Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Heroes and Villains

I've been wrestling with a lot lately, and one idea that has been rolling around in my head came from a Facebook post by Ken Howard, a gay psychotherapist based in Los Angeles who conducts his therapy and life coaching practice for gay men. He stated in this particular post that it is seemingly impossible to truly let go of, or cleanse ourselves of the anger we associate with traumatic experiences such as child abuse, domestic abuse and violent crime. We may move beyond it, or we may think we have moved on, but it still lies buried down deep, like a stone at the bottom of a stream, ready to reveal itself again if given the opportunity.

He goes on to say that, in his opinion, the best treatment is not to erase the memory, nor bury it and the associated emotion, but to acknowledge it, process it, and begin to expand the heart and mind to remember more the heroes who stood by you, who stood with you, and who stood up for you when you felt you no longer could. Don't forget the villains, just don't let them control you. We can control our own reaction to the anger and other negative emotions. And the more we remember the villains, the more we relive the pain. And in my opinion, if we can truly forgive the villains, the more we do grow and move on.

To his list, I would also like to add bullying in all its forms: verbal, physical, cyber, emotional, psychological; as well as those negative experiences of a divorce, an unrequited love, and a betrayal from a once-trusted friend. And while these may pale in comparison to the emotional and physical trauma of an abusive situation, they are still painful and in my opinion can also be as debilitating. If we let them.

It seems I have let mine.

I don't let go of hurts easily. Time does indeed heal all wounds, yet I have the memory of a steel trap. I remember many injustices, many hurts. I sometimes think or feel I have let go and moved on, but frequently get surprised by a wellspring of emotion, usually negative and I am always surprised to find it's still there, just deeply buried. It's always easier to blame others- the villains, in this case- than to take control and work on processing the emotion; after all, work is hard. I guess this is all part of human nature.

So, as a step on this new path of positivity, I would like to begin to honor those heroes who have been there for me: the two high school teachers who, in 1976, made an effort to listen to me and support me without judgement when I complained of being harassed and bullied for being perceived as gay before I could accept myself as gay. Thank you for your support.

To the friends who were there with me every step of the way of my eventual coming out, trying to help me understand myself, and not giving a damn who I fell in love or just slept with. Though we are no longer in contact, I thank you for being there.

To my friends who are with me now every step of the way as I am working through the tribulations of my divorce and trying to understand myself now, I thank you for being here.

To my LGBT ancestors, those who came before me and through their lives, struggles, pain, suffering and sacrifice have paved a way for today to be better than yesterday, I honor their history.

To my LGBT contemporaries and descendants, those who continue the struggle of equality for all and to make tomorrow even better than today, I honor your energy, time, and dedication.

To my mom who, in her mother's pain over watching her child suffer, tried to help the best she could without knowing what she could do to help, or even why I was suffering, but was just there for me, I love you.

You all are my heroes.

For Ken's Facebook page, click here.

For Ken Howard's website, click here.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Little Knowledge

They say a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Even more so in the age of the internet.

In the past couple of years post-divorce, I have been seeing a counselor regarding coping with the loss and adjusting to my new life as a single middle-aged gay man, as well as my regular physician for a number of different ailments; physicals, age-related issues, and fatigue, lethargy, lack of interest in social activities and in all this time no one has suggested that I may be suffering from depression.

I think I am.

I turned to the internet when I began to suspect I was suffering from depression, and specifically, WebMD.com, every doctor's worst friend and best enemy, because many patients are diagnosing themselves without medical school background and training. Or so I hear.

According to WebMD, these are the symptoms of major depression:

  • Depressed mood, sadness, or an “empty” feeling, or appearing sad or tearful to others
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or significant weight gain (for example, more than 5% of body weight in a month)
  • Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  • Restlessness or irritation (irritable mood may be a symptom in children or adolescents too), or feelings of  “dragging”
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide
I can definitely rule out the last one, though in the past I had considered it, but never seriously wanted to go through with it for two reasons:
  • what it would do to my family, and
  • I was afraid I'd miss something better in my life ahead. (I guess I knew it would get better.)
My thoughts about suicide were actually years ago in high school, when I was being viciously bullied. (Another post for another day.)

As for the other symptoms, I believe I exhibit a number of  them. I feel sad or empty most of the time, like I'm not accomplishing anything. There are days I feel like crying but am not able to bring myself to. I have a fear of new situations, which I didn't used to have, though in many cases I just go ahead and go through the new situation and survive. [Note to self: Take note! You survived!] My weight is back up a bit, and I'm not eating as healthfully as I had been. I'm sleeping eight hours a night but do not feel refreshed the next morning. I feel very lethargic and dragging all the time, and feel extremely fatigued, particularly in the afternoon. At times, I do feel worthless but mostly around work and those students I don't seem to be able to reach and who are making my teaching extremely challenging right now. I have days where I don't want to leave the safety of my home, yet don't want to remain trapped in my house.

As for the cause(s) of my self-diagnosed depression, there's a lot to consider;
  • my recent divorce;
  • my finances;
  • my career;
  • my health;
  • my orientation;
  • my life path.
While I have addressed the top two and bottom one here in other posts, and my finances are improving and will continue to barring anything out of the ordinary, I'd like to address the others.

I have been teaching thirty years in the same school. The staff is wonderful, a rarity in my district. We have become a family of sorts. We may have our differences, but we care about each other. I have heard of schools where each teacher is an island unto him/herself, and doesn't work well with others. And yet, thirty years in one place is a bit depressing. Yes, each class and grade is different, but all in all, it's the same routine but with different students. The current political situation surrounding public education is also frustrating. I am aware that the economy is to blame for a lot of the difficulties, but the attitude toward public school teachers is becoming very demeaning. Politicians keep trying to fix the system by trying new remedies without giving us enough time to adequately try them before trying something new. Many outsiders, i.e., politicians and businesses, are trying to influence school boards by instilling business solutions to a non-business organization, like fitting a square peg in a round hole. Public schools are not a profit making machine, and worse, many of these so-called helpers have NO education background. When teachers' unions try to point out our concerns regarding these proposed solutions, we become demonized. It's all very depressing to be continually bullied like this.

My health is fine, though with age, there will be things to watch for. I recently had a scare with hypertension, but that is now back under control. My on and off bouts with vertigo will keep me on guard and limit me somewhat, but I mustn't let that control me, though I cannot control when I may have an episode. Aging is not for the weak of heart or mind.

Many health professionals believe that stress and depression take an extra toll on minorities as we have those extra burdens of fighting for equality/civil rights and dealing with the negative attitudes of others.  And while we may tell ourselves we are okay, strong, and powerful; sometimes, when we dig down deep enough through the residue of our pasts, we may find we don't feel all that okay, strong and powerful; we may have buried all those negative feelings in a chest under a large pile of other emotional residue, maybe one day to be uncovered and opened up again. But, maybe not.

So, with all this going on, it's no wonder I feel I may be suffering from depression.

Yet, I may not be, after all this is a self-diagnosis which, admittedly, is dangerous thing to do; doesn't a doctor who diagnoses and then treats him/herself have a fool for a patient? But, I am tired of feeling this way. I don't want to feel this way, which I believe is a good sign for me. And the first step to recovery.

Please understand, I am not suggesting, in any way that people who are depressed WANT to feel this way, it is a miserable feeling. It hurts; emotionally, mentally and physically. It affects others. I believe I began feeling depressed shortly after my ex and I bought our house, when everything fell upon me to do. I stayed on top of the repairs, the bills, the animals, etc. No wonder there were times I went out for groceries and didn't want to return. I don't want to suggest my ex didn't do his part, he helped when he could, and when I asked him to. I tried to give him some responsibilities so we could work together, and be more of a team, but often I ended up having to finish them. So, I feel I did way more than my share of the work.

I read somewhere that depression is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. We have just convinced ourselves we could do anything, (or we had to do everything) and we took it all on without asking for help.  And now it has caught up to us.  For some, depression may be a wake up call to realize we can't do it all, that we have reached our limit and asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

We are not Superman or Superwoman.

I like to think of it that way for me, at least.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, I am a school teacher. Any comments/opinions expressed here in the body of this blog are mine alone and not intended for medical advice, or diagnosis. I am writing here for my personal situation. If you feel you may be suffering from depression, please seek help. 

Friday, February 8, 2013


Why is it so hard to remain positive?

I remember when the ex left, I was sure there was someone else out there for me. Now, I'm not sure I even want to go down that road again, if ever, or at least not right now.

I've bitched here about the lack of time, money and energy in my life right now. My finances are straightening out, at least temporarily, but I suspect a major shakeup is in the works, possibly leaving me struggling again.

I've complained about how teaching sucks all the time and energy out of my life. Okay, maybe I could do something about the time, but the energy is a bit questionable. Yeah, well, if I ate better and got a little exercise, maybe I could do something about the lack of energy I have.

Or maybe it's all in my head. Except the time and money part.

I come home defeated. I am in bed by 8:00 PM watching DVDs or trying to read, but I am so exhausted I can't even follow the plot of something I've already read, like any of the Harry Potter books. Most importantly, I am trying to lower my blood pressure. I have a group of students whose daily mission is to get under my skin. I do everything possible to remain in control, yet, every once in a while there is that proverbial straw and I snap. I have now resorted to pulling out my cell phone and calling parents right then and there, in the middle of my lesson. Sometimes it helps. All of the time the good kids suffer, and yes, I do have some great students.

I have been questioning myself. Am I a good teacher? Am I reaching my students? Am I meeting their needs educationally? socially?  emotionally? I have spoken with my principal, and even consulted my school psychologist to see if they could see something I was doing I wasn't aware of.

Both said no. It's them. It's the students, the age. They're twelve. And they are mostly boys. Eighteen of them, and ten girls. Twelve year olds begin to think they are adults. Their hormones are beginning to rage throughout their brains and bodies sending conflicting messages that they don't understand. They are sensitive, they crave attention, yet they don't want it at the same time. They seek their independence yet are afraid to spread their wings. They want to be treated like adults, yet still are immature creatures, behaving like giant two year olds but who now have some reasoning abilities. And they will test limits, push boundaries and step on the last nerve of every adult in their life. Add their dysfunctional home lives and possible sexual orientation/gender identity issues to this phenomenon and it's no wonder no one wants to teach middle school.

Okay, so I am still a good teacher and this is just a bad vintage, according to my principal and the school psychologist. Yet, they still get under my skin and I come home exhausted.

Coupled with all the other items on my plate at the moment (trying to market my first novel and write the second, third and fourth ones; managing the house; straightening out my finances; figuring out who I am as a suddenly single gay man at midlife; deciding if I even want a husband and if I do, figuring out what I want in and from him;) it's no wonder I don't want to do anything. I don't want a boyfriend, I don't want to date, I don't want to do anything but sleep.

Maybe all this negativity is because for most of my life I have been in a negative space from the constant moving, from the anti-gay bullying, from the emotional abuse from my stepfather, from the absence of the father I longed for, from the satisfying adult relationship I craved but never found.

Maybe it's just too comfortable to stay there, as uncomfortable as I am; yet, as familiar as it is.

Maybe I'm just too afraid to be who I truly am.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
--Marianne Williamson