Difficult Deeds Done

Standard

We continued last session’s line of discussion in therapy today.

Today was difficult to get through. It meant acknowledging some tough truths about my life and beginning the process of coming to grips with them, but I think some good will come out of today’s session. We’re looking forward to long-term goals at this point and that’s a good thing to be doing. There will be baby steps along the way, but today for the first time I felt that I might could handle getting back out and associating with people on a more regular basis – either as a volunteer somewhere or perhaps even a low-stress part-time job. (I’d volunteer first, at least until I understood everything that goes into working while on Social Security disability. I don’t believe that I’m ready to return to work full-time yet and I don’t want to endanger my benefits while I test the waters, something the SSA allows you to do on a limited basis.)

We also talked about my emotional detachment while discussing this, and it’s apparently a normal thing to disassociate one’s self from one’s trauma. People handle trauma differently and it’s not uncommon for people to respond how I have, with emotional indifference, like I’m telling someone else’s story and not mine. I had long questioned how it could affect me as much as it has while I can tell the story of what happened almost clinically, and now I know it’s nothing to fret over.

In addition, over the past few weeks I came to acknowledge my inability to fulfill a pledge that I made some time ago, and today I asked to be released from it. It took me a long time to work up the courage to write that letter, and I hope that it doesn’t turn out to be a negative experience down the road.

Today is show day so I’m about to immerse myself into my radio persona and forget my problems for about three hours or so. This will actually be a good thing for me, I believe.

Every Day Is A Blank Page

Standard

What have you done with your day?

If you’re like me, you slept off and on until nearly noon, finally got up, tuned Pandora to the Skrillex station, got some housework done, then sat down to track the final moments of the Iceland-England Euro2016 match. (Iceland won, 2-1, in what is being considered a stunning upset. Next up is France, the host country, in the quarters. For various reasons, I claim allegiance to Iceland in the Euros. I am a happy camper.)

It’s very likely that you’ve accomplished more with your day, and almost certainly been more productive for bigger things than what I usually do with my day. The measure of a great day for me is usually something along the lines of “didn’t let anything trigger a panic attack or cause me to go into my head.” Yours is more likely to be “closed the deal I’ve been working on for months” or “finished that project that I’ve had on my desk since January” or even “made it through that meeting without causing bloodshed.”

And today, at least for today, that’s okay.

Usually I’m constantly comparing my life to everyone else’s because I have an inflated view of what I’m actually capable of. A psychologist appointed by the federal government agreed with my usual caretakers that I’m incapable of handling the day-to-day stresses of a job right now. Will that change in the future? That remains to be seen, but that’s the end goal – getting back to work and resembling something more along the lines of what would be regarded as a normal life.

But for today, for some reason, I’m perfectly okay with my somewhat diminished list of accomplishments. I’ve read a section in the self-help book I’m currently working on, I’ve done my brain games (all three excellent scores today, incidentally) and done twice the amount of Spanish that Duolingo requires for a day’s worth of learning, and I’m writing this blog post. Today, for whatever reason, that’s okay.

Today, at least for today, I see that every day is a blank page.

Some people have an amazing kit full of artist’s tools and a vast amount of talent with which to fill their page every day. Others might not have such an impressive kit or as much talent, and so their page may not be as worthy of hanging on the wall to show others. Some of us are kind of lucky that we’ve still got most of a set of broken crayons left and the ability to doodle. And that’s okay.

The point is that each of us have the same blank page when we wake up, and the same opportunity to fill that page with whatever we can. Should we be comparing our daily works with one another? It happens, but it’s not really fair for me to put myself up against someone with a better kit and more talent and lament that my work isn’t as good as theirs. It’s an unrealistic expectation and it’s one that I have most of the time.

Today, though, I’m a realist. I know that my day won’t be as productive or as exciting as yours will be. And that’s okay. I’m doing the best I can with what I have. It’s not really that much to compare with, but it’s mine.

And today, for whatever reason, that’s perfectly okay.

Today, I’m okay. And if that’s the best I got, well … that’s okay too.

New Blood, Old Pains

Standard

My radio station family is growing!

We’ve brought two new DJs on board. One is a longtime listener who’s been working to become a DJ for years, and I’m thrilled that he finally made it. The other is a newcomer to the community, so I don’t know that much about him, only that he’s got experience with another station and is glad to have a new radio gig.

Tonight is the debut of one of our new DJs, the former longtime listener. I’m really looking forward to hearing him and seeing what he can do.

On the mental health side of things, this morning started with an immediate irrational disassociation that led to a verbal spar. Took us a while to recover from it, but we eventually did. I’m still a little on edge and probably overthinking everything I do to prevent a return to the elevated voices and irrational statements, but so far nothing’s happened since we calmed down this morning. And to top it all off, I have a screaming headache – again. So I’ll be listening to our new guy tonight but likely going to keep it kinda quiet.

Didja Miss Me?

Standard

Well, that was fast.

A few days ago I said I was taking a break for an offline writing exercise. I finished that up last night, about four days before I anticipated being done, so here I am.

Today’s been somewhat rough. We had the car serviced this morning and in addition to the regular service being done and the right rear tire needing a plug to patch a hole from a nail, turns out the reason that the “check emissions” warning was coming up was that the thermostat was sticking, preventing our engine from running hot enough for optimal performance and as a result throwing the gas/oil ratio out of whack. We got the regular service and the patch done, but we’re shopping around for a place to replace the thermostat.

Somehow all this information got inside my head and made me very nervous and submissive – as we say here often, I felt very small. I don’t know what triggered it, and it came and went for a couple hours, but it’s better now. (There might have been an emergency viewing of the Avengers to distract me. It’s paused right now at the point just before Thor makes his entrance.)

There’ll be a radio show later tonight and that always manages to distract me. At this point I don’t think I need the distraction, but it’s definitely not going to hurt.

Anyway, that’s about all that I have that isn’t somehow political and I try really hard to keep my politics off this blog, so I’m shutting up now.

Taking a Short Break (Sort Of)

Standard

You’ll notice that I haven’t written since Saturday. That’s partly because I forgot, partly because I couldn’t think of anything to write about, and partly because I’ve been working on an offline writing exercise.

For the next few days I’m going to be making that exercise (which is long and very introspective) my writing priority instead of blogging. If there’s something that happens that seems especially worthy of sharing, I’ll pop back in here and write up something quick and dirty.

… like last night, for instance.

My wife and I have been keeping our distance from the SCA, that historical re-creation organization we belong to, for some time, for various reasons: our heads aren’t screwed on right enough to deal with large crowds of people, our schedule has been preventing any sort of eventing on the weekends, the money really isn’t there for us to even daytrip an event, and finally my wife doesn’t really have anything to wear even if we could make an event.

We mentioned this to a very dear friend who got in touch with another dear friend and together they’re going to work to provide my wife with at least one outfit to wear at events, to help facilitate us coming out. This is a very generous gesture, so for the two of you that conspired to make this happen, and you know who you are, thank you so much for this priceless gift of removing one of the many obstacles that are preventing us from being social and around people that love us and care about us – that’s a situation we both desperately need more often.

Anyway, last night.

Last night we treated one of these dear friends to dinner and got to meet her newborn son for the first time. I was on baby duty while she took care of the business of getting my wife’s measurements (SCA garb is generally custom made, so getting measurements is an important step in the process) and ordering fabric. Being an only child and not living in a neighborhood with younger kids than me – all the kids in the neighborhood were months apart in age, three of us within 12 days and two of us on the same day (we think there was a block party but no one will confirm that) – I never had the exposure of taking care of an infant, so this was a relatively new experience for me. Supposedly I did pretty well, as I was more or less able to keep him calm and quiet the majority of the time I held him. There was dinner, there was SCA business, there was a lot of visiting, and we broke things up around 11:00 or so.

It was one of the better evenings I’ve had in a while. I don’t get much opportunity to interact with my friends in person these days, so the experience felt overwhelmingly … normal. I miss that feeling. It made the usual goofing off on the internet all night feel artificial and forced. Fortunately with the change in schedule we can start to do something about that.

Fighting Sleep and Promised Pictures

Standard

Today’s blog post is going to be quick and dirty. Let me handle the title of today’s blog post in reverse order. Above is a picture of the finished Fallingwater build that I wrote about at length yesterday and promised to provide today. It was great fun to do and it’s brilliantly put together. Of all the LEGO builds, this one puts the most emphasis on the landscape surrounding the building, but the house itself is an engineering marvel. The house is designed to lift off of the landscape base so that you can examine it in closer detail. It’s also put together in three interlocking pieces that just slide into place. It’s fantastic to have it on my shelf after all these years.

As for today, well … today has been spent fighting sleep most all day, which isn’t a good thing. I have a lot to do today, what with the show (and its theme that took a bit of research and decision making to come together) happening later this evening. Got up, did vitals, had breakfast, went to lie down, got up after a short nap, put together tonight’s playlist, went to lie down again, and finally got up a few minutes later due to my mid-afternoon meds and vitals alarm going off. So I decided to go ahead and knock out my self-development checklist items while I’m up before going to lie down again. (I need to get them done before the show starts, since our playlist looks to be pretty long tonight.)

Wish the lethargy would lift, but it’s still there.

A Dream (Sort Of) Fulfilled

Standard

I wasn’t the best student when I was in high school. Homework bored me to absolute tears, and thanks to several years in a private school that would just say “well, he knows the material, we can overlook the lack of homework and just pass him” I never learned the discipline of doing homework. As a result, I left school in my junior year and had my GED exactly a month later. With the lack of performance in high school, college wasn’t really much of an option, so I decided to enlist in the Navy. That lasted nineteen days before I blew a knee completely in basic and my options were to let the Navy replace both my knees (back when they were done one at a time – and oh yeah, I’d still be considered in basic training the whole time I was recovering, so I was looking at nearly two years without family visitation or even phone calls back and forth to them) or I’d get a medical discharge. Not looking forward to two years of isolation from my family except for letter writing, I opted to head home. I was already out of the Navy by the time I turned 18.

That left me with trying to determine what Plan C was going to be for the future. So I enrolled in the local community college in a drafting program, with the hopes that I would like it enough to turn that into a career as an architect. Problem is, I hadn’t matured enough to discipline myself when it came to homework, so my attempt at becoming an architect was short lived.

I eventually learned how to knuckle down and do homework, and have two vocational certificates in massage therapy and pharmacy technology to show for it. But this story isn’t about those educational pursuits. This is about my continuing love for architecture.

My all-time favorite novel is Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, which is set around the construction of a cathedral in 12th century England. While the story is driven more by the cast of characters involved with the construction and the towns around it, there is a fair amount of detail spent on the finer points of architecture and craftsmanship involved in creating such an awe-inspiring structure. I love both the epic story and the construction details equally.

In 2008, the LEGO Group announced and introduced its Architecture sub-brand. Chicago architect Adam Reed Tucker, who had hit upon the idea of making architectural models out of LEGO bricks, designed the first few pieces in the collection, which included the Sears (now Willis) Tower, the John Hancock Building, the Empire State Building, the Seattle Space Needle, the Guggenheim Museum, and Fallingwater, the Mill Run, Pennsylvania residence designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the eight years since its introduction, the Architecture sub-brand, split into the Landmark, Architect, and most recently Skyline series, has evolved greatly. The methods of construction are becoming more and more sophisticated, as can be shown when comparing the earlier, retired model of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (little more than barrel-shaped pieces stacked high to approximate the shape of the actual tower) to the recently released updated Burj Khalifa model, which uses more bricks, significantly more sophisticated construction methods, and is considerably more faithful to the original building.

I have constructed nine of the 32 models that have been released. The Guggenheim Museum was my first, and I have subsequently added Big Ben, the Seattle Space Needle, the United Nations Headquarters, Trevi Fountain, the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the new, updated Burj Khalifa. But the one that I always wanted to acquire the most – Fallingwater – always slipped through my fingers until it was finally retired, as many of the sets are now.

Fallingwater was the pinnacle of the series, in my opinion. Incorporating not just the building but the environment around it, its 811 pieces made it the third largest set, behind the Robie House in Chicago (2,276 pieces) and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1,188 pieces). That many pieces carried a high price tag and it was always out of reach for us. We could never justify its purchase while it was still available and I long regretted letting it slip away.

However, life sometimes has a funny way of working itself out. Recently I checked Amazon, just to see what was available in the line, and lo and behold there was a brand-new, never opened Fallingwater. It was significantly more expensive – it is said that LEGO kits are arguably a better financial investment than gold – but it was available. I checked the budget, found just enough room, checked with my wife to be sure that spending that much money on what was effectively a toy was okay, and hit the purchase button.

The set that I’ve been wanting for years is now sitting on my dining room table, awaiting my wife’s arrival. We have a system. She organizes the bricks into trays for easier access, and I build while she (usually) knits or crochets. It’s honestly all I can do to not go open it and get started without her here, but I figure I’ve waited for years for this, I can manage to wait a few more hours for the build.

I’ll put a picture of the finished build in tomorrow’s post, and will have the full photo series in my Facebook album.

This is my tenth LEGO Architecture kit, which in some people’s opinion officially makes this a collection. I’m very pleased to make it official with the one that got away – but not forever.

Building LEGO kits isn’t the same as being an architect, but I can still appreciate the principles of architecture. I also own the LEGO Architecture Studio, which is a collection of over 1,200 white and clear pieces to allow for creative construction without instruction. It’s a way for me to express my creativity. Some pieces I’ve built are worth sharing; some, well … not so much. The point is that I can build whatever I want within the limitations of a huge number of bricks, and the bigger point is that I’m having fun. I don’t count the Studio in my collection, since it isn’t designed to make a specific building and can’t accurately be called a “kit” in that sense. But the Studio, my eleventh LEGO set, is by far my favorite. It lets me explore. It lets me create. And it lets me wonder what could have been.

I try to live my life without regrets, knowing that even one different decision could have vastly altered the life I live now. Would those changes be better? I’ll never know, and it’s a frustrating thing to try and speculate what decisions would have made my life better and which ones would have made them worse. Granted, I don’t have the best life. I’m practically a shut-in due to my mental illnesses, money is exceptionally tight, and I have a host of other physical illnesses that I would prefer not to be dealing with. But I have an amazing wife and a supportive network of friends and family that love me and want the best for me, and that’s honestly the most important of all.

The door to becoming an architect isn’t entirely closed off for me. I wouldn’t have a very long career, but it’s a possibility. And that’s what life is, a series of possibilities. Tonight my possibilities will involve building my dream LEGO kit.

And who knows what possibilities will present themselves tomorrow?

One Giant Leap

Standard

Back on Sunday I wrote vaguely about my greatest shame, and how it would be a topic of conversation between me and my therapist at some point in the future.

That point was today.

I’ve told the story before, but clinically, never invoking the emotions that I felt during the experience, and so I’ve never really fully told the story to anyone but my wife. It was surprisingly easy to get out once I started. I digressed during the telling of it to tell another, unrelated story from my childhood. While I’m still keeping my shame to myself for now, this part of the story I’ll share with you.


When I was about 17 I took off from home for a couple days to get my head screwed on straight. I wouldn’t call it “running away,” since I had every intention to go back home. I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina at the time and I took an evening drive to Washington, DC, arriving there around three in the morning.

It was something of a different time, and I wasn’t aware that Washington was a town you really shouldn’t be out by yourself at age 17 at three in the morning. But they had installed the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial since my last visit to Washington, and I wanted to see it, so that’s where I found myself.

I wasn’t alone. At that time – they may still be doing this, for all I know – there was a small visitor’s tent set up where the walkway to the Wall intersected with the sidewalk on the street. It was manned, and inside they had a guide to find any name on the Wall, along with solicitations for veterans’ relief funds. I gave a couple dollars, which was a significant part of what I had on me at the time, picked up the guide, and went down to the Wall to pay my respects. I spent maybe thirty minutes at the wall, just taking in what it meant to be face to face with so very many names of those that never made it home.

The walkway ran parallel to the Wall and turned with it, heading back up the hill toward the statue of three soldiers that was opposite the visitor’s tent.

There was a man there, and he was crying.

The part of me that felt like I should at least give the man an ear took over, and I asked him if he was okay, and he told me his story.

He served in Vietnam, lived in Washington state, and had saved for three years to make it out to Washington to find the names of his fallen comrades. He finally made it out and took pictures to have a tangible memory of the place to take home with him.

He set his camera down for a moment at the base of the statue, turned away for a moment … and someone stole his camera.

That was the last straw for this guy. My heart went out to him, and I held him for several minutes while he vented his tears and frustration and what had to be anger onto my shoulder.


When I told this story today in therapy, it brought me to tears, and I couldn’t figure out why spilling my guts about my darkest moments would keep me dry eyed, yet telling this unrelated tale about someone I spent maybe ten minutes with total would make me cry. It was my wife that pointed out the similarities between that situation and mine, and I knew that she was right.

So next session we’re going to touch on the feelings that the story about the veteran brought out and how they relate to my own past, and hopefully start getting to the meat of the matter: the climate that arose in my life after my darkest moments were over.

I know that I’m being vague, and I apologize for that, but some things I may never be 100% ready to discuss in a public forum. Just know that today I took a huge step towards processing the mess my past has gotten me into.

Overnight Musings

Standard

I have a category for my overnight posts, when I’m suffering from insomnia. I haven’t written in it since last October, which is a good sign.

A lot of the time, my insomnia is fueled by either nightmares I can’t shake or migraines that won’t go away. Tonight’s a little different: I woke up with a terrible thirst and have steadily been polishing off the better part of a quart of water.

I woke up, dressed, went to the fridge for my water, then went to sit down and bundle up against the chill in the apartment. (We drop the temperature at night to promote better sleep, especially given that we have to close the bedroom door for the cat and the ventilation system to the bedroom sucks and we put off enough BTUs to raise the temperature in the bedroom almost ten degrees.) I did my reading and my learning for the day, puttered around on Facebook and settled in to write. And here I am.

Physically, I’m tired, but my mind won’t slow down. I’m still asking myself the question “why did the killings in Orlando happen?” I wish I knew why this incident has affected me so. While I was bothered and disturbed by all of them, I didn’t lose sleep over San Bernadino, or Charleston, or Sandy Hook, or any other mass killing that’s taken place in recent years. Maybe it’s the sheer numbers involved, I don’t know. All I know is that my mind is obsessed with this event and cannot let it go.

I think my body is finally starting to lose the battle against my mind for sleep. I might take half a sleeping pill to make sure I stay down this time.

We Are Orlando

Standard

I’ve tried to avoid being political or deal with what would be controversial topics on my wall and in my blog. I’ve tried to put the focus on me and my own struggles. But this is my struggle today, and so here it is.

I’ve tried unsuccessfully for the last 36 hours or so to put into words my feelings about the massacre in Orlando yesterday morning. I felt shock at first, and then almost immediately anger. It was my earliest belief that this was a hate crime, that no one would randomly choose to open fire in a gay nightclub – this was a statement. The first I heard about this was when the news alert woke me on my phone in the middle of the night, and there were only 20 confirmed dead at that point. By the time I had woken up the next morning, the death toll was at 50, and I was horrified at the senseless loss of innocent lives. Twenty is bad enough, but a mass shooting with 50 fatalities is unprecedented in this country.

Snippets of information came out about the shooter. He was Muslim – this was likely a terrorist attack. The shooter had called 911 beforehand pledging his allegiance to Daesh – this was definitely a terrorist attack. The family of the shooter almost immediately apologized about their son’s actions and mentioned that their son had become enraged when he had seen two men kissing in public. He wasn’t a practicing Muslim, they said. He was born in New York. He had been investigated twice by the FBI and was still allowed to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. His father was sympathetic toward the Taliban and had once run for the presidency of Afghanistan. We also started to learn about the victims. The shooting occurred during Pulse’s Latin night, and the vast majority of the victims’ names that have been released to the public appear to be Hispanic in origin.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this tragedy is that instead of bringing us closer together as a nation, it’s splitting us apart. The information that we’ve been given is a veritable soup of marginalization: Gay Hispanics shot by a Muslim proclaiming terrorist allegiances. This is a hateful crime and we have to point our hate somewhere.

Some are pointing fingers at Muslims in general. This is just further proof that we need to ban every single one of them from our country, they say. But the fact remains that this isn’t a zealous and devout Muslim – this attack occurred during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a period of time in which murder is especially disavowed among practicing Muslims.

Some are pointing fingers at the LGBT community. One tweet stated that the shooter was a hero and the cops should be sued for killing a hero doing social justice. There are many others that similarly cheer the shooter for his actions. The LGBT community, however, was doing something that has been fleetingly rare in their history – gathering in what they thought was a safe place, having a good time.Was that their crime? Or was it the fact that they exist at all? Recent Supreme Court rulings have favored the LGBT community, with the capstone being marriage equality. But this incident shows that the fight for true equality is nowhere near over.

Some are pointing fingers at gun owners. It’s because guns are easy to get that these shootings occur. We need to tightly control Americans’ access to firearms. Yet every firearm owner that I know, and I know many of them, are trained with the weapons they own and are 100% responsible with them.

To be honest, unless the shooter left behind a manifesto of his actions somewhere, we may never know with absolute certainty why this tragedy occurred. It would be easy to speculate, and speculation is ripe with preconceived notions, but for now, we can’t be sure. Did he act on his own rage at coming face-to-face with a same-sex couple? Was this a radicalized lone wolf making his mark for his terrorist organization? We just can’t tell. We all have our suspicions, though, and I have my own.

But I think one of my friends on Facebook said it best. “We are all Americans. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” The fact remains that this is the worst mass shooting in American history, and there are many stories to tell.

There are the survivors, those that were there and lived to tell the tale, who will never be the same again.

There are the families of the deceased, whose lives will be forever diminished because of their loss. There is also the potential that one or more of these families will be learning of their loved one’s sexual orientation for the first time in the aftermath of the killings.

There are the investigators, who in the commission of their jobs have to listen to the unending ringtones of the victims’ cellphones from loved ones trying to check in. At the other end of every ring is a family or a friend that will eventually need to come to grips with that cellphone never being answered again.

And there are the helpers.

Fred Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” And the helpers in Orlando are many. The lines to donate blood were several hours long. A GoFundMe page was established to raise money for the survivors. In just over a day, it’s raised over $2.1 million. Counselors and social workers are going to Orlando from all across the nation to help the community begin the healing process.

Earlier today I posted to Facebook, “I cannot vocalize the mix of emotions that I experienced yesterday as I learned about the news from Orlando and then read subsequent news and opinion about the tragedy. All I can say is that yesterday was incredibly difficult to stay plugged into social media and today, my heart still hurts for Orlando.” I still stand by that. I have many emotions that I’m still trying to process, and I haven’t gone into much detail about them here. What I have tried to do instead is put some perspective on the situation that’s still unfolding as I write these words.

Until we know for certain, I prefer to think of this as a single man, acting alone, that for whatever reason thought that killing 50 people in a nightclub was an appropriate action. Everything beyond that, at this point in time, is speculation that we’ll hopefully clear up with fact someday, so that we know why. And I believe that when we know for certain why this tragedy occurred, we can all begin the healing process.