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
Tags:

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.