A couple of years ago, I suffered my first panic attack.

Had no idea what it was at the time. I thought I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t breathe properly and there was pain in my chest. I walked into the ER with very high blood pressure and my heart rate was through the roof.

After spending some hours there, the doctor finally saw me, did all the tests, and concluded I suffered from anxiety, so she gave me some pills to calm me so I could go home and sleep.

I ended up taking a month off of work and became agoraphobic. Every time I wanted to leave the apartment, my stomach would tense up and get hot, and I had to sit myself right back down. I became a prisoner of my place.

I knew I was in a dark place, so I made a conscious decision not to even go out on my balcony as I didn’t trust myself not to jump from it.

My doctor got me on some anti-anxiety meds and between those and my new yogic meditation practices I was able to come out of it, and for a few years I was anxiety-free and panic-free. I eventually even got off the drugs and all was well.

Until a few months ago and again I suffered chest pains so bad, the tele-health nurse decided to send an ambulance to my home. And so again, I went to the ER for no good reason and again they diagnosed a panic attack.

From there, I struggled daily to keep anxiety at bay, though I knew it was there in the background, getting ready to pounce.

On July 23, I got a haircut. The guy cutting my hair told me he’d seen a bunch of kittens for sale at a nearby pet store.

I was only mildly interested, as I’d been to many pet stores and saw a number of cats and kittens, but none really caught my eye. I even went to the local Humane Society and checked all the kitties there. The only ones that seemed interested at all were already being held for adopters.

So there really wasn’t a lot of hope that the ones my hairstylist saw would interest me, or be interested in me.

That sunny day, I left the hair salon and wandered over to the store. As soon as I walked in, I saw their cage to the left of the door, and I swear to God my voice went up about a half-octave as I started talking with the three kittens that were left. “How are YOU, little ones?”

They were all grey haired on the top, with white bellies and paws. One of them was on his back and when I spoke he looked right at me. And kept looking as I continued talking to him.

The clerk was smiling the whole time, and when I asked about adopting him, he told me I’d have to complete an application first. I took it home, completed it and brought it back the next day, thinking I’d drop off the application, which they would look at and, if approved, I could take him home that day.

I was wrong. The application had to go back to the animal services organization in the next town over and they would let the pet shop know if I was approved to adopt him. He told me there were several others interested in adopting them, so in my mind, the chances I’d get the one I’d picked out were slim. That was on a Sunday.

I still hadn’t heard from the pet shop by Wednesday, so I called the organization who sent out the kittens to the shop and asked how soon they would have an answer. The guy who answered wasn’t the person who’d make the decision so he said I’d hear back from the other guy that afternoon.

Mid-afternoon my phone rang. I looked at the display. It wasn’t the animal services place; it was the pet shop. They told me my application was approved and I could come pick him up.

Heart pounding, I informed my boss I had to leave work early, and that I would make up the two hours later.

After going out and buying a bunch of pet supplies and getting them ready at home, I made my way over to the pet shop and picked him up.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mishka.

Mishka, Russian name meaning “little bear” or “gift from God”; in Hindi it means “gift of love”; in Arabic it means “niche for light,”

He’s been with me now for a few weeks. He has brightened my life considerably, and of course the lurking anxiety has gone away. I truly feel there’s something – someone – to live for. Truly live for, and not merely exist anymore. The little guy follows me everywhere and anticipates bed time. He hops up on the bed and waits for me to settle before he begins his routine.

It has become a ritual now. He plays on the bed for a little bit, gives himself a bath, and then snuggles up next to me, purring. I’ll pet him until he falls asleep and then it’s my turn to sleep.

Mornings are the same too. I’ll wake up and as soon as I stir, he wakes up. So he begins purring as I pet him for a while.

He loves to play fight with me, and chases stuff around the apartment. He gets the zoomies too. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means he gets bursts of energy that have him zooming around the apartment chasing ghosts. He’s done it in the tub too, back and forth.

I don’t think I’ve smiled or laughed so much in a long time.

The naming was interesting. You’ll see the definitions of “Mishka” up there beneath his photograph. It took me a while. I kept trying out different names, knowing they weren’t right, until I landed on “Mishka”. The name just felt right when I said it, and I only discovered its meaning afterward.

“Gift from God” sounds about right, as that’s exactly how I see him now. And I am so grateful he exists and that we’re together now. I could not be more happy.

My favourite author of all time is about to turn 90 years old. Tom Robbins is the author of a number of books, notably _Jitterbug Perfume_.

That book violently and wonderfully changed my worldview when I read it for the second time years ago. The first read-through was just to get an idea of the story. I couldn’t help noticing so many details deserving of attention, so I decided to immediately read it a second time.

It’s a book made magical by Robbins’ compelling writing. I later learned that Robbins was so meticulous about his work he would sometimes fuss over a single line for an entire day before he was satisfied.

I got into a routine with that one book of his (though I’ve read them all). The first copy of Jitterbug was loaned to me. I don’t know if I ever gave it back to the friend who lent it to me, but I know that I bought another one. Then I’d tell someone about it, they’d get intrigued and I’d end up loaning it them. But here’s the thing: none of the copies I ever lent back made their way back to me. And that was okay. I figured it was probably making its way to yet another Robbins newbie. All told, I’ve probably purchased twenty or more copies of the thing.

A few months ago, a reporter named Fred Obee found a transcript of the commencement speech Robbins gave to a high school back in 1974. I’ll link it below and post the speech excerpt here. It’ll give you a clearer view of his writing style. (Plus I’m running out of superlatives to describe it; better that you read for itself.)

Note the word “excerpt” as Tom Robbins has more to say in the link, as a result of the reporter reaching out to him after finding the transcript.

-—-—-

I am often asked whether there is life after death. Certainly, there is. There is also death after life, and life before death, and death after life. It goes on forever. There’s no stopping it. You will live forever and die forever. In fact, you already have.”

“As for heaven and hell, they are right here on Earth, and it is up to each of you in which one you choose to reside. To put it simply, heaven is living in your hopes and hell is living in your fears.

“One problem with the notion of Heaven and Hell,” Robbins continued, “is that although they are exact opposites, an astonishing number of people seem to be confused about which is which. For example, all over the United States on this very evening, commencement speakers are standing before audiences not greatly unlike yourselves describing hell as if they were talking about heaven.

“Their speakers are saying things such as, ‘Graduating seniors, you have reached the golden age of maturity; it is time now to go out into the world and take up the challenge of life, time to face your hallowed responsibility.’ “And if that isn’t one hell of a note, it’s certainly one note of hell.

“When I hear the word maturity spoken with such solemn awe, I don’t know whether to laugh or get sick. There circulates a common myth that once one becomes an adult, one suddenly and magically gets it all together. And, if I may use the vernacular, discovers where it’s at. Ha ha. The sad funny truth is adults are nothing but tall children who have forgotten how to play.

“When people tell you to grow up, they mean approximately the same thing they mean when they tell you to shut up. By shut up they mean stop talking. By grow up, they mean stop growing.

“Because as long as you keep growing, you keep changing, and the person who is changing is unpredictable, impossible to pigeonhole and difficult to control. The growing person is not an easy target for those guys in slick suits who want you to turn over your soul to Christ, your heart to America, your butt to Seattle First National Bank and your armpits to the new extra crispy Right Guard.

“No, the growing person is not an ideal consumer, which means, in more realistic terms, he or she is not an easy slave. Worse yet, if he or she continues to grow, grows far enough and long enough, he or she may get too close to the universal mysteries, the nature of which the Navy and the Dutch Reformed Church do not encourage us to ponder. The growing person is an uncomfortable reminder of the greater human potential that each of us might realize if we had the guts.

“So, society wants you to grow up to reach a safe, predictable plateau and root there. To muzzle your throb. To lower the volume on the singing in your blood. Capers all cut, sky finally larked, surprises known: SETTLE DOWN —  settle like the sand in the bottom of an hourglass, like a coffin six months in the ground. Act your age, which means act their age, and that has, from the moment they stopped growing, always been old.”

“As for responsibility, I am forced to ask, responsibility to what? To our fellow man? Two weeks ago, the newspapers reported that a federal court had ruled that when a person’s brain stops functioning, that person is legally dead, even though his or her heart may continue to beat. That means that 80% of the population of the Earth is legally dead. Must we be responsible to corpses?

“No, you have no responsibility except to be yourself to the fullest limit of yourself. And to find out who you are. Or perhaps I should say to remember who you are. Because deep down in the secret velvet of your heart, far beyond your name and address, each of you knows who you really are. And that being who is true cannot help but behave graciously to all other beings – because it is all other beings.

“Ah, but we must be responsible, and if we are, then we are rewarded with the white man’s legal equivalent of looting: a steady job, a secure income, easy credit, free access to all the local emporiums and a home of your own to pile the merchandise in. And so what if there is no magic in your life, no wonder, no amazement, no playfulness, no peace of mind, no sense of unity with the universe, no giggling joy, no burning passion, no deep understanding, no overwhelming love? At least your ego has the satisfaction of knowing you are a responsible citizen.

“The only advice I have for you tonight is not to actively resist or fight the system, because active protest and resistance merely entangles you in the system. Instead, ignore it, walk away from it. Turn your backs on it, laugh at it. Don’t be outraged, be outrageous! Never be stupid enough to respect authority unless that authority proves itself respectable.

“So be your own authority, lead yourselves. Learn the ways and means of the ancient yogi masters, pied pipers, cloud walkers and medicine men. Get in harmony with nature. Listen to the loony rhythms of your blood. Look for beauty and poetry in everything in life. Let there be no moon that does not know you, no spring that does not lick you with its tongues. Refuse to play it safe, for it is from the wavering edge of risk that the sweetest honey of freedom drips and drips. Live dangerously, live lovingly. Believe in magic. Nourish your imagination. Use your head, even if it means going out of your mind. Learn, like the lemon and the tomato learned, the laws of the sun. Become aware, like the jungle became aware, of your own perfume. Remember that life is much too serious to take seriously – so never forget how to play. Looking at you tonight, I know you are going to do just fine.”

Excerpt is from https://rainshadownorthwest.com/2022/05/09/the-lost-commencement-address-by-tom-robbins/. I encourage you to read it when you get a chance.

Howdy everyone.

There have been a few updates in my situation. Feels like I could write a book, perhaps.

Prostate got a little too large for about a year or so and I was having problems peeing. Got that taken care of about a month ago through a procedure called Rezūm. It’s one of the “least invasive” procedures out there, as it’s an outpatient thing done at the doctor’s office. They give you an epidural and then they put this instrument into your urethra and then they shoot steam at the offending bits of prostate tissue. This kills the cells. But then you have to wait for a month for the swelling to go down and for the now-dead tissue to disappear.

The procedure itself was a breeze. Of course my old nemesis – panic attacks – made their appearance a few weeks before the procedure. I mentioned this to the anesthetist prior to the procedure, so she provided an intravenous sedative which totally made my day.

“Least invasive” is in quotes because the phrase sounds like the whole thing is a breeze. It’s not. You have to have a catheter inserted right afterwards. They say it’s usually in for only a week. I had mine in for three. They took it out after the first week but I simply could not pee without it so they put a new one in. Plus I’ve been to emergency a couple of times because of catheter-related issues. All told, I’ve had four catheters inserted. To make a long story short: the procedure is cool, but the recovery is just awful.

Except: now it’s about six weeks since I had it done and only now am I actually seeing good results, pee-wise. Another six weeks and I should be pissing like a race horse. (Surprising how often I’ve heard that phrase since getting my diagnosis; from medical people as well as other people I’ve known who’ve had the same condition.) I’m told most men will go through this: funny how we never talk about it amongst each other until we do.

In other news: I’ve pretty much given up on news.

I used to be a news and politics junkie. Used to love mixing it up with my conservative friends in various politics conferences and groups.

Now I find I just can’t. I’ve stopped participating in those political groups and now, even when I see a provocative headline or (worse) when I see a comment just begging for correction.

The impulse is still there though. Quite often I’ll pen the most brilliant retort to a comment, look it over with admiration, then delete it.

A mystic I follow puts it like this: we are made up of our memories. Some are conscious, most are unconscious. People do things for reasons relating to memory. The lucky among us know exactly which memories affect us and how and are therefore in more control of outcomes. But most of us are not at all lucky, and so for us there’s therapy, to help us understand why we think/act the way we do.

Therefore there are countless reasons for behaviours. The fact that I know zero about your life, your history and the things you struggle with means I have zero to say. Logic dictates that I need to shut my mouth before making any kind of judgements.

So, while I may disagree with the logic that someone has presented, I don’t actually know for sure why they said it so it’s better to converse with them so I can understand. Absent that, I need to STFU.

Hence the title of this post and the reason I don’t say much about current affairs now with anyone.

Like most of you reading this, I’m aware of the Great Divide in the western world. It consists of so many factions and tribes: the vaxxers, the anti-vaxxers, the conservatives, the liberals, etcetera. I’ll never bring resolution to any of the divisive conflicts, as I have no control over any of it.

I am able to do my own small part though. So that old delete key of mine will keep suffering a workout until reaching the point where the temptation to say anything at all just goes away.

Anyway, I’d rather not talk about any of the stuff none of us can individually resolve. There are lighter, more positive things to discuss.

Like my new MacBook Pro. And the fact that now that I have a computer I can carry around with me (other than the phone of course) means I’ll be able to write more. That’s the intent anyway.

Hey listen: if you feel like commenting and if you feel the need to somehow make what you say relate to this blog – don’t. I mean you can if you like but honestly – I’d rather hear about what’s happening with you these days. What’s new in your life? How are you doing?

You try to do the right thing all the time.

You don’t steal pens from the office. You always greet everyone by name, and you try to do so with a warm smile or friendly handshake (back when handshakes were still in vogue).

You obey the traffic laws (within reason; I mean do we *really* need to watch for slow children?)

And then comes COVID. And still you do the right thing. You always wear a mask whenever you’re around others. You avoid getting too close to anyone. (So no more handshakes. And giving complete strangers a soul kiss might be right out of the question now.)

(Surprise frenchies were never that popular anyway.)

One day you decide you need a new frying pan. You’ve done your research so you know the one you pick will likely last a lot longer than normal non-stick frying pans. You’ve researched the user reviews on Amazon so you feel confident about your choice.

Wait. Amazon.

No, that won’t do at all. Amazon doesn’t need your business. Not really. The local store does though. So again you do the right thing and try and find that model from a local business.

Eventually you find one. It’s not really a local store; it’s a store under a familiar banner, and there are maybe 100 of them in the country. But it’s still smaller than Amazon, so it’ll do.

That’s when your descent into Purgatory starts.

They give you the tracking number and you carefully follow it until the day it says “DELIVERED!” But the address displayed is not your address. It’s not even your city.

You run to your door anyway but it’s not there. It’s not in your apartment lobby either.

The sucker was over $200 so you start the recovery claim process. First you call FedEx to see what happened. They can’t figure it out either. They give you a process number and tell you they’ll get back to you in a few days.

You wait a week but there’s no response. So you call the store from which you purchased the pan. The rep gets online and confirms it was delivered to the wrong address. He processes a replacement to be sent to you.

You sigh with relief and figure that’s that.

That is most certainly NOT that.

FedEx gets back to you the next day to tell you they found your parcel and it’s on its final leg of the journey to you.

After it arrives you quickly call the store back to tell them to stop the replacement process.

“What replacement process? Oh I see what happened. It turns out we didn’t have it in stock like we thought so we issued you a refund. But now that we know you’ve got it, we’ll process a re-charge on your credit card. So don’t worry if you see a refund and a re-charge. It’ll take a few days.”

No big deal, you think.

Yeah, it’s a big deal.

You get the refund. You see it in “pending” on your credit card, and then a few days later you see it clear back into your account.

Then you wait. And you wait. And your morality meter is flashing into the red zone.

A week goes buy and you still have this new frying pan (which works great by the way!) for which you have paid nothing.

Your brain raises its finger. “THIEF!” it bellows.

You could call the store but, knowing how things have gone so far you imagine they might process a new charge against your credit card, and then a few days later another charge for the same amount would be processed (the original charge that took its time coming forward), meaning you’d have paid twice for that stupid, ignorant, unnecessary excuse for a frying pan that you now wish you’d never coveted.

Better to wait, you think.

WTF knows. These flaming pants are getting a little uncomfortable.

Music and Laughter

Posted: December 31, 2020 in humor, humour, Life, living, music
Tags: , , ,

Do you recall the last time you felt your heart pounding in excitement and joy? When was the last time you were caught by surprise? When was the last time you forgot about those irritating everyday topics like COVID and politics that only serve to drag you down?

For me that sense of invigoration happens fairly often now, usually related to my yogic meditation. But I remember the first time I had the feeling.

I’m not religious anymore but I can tell you the first time it happened was in a church. Specifically at a point in the singing when we reached the end of one of the many songs unique to that congregation, when everyone just landed on a note of their choosing. When you think about it, the result should only be chaos and discord. Yet at the very *very* end of it, we were in harmony.

It was beautiful. I can tell you: when it happened I wasn’t thinking about politics or illness or my school exams or my dating life or life prospects or anything else. I was completely “in the moment”: there was no tomorrow or yesterday in my mind. There was only now.

It was pure joy. I didn’t want it to end. When it did, I couldn’t wait for it to happen again. Which it did: again and again, after every song, we each landed on our own notes. The sound swelled as more voices joined in, and the discordant notes re-arranged themselves cheerfully until we were indeed in harmony. Every time.

The sound filled that cathedral and I found myself smiling through tears. For a 14-year old teenager who was otherwise experiencing a trauma-filled existence at home, this was an oasis of peace and joy.

The church eventually disbanded, and I found myself looking for similar experiences throughout my life. But it was a momentary thing, relatively speaking, never to be repeated. At least not in that context.

The fact so many of us from different cultures, places, sexes and ages could all agree to harmonize like this – albeit unconsciously – speaks to me of the true nature of humankind.

Whether you agree with those restrictions or not the bottom line is that people aren’t connecting right now. Other than food, shelter and safety it seems to be the one thing we all crave: connection. It’s the reason Facebook and other social media platforms exist.

Where you stand politically seems to take a back seat under some conditions. When it comes to single one-on-one situations, love and friendship will usually (but not always) supersede differences.

On a broader scale, I’ve noticed two things at least that serve to bring us together where we can forget our differences. Laughter does it: when you go to a stand-up or improv comedy show you tend to forget about all those other issues. And you can laugh together with your fiercest political opponent (unless the comedian’s specialty is political humour – I tend to avoid those). It’s pretty cool when you think about it.

Growing up in a household of horror was really only relieved when we were able to use humour. So we used it all the time. It limited our anxiety and fear, even if only for a bit.

Music has a similar effect: the vibration, sounds and beat really unites a crowd. When I attended the SARS concert here in Toronto with 500K other people – where a bunch of big named bands all performed from noon till after midnight on a big field – we all were pretty united. Especially when AC/DC came on stage and the opening guitar notes started playing “Thunderstruck”: every single heart on that gigantic field was immediately united in agreement. When the bass dropped and the drums thumped we ALL screamed “THUNDER.” Those of us who knew the words yelled ourselves hoarse (you can’t really call it singing as we couldn’t hear ourselves – we could only hear the drumbeat and guitars and the crowd).

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel .

Maya Angelou

I couldn’t tell you what my friends and I talked about when we were at that concert, nor can I remember what any of us wore that day. I can tell you that I felt amazing and great afterward, and that everyone was grinning and laughing and telling jokes and reliving the concert all the way home on the commuter train. The SARS event will live in my memory until the day I die. Just like the church harmonies mentioned at the top of this blog.

My heart and drive right now for this world is that we stop bitching and biting at each other. I know of only a handful of ways to get there. So…music and laughter it is.

anxious

CRASH!

The little guy woke with a start. He sat up in bed and looked around, blearily. The clock said 1:30. He had just learned how to tell time so he knew it was too early for breakfast.

He heard another crash, this time with some screams.

Alarmed, he yanked back the blankets and slapped his six year-old feet on the floor and ran to the living room.

Before he got there, he heard his father bellow something in rage. So he stopped just in time and stood just outside the doorway.

He heard everything. The unfocused anger, the faint sound of a fist hitting flesh, his mom’s whimpers and his grandmother’s loud protests. He didn’t know what to do. This was all wrong and he wanted it to stop but he didn’t know how. So he stood there, trembling.

……………

Eventually, this scenario repeated every weekend. Then, almost every night. For so many nights, the little guy listened to his dad bellowing in drunken rage, and his mother trying to stand her ground.

He didn’t hit her every time. But he came close quite often. And every now and then he lashed out. Once he hit her mother too, for trying to stop him.

……………

The little guy was the oldest of two children. After that first drunken blowup, four more children were born, bringing the total to six.

The little guy listened attentively to his mother as she coached him into behaving as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible, so as to not “set your father off.” He interpreted that as her giving him the mantle of keeping everyone safe.

He took that responsibility seriously. And he remained serious from then on, ensuring his sisters and brother behaved properly, so as to not “set dad off.”

Secretly, he wished he could balloon up to 400 pounds so he could eclipse his 350 pound dad and pound the shit out of him until he stopped being so mean to everyone.

But, even in his teen years, he had a very slight build and could not gain weight no matter how hard he tried. And all during that time, he held the responsibility of keeping his family safe. He actually called the police on his father twice, but they turned out to be useless. (In later years, he grew to understand that at the time, police had very little training in the handling of “domestic disputes” as they called it.)

……………

His father eventually got into AA and the abuse stopped. By this time, the little guy was an adult with a marriage and children of his own. His mother had eight abuse-free years after his father’s death before she too passed on.

The man, now grown, found he knew how to mediate very well. He prided himself on being able to see all sides of a dispute, and help the parties come to a mutual understanding. After understanding, he knew an agreement was imminent. Most disputes, he knew, came from one guy not being able to empathize with the other, and vice versa. He saw his role as painting pictures for them both, to allow them to see the issue from all sides.

The problem of course was that the man was mediating disputes all over the place, even in some cases where there was no dispute at all. He was good at it, and he hated conflict, so he worked hard to keep everyone safe.

……………

During one of the final nights of the Panic Disorder therapy group, the man noticed he was carrying some anxiety. He knew it only because he could feel his chest tighten up, and his breathing quicken. As soon as he noticed it, he felt it go down.

This particular group session was all about how to spot triggers for anxiety. The therapist mentioned that triggers can happen long before any anxiety or panic attacks happen.

Meanwhile, he kept noticing his anxiety going up – and then going down as soon as he noticed it. It was puzzling, and he couldn’t think of anything that would warrant the anxiety.

Except….later that night the shoe finally dropped.

During the Panic Group session, there was some unsettling behaviour going on. There were moments where someone was expressing his or her issues and it seemed like there was something unpredictable about it all.

What happened was the man’s now-ingrained response to “make sure everyone’s safe” was kicking in, and the anxiety was ramping up appropriately. Everyone was not safe because not everyone was happy and calm.

……………

This revelation was just as much a surprise as it was obvious – only in retrospect. Of *course* the little guy’s completely understandable anxiety and wish to keep everyone safe would become a habitual response to any uncomfortable or unpredictable situations.

The difference now is: he’s a grown adult, his dad is dead and gone, and no one’s really in danger.

And maybe I don’t have to keep anyone safe anymore except myself.

Have you ever watched the TV series “Homeland”?

I’m binge-watching Season 7 right now. It’s speaking to me in a way I never expected.

I’m not bi-polar like Carrie, the show’s protagonist. Yet her character speaks to me, particularly now, more than ever.

Claire Danes – the gifted and talented actor who portrays Carrie – is doing an outstanding job showing us what it’s like being manic at times. If she isn’t like that in real life, then she’s done her homework, and perhaps has someone well acquainted with the mental illness coaching her.

The thing is, I’ve felt many of the emotions and thoughts she so painfully paints. Particularly the hopelessness and trapped feeling that shakes Carrie to her core.

Up until now, I’ve been an observer. I know people who are bi-polar, and they have described what it’s like not knowing from one day to the next what’s in store. But I haven’t been able to relate to the frustration they feel until now.

You can probably appreciate what it’s like when you’ve made a decision to be more active, to go the gym regularly and to work hard at improving your overall fitness.

Or maybe you’ve been in great shape all of your life, and you regularly participate in sports, just enjoying the good feeling you get from being able to be mobile and flexible; to be able to run up a set of stairs without getting out of breath at the top.

Yet, there comes a day when you make a misstep on those stairs. Or you get hit by a car. Or twist your ankle, or your shoulder starts to act up and you find one or more of your limbs just won’t do what it’s told. And now you can’t do any of those physical activities. Your injury is a speed bump keeping you from doing what you want to do.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Imagine depending upon your intelligence and logic day after day. You take it for granted, and you’ve appreciated how you’ve been able to plan, to work out logistics and problems and you enjoy the good feeling of having surmounted a seemingly impossible task.

Suddenly one day you find you can’t do any of those things. Instead, your thoughts horrify you. Your stomach clenches up without apparent reason, and you find you can’t even leave your house. You sit in front of your computer, prepared to log into your workplace, only to find your whole body rebelling with fear.

So you push yourself away from the keyboard, frustrated that this is the sixteenth day you’ve been unable to log in.

You don’t know where to turn or what to do. You look outside at your balcony, and you wonder how likely it would be that you would die if you jump. Or would you merely be maimed?

Then you realize what you’re thinking, and you resolve yourselves not to even look, knowing that just doing that might endanger you. You’re aware that it’s possible that curiosity might turn into impulse.

You need to work, you need the money. But you can’t work.

You’re in a trap with no way out. And all of your decisions center around resolving this deadly dichotomy. So you make a series of bad choices, all based upon your catastrophic thinking.

As mentioned in my last blog, my meds are working. Yet, these feelings came back, just for a fleeting second this week.

Somehow, watching Carrie go through her nightmares on Homeland feels cathartic somehow. I’m having trouble articulating just why that is. Maybe it’s that this fictional character is a kindred spirit of sorts.

My meds are working but I’m not out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

It’s a funny thing. When you hear the words “mental illness” the first image that pops into your head is someone’s head. Yours, or the stranger on the street, gabbing away incessantly to no one.

Yet, when you experience it yourself, the symptoms often don’t occur in your head. (Or in my case, at all)

It hits you like a cold. You don’t go looking to catch a cold, and you sure AF don’t go looking to become mentally ill either, despite all of the innocent phrases that start with “I must be going out of my mind!”

Mine came right out of the blue. My boss had asked me to take over for him for a week – something I’ve done countless times. The work is easy, even though it’s more high profile and you get the big bosses asking you things. It was what I’ve always done, but at a lower level: boss asks you for something, you go looking to your subordinates to provide answers. The people working for you are the real experts, so you learn to depend upon them, and you promote the hell out of them whenever you can, because you know how valuable they are to pretty much everything.

It’s no different when you’re a higher level boss. Like I said, I’ve done it many times before. There just was no reason for this time to be any different. Yet it was.

I made a comment in a Facebook discussion group about how I was having trouble sleeping because I found it hard to breathe.

One guy, a retired doctor, responded “dude, I’m not going to try and diagnose you here or anything but if I were you, I’d check with my doctor.”

I appreciated his concern but didn’t take it seriously until the following afternoon, when I found I was having trouble breathing during my waking moments. The more I thought about it, the worse it seemed, so I hastened down to the emergency department of the hospital. After a day of testing and prodding and poking and ultrasound, the emergency doctor said “Are you feeling anxious about anything?”

I had to wrack my brain. It took me a while to figure out it was the upcoming acting manager gig that triggered the anxiety. Which frankly, I thought was stupid. There really wasn’t anything to worry about. But there we were, and that’s when it all started, last summer.

The last time I wrote about anxiety (Looking for Sunrise), I hadn’t yet started any meds. I went about six weeks suffering multiple panic attacks, as the meds took their time kicking in. The days were so dark, I was afraid of everything. I was housebound, and even within my apartment I refused to open my balcony door. I knew if I did, there was a good chance I would look over the railing, and thought would become action.

There was darkness everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t know how to handle it. I prayed for death and at times thought about how to do it.

The first med I tried – Zoloft – only made things much worse. The second one was better but it took about six weeks – all of which was spent away from work – before it finally began working.

My team noticed immediately. “Wolf, you’re sounding like you’re back to your regular self. Do you feel better?”  I said “Yeah, I really do.” And I did.

Gone was the darkness. Gone were the suicidal thoughts. I was back to normal, with one important difference: I knew this was because of the meds.

Also, I didn’t realize how resilient I’d considered myself to be, until this all happened. And now that confident sense of resilience is gone. I’m aware of how fragile I am.

So there you have it: my mental illness showed up as an inability to breathe properly and as a very warm hollow feeling in my stomach. There was no cerebral symptoms at all. The mental illness showed up everywhere except in my head. Weird.

There’s a lifetime of valleys and drama and death that I know have contributed to this newfound fragility. I have to address them, which is why I’m now seeing a psychologist. And it’s why I’m now looking hard at retiring as soon as I possibly can.

One other thing. You know how all of those commercials and PSA announcements about mental health involve telling sufferers to reach out to various people, phone lines and the like – all in an effort to avoid suicide?

Yeah, that doesn’t work. People like me who suffer from this stuff have zero ability to reach out to anyone. All we’re looking for is a way to get the darkness to stop as quickly as possible.

The thing that worked for me was that my loved ones reached out to me. They could do that. I couldn’t do the opposite. I couldn’t reach out to them. My brain just wasn’t in a place to allow me to do that.

Instead, all I could do was turn inward and curl up mentally, buffeted by the winds of my nightmare.

fetal

Keeping Zen in an Angry World

Posted: June 19, 2018 in Life, living, politics
Tags: , ,
13
When I was a young boy, I got into a lot of fights. It happens when the gang at school finds something about you they know will push your buttons. Once they find it, they take no end of delight in gleefully pushing it. So they did. And so I lashed out. I got into fights all the time. Most of the time the fights came to a draw or I got beat up. Snivelling and crying because life was so damned unfair.
Mom – bless her dear departed heart – was a rock for all six of us back then. She was the disciplinarian whose job it was to keep us in line, make us laugh, comfort us and bandage our cut up knees. And she taught us all that it was better to keep our mouths closed, to be respectful and to practice kindness.
I grew up, eventually, and that whiny little boy decided Mom’s way was better. (It helped that I got heavily into religion at the time too). We’re now in an age that seems surreal to me. Where cruelty and spite is the norm. Where cowards get to voice their deepest angry and hateful thoughts behind their oh-so-safe keyboards. Life is once again unfair, as the world at large discovers more and more of these buttons that we all possess, and they just *love* pressing them. There is what I would call a “hate movement” going on right now. You can see it all over social media. And it’s happening on all sides of every debate you can think of. If you’re not for me, you’re against me and I won’t listen to you. I will hate you. We’ve lost the art of conversation, and of healthy debate. The minute you put your stake in the ground, you attract sycophants just as you attract hate mongers.
I know this all too well, because I have participated. It’s no secret who I hold hatred for right now. But here’s the thing:
Because I participated, I lost. Because I was so willing to spew my own well reasoned, justified sanctimonious hate, I’ve fallen into the trap of this movement.
One night last week I was on a bus ride home. I forget where I was coming from. It suddenly occurred to me. I was just as complicit in this orgy of hatred as the people (well, more precisely, the person) I hated. He won, because I participated at all.
I made up my mind right then. I wasn’t going to play the game anymore. You can’t lose if you’re not playing, right?
I scrubbed all of my hate-filled tweets from Twitter and resolved to not engage anymore.
You know what though? It’s hard. It’s so very hard when you see parrots repeating that hatred all over the place, coupled with lies and exaggerations and some truly loathsome evil shit. I find I have to sit on my hands and grit my teeth.
Regardless, Mom’s boy will adhere to her training. I will do my best to avoid hatred, and to consider only those things which bring life.
My hatred isn’t gone. Far from it. But if I don’t give it air to breathe, maybe it will die. Maybe I’ll reach a point where I can merely observe, silently and patiently, as the
maelstrom of hatred we’re all seeing will dissipate. Or it won’t. It may get stronger.
Something’s going to give at some point. I’d rather see it from a zen vantage point, rather than dance in its mosh pit.

 

(Trigger warning for anxiety)

mental

My cellphone rang. It was my brother. He rarely calls.

It’s not that we’re estranged or anything. It’s that he has his life and I have mine, and we live far apart. And when we get together, we generally have a good time.

It was good to hear his voice.

“Hey Jamie. How are you doing?”

“Not bad, Wolf. How are you?”

I could never play the polite game with my bro. Plus, I was not a fan of chit chat and making polite noises.

“Honestly – not that good, Jamie. I’ve been having some severe panic attacks. I’ve gone to group therapy for about six weeks, only to find out I was in the wrong group and should have been in the panic disorder group, not the generalized anxiety disorder one.”

Silence. Then: “Man, that must suck.”

“Yeah, it really does.”

Silence again. He was probably trying to figure out what to say.

“I had anxiety  years ago, and it was bad. I didn’t know what was causing it. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and I couldn’t think straight.”

As he listed off his symptoms, my heart began to race. I couldn’t listen to this.

I knew he meant well though, so I let him continue. Silently, I writhed. Listening to him talk about his episode of anxiety was making me feel unsafe and afraid and….I was panicking.

You know, I have to admit: before my panic attacks began, I saw those articles with the words “trigger warning” at the top, and thought it was childish. Who in hell needs to be warned that a story may cause a problem? What are we? Nine years old or something?

As it turns out, I was woefully naive. And as it turns out, very very wrong.

My own brother was making my anxiety worse, and he had no idea. And I was too deep into it to explain it properly, in a way he could understand.

He rambled on and on, describing in vivid detail his brush with anxiety. (And it was indeed a brush, as it only happened to him once, thank God.)

My heart was racing, my head was aching, my stomach was roiling and I was beginning to shake.

I was freaking out.

I stopped my brother in mid-sentence. “Hey Jamie, listen, I’ve got some dinner on the go here, so I think I’ll have to let you go.” There was no dinner.

“Oh okay Wolf. Catch you later then.”

I haven’t been to work in a week.  This shit really messes you up. I look forward to a time when I’ll be able to take my good mental health for granted again.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to keep myself above the ground. It’s hard, but there are lots of places to provide support. My CAMH counselor made sure I knew that in the worst case scenario, I should call 911. And I will. And it may come to that.

I just know I can’t live with this crap. It’s no way to live anyway. It’s enough right now to just survive.

I won’t even go out on my balcony at this point. Because I don’t trust myself or my impulses.

Anxiety sucks.

Pink is Cool

Posted: April 1, 2018 in anxiety, humor, Life, mental health
Tags:
“I want you all to close your eyes. Now. And no peeking.”
 
She waited, as all of us in the anxiety disorder group obeyed her instructions.
 
“Now, for the next 60 seconds I want you all to think of nothing except a pink bunny rabbit.”
 
I knew where this was going. She would shortly tell us to now think of anything *except* a pink bunny rabbit, thereby proving to us that telling anyone to stop thinking about things that make them anxious almost never works.
 
But for now we were in the first part of the exercise, thinking about a pink bunny rabbit.
 
I was bored.
 
So I added some details to my pink bunny rabbit.
 
My pink bunny rabbit was a little bigger than bunny rabbits. Not much, just a little bigger. And it sat there, munching away on something, its nose twitching back and forth (as they do).
pink
Suddenly, a large snake appeared. It slithered toward the pink bunny rabbit, its tongue flickering in and out, testing the air. Smelling the pink bunny rabbit.
 
The pink bunny rabbit appeared to not notice it. It didn’t move, didn’t start in alarm. It just sat there with its nose twitching, always twitching.
 
The snake slithered and stopped. Then it raised up and reared its head back. And just when it was about to shoot forward, the pink bunny rabbit’s jaw opened up, wide, wide WIDE and it lunged at the snake and captured it in its maw, swallowing the entire snake whole.
 
I smiled, pleased and proud at my mind’s juvenile creation.
 
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a difference. The opposite of anxiety, right over here.
 
Happy Easter everyone!

stars

Funny thing about being sick: you tend to think about a lot of stuff, mostly because you’re too miserable to watch TV or run about taking care of business and being busy.

So here’s what’s going on in my brain, while I keep busy scrambling for the Kleenex box to catch all the consequences of my stupid illness.  Maybe you can relate to some of it (my only reason for sharing).

So much of what I do involves consumption. Besides the obvious necessary ones  (food, water, sleep) there are optional areas of consumption. Like, for example,  a new TV, a better computer, a night out at the movies, a meal at a nice restaurant.

There’s nothing wrong with any of it. But the common thing these things share is that there is no contribution going on. There’s no creativity. Just consumption.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide what it is I want to do. Do I want to write, or act, or create musical pieces on my piano? Do I want to sing? Do I want to dance? These questions have been a source of confusion because they all involve effort, time, and dedication to be good at any of them.

I’m already good at a few of them, but they are all equally compelling, so it’s been hard to figure out which one to focus on. So instead, I’ve let my subconscious try (and fail) at figuring it out, while I continue to do what I do best: consume.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to focus on consuming anymore.

My TV is old and out of date. It’s not a smart TV, and the resolution is so dated that no one talks about it anymore. But I don’t actually *need* to do anything about it. Same goes for my 6 year old computer.

Both still work, so why spend time researching replacements? It’s wasted energy.

I want to create. And the realization now is that I don’t have to decide on just one: there’s no reason I can’t do them all.

So that’s my late October resolution. To spend more time creating than I do consuming.

I can tell that this epiphany is already informing some of my decisions. When I sit at the computer and see a political post that rubs me the wrong way, I generally go looking for references to bolster my objection, prior to airing it.  Now when that’s happening and I start to open up another browser tab, the thought occurs: “Wait. This is consumption.” And so I stop.

I mean it’s a start but this can’t just be about stopping, it has to be about creating and moving forward with momentum.

Help me out here.

Have you every thought about how much time you’re using up and how you’re using it? Have you found certain consumptions habits that are hard to break?

How have you achieved focus to let that stuff drop away so you can concentrate on the creative stuff that matters?

 

Bratty Brain

Posted: May 29, 2017 in ADHD, anxiety, Life, mental health
Tags: , , ,

“Well, I can confirm that you have ADHD.”

The feeling of relief was palpable and intense. After all these years, to finally hear a psychiatrist proclaim what I’d long suspected. It was overwhelming.

“Also, the testing you took also shows that you have anxiety disorder.”

Anxiety-cartoon

Wait. What?

Anxiety? Pfft. I’ve managed to deal with stress all of my life. Sure there were times when the stress got to be too much and I had to take measures to lessen it. But it wasn’t a disorder. It was just normal stress. Everyone has stress at one time or another.

I dismissed it. Didn’t give it another thought. That was seven years ago.

And the years went by.

A few weeks ago I found myself tossing and turning in bed. Normally, when I crash, it takes all of two minutes for me to drop into a deep sleep.

Not this time. As I turned over yet again, I realized what was preventing sleep: I was having trouble breathing.

I got up and watched a couple of hours of TV. That made me drowsy enough to finally fall fast asleep.

Unfortunately it meant I only got a couple of hours of shut-eye, and then I had to get up for work.

The next night it was the same. And then, during the following day during my waking  hours I found myself struggling for breath.

“That’s it”, I thought. “Something’s wrong.” And so off to the ER I went.

They triaged me, and decided my symptoms were serious enough to take me right away and run some tests.

Seven hours later, the doctor finally finished doing her final ultrasound test. She said “well your tests all show that you’re okay physically. Are you worried about something? Your symptoms would indicate that you’re suffering from anxiety.”

I frowned. “I don’t think I’m stressed out about anything. Thanks doc. I’ll think about it.”

The only thing that came to mind was the fact I had agreed to act as manager for a week. After acknowledging that, my symptoms seemed to lessen. I was pretty sure that was it. Every time I felt the heaviness in my chest, I just thought about my acting manager job, and the stress seemed to go away. Acknowledgement was the cure.

A few days later I had a conference call with my team. My ADHD was in full effect: I would be talking about a subject, but then these wayward thoughts would find their way to the forefront and interrupt me.

I’ve never had it happen that way before. The thoughts were so strong and insistent that they demanded attention. Picture a toddler screaming at you while you’re on the phone with a friend. That’s how it was with me.

toddler

The thoughts were so strong I had to stop, mid-sentence. “Sorry guys, it’s not that English isn’t my mother tongue; it’s that ADHD is my dominant language right now, and it’s having a field day.

My team laughed in understanding.

I tried again, and it happened again. It was bizarre. I’ve had ADHD symptoms all of my life but this….THIS was out of control, and embarrassing.

A few weeks later I found myself once again having trouble breathing. This time I walked around as much as I could, then sat down near a Starbucks, set a timer for 10 minutes, closed my eyes and attempted to meditate by concentrating on my breathing.

I was a model of meditation actually: I observed the little aches and pains and thoughts, let them wash through me, and kept thinking about my breathing.

meditate

It didn’t work. My thoughts betrayed me, and I kept falling out of meditation time and again. And each time I did, I struggled to get back to just thinking about breathing.

Finally, I called my boss. “Listen, I’m not handling things very well. I think my anxiety is back.”

Honest to God, if you have to work for someone, you couldn’t find a better boss than this guy. He understood immediately, and he talked me down.

We discussed the trigger at my job, and he lifted that burden from me. He honestly didn’t think it belonged with my group anyway. (I won’t go into details, as that would be a blog in itself).

Then he said “what you need to do now is take some time off. Stop thinking about this place. Get some help. Talk with your doctor. And then, come back to work only when you feel better. You’re no good to me, to your team or yourself when you’re not at your optimum.”

He was right. I took his advice.

It’s been years since I had therapy. Tonight’s the night I have my first session with a psychologist.

A Bull in Search of a China Shop

Posted: January 20, 2017 in Life, politics
Tags: , ,

bull_in_a_china_shop

If I had to sum it all up, the word I’d use would be “fear”.

I won’t speak for anyone else, but I come by my fear honestly.

I grew up under the brooding anger of a drunken narcissist.

My father always drank, and he was always angry. And it was always about him.

So, as a tiny youngster, and then as a scrawny adolescent and teen, I learned how to interact with him. I guess, in my innocence, I thought I was “managing” him, by not doing anything to make him angry.

He was a monster, really. A massive, sweaty, angry shirtless man of over 350 pounds who stomped around the house looking for a reason to justify his anger.

He was brutal. He hit my mom in the stomach when she was pregnant. He hit her on her head when she had migraines. He bellowed a lot. Most of his sentences contained one word only. He eschewed the use of adjectives, and sometimes even verbs.

“Would you please pass the salt” came out as an angry one-word demand. “SALT!”

I’ve written about my father before. This is not about him.

There’s another narcissist making the news today. He’s being sworn in as President of the United States.

This narcissist doesn’t drink. Presumably, he doesn’t do any drugs either. Those are strong points in his favour.

However, he is a narcissist with a delicate ego. Already we’re watching as his “enemies” (his word for anyone who doesn’t explicitly support him) are scrambling around trying to get in his good graces. They have to work with him, after all.

And like my father, he holds nothing but contempt for them. I think he holds contempt even for many of his friends.

A lot of my friends are conservative, and they wonder why there is so much fear coming from those who don’t support him. They seem to think it’s all about partisanship. They seem assured that since Trump is not a Democrat, his opposers believe he’s evil.

It’s not that.

It’s that he’s a narcissist and reactionary. It’s not that he can’t control his reactions to perceived slights; it’s that he has no interest in doing so.

When it comes to reporters and celebrities, there’s no real harm in him reacting in anger on Twitter to what they say.

The fear is about how this translates to the political and diplomatic life.

As much as his “enemies” are trying to find ways to placate him, his followers – his “true believers” – have a much harder job. They too have to find ways to manage him so that they don’t set him off. They have to bow to him, and “yes sir” him around the clock. They have to advise him on what to do, without looking like they’re telling him what to do.

They have a difficult job. But….it’s their job. Many of them will end up contradicting him one way or another, and they’ll be fired. It’s what he does. And he does it a lot. We saw him fire advisers during his campaign.

America’s enemies have no such urgent need to keep them sensitive to his sensibilities. They don’t have to “manage” him at all. Neither the Syrian nor Russian presidents will stay awake, tossing and turning as they think about how to placate him. They too are narcissists and are only concerned with maintaining their power over their people.

They’re going to piss him off at some point. And he will react, because that’s what he does. Diplomacy and strategy won’t factor into anything once his dander his up.

So now there’s this sense of impending danger. I know the feeling. I’ve grown up with it.

A thing a therapist once told me about my dad: “you do know, right, that there was nothing you could do to prevent your dad from getting angry. It didn’t matter how careful you thought you were being, he was going to make the choice to be angry.”

I remember being surprised by that.

The American president is the same. A bull in search of a china shop.

Eight Years

Posted: August 15, 2016 in Life
Tags: ,

I wrote this on August 15, 2008.

As today is the anniversary, it seemed appropriate to share it with you. 

—————————————

 

The day I came home to find that the lock on my door had been smashed open, the first thing I did was look for the sisters.

Princess was hiding out beneath my TV set, behind the closed doors of its cabinet.  But where was Muffin?

Stepping over the flotsam of my belongings, the strewn clothing and clothes hangers and paper, I made my way to the bathroom.  And there she was.  She wasn’t trembling or anything – she was a little too much of a cool customer to ever admit to fear – she stared back at me with bright eyes, ears all forward and paying attention.  “Mrowr?” she asked.

I smiled.  “You’re ok then?”

They say that 55% of any communication is done through body language.  With her it was more like 90% – and right now she was communicating at me HARD.

“Pick me up.  Pet me.  Are the bad men gone?  They were scary.  But I’m tough.”

All I heard was “pet me”.  So I did.  She didn’t purr though – it was much too soon for that.

Funny thing about that bathtub: it’s where she goes now whenever there’s a thunderstorm.   I think she thinks she gets to keep her dignity.  I haven’t given her reason to think otherwise.

You could say that we got along well.

We had a routine too.  Muffin would perform a daily function as my furry alarm clock, promptly waking me in time to get up for work each day.  And she came into the bathroom only after she heard the shower shut off, and she would meow, letting me know that I wasn’t paying quite enough attention to her yet.

For my part, I made sure to take the time to scoop her up in my arms (only after drying off of course; we’re not allowed to get her fur wet.  Ever.)  and hold her and pet her for a while.  When she had enough I was supposed to put her down so that she could go back out and get some food.

Funny thing.  She hardly ever let me know she needed food.  Maybe because I made sure the bowl was full all of the time.   When she meowed, it was generally because she wanted up in my lap for a while.  Oh yes – that’s another thing:  we generally watched TV together, with her comfortably ensconced on my lap.  I’d absently pet her until she put her head down and went to sleep.  Often, she’d snuggle her head into my stomach (maybe because it was warmer there, or because she could hear the low grumble when I was hungry, the jury hasn’t decided what it was).

When I pet her, sometimes she would reach out with both paws and grab my hand so she could rub her face up against it properly.   I liked to think she was showing me how to pet her right.

There was never such a thing as an overdose of love when it came to petting her.  We never did find that high water mark, her and I.

Over the past few months I noticed that she had become a little obsessive about her water bowl.  She’d stand next to it and look up at me, meowing.  Though I was a little obtuse with cat communication I eventually got the message:  the water must not be stagnant; it must be fresh.  So I got to keeping a jug of water in the fridge where it could remain cold.  She seemed happy about that, and cheerfully lapped it up when I refreshed her drink.

About three days ago, I saw her walk toward me, and she staggered a bit.  I frowned, a little worried.   Then, when she tried to jump up on my lap, she didn’t quite make it and she slid to the ground.  She recovered nicely, looking like she intended to do that.  I thought to myself “well, she is fifteen years old.  It was bound to happen.”   And so after that I made sure to pick her up so she wouldn’t have to jump – I didn’t want her to hurt herself.

Two days ago she made her way to my chair.  I didn’t see her until she tried to jump up on my lap.  This time when she fell she didn’t recover.  She laid on the floor, splayed out and looking at me.

She loves wet cat food.  Generally I only feed her dry food so when she hears the can opening, she goes nuts for it.  A couple of days ago I opened up a can, and got her attention fast.  She came over to the bowl and looked at it.  Then walked away.

That was it.  I made an appointment with the vet.

She was dehydrated.  Her kidneys had failed.  He wanted to keep her for a few days and try giving her fluids through an I.V. and to run some blood and urine tests.

I agreed, and asked him “so what do you think, doc?”  Unspoken was the real question.  He heard it anyway though.  “Well, if she can perk up with the fluids we’re giving her, we might be able to have you manage her diet at home.  It’ll mean a different food, and perhaps you’ll have to inject water under skin for a while.”  He scratched his head.  “But if she doesn’t do well with the intravenous then it’ll make your decision a little easier.”

We both knew what he meant.

So I waited until they got her hooked up to the I.V. and then pet her a little bit and spoke to her.  “It’s Ok baby.  You just rest, OK?”  She was awake, barely, but was too tired to look at me.  I think she understood though.

Before leaving, the doctor said “well, I’ll call you in the morning to give you an update on her progress.  And you can come visit her if you like.”

I smiled.  “Yes, I’d like to do that.  Talk to you tomorrow, doctor.”

This morning I had just finished breakfast when the phone rang.

“Hi.  Is this Doug?”

I looked at the display.  It was the vet.   “Hi doc.  Yes, it’s me.”  It was his early morning progress report.

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you this but Muffin passed away at 2:00 a.m. ”

I stared at the living room drapes.   My throat closed.

The doctor continued.  “I checked on her at 1:00 a.m. and noticed that even with all of the fluids, she just wasn’t responding well.  And her blood tests showed that she was anaemic as well.”

“I see.”  It was supposed to rain today but I could tell through the window that it was sunny out.  I wondered what that was all about.

“But we had to try. It was worth it to see if she could get better.”

She was kind of my side-kick.  The one who had been there when all of the verbal end-of-marriage sparring was going on.  The one who was the first to come up to my lap when I had a migraine or was otherwise sick.  She seemed to know.    Maybe it’ll rain later on today.

I looked at my watch.  I should make sure and return the rental car.

The doctor had said something.  I responded.  “Thanks for letting me know, doc.  I’ll come by later this morning to settle up and get the cat carrier.”

“At least she went peacefully” he repeated.

“Yes, and I’m glad we tried.  No regrets doctor.”  My voice chose that time to falter, just a bit.

He heard it.  “Yes, I know.  It really sucks.”

The phone had become too much of a burden.  I needed to put it down.

“Well thanks again, doc.  I’ll see you later this morning.”

“Ok.  Talk to you later.”

I know that the pain will diminish.   It will.   Right now it just doesn’t feel like it will.   I know that many of you have lost your dearest friends in a variation of this story.  I know you’ll want to respond so that I can know I’m not alone, and because it’s good to remember our friends.  For that reason, I’ve left the comments turned on.  You’ll understand though that my responses, this one time, will be few.

Rest in peace, little sweetheart.

Muffin 2008.png

It’s late on a Thursday night, and I should have known better. Too late. A generous amount of Ravenswood Chardonnay has completed its magic, and my head is doing that bob-bobbing thing it likes to do, as the bus trundles along on its merry way home.

I allow one foot to precariously follow the other as I weave my half-snapped way to an empty seat. There’s an attractive woman there, and she’s thoughtfully moved closer to the window, all the better to help me avoid having to climb over her to the only vacant spot left.

I plunk myself down in relief and prepare to slumber my way toward the final few miles to my home bus stop.

Only…. My nose twitches. And twitches again. Something is seriously amiss.

I look over at the woman next to me, who at this point is now obstinately staring face-forward. Desperate. Afraid. Anxious.

No. It can’t be.

But it is.

A more heinous ambience can’t be imagined.

This veritable tulip, this rose of the fairer sex has emitted a soulful and delicate silent backfire, no doubt hoping against hope for the gain of anonymity.

Yet it was not to be. For I, the seeker of lost passions and artifacts of renown, have found her out. She is but a ghost to most, but is to me she is as the stop sign to eternity’s perfume.

Still, gallant man that I am, I labour to keep her dread secret, if only to preserve my status as gentleman and appreciator of all that is good and right in the world. My nose has other ideas. My nose is offended.

I open my drunken mouth, and hesitate.

Then, “ew.”

oops_sorry

Cat Whisperer

Posted: June 13, 2016 in Life
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I last saw the two of them nine years ago. I wondered if they would remember me.

They didn’t. Not at first, anyway.

Niko – the younger but *much longer* black and white cat – hid himself right away. He immediately ran under the couch. And whenever he came into my daughter’s little apartment, he hid as soon as he saw me.

Leo – the gorgeous orange-haired kitty – didn’t hide, because as you know, alphas are fearless. But he didn’t come to me either. He looked my way, acknowledged my presence, and then wandered off to clean himself.

Leo was a cat that Angie and her then boyfriend rescued from the wilderness of a place near Tofino. There was a big parking lot, and behind that was an immense forest. They found him on the edge of the forest on a cold day during a rain and windstorm. The poor little guy was freezing, and his hair was all matted up. So they knew he’d been out there for a while.

Niko was a brother they got for him, just to keep him company – I think this happened just a few months after Leo’s rescue.

Leo’s muted tolerance of me lasted maybe a day. Being an intelligent feline, he must have noticed the loving energy between my daughter and myself, and found it acceptable, because he then adopted me.

Regal Leo

I know this because it didn’t take too much time at all for him to allow me to pet him, and scratch him under the chin (his favourite). I also took to talking to him very quietly. It was constant drone of affection and praise. I’m certain he paid attention.

Both are outdoor cats who *hate* staying inside after about 3:00 in the morning. I know this because every morning around that time, Niko would whine and beg to be let out. He’d give a little meow and then stop, and then just as soon as we fell back to sleep he’d whine again. Angie (my daughter) would sternly tell him “no, Niko! I’m not letting you out now. Go back to bed.”

Strangely enough, he’d listen, and we’d all fall back asleep.

By the way, this happened *every* *single* *night* while I was there. Angela figured it’s because the New Guy (me) was there, and he thought he could con me into letting him out.

My daughter’s place is quite small. Her bed is in a loft above the living space, and she climbs a ladder to get there. I slept on a fold-out couch in her living room. As far as I can tell, neither of us snore, so we didn’t irritate each other. A plus, for sure.

But…Niko remained afraid of me for some reason, so I wondered if he’d ever warm up.

The third night I was there, after Niko shied from me yet again, Leo jumped up on the couch and laid next to me, looking directly at his brother while I commenced petting him.

Niko took notice. There was communication between them, I swear it.

A short while afterward, Niko came close to me and allowed me to pet him. I felt victorious, and Angie was pleased, too.

Splayed Nico

And then, as the days went on, I noticed something else.

Whenever I pet Leo, he would close his eyes and then start purring. This was amazing, particularly for a furry lad who was used to being the dominant alpha in the place. This guy, who usually never lets his guard down, had done so with me.

One night, Niko came down and crawled into bed with me. When I began petting him, he climbed right on top of me. I don’t know how long he stayed there because I fell asleep.

Slowly but surely, both lads wormed their way into my heart. I didn’t realize how much they had done so until it was time for me to leave and come back home to Toronto.

Before we left for our drive to the city, Angie had me give them one of those moist treats they love so much. As I opened the cans and they crowded around me, I felt my throat close. Angie asked me if I was okay. I nodded.

If Angie was the cake to my two week stay with her, Leo and Niko had to be the icing.

“What?”

He looked over at her. She frowned and hugged herself. He reached over and turned up the heater.

Her question filled the silence between them. He watched the streetlights flicker by, separating the moments of darkness. Light, dark, light, dark, light…. Not for the first time he wished he wasn’t driving.

He repeated himself. “I’m looking for magic.”

“Well what do you mean? What magic?” Despite her shivering, she had to know.

They were returning from a group coaching session, the first one he’d ever attended. They had done several group exercises, all designed to help everyone figure out exactly what they wanted out of life. The session had been illuminating, particularly for him. He’d been so restless for such a long time, not knowing why. The coaching exercises had helped.

“I’m not sure I can put it into words,” he began.

“Try.”

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, staring out at the salt-stained roads, thinking.

“Ever have one of those moments when there’s sudden brightness? You can be looking at a light display in a busy downtown section. Or you notice the way the sun hits a particular tree in the spring…..You get this feeling, this sense of a world beyond this world, one where anything’s possible. There’s a mountain of treasure, a kind of…..” He thought hard. “Kind of like a never-ending orgasm, just out of reach.”

She snorted abruptly. “WHAT?”

They both laughed.

“I don’t know” he grinned. “I’m having a hard time trying to explain this…”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“I’m pretty sure that when we were kids, we had a sense of wonder about the world, and about all of the possibilities. Long before we got taught about responsibilities, and our duty to the systems of employment, payments, mortgages, cars, gifts and taxes.”

“As we got older, and we took on all these burdens, that wonder got snuffed out. We forgot what it meant to explore.”

She stared straight ahead. He could tell she was processing.

He waited, silent.

After a while she looked back at him. “So tell me, what do you see when you envision this magic? As an adult, I mean.”

“I-”

“Wait. Is this what you were talking about tonight? California? Being around creative people?”

He smiled. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s part of it. I mean, I know I can get there and do everything I talked about: writing, performing improv comedy and maybe acting. But I know there are people who do that, who don’t connect to the magic. That’s the risk, I guess.”

She shook her head. “I don’t get you. I thought you wanted these things….”

“Oh I do, I do. And I’m going after them. No doubt about it. I just don’t want to fool myself into thinking any of it’s going to bring that elusive magic.”

He was grateful for the mostly empty street. It really was a beautiful night, despite the cold and the wind. The streetlights played over the road in a way that hinted at the sparkling existence of the magic for which he longed.

He had always had a love affair with light. As a kid, he recalled having a plastic game figure that lit up with a soft red glow. He remembered being mesmerized by it, as he played out on the street with it, in the twilight of a summer evening.

Later, he recalled taking his first trip to Toronto from Oshawa, and marvelling at the city skyline, with the thousands of building lights all creating their unique dance. Each one was so different, and each seemed to invite him.

“I’m not sure there’s a single point where I’ll say ‘this is it’. I think this magic requires me to keep moving, keep exploring.” He was onto something, he was sure of it.

“I need to keep creating. Keep experiencing. Whether it’s writing, or acting, or playing piano or whatever it is….I won’t be able to stop. I can’t stop. When I stop, I’m pretty sure the magic will be hidden again.”

She nodded.

“I know how cliché it sounds…”

“Don’t” she said. “Don’t apologize for this. For any of it.” She hesitated. “I mean, I can’t pretend to understand everything you said, but I get that it’s important to you.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I haven’t heard you talk like this for a while. It’s definitely a good thing, this whatever it is you’re after. Not sure I’d call it magic but….it’s definitely something. How long have you been thinking about it?”

He scratched his head. Sighed. “For a long long time.” He eased the car to the stoplight. “I think it’s why I haven’t been able to feel settled in my apartment. Or for that matter, my job.”

The light turned green. He gave it some gas. “What’s worse, I could feel myself starting to stagnate. It was starting to feel like hell. Like a living hell.”

“Yeah, I noticed you weren’t laughing as much. You seemed so serious all the time. Even when we went to comedy shows, you sat there just watching the stage, like you were lost in thought.”

He nodded.

“So what changed?”

“Well for one thing, I think I’ve recaptured some momentum. I’m signing up for improv comedy classes again. Just need to get my foot back in the door again, hang around creative types.”

He smiled, mostly to himself. “And then there was the coaching thing tonight. It really helped open my eyes. I was in danger of forgetting so much.”

He didn’t mention that he didn’t think he was out of danger, just yet. It’s one thing to talk about it, but he knew he had to act or would it all go away again.

He would get old. He would lose out to complacency, comfort, and rot.

No way. No fucking way. No.

Blue-City-Skyline-At-Night

The movie Trumbo is a dramatization of the events in the life of a screenwriter named Dalton Trumbo.

trumbo

The man was also famous for being an activist and (here’s where the closed fist meets the face) a Communist.

I don’t know if it was by design or merely coincidence, but this film came out at the most appropriate time ever.

The fight he fought, back in the 40s and 50s, is echoed today. Some of the arguments used against him back then are in force today.

It’s the old “you’re either for me (and my opinions) or against me.” People seem to gravitate to the extremes of the political spectrum, without giving much to nuance, if they bother to consider it at all.

Trumbo fought for the right to have an opinion. That’s it, that’s all. Whether his opinion on Communism was viable or not (I believe it’s not) was immaterial. He wanted to have a voice, have a belief, and not have people castigate him for that belief.

Despite his protest, he was lumped in with all Communists of that time and put on a blacklist. The powers back then sought to keep him from making a living in Hollywood, in his chosen profession. They were so very afraid his intent was to infect the minds of the movie-goer by using stories to persuade Americans of the good of Communism.

They had no proof of this, and they couldn’t point to any one of his many many accomplishments until that time as evidence of this supposed “plan”of his.

Yet they didn’t believe they needed proof. All they needed to know was whether he was a Communist or not. The perfect example of “painting with a wide brush.”

It reminds me vividly of a guy who attended my high school. I knew his father to be a card-carrying political activist and Communist. I remember that both he and his father were ostracized by pretty much everyone. We all knew about his Communist dealings, and we all despised him for it (the son bearing the stigma of his father, of course).

It never occurred to me back then that these were people, and that there was no evidence they were hurting anyone.

If the sentiment was that strong in MY childhood, how much more strong would it have been back right after World War II?

We don’t have to guess, do we? The House Un-American Activities Committee – the group that created the infamous blacklist – went to great pains to underline how avowed Communists, as well as friends and family of Communists, were out to destroy the American way of life.

The parallels to today are painful. If you’re a follower of Obama, you’re probably an unthinking parasite on society. Someone deserving of scorn and ridicule.

On the other hand, if you’re a Republican, or a declared Christian, you’re likely a war-monger who lacks a heart. Someone without compassion who probably resembles Donald Trump.

There’s just no room for reason or honest debate. There’s little room for discussion, or for being so open to evidence and logical persuasion that one can change one’s mind.

Instead, we’re setting up camp on our prized dogmas, secure in our beliefs. Everyone outside the camp is the enemy. Instead of seeking to persuade anyone, we look to find evidence to support our already entrenched positions, to the delight and captive applause of the grinning choir.

The alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m.

I live alone but still shouted “I’m up I’m up!” – like the stupid thing would shut off if it heard my voice.

fiveam

Reality slowly wound itself into my consciousness.  Today was the day. I was due in court for 9:00 a.m. to do my civic duty.

I was going for jury duty.

There was both curious anticipation and a heightened sense of anxiety warring for attention when I faced the day.

I wondered about the process, and whether or not I’d actually make it to the jury level.  There’s a requirement – if you’re picked – to face the accused and answer any of the questions the lawyers submit.

“Are you aware of this case? Have you already made up your mind about what should happen to the defendant?” These are the questions I’d imagine being asked.

Having ADHD all of my life, I was deathly afraid of showing up late. (Being late once in a while is embarrassing. Being late all the time provokes a social indictment; one becomes known for being a failure)

Thus the early alarm. And thus the plan to get out the door no later than  7:30 a.m.

I even worked it out the night before. Google Maps told me the trip would take forty-five minutes. I took no chances and planned for ninety.

As it turned out, I left only fifteen minutes later than planned.

After double-locking the door, I got part way to the bus stop when I remembered that I had forgotten my bus pass. That sucker is worth $120 so it was worth it to go back through my double-locked door to get it. There’s always something I’d forgotten so there was no way I was going to start my journey with the planned ninety minutes anyway.

The plan worked! When I got out of the subway I discovered I was a half an hour early.

The short walk through sticky humid air did nothing to dampen my excitement. I looked around at the crowd of commuters, all resigned to their fate on their painful march to whatever jobs and appointments awaited their grumpy faces. Maybe the grey sky had something to do with it. There were no smiles or even half smiles or smirks.  Torontonians take their seriousness seriously.

Security guards greeted me at the front door of the court building. There was no lineup, so I got to empty my pockets and place my briefcase on the small conveyor right away while one of them did his wand thing.

“There’s something in your back pocket sir.”

I reached and pulled out my keys.  “Sorry”

“No worries. Please go ahead.”

I retrieved everything and made my way to the courtroom.

The doors were locked, which……..made sense as I was still about twenty minutes early. It seemed odd that I was the only one in the hallway though. Four empty chairs sat silently, all desperately hugging each other. I pulled one of them free from the rest before settling my butt down onto it.

I waited impatiently; way too keyed up to read anything on my iPad.

9:00 a.m. came and the door remained closed.

Maybe I was in the wrong place.  I opened up my briefcase and took out the summons again.

“6th floor”.  Yup. That’s where I was.  “Courtroom 6-1”. I looked up at the sign on the wall.  Courtroom 6-1

I was definitely in the right place.

I thought “maybe they’re a little relaxed on their schedule.”

I looked at the summons again.  Then I looked at the date.

Today was August 18.

The summons said September 18.

I rolled my eyes and then sat there laughing quietly to myself.

I quickly did a sprint around in my head, processing all that I needed to now do.

I had to inform not only my boss but my team and colleagues about my gaffe.

Plus I had to re-do the paperwork for the acting assignment for the guy who was supposed to replace me.

We all make mistakes from time to time but it’s rare that we get the opportunity to broadcast our mistakes to everyone we know.

Which is one reason I wrote this blog to follow-up the one from yesterday.  I figured I may as well go for broke and announce it to the world.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

The other reason is that it seems like a good idea to write a series of blogs about the symptoms of ADHD.  Many non-ADHDers are under the assumption there’s only one or two. Say the term “ADHD” and some will think “someone who can’t sit still” or “someone who gets distracted easily”.

Did you know that according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are 18 symptoms of ADHD?

Anyway, let’s file this one under Symptom Number 1:

Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.