Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Sun'll Come Out

The weather we’ve been having here in usually sunny South Florida seems to be reflecting my state of mind over the past few days; heavy and oppressive, dark and dreary. They’re Billie Holiday type of days. You know, the kind that are a little drizzly and somber, and make you want to say home with a bottle of wine and just stare off into space.

Interestingly enough, despite the conditions, I feel stronger mentally. Part of it has to do with a few things that have happened to friends and acquaintances recently. But then again, someone elses misfortunes can yank you back into a different reality. It helps that, frankly, I’m over feeling this way; tired of thinking about it. I can’t imagine living with this crap over an extended period of time.

I’ve finally also gotten the opportunity to get with all three therapists -- one in person and two by phone. I liked the last one the best. I felt most comfortable with him; he’s also the one I got to meet in person. So, the appointment is made and now I just wait for next Tuesday. Sadly, I have to pay out of pocket. It seems I haven’t met my deductible yet. However, I do welcome the health insurance company to ask why I need cognitive help. I’ve a lovely response for them which includes letting them know, under no uncertain terms, that their own bureaucratic bullshit has been adding to my stress!

I think the process of actually doing something towards my own well-being is helping tremendously. My partner has been very supportive, as have been many other friends; both geographically and via cyberspace.

A shout out to Brad who turned me on to something called gorse. It’s a homeopathic remedy you mix with plain water. It’s qualities are reputed to balance you out emotionally. Whether it actually has those qualities or if it’s that I’ve chosen to believe that it works doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that even after one day, it seems to be doing the trick. It’s expensive as hell for the amount you get but, if it helps, the expense is worth it to me because the alternative just plain blows dirty donkey balls.

Some other good things are happening as well, which always helps one feel better and gives you more strength to pull out of the doldrums. Right now they might seem small and appear insignificant. I don’t even know if any of them will come to pass but I’m clinging to the positivity.

One of the more practical good things happening includes the freelance group I’ve been working with. They increased my hourly rate, without me even asking! So, I’m doing a happy dance about that.

The best part of all the good, however, is that the creative gears in my mind have once again begun to crank. Slowly, grumbling and squealing, but rolling nonetheless. I’ll take rusty and creaky any day over not turning at all. Rusty gears can always be greased up and oiled to run smoothly.

I’m grateful for everything going on, but this is definitely the one I’m most grateful for since I haven’t written much of anything, except for a few posts, since I submitted “Learning To Samba” to Loose Id this past March. Mind you, I haven’t started a new story yet but there are things percolating.

As I sit here wrapping up this post and reflecting on how far I feel I’ve come within, roughly, a couple of weeks, something ironic and -- dare I say this? -- symbolic is happening. I'm reminded of a song by Utah Saints called "Sun" from their album "Two." The sun just came out, I can't believe it. Everything looks kind of okay."

I think I’ll hang on to today by immersing myself in the energy of the good things that have been happening as well as the progress I’ve made. The other stuff? Well…I guess they’ll sort themselves out as I go.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Cleansing Ocean

Despite the progress I thought I’d been making -- calling Sunserve, then setting up appointments with each of the therapists on my list; watching only action/adventure films like X-Men: First Class; listening to loud electronica or world music -- I woke up today feeling worse than I felt that day when I realized I could have happily remained sleeping forever.

Something had taken hold that was so depraved in darkness it was like I was wallowing in mud or quicksand. I really don’t know where it came from and I refuse to believe it’s because I’m being influenced by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Somehow, through the listlessness of this morning, one thing kept calling to me.

The ocean.

So we packed our towels, some bottled water and, with chairs in tow, we headed for A1A.

Once upon a time, the warm, turquoise waters of South Florida captivated my spirit and made me feel cleansed. They were like a balm for my soul. In fact, after moving here, the beach was a place I frequented often. Not just because it’s some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen or the fact that there are many half-naked and pretty boys to look at. Frankly, I don’t think I realized then just how cleansing the ocean can be, though subconsciously I think it was one of several reasons why I moved away from New York and came to live here in Fort Lauderdale.

While sitting on a chair looking at the surf today, watching it roil and listening to it rush in and out, I was reminded of how much I used to enjoy the ocean; even as a child when we’d go -- on rare occasion -- to Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and later, when I was in high school and went on my own, to Sheepshead Bay.

I sat there quietly, my partner beside me, remembering what it once felt like to be worry- and carefree. I watched kids frolicking in the water while nearby parents kept a watchful eye. I felt exhilarated when a lone pelican hovered inches above the waves, gliding like a stealth plane. Then I watched, with a smile in my heart, as a young, cute couple walked before us, hand-in-hand, and lay down several feet from where we sat. They were so lost in their youth, in their attention for one another that something struck me. Perhaps part of this depression has been that I’ve become so bogged down in the bullshit of my life that I’d forgotten to live?

I mean, who cares if I have another insurance bill that was denied? Who cares if not paying the balance of what the insurance company won’t cover, messes up my credit score? Is any of the bullshit troubling me right now going to matter when my time comes and I’m on my deathbed? I hate to put it that way but I must be realistic; we all leave eventually, we’re on borrowed time.

It all made me wonder if it can truly be something as simple as losing touch with the world and myself; living to the point that I become narrow-minded and unfocused, unless it pertains to work or money? Is it possible that perhaps one of the reasons I’m feeling this way is because I’ve lost my balance and lost my way? It would certainly explain why I feel as though I’ve forgotten who I am, along with the things I enjoy and the things that bring me pleasure.

While all these thoughts rattled around in my brain, I was also reminded that the last time I’d been to the beach was for my 45 birthday when, in September of 2007, I had an emotional release that was swept away by the ocean wind, the salty air and the constant churning of the restless sea.

And to think, when my partner and I first met, we used to hit the beach at least once a month armed with towels, suntan lotion and favorite portable game; Battleship.

We also used to take Emma to the beach, back when she was an only child, still a pup, and dogs were allowed on the beach. My partner and I would laugh like lunatics as she’d bark at the water when it receded, then ran away from it when it drew near her. We’d feed Emma pieces of our Chinese take-out dinners at dusk while she lapped up the fresh water we poured in her bowl and we washed down our meal with wine from a sippy cup; no bottles on the ocean allowed, you see.

They weren’t perhaps the most romantic of moments but, in a way, they were to me. No worries about…well, anything! We just sat and lived the moment while fantasizing about the future together. A future that was as long as it was all surely before us.

Simplicity in all it’s glory. Who could ask for more?

I’m hesitant to say, or believe, the reason for this depression is that easy. I feel there’s more. But I do suspect a portion of it does have to do with forgetting to have fun. And the best reminder of that was when my partner and I were in the water, bobbing around and being knocked about by choppy waves. We giggled and laughed gleefully, for no reason, especially when a group of scuba divers sprang up behind us like sharks that appeared out of nowhere just seconds after I’d pulled down my swim trunks and I peed in the ocean.

Oh, c’mon! Like you’ve never!

We didn’t stay at the beach very long. Perhaps two hours at most. Still, for those two hours, my spirits were lifted to the point where I could plan for yet another couple of days. I have a bit more motivation.

Coming up this week are meetings with two of the three therapists (I’ve already spoken with one of them by phone) as well as a huge freelance workload. But what I’m most pleased about today is that my partner and I were able to force ourselves out of the house in order to enjoy something we forget was here; something we take for granted every day; something that’s free -- except for parking meters and the gas it takes to get there -- and reminds us to live in the moment with simplicity; even if only for a short while.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Life: The Ultimate Pre-Existing Condition

Last Thursday night, before I went to see the therapist who would concur with my suspicion that I was suffering from depression, I made a list of things that were bothering me or that I had issues with. I figured if I armed myself with a list I’d be able to better explain myself when asked why I was there and what I thought was wrong with me.

Today -- after doing an initial phone intake with someone who said they’d get back to me with a list of therapists who accepted my insurance -- I realized there were many more things that have caused me to feel as though a Dementor has been hovering over me sucking out my soul; things I’d forgotten to put down on my list.

It’s not just about fear, anger or lack of determination. There’s more to feeling and being unfocused and demotivated. One of the things I forgot was the bullshit health insurance companies put you through. They won’t pay for this or they won’t pay for that. Or they’ll only pay “X.” Well, for what they pay or won’t, I frankly don’t see why they call health insurance a “Medical Benefit.” It’s of no benefit to me if I have to pay out-of-pocket more than what the insurance company is willing to pay the provider!

So, despite the fact that the following three words have become yet another topic -- like religion and politics -- not to be discussed in mixed company, I’m going to put it out there all the same. National health plan. Yes, I said it. Yes, I want one. And yes, I know it will raise taxes.

Now, I know there are those who oppose it. There are even those who say there's nothing wrong with health insurance the way it is. For just a moment, though -- work with me here -- just imagine a country where you don’t have to keep a shitty job you don’t like, where you’re underpaid or under-appreciated, simply because you need the health insurance for yourself and your family.

Let’s say you’re job is already stressful. Now add to that the fact that you’re unhappy, your spouse might be unemployed, or your kid needs braces or new glasses. You’ve just gone and added on a whole mess of even more stress to your life; which usually ends up in one of several ways. If you don’t wind up causing bodily harm to another, usually a loved one, you wind up doing it to yourself. If neither of those do the trick, just wait…your health could be jeopardized and your health impacted in ways you couldn’t have predicted. All because that stress has a way of manifesting itself in a physical form. Oh, and because of that, you now probably have a pre-existing condition, so your insurance premium will go up. We won't even discuss the differences from one age group to another or the cost for a man as opposed to a woman.

Hmmmm. Let’s see, Mr. Health Insurance Rep. Would that pre-existing condition happen to be called life? Our own mortality?

Imagine, if you will, the freedom to quit your job and work at a coffee shop simply because it pleases you. Or perhaps you like to get your hands dirt and cut someone’s grass, landscape their yard. Some of you might enjoy getting your hands greasy and play with car parts all day long, or woodworking, or metal. Maybe, instead of teaching, you want to go back to school and study music. You might be like me and discover you prefer to work from home instead of dealing with the hassles of corporate politics, commuting, and kissing ass.

I don’t know about you but, as I get older, there’s only one ass I want to be kissing and it belongs to the man in my life.

Better yet, what if you just want to work part-time because you want to use the rest of your week to work on your Opus? What a huge relief it would be not to have to worry about going to see the doctor or wondering where you’re going to get money for co-pays and office visits! How wonderful if, for once, you could walk away from surgery without later discovering you still owe several thousands of dollars to this doctor, that nurse, the anesthesiologist, and even the janitor for cleaning up your puke!

Frankly, it's close to impossible for me to meet this premium, for which I'm still paying the annual deductible. And that's just an individual plan! I shudder to think what it would be if I were straight, married, and with children.

So, at the risk of being called naive, I’m creatively visualizing a country where everyone, not just me, has full access to health care, regardless of who you are or what you need; mental, vision, dental, hearing, physical.

I’m imagining a plan where what you pay covers everything and that there are no out-of-pocket expenses or that it simply be a write-off, simply because when all is said and done, mental well-being will promote physical well-being. Which, in turn, makes us happier and live longer.

In my mind, what I’m seeing right now looks perfectly lovely.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Mean Reds

In “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Holly Golightly has a conversation with Paul Varjak, a struggling writer and sometime escort (implied in the book, not the movie). She asks him if he’s ever had “the mean reds.” Confused, Paul asks Holly if it’s anything like the blues. To which she replies, “No. The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?”

Paul says yes, and that’s when Holly confesses that when she gets that way, the only thing that helps her through is to hop in a cab and head to Tiffany’s. There, she calms down right away because of the quiet, proud look of the place.

I’ve never had a place to go to when I got the Mean Reds, felt melancholy, or experienced the blues. But there were things I’d do that would perk me right up.

When I lived in New York, for instance, I’d hop the subway into Manhattan and walk aimlessly through the Village. I’d sit and watch people rush by, wondering who they were, what they did and where they were going. I’d wonder what they were hiding, if they ever got depressed and how they got themselves out of it. I’d imagine elaborate stories for them and usually, by the time I was done, I was so involved in the lives I’d made up for them that I was no longer sad about my own.

Sometimes, I’d take in a movie. Woody Allen’s “Hannah & Her Sisters” once pulled me out of a huge depression when I was in my twenties. Later in life, once I bought a VCR, two personal favorites never failed me; “Victor/Victoria” and “Auntie Mame.” I’m not quite sure if it was the music, the happy endings despite their adversities, or just the pure entertainment that yanked me out of the doldrums. All I know is that they worked.

There were times when only music would help. Many a rainy, gloomy night I put on my Billie Holiday records and listen to her sad voice -- back when I had a turntable and the scratches, crackles, and pops helped add to the mood -- had a glass of wine, and allowed myself the luxury of a good crying jag.

At odd times, I’d remember something my mom said to me once, when I was a child. She said that if I stopped and acknowledged all the things in my life that were good, I’d be too busy to think about the bad.

There’s always been something that helped me through -- depending on the depth of the emotion -- whether it was sadness, melancholy, the blues or even the mean reds.

As a child, I was always prone to all things sad. Music, in particular the Spanish “boleros” made me want to pour a bourbon, pull out the box of razor blades, and crawl into an overflowing tub of extremely hot water and just close my eyes. If you’ve an ounce of Latin blood in you, or have ever dated a Latino, you know what I’m talking about.

Even when I put aside the verbal and physical abuse from my childhood, the poverty and embarrassment of living off welfare, there were stretches of time where I would just mope and sigh.

Now, I know sadness is a part of life. Everyone experiences it. Without sorrow, how would we recognize extreme joy?

The problem is that those moments of sadness have become longer and deeper. All those sure-fire things that once helped, stopped working. I’ve lost the ability to “snap out of it” and have come to a grinding halt.

I lack motivation and focus.

Things that used to please me no longer appeal. I’ve tried writing a new story for the past three months and other than line edits for “Learning To Samba,” everything I’ve started was soon put down. None of it interested me.

I’ve pulled away from practically everyone I know. I’ve ignored e-mail, Facebook and all other forms of communication. In fact the only thing I’ve immersed myself in is my freelance work and the p/t gig I picked up at the Box Office; which, incidentally, I detest.

The sex drive has toppled and plummeted so far it makes the stock market look like a day at the beach. Jerking off no longer brings me pleasure and what’s worse, aside from the fact that I haven’t been fulfilling my husbandly duties, is that even ogling cute and adorable boys no longer thrills me.

In short, I just don’t care.

Then, about a week ago, I woke up with the realization that it had been three days since I’d showered, shaved, or brushed my teeth where I was once meticulous about hygiene, sometimes showering two and three times a day.

That morning, my soul was so heavy I lacked the strength and courage to get up and out of bed. I could’ve closed my eyes and been perfectly content to never wake up again.

I hit rock bottom.

Strangely, all I kept thinking of was how selfish and unfair it would be for my partner to have to deal with telling my family, getting rid of my things, and planning a memorial service.

After many hours, I managed to crawl out of bed, brush my teeth, and head to the computer where I e-mailed someone who had once been a therapist and life coach.

A short while later, my partner came home from work.

In speaking with the therapist today, I realize there isn’t any one particular thing that pushed me into surfing the butthole of depression. It’s been a whole laundry list of items: being laid off; the inability to find work (at first); trying to catch up on all I still owe and save at the same time, after two years of being unemployed; wanting to move from this Godforsaken place; the death of my beautiful Emma; my inability to write and my guilt over staying home writing -- when I was able to do so -- while my partner burns away at a job he no longer likes but needs to keep because he has no other choice…

I could go on, but I won’t.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m turning 49 in three months and I’ve a sneaky suspicion some of this might actually be hormonal; which my Mom has been saying all along. She’s even joked about me running away with some 20-year-old for a weekend and maxing out my credit card to rent a convertible.

I’m sure my partner would let me do it, if that’s what it took. However, since I don’t believe that would work, nor do I have the money to afford boy or car -- plus I’d feel guilty my partner couldn’t come with me -- I have some work cut out for me. But I’ll do what I can to get it going because I’m tired of surviving. I yearn to thrive!

Sadly, the therapist isn’t in a position to help long-term. However, he said he’d guide me if needed, and I got out of today’s session what I was expecting; he pointed me in the right direction.

I’ve already taken the first step. Admitting I needed help, which wasn’t easy to do, and speaking to a therapist was crucial. Now I need to talk to my doctor about anti-depressants, testosterone therapy, and make a list of everything that’s helped make the chains still binding me.

I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted this much personal stuff out there. But in the end I decided it was important to, hopefully, help someone else through it. Perhaps you’re experiencing what I’m going through. Or perhaps you know someone who is. Depression is real and it’s an arduous thing to get out of.

With any luck, sharing this journey will help me climb out of this disgusting vat of muck. Acknowledging the problem has helped remarkably.

Strangely, even writing about what’s been happening with me --to me? -- feels as if it’s helped. I’m hoping that if any of you reading are experiencing the same thing or know someone who is, maybe it will help you, too. After all, since life doesn’t come with a User Guide, perhaps it’s about each of us doing our part to educate one another on the process of “getting older” and knowing what to expect.