seriously consider matters far more deeply than just what you see on the surface before you pass judgment.  Please.  Those of us with mental illness issues did not ask for our condition, and don't want it.

To those of you that do suffer, you need to know that there are others out there that are looking for you, and looking to help you.  You need to talk to people.  Get help from a professional, because as a famous band once said, sometimes you can't make it on your own.  But get help, do whatever it takes to get it.

Because you matter, and you WILL make it.