Depressed Rememberings of Past Depressions

In a cheap hotel room I sat with my laptop googling prices of helium and co2 gas. When I wasn’t doing that I was seeing if there were any times listed online for freight trains near where I was sleeping. When I wasn’t doing that I was trying to figure out how to get gas tanks delivered since I didn’t have a car or a truck. When I wasn’t doing that I was trying to find the closest over ground train high speed line and transportation to that spot. Then I would considered the merits of burning coal in my hotel bathroom while taking a hot bath. In between all those things I cried and thought about how hopeless everything was and then wonder where I would be sleeping the next night. If I had the night shift at work it wasn’t really a concern but on days I didn’t i’d have to scrounge up money and hope I had enough for a hotel room. Or maybe that my mom would let me crash. Or I’d sleep at a train station. When I wanted to stop thinking, I would take some sleeping pills and stream something on my laptop until they kicked in then I would go to sleep.

Eventually I found somewhere to live thanks to a nonprofit. I had a med change and the hopelessness disappeared but it was also the beginning of Spring and my mood always shifts in the Spring out of depression or at least out of soul crushing depression. I’ve been thinking a lot about those days when I was sleeping at libraries during the day, working at night, getting paid only to spend it all staying in a hotel for less than a week. About the despair, sadness, and hopelessness that was so bad I could feel it physically. How my best friend tried to bring me out of it, tried to make me see light and I called bullshit on all of it. I still do. Still did when my mood lifted. I’m feeling it physically now in this moment, the depression, the sadness. I took pen to paper the other night and realized I have never felt truly connected to anything since I was in my freshman year of college. I don’t feel truly connected to people either, all the contact feels superficial even when its supposed to be meaningful. I’m just rambling at this point. Today was the first snow of the year where I live. Yay. See superficial. Ha.

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Fall Melancholy

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Its hit me the other day. I woke up hopeful, refreshed, ready to tackle the day. I grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down at the computer, and it hit me out of nowhere, the fall melancholy. I sat at the computer and decided to distract myself, no, I decided not to be productive. The sadness that enveloped me gave me a “fuck it I don’t care about anything” energy. I wasn’t home, I was at a nonprofit supposed to be looking for a job but I was on facebook, reddit, and news sites. Eventually I decided to have one of the employment specialists look over my cover letter. I threw myself into improving it and the sadness lifted a little. I got a conditional job offer not too long after that and a request for a drug test, so I went to complete that. The movement of that afternoon let me escape the low mood. I felt content and accomplished for the day. But I know it will be back, it always starts with morning depression and evolves into all day depression. It turns me dispassionate, angry, and suicidal. I’m on meds so maybe a bump up can do damage control. The fall is always the beginning, winter is the worst of it, and then the spring brings a nice hypomania. Hello fall melancholy, I knew you’d be back.

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Pennsyltuckians Aint All Bad

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to attend a college that was in Pennsyltucky land.  If you’re not familiar with that term, its what we inner city/suburban liberal folk call the rural areas of Pennsylvania that won Trump our state in the last election. Pennsyltuckians are often seen are racist, uneducated, and dumb. When people in my neighborhood found out what college I chose to attend, they would warn me, “You know the KKK is out there.” People were basically telling me that my college choice was not a smart one for a black guy from the inner city. I ignored them and went anyway and my experience did not jibe with the warnings I was given. Pennsyltuckians are not the dumb, racist, country bumpkins people a lot of urban liberals like to paint them as with a broad brush.

At college, we referred to the employees at the university as “townies.” Although they weren’t necessarily from the town the college was located in, some commuted over an hour, that was how us students referred to them. My first real, non superficial, interaction with “townies” came when I took a job working at the commons desk my freshman year. One worker, Maggie, I just clicked with right away. We only worked with each other about 8 hours a week but we just got each other. Maggie had relatives that shared my last name so every time she saw me she’d go “HEY CUZ!” The following semester when I switched to weekend overnights, when the Maggie was not there, I found myself stopping by during the day between classes to talk to her. I didn’t know much about her life and she didn’t know much about mine, but she made me feel seen and valued, she was always cheerful with a smile on her face. One day during my Sophomore year, she messaged me on Facebook and said “I just want you to know, it gets better.” One of her family members, I later learned, committed suicide. It pissed me off. I was angry both because she saw something in me I didn’t personally share with her and that she thought I was vulnerable enough to need to hear that. I deleted her from Facebook that day and never spoke to her again, I regret that decision. I needed to hear those words as much as she probably needed to feel like she was doing something proactive to help someone she saw as similar to her cousin to ease her guilt.

My Sophomore year I moved to a different part of campus, it was here that I met Debbie. I used to see Debbie in the mornings when I went out for my post-wake-up, pre-class cigarette. She was usually out there her other coworkers who maintained my dorm and I would acknowledge them but we never really talked. Me and Debbie started to form a relationship one morning when I decided to skip classes for the day. I just happened to go out to smoke at the same time she was on her smoke breaks her entire shift. I don’t remember the exact reasons, but her coworkers were all off for the day. The next day when I went out for my morning smoke Debbie told her coworkers that I came out to smoke with her because they were not there. They all thought it was a nice thing to do so I just let them believe it was intent and not chance. But it was through that, that Debbie became more of a worker and I became more than faceless student.

Over time I learned a lot about Debbie. I learned that she and her husband had adopted a special needs child because she couldn’t have children. That she once fell in love with a Turkish guy, who flew her to Turkey to romance her and wanted to marry her. She didn’t like the rules for women in Turkey and she loved her husband so she declined. I learned that she took that trip to escape domestic violence, I learned that she stayed when she should have left. Another worker overheard her telling me this, looked at me and said “He’s a good man.” That infuriated me, and that was my first experience with people making apologies for abusers. Debbie, bless her heart, always tried to impress me and assure me she wasn’t racist by telling me about the black kid from the inner city her family took in one summer while she was growing up. Debbie eventually became my “[college name redacted] mom.” I’d bitch to her about school, family, and friends, she’d give me cigarettes if I was out. Once, when I was between jobs and hadn’t spoken to my family in months; she brought me a cell phone and told me to call my family. I didn’t particularly want to talk to them, we weren’t on good terms, but she convinced me. It wasn’t all serious though, Debbie was a bit of a comedian, we spent most of our time laughing. Debbie was a huge comfort to me during years when I was struggling with depression and feelings of loneliness. Junior year, I stayed in the same dorm and she had the same assignment. When my friend dropped me off in the parking lot during move in day, she was out there smoking. We both ran towards each other and embraced, I knew I was home. Debbie and Maggie knew each other and somehow I became the topic of conversation between them during a staff meeting. Debbie kept trying to convince me to go see Maggie but my pride was still bruised from her message and so I never did.

Charlie was one of Debbie’s coworkers who started speaking after the day I kept Debbie company. Charlie was a real salt of the Earth guy. He was middle aged, had a beer belly, a gotee, and talked like Jeff Foxworthy. The thing I remember most about Charlie was a story he’d told me about the struggle he and his wife had trying to have children. They had always wanted a baby girl, and after trying for awhile, their dream came true, his wife was pregnant with a baby girl. I was almost reduced to tears when he told me she was stillborn. He carried a picture of her in his wallet.

Vince was something I never expected to come across; an openly gay middle aged man living in a rural area. At that time of my life, I just took for granted that gay men fled the country for suburbs or cities. That’s what pop culture would lead you to believe anyway. Vince was a bit of a pervert. He’d lust after all the cute college boys. I wasn’t his type thankfully, he liked white athletic jocks. He’d go above and beyond for them in his job duties trying to get into their pants, I don’t know if he ever succeeded. But when he didn’t succeed with the college boys, he’d invite men to the university to have sex with him in empty dorm rooms.

There were a couple of other university employees that I had a repour with. There was Jeff, who had a very fatherly disposition about him. He was a little effeminate and I thought he was gay until he told me he had two daughters. Jim would always greet me when I was walking through the commons on his shift and we’d chat. There was Julie who always seemed done with everyone’s bullshit even though she never did anything to infer that. She had a raspy “I’ve been smoking since I could breathe voice” and she was a proud grandmother.

One day, Debbie invited me into the breakroom because the university had catered some food for the employees. I meant to just grab some food and leave, but Debbie told me to sit down. All the workers there knew me so I just hung out and talked. After that day, I would occasionally be invited into or stop by the break-room to hang out with them. I learned so much about the goings on of the university through them and most of it made me angry. One thing that sticks with me was that these workers only made eight dollars an hour and my tuition (in state) was over 20,000. Along with the university behind the scenes goings on I also heard hilarious workplace gossip.

On weekends when Debbie and Charlie were off, we would all meet up in Yoville. Yoville, was a facebook game where you create an avatar and interact with other avatars in the town called “Yoville.” Me and Debbie would create Jerry Springer events and other Yovillian’s would come in and watch the drama unfold. We used to recruit people to play the guests. It sounds silly, but it was a lot of fun.

And then there was Sue. Sue was not a university employee but managed a local convenience store off campus I frequented to buy cigs. One day I applied for a job and she hired me on the spot. Sue was a bit of a hippy. In her youth she had been a deadhead, she once lived in a commune, and she loved to smoke weed. She invited me to come on a roadtrip during the summer with her and her husband to go to a concert. I declined because I couldn’t find another student to commit to go with me. I think me and Sue clicked because I respected and liked her eccentric nature. I’ve always been inside, what she was outside, I just didn’t really express or live it. Sue valued me as an employee, she fought her boss to get me a raise, and I got it. I was the highest paid non-management employee at whopping 7.75. It wasn’t much but I appreciated it nonetheless. One day, it got back to Sue’s manager that she smoked weed. Sue’s manager was a total C U next Tuesday. Anyway, her manager told her she had to take a drug test or resign. Sue resigned, but being the free spirit she was, she smoked a bowl in front of the store in peaceful protest on her last day. The manager who followed Sue also respected my work ethic and invited me to live with her for the summer when I expressed I didn’t want to return home but couldn’t afford an apartment.

These middle age, white, blue collar, “uneducated,” Pennsyltuckians made me feel a sense of community, value, and belonging. Me, a young black guy from the inner city. Given everything that’s said about Pennsyltuckians this should not have happened. Although I do admit its a bit unlikely. I’m sure some of these ones not mentioned here who I liked were just doing their job but the ones I connected with really touched me. They let me into their lives, invited me into their breakroom, and even into their homes. They never treated me with anything but kindness and respect. I was struggling with depression and they kept me out of my head. Gave me something to look forward to every morning when I woke up, and gave me someone to talk to during the darker periods when I needed company and my friends were too busy to make time for me. Even though I never talked about my depression with them, just joking, shooting the shit, and hearing workplace gossip was enough to make me feel better. Or if not that just them seeming happy to see me in passing could improve my mood. There was a connectedness with them I never really felt with my peers.

We never discussed politics, so i’m not sure what theirs were, but I highly doubt they were out to support the far right if they voted Trump. I felt kind of smug for getting to know these townies. Like I was doing something good because most students didn’t give them a second thought; but the truth is they may have saved me. And to be clear, these workers didn’t live in the town that was the liberal oasis surrounding my college. These workers commuted over an hour to get to the university. To put the area of the state into perspective, a black teaching assistant told me a story about a realtor in the next town over who asked her if her children were mixed. The words used were “are they like you?” The realtor told her if they weren’t at least mixed, it probably wasn’t a good idea to move there.

I hope this isn’t coming off as something similar to “not all men” but this has been on my mind lately and I wanted to share my version of Pennsyltuckians vs. how the media paints them.

 

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Not Putting the Pieces Back Together: New Beginning

The final months of 2016 and the beginning months of 2017 were very trying and marked the end of an era for me.

Brief Summary:

I was swinging between depression and mania, I impulsively quit a job that was bad for my mental health, I lost my apartment, went through 3 jobs in 2 months, was misunderstood by family and friends, kicked out by my family, slept on the street and in hotels for awhile, taken in by a shelter, found stable employment, got a new place, found a therapist who has opened my eyes to communities such as the hearing voices and antipsychiatry movement, my psychiatrist is not that great but I advocate for myself, and basically, after all that hell, things are looking up.

I’m starting over from scratch. Most people talk about putting the pieces back together but I don’t want to put the pieces of my old life back together. It was full of toxic relationships, bad mental health professionals, bootstrapping when it was wiser to change course, medications that were doing more harm than good, low self confidence, begging to be accepted, and listening to people who don’t live with my illness or more importantly live my life.

Through adversity I have begun to discover myself. I have become more grounded more self aware and was forced to face some harsh truths. I had been living in a fairly tale world propped up by people who choose to lie to themselves but I can’t or won’t do it anymore. I don’t know where I’m headed or where life will take me but, although it isn’t perfect, the life im building is one I am fighting tooth and nail for, one I feel contentment with. I’m finding my peace, what works for me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Farewell Grandmom Bell

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So thats it, you’re gone. Its funny, I started working on a family tree a couple of years ago and there were so many questions I wanted to ask you, so much I realized I didn’t know about your life. I kept meaning to ask you these questions, to get to know you, but I didn’t. Our phone calls seemed like the wrong time to do it because I didn’t call much and those were catch up times plus keeping you on the phone more the ten minutes was a chore, of course I always meant to call more, but when we think we have time we neglect to do those things. We get so caught up in ourselves and our lives that we forget to make time for those we love.

I came to visit you last August because your grasp on life was slipping away and I honestly didn’t know how to react. On the days leading up to my trip I thought about all the things I wanted to say to you because it might have been the last time I saw you alive, and it was. But words failed me, I froze up, and all that was left was me clumsily trying to help take care of you. I covered your feet with a blanket, I brought your drinks to you, I tried with those small actions to say everything that was in my heart. I don’t know if you heard me but I hope you did.

All I’m left with now is memories. Memories of your famous home made pancakes, your love of Passions, General Hospital, and Days Of Our Lives, how you would affectionately call me a coon, and memories of summers long ago passed when life was simpler and you were still here.

My aunts, uncles, cousins sometimes tell me things about your life that you never personally shared with me. In those moments I get a glimpse of someone I never knew. I always wondered why you didn’t share anything about your life with me. Was it because I didn’t ask? Was it because of our distance? Were you just a private person like me? I’ll never know but I have to admit it hurt a little. Part of me feels like I never knew you. And the chance to get to know you is passed.

You leave behind a big family. A family that will never forget you and how you cared for all of us. Thank you for everything, I love you, and I’m glad you are finally at peace.

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Recovery is a lie

Is recovery a lie? I think it is but we all have different definitions of recovery I guess. Recovery for me has always meant a life free of symptoms of my mental illness or at least learning ways to cope that would allow me to function seamlessly in the largely neurotypical world, neither thing has happened for me and I don’t believe it ever will. I’ve been “in recovery” for pretty much my entire adult life and things aren’t getting easier they are getting more challenging.

I have seen people online declare themselves recovered from mental illness when they can’t do things like hold a job or go outside on a regular basis. If you can’t work, function in your society the way that is expected as a non-ill person in what way are you recovered? Your illness is still hindering you, you are still sick. Even the people who work, have families, and do all the “normal” life things who are considered recovered will often describe how hard it is but they bite their lip and power through.

I’ve done everything in different combinations. Medication, exercise, meditation, herbal supplements, vitamins, therapy, dietary changes, none of it works. Sure it can make things less sucky but mental illness will always suck, always affect you, unless you are one of the lucky ones whose illness just disappears one day.

Recovery is a lie. It’s one of those meaningless over positive concepts somebody made up to give the mentally ill hope, but its a sham. I’m done believing and done hoping, it will always be hard, it will always affect my life, I will never have sense of normalcy.

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I Breathe

Eyes wide, 

Each step intentional, 

I breathe consciously, 

Inhale peace, 

Exhale strife, 

I’m breathing through my life, 

Each moment aware, 

I feel the pain and despair, 

I breathe, 

I feel the contentment and peace, 

I breathe, 

I listen, 

I learn, 

I transform, 

I breathe. 

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