Return

It’s been a rough month.

Not in any big way, but in a million little small ones.

I have been fighting with my depression, like spinning with a pail full of water; if I slow down my rotation, the water will come spilling out.  I have felt the pull of depression a lot the last few weeks.  Not wanting to get out of bed.  Being short tempered with friends and family.

And not writing.

When I write, I tend to look inside myself, and sometimes I just don’t feel like I will sruvive the process.  But now it is an infection, swollen and painful.  I have to dig it out, before I can start to heal.

So, after a year on this blog, I took a month off.  I let the bad parts of life win for a little while.  I allowed myself to feel bad.  It’s time to get back.  It’s time to get better.

A Writer’s Predicament

The last few weeks have been fairly steady in the writing department for me.  I have been able to not only put out a regular post every Wednesday, but I have been able to post a quick blurb and recap every Sunday.  I wanted to try this kind of a format and see if it was sustainable for me, especially during a time when my schedule would allow it.  It has been wonderful to get be able to put out pieces on a fairly regular basis and the feedback from people has been positive.

However, now things are coming to a point: I am getting ready for a vacation, I am developing an idea for a novel, I am actively writing a novella, and I am helping to edit a colleague’s book.  I’m a little busy.

Believe me, this is a wonderful problem to have.  I started this blog a year ago to try and push myself to be a better writer.  To develop the ideas inside of me.  To work through problems.  To evolve my own voice.  I have been able to do that, and will continue to work at it.  I am finding ways to create content, and, more importantly, to get it out on time.  This is a very big thing for me.  Deadlines have not always been my friend.

My current predicament, however, is just the kind of problem I have always wanted; I have too many ideas.  I have struggled writing posts precisely because I have so many things to say.  Most of my creative writing efforts are going into the long forms that I’m working on, leaving me with more non-fiction works for my blog.  But even those need research, fact-checking, drafts, editing.

Last week I was getting fairly discouraged.  I did not feel that I was putting out my best work on the blog, I had stalled on my novel, and all of my writing just felt flat.  I emailed a long time collaborator, and she asked me a very simple question; why do you write?  Her answer is the same as mine.  The same for most people who write.

I do it because I have to.  I write to not go insane.  I write to get the stories out.  I write to create worlds and tell tales and to get my point across.  I write because I’ve tried not writing, and it almost killed me.

Maybe I will never finish the stories I’m working on.  Maybe I will never be on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Maybe I will never make money on my writing.  But that isn’t why I write.  I write because it is who I am.  I write to survive.

I will continue to write.  Sometimes it will be good, and sometimes it will be bad.  Sometimes I will be uninspired and struggle to put out a post saying I am having a hard time putting out a post.  But sometimes, every once in a while, I will be great.  And I will keep trying, and keep improving, because I have to.

Thank you for coming along for the ride.


I’m on vacation this week, but please stay tuned for a very special post this week from Krisann Gentry.  She has been my friend, editor, and confidant for many years, and is truly a wonderful person and friend.  And I can’t wait to see what she has to say on Wednesday.

  • Check out last week’s post, A letter to my son.
  • My friends at Nicolife have released the 5th episode.  Enjoy.
  • Found a fun data chart of The Beatles, answering many questions you never knew you had.  Give it a look here.

 

Sometimes

Sometimes it happens without you realizing it.  All of a sudden you look up and see that you haven’t written in 2 weeks and that you have been fairly distant, and have tried to keep people at arm’s length.  That maybe, just maybe, you’re fighting some depression.

Having a bout of depression doesn’t always mean that you don’t want to get out of bed, or that you don’t have any energy, or that you start crying for no reason.  At least, not for me.  Sometimes it just means you feel raw.  Exposed.  It means tapping into feelings and emotions is not feasible that day.

Sometimes it means that I don’t have the energy to write.  Sometimes it means I can go to work.  I can survive that, help my clients, do the small talk that is expected.  I can crack jokes and laugh and do what I can to keep people just far enough away.  When it is like that, it means that I have to budget my energy.  I have to figure out what I can do, and be comfortable with that.

That doesn’t mean I stop striving for more, or to be the best i can be, but sometimes I have to accept what that means.  It also means I need to keep watching and learning what this disease looks like for me.

I travelled for work last week.  I spent a week living out of a hotel room, in a place I’m not very familiar with and with people I don’t know.  I missed my son and my wife.  I missed my dog.  I wasn’t eating how I normally do, and I wasn’t sleeping very well.  But it still took me until I got home to realize that I may have been experiencing an attack.  A minor bout, but one all the same.

I set a goal to write a four part story last month, and I didn’t.  But I am not going to let that stop me.  I am still finishing it; Part 3 will come out on Wednesday, Part 4 next Wednesday.  The rest of February will be a break from that format, but I’m going to try again in March.

Keep fighting friends.  We are all in this together.

Goodbye & Godspeed

It is December 31, 2015.  It is tradional on this day to look back at the year and try to make sense of it.

2015, you made no sense.

With that in mind, I will attempt to explain my year.

I survived.  My family is healthy.  I have a job.  I have a wonderful son, and a beautiful wife.  Depression hasn’t beaten me.  I got to meet my writing hero.

All of these things have been written about on this blog.  I have been posting consistently for less than a year.  My first post was in April, This is why I drink coffee.

The next week I decided that I needed to be honest with my friends about my depression, and mark Mental Health Awareness Month, so I wrote #IWishMyFriendsKnew.

June and July brought Unfinished Stories, a collaboration with a few friends to write stories together.

A Love Story was told in August, and September was a very rough month with Trigger Words and Bagels flowing freely.

October was all about Passed Away Relationships, while November told of my struggle with Bell’s Palsy.  But mostly, it was about Paris.

December I got to talk about meeting The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, and being Furiously Happy.  I also got to talk about an Awakening, have you felt it?

My stats page tell me that I have had over 1,900 views.  That #IWishMyFriendsKnew is my most read post, that I have sent people to my friends pages through Unfinished Stories, and that I have had readers in 42 countries, and have posted a total of 39 times in 2015.

And I am just getting started.  Goodbye 2015, hello 2016!

 

Well, at least I didn’t embarrass myself…

I have spoken a couple of times about Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess.  She has an amazing blog and a couple of great books.  She is amazing.

Last week I travelled to Bookshop Santa Cruz in, perhaps not that shockingly, Santa Cruz, California, and met my hero.

Jenny wrote a book this year, Furiously Happy, and was doing a book signing.  I had bought the book (twice technically…) and I was going to the signing.  My wife had jumped at the chance to go, even reading both books to “prepare.”  I’m still not sure it is possible to prepare for something like this, but I appreciated the attempt.  The night before the signing we realized our son was coming down with a little bug and we had to do some real soul searching; taking a two-year old to a book signing a couple of hours away already seemed like it was an idea bordering on insanity, but the thought of taking a sick two year old on the same trip sounded like something that would get you murdered by a group of very angry people.

My mother wonderfully volunteered to go with me, saving me the unsightly task of begging.  We drove to Santa Cruz, arrived on time, mostly, then walked to the Bookshop.  It was packed.  Like bursting at the

IMG_2614

This was our view.  I may, or may not, be standing on a shelf.  Sorry Santa Cruz.

seams, chock full of awkward and mildly ill people; not in a death and dysentery kind of way, more like a “I’m going to hide under my coat until everyone is gone,” kind of way.  My mother and I found a place to stand, in a canyon of travel books.  We had a pretty good view, although not comfortable in any way.

Jenny was wonderful.  She was honest that the drugs hadn’t kicked in yet, and yet confident.  She was funny, articulate, and rambling.  She read two chapters from Furiously Happy.  She answered questions.  She reminded me why I started blogging again, and why I started writing to begin with.  She reminded me that we are all broken and that’s ok.

The talk was over far too quickly.  I could have listened to her for hours.  Then we started lining up for the signing portion.  This is where it gets difficult for me; see, while I don’t like being surrounded by a lot of people, I really don’t like situations that require me to talk to people.  And even less than that, situations where I might embarrass myself.  Or do the wrong thing.  Or really anytime it seems I might be inconveniencing other people.  Like when I am forcing them to sign something.

My mom was there, trying to keep my mind off of it.  I was trying not to knock over tables filled with books.  I realized my fingertips were sweating, then I started worrying I was going to fling my book at Jenny.  I would be the one that hit Jenny in the face with her own book.  Then I was next in line.

I’m really not sure what I said.  I knelt down in front of her to be more eye level.  I looked at her and…I told her.  I told her thank you for making it ok IMG_2643to be broken.  Thank you for making it so I could be honest about who I am.  For making it so that I could talk to my parents and wife about it.  That I have a blog.  That I’m working on a book.  And I know I can do all of this because of her.  She listened to me, agreed with me.  She added in points, about how it makes it easier to talk about it.  That we are a little less alone.  About how wonderful Twitter is.  She signed my book while doing all of this.  The drugs had obviously kicked in for her by this point, because there was no way I would have been able to do all of that.

There are so many moments from that night that aren’t written here: from meeting Jenny’s sister and recommending where to go find wine, to introducing my mother to a vanilla latte from Verve, and the talk on the way there, and the slightly more real conversation on the way home.  I will remember the awakward people in line, and the insane racoon the bookshop gave her.  I will remember that she really listened to me.

Everyone says, “Don’t meet your heros, you’ll just get let down.”  Meeting your heros isn’t so bad.  Not when your heros are this badass.

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Looking Forward

I can’t be funny today.

I can’t be inquisitive or creative today.

I can only survive.  I can only keep walking.  Keep breathing.  Keep trying.

Last week I wanted to post this great peice about Thanksgiving and how we can come together and celebrate as a nation and humanity what we have.  But I couldn’t.  It didn’t feel…true.

I’m looking from the wrong side of the window this week to talk of hope and happiness.

So instead, of that noise, these are the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Furiously Happy book signing in Santa Cruz.  I get to meet Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess, go read her.  Right now.)
  • Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.  The 12 year old in me is crying already.
  • Colder weather.
  • Doctor Who Christmas Special.  Because River Song.
  • Downton Abbey  in January.  Don’t judge.
  • Sleep.  I don’t know when this will happen, but I am so excited for when it does.

In the meantime, I’m drinking tea and trying to make it one more day.

The Bell’s (Palsy) Are Ringing, Part 2

Welcome back.  Thank you to everyone that reached out to say they had no idea, or to make sure I am doing ok.  It is also amazing how many have their own stories to share.  It amazes me every time.
This week is the conclusion to last week’s story.  If you missed it, please check out Part 1.  

It had been 7 days since my attack of Bell’s Palsy had started.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the worst was past me.  While I couldn’t move anything on the right side of my face, it hadn’t gotten any worse since the 4th day.  It’s like those dreams when you are trying to run but nothing happens, except this is with your face.  I returned to work.  Everyone was curious what had happened, wanted to make sure I was ok.  I didn’t want to talk to any of them.  I was not fully aware what my depression looked like yet, but I was pretty deep into it now.  I was wondering how I was supposed to do all the things I had wanted to do with only half a face; would never act again, never want to talk to people.  How was I supposed to get a job with this kind of face.

All of these concerns were secondary to my really big concern; I still had a 14 day deadline.  I just needed some kind of movement.  Every night I would stare into the mirror, focusing on my right side, and trying with every fiber in my being to make some movement.  I would strain until I cried.  For 8 days I did this and nothing happened.

Until that 11th day.

Every day I stared in the mirror, trying to smile.  To move my cheek.  To blink.  To smile.  I tried so hard I thought I had almost forgotten what it felt like to move those muscles.  Then it moved.

It wasn’t much, just the smallest, most wonderful, flex you’ve ever seen.  I did it again, just to make sure.  With a huge effort, I could make a small movement, barely a tic, in the middle of my right cheek.  I watched it one more time.  I asked my wife and father, who was visiting to help us move, if they could see it.  They could.  11 days, and recovery had started.  It continued from there, in small little steps.  There were irritating parts, to be sure; my right nostril would begin to feel like someone was tapping it, I would get a sudden pain in my right cheek, or my eye would become dry and scratchy.

As I continued healing I noticed a few weird effects.  The first, and most comical, was my eye would begin leaking when I ate.  As if I was salivating out of my eye.  Which, come to find out, was essentially what was happening.  Often, when someone is experiencing issues with the nervous system, a bizarre series of secondary issues, or sequelae, will follow.  This is due to a miswiring of the nerve with the muscle.  How does this occur?  Great question.  The simple answer is, that it just does; it can often occur just because the nerve is trying to heal and gets confused on where it should go.  The nerve that was supposed to go to my salivation gland had instead gone to my lacrimal gland.  But hyperlacrimation (which has several names, my favorite being Crocodile Tear Syndrome, which I think is unfair to crocodiles, as they almost never cry when they eat.) wasn’t the only sequelae I developed. I also discovered that my eye shuts when I try to smile, my cheek tics when I shut my eye, and I experience a roaring in my ear when I close my eyes, which makes it just a joy to try to sleep.

The process of trying to recover from this is still continuing; I found that massage helped me to recover a ton of movement, that practicing things like drinking with a straw in the middle of my mouth, puckering, has helped.  That swishing water in my mouth is best practiced in the shower.  That as much as I talk about it, I am terrified of acupuncture.  I also discovered that depression is made worse when you feel like you’ve lost yourself.  After we moved, I spent six months unemployed, mostly because I was afraid to go get to interviews and be rejected.  I didn’t want to talk to people.  I was embarrassed because this thing I use to communicate and convey meaning, was only half working.  But life continues and things get better.

After six months, my confidence had improved to where I did feel like I could go to an interview.  I ended up with a great job, and wonderful friends.  I still have the weird secondary issues, and probably always will.  I still have issues forming percussive sounds, the “P’s” and “B’s.”  Almost no one notices right away any more.  I still have to put drops in my eyes, especially when it is cold out.  My face gets tired after long days, and it still hurts sometimes.  I also live in constant fear that it is going to happen again.  No one is sure what causes it, but they do know that an attack increases your chances of it happening again.

Where recovery is now. I've come a long way, baby.

Where recovery is now. I’ve come a long way, baby.

This is just one more thing that is unique about me.  One more part of the puzzle.  There are moments that I realize it is affecting me; my face hurts or I catch someone staring a little too long.  Mostly I notice that it isn’t my smile any more, that my eye isn’t right and my mouth isn’t coming up like it should and that my cheek isn’t as rounded as it should.  I notice these things, but others don’t.  They see someone smiling.

And that’s why I wanted to talk about it.  After three years and a million miles of recovery.  After depression and therapy and work.  After finding out more about myself than I thought something like this would bring, I wanted to tell people about it.  I wanted people to know that scary things happen, things outside of our control.  Things that we never expected or never wanted, can lead us to places we needed to go.  Because you are not alone in this world.  The more we think we are alone, the more the world will show us that we aren’t.

The Bell’s (Palsy) Are Ringing, Part 1

The day started like every other day.  I was the opening lead for the Disneyland Monorail, so it started early; 6 am as I look back at my calendar.  It was a crisp early December morning, the kind in Southern California that make you think that just maybe, this year will be an actual winter.  It never is.

Myself and a friend on Oct. 30, 2012.

Myself and my friend Shayna.  This was the last picture I could find prior to my attack.

The night before I had felt like I was getting an earache, and it hadn’t really improved by morning.  If anything it had gotten worse.  By 8 am I was experiencing considerable pain in my right ear.  I called my doctor’s office as soon as they opened, and was able to get in at 9 am.  I left work early.

On my way out, I ran into a friend.  We hugged and laughed for a minute, and as I walked away I smiled.  That’s not interesting, I smile all the time; it covers my insecurities.  But this time was different.  This time the left side of my face…spasmed.  Like when your leg cramps up in the middle of the night.  The left side of my face pulled.  Hard.  My smile stopped.

I walked to my car and drove to the doctors.  I checked my rear view mirror a couple of times.  Everything was working just fine.  Everything seemed normal.  My doctor walked into the room.  She said that my ear looked slightly inflamed.  That it could be deeper in the ear canal than she could see.  That perhaps the spasm I had experienced was caused by the infection.  How right she was.

I left the doctor’s office not feeling much better, but at least with a prescription for antibiotics.  As I drove home I listened to an episode of the Nerdist podcast.  It is a funny podcast, and I laughed.  It happened again.  I looked in the mirror, and still nothing.  I walked in the door at home.  Looked in the mirror in the bathroom.  “Maybe…nah, just tricks of the light.”  I asked my wife, “Do you notice anything about my face?  Is it…behaving?”  I tried to not sound as freaked out as I felt.  She said it seemed like maybe the right side was swollen.

How my face looked at 2 pm

How my face looked at 2 pm

By 2 pm, I was noticing a distinct lessening of my ability to use the right side of my face.  I had started at 4 to get my doctor to call me, I had lost hope by 5 pm.  By 5 pm I was ready to use the word that I had been trying to avoid.  Paralyzed.

The next day I walked into the doctor’s office at opening.  I walked up to the counter and told the receptionist that I needed to see the doctor immediately.  She said that they were pretty booked today and that I could make an appointment for another day.  Then I said, “Well, my face seems to be paralyzed, so perhaps she wants to change her diagnosis from yesterday.”  Then I squinted.  Like the picture.  Except it was several hours later and it looked more like this:

How my face looked at 8 am the next morning.

How my face looked at 8 am the next morning.

There were no wrinkles on my right side.  My lip stayed horizontal.  My eye was barely shut.  The receptionist inhaled sharply, pushed her chair back from the desk, and said, “Head on back.”  Thank you.

My doctor walked in shortly.  Same room as yesterday.  Same ridiculous posters on the wall.  Totally different feeling.  She explained that she assumed it was just swelling from the ear infection. That perhaps it was deep in the ear canal and that it was causing a reaction in the face.  But looking at me now, she was changing her diagnosis.  She looked in my ear, had me try a couple of movements.  Then asked me a couple of questions.  The end result: Bell’s Palsy.

Bell’s Palsy is medically defined as a form of facial paralysis resulting from dysfunction of Cranial Nerve VII, or the facial nerve.  This causes the inability to control the facial muscles on the affected side.  Bell’s Palsy is technically diagnosed by exclusion; if we get rid of everything else, it’s probably Bell’s Palsy.

At the time, studies had believed that there was a link between Bell’s Palsy and the Herpes Simplex virus.  So a round of antivirals and some prednisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, was ordered.  It was also decided that I may as well finish the antibiotic I had started for the ear infection.  (note, Those studies have since been called into question.  The actual cause of Bell’s remains unknown.)

So, let’s sum up where we are in our story: I can’t move the right side of my face, I am on a cocktail of drugs that do not like my digestive system, and I am learning a host of things I never knew about the human body.  For example, do you know what
the facial nerve controls?  Because I do.   Intimately.  The VII Cranial Nerve controls:

  • forehead movement
  • blinking
  • nostril flaring
  • smiling
  • frowning
  • and, (this was particularly surprising) taste in the rear 2/3 of the tongue
Snapped this on December 7th, 3 days after the attack began. This was the worst it looked.

Snapped this on December 7th, 4 days after the attack began. This was just about the worst it looked.

It got really weird over the next few days.  It also got really depressing.  I was too embarrassed to go to work.  I wasn’t able to blink.  I had to manually close my right eyelid and then I could keep it closed.  But then I could hear a low rumble in my right ear as my muscles fought to hold it there.  Eating was difficult.  Drinking was next to impossible.  So, I did what any self-respecting guy would do; I went home to my mother.

Really we went up for the Vine St. Showcase, a Christmastime tradition in my hometown.  We went originally to see family and friends, enjoy the beginning of the holiday season, and to see our dogs.  But for me, it was a chance to get away and try to escape what life had become.  It had been 4 days, and it was only getting worse.

I had spent a lot of time looking up information about the condition I was now living with. I found that almost every study agreed that the sooner you regained movement, the higher your chances of making a full recovery.  The magic number seemed to be two weeks.

The race was on.  10 days and counting.

Click here for Part 2.

Two Weeks

My blog informs me that it has been 15 days since I’ve posted.  So that is another two week gap.  Looking back across my posts there are several of them; every one of them were during an attack.

I hate feeling this way.  Feeling as if getting out of bed is the biggest hurdle of the day, then realizing that I have to go to work and talk to other people.  It just makes me feel overwhelmed and exposed.

Really, the worst feeling is that I’m letting people down.  Whether it is my family or my friends, the people I work with.  I expect myself to be better than this, to be stronger.  To be able to think myself out of this emotional drain.  But I can’t.  My brain is broken.  Thinking myself out isn’t an option.

I am fortunate.  My case is usually not severe.  I have a support network of family and friends.  I have a creative outlet that I can let off steam, and a dog that knows when I’m having a rough day.  I have options.

Next month I am meeting a huge inspiration.  She is broken and wonderful and brilliant and a hero.  She has shown me that it is ok to be like this.  She has shown that honesty about the conditions we live with can be freeing.  That the disease doesn’t have to define you.  She is also a damn fine writer.

I will continue to try to do better.  I will continue to try to post once a week.  It’s good for me.  Besides, you never know who needs to hear it.

Until next week, be kind to each other.

I solemnly swear to be Furiously Happy

In early January 2012, I read a blog post that affected everything in my life. I was not in a great place in most parts of my life, and this post really helped me to understand myself a little better.
It was written by Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess.  I had stumbled upon her blog at some point in the past and always checked back because she was funny and strange and maybe a little crazy, but she seemed my kind of crazy and I love her writing.  Anyways, she had been posting about her personal battles with Depression and with beating it in the moment and a thousand other things.  This particular post was after a very long and difficult battle.  It said a great many wonderful things, and I really encourage everyone to read it.  But one thing she said in it was this; “I haven’t hurt myself in 3 days.  I sing strange battle-songs to myself in the darkness to scare away the demons.  I am a fighter when I need to be.”  I still get chills reading that.
I don’t self harm in a physical way, but all too often I let my inner voice and demons to the harming for me.  I have been in destructive cycles.  I allow myself to buy into the lies that Depression tells.
Jenny inspired me to pick up writing again.  To push myself to post every week.  To not let the Lies keep me down, but to survive and fight in spite of them.  For all of that I am eternally grateful.
When I read her first book, “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,” I fell in love with her writing.  I had always enjoyed her posts, but to read her in long form…let’s say that the woman next to me on the plane while I was reading it, probably thought I was high.  Which I wasn’t.  A little drunk maybe, but I was flying so it is totally acceptable.  Encouraged even.  Anyways, it is hilarious and wonderful and you should go read it right now.
Jenny recently (like this week) released her second book, “Furiously Happy.”   I encourage anyone that has a mental illness, knows someone with a mental illness, is curious about what it is like to live, and laugh, with a mental illness, go get it.  It’s been a difficult read, but it is something we all need to read.  It has been difficult because I am reading about someone I care about, even if we’ve never met (the internet is crazy ya’ll), go through these terrible things.  I am reading about descriptions of my own thoughts and feelings written down and described far better than I have been able to.  It has been difficult because I see the battle being fought in my own brain.  What makes it easier is the grace and humor she has while going through it.  She would probably disagree with the grace part of that statement, but I disagree; anyone that can get a responsibly taxidermied raccoon to ride a cat definitely has grace.

Jenny taught me that it is ok to be me, whatever that means.  That it is ok to let my real voice out.  That depression lies.  That I’m broken inside, but so is everyone else.  That I’m crazy, and that’s ok.
Thank you Jenny, and I promise to fight to be Furiously Happy.