No Year’s Resolutions 2019

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

New Year’s morning, my wife roused me from a dream to tell me it was time to help set up the dining room for Osechi (Osechi Ryori:  Japanese traditional New Year’s Day food).

I mention the dream because it has stuck with me—or, rather, a portion of it has stuck with me—since then. A particular image from that dream has entered my thoughts multiple times daily since then—whether because I’m hanging onto it or struggling to forget it.  The image involves me surveying the damage from a shart (shart: what happens, as the saying goes, when one gambles on a fart and loses; a combination of sh*t and fart).

I don’t recall much of anything that happened in the dream before the shart occurred. But I do recall that I was wearing blue underwear and the aftermath was very much like a runny version of the gravy from almond chicken (almond chicken: a staple of American Chinese restaurant menus, where breaded, boneless, fried chicken is covered in a light brown American-style gravy –flour and fat— full of chopped almonds).

baby-new-year

Just what am I looking at?  And what does it mean?

I haven’t looked up any of the elements of the dream in any dream dictionaries, online or otherwise – not the blue, not the almonds, not the shart, not any of it.  So, if you’re into dream analysis and have a clear understanding of what these elements add up to – well, I probably don’t want to know. Keep it to yourself.

Perhaps this image has stuck with me because most dreams I (and I would guess most other people) have that involve, what I will call “bathroom stuff” are usually tied to bathroom functions that never come to fruition.  For example, a dream where one is running around looking for a place to pee, only to have each option for relief somehow thwarted.  One eventually wakes up and realizes that the dream was trying to push one to wake up and go take a piss in a completely ‘normal’, non-thwarted, perfectly relieving fashion.  I do not recall any of these previous dreams resulting in actually finding ‘release’ while in the dream, much less, having a ‘release’ with unintended consequences.

I’m happy to report that, in this particular instance, there was no corresponding pushing or expulsion activity married to the dream.  That is, despite a flash of anxiety on waking, there was no indication the dream had come true.

I bring all this up, in part, because for several years now, initially starting in an annual series of posts on Facebook, and later moving to my blog (and a few connected social media sites), I put out New Year’s resolutions.  These started out as lighthearted, silly jokes, usually concluding with one ‘positive’, ‘real’, but vague, resolution.  For instance, I would have three resolutions that suggested I was going to do spectacularly impossible things (establish the ultimate matrix for determining whether a ‘Men’s Rights’ Internet account or website is a parody account or actually intended to be serious);or completely bland, totally achievable goals, (resolving to actually trim my toenails regularly). Those would be followed by one resolution involving haircare, which would be followed by one that said I would live joyfully or some such sh*t.

Then, at the end of the year, I would write up a ‘year end review’, where I tracked my success in meeting the resolutions (silly and not-so), before I moved on to a new set.

In the process of doing the review of my 2-18 resolutions, I realized that maybe a bit too much seriousness had crept in, too much silliness leaked out. It had, at least to me, a darker tone about it than previous years.  Then again, in spite of numerous good things in 2018, the whole year had a darker tone to it.

2018 was a year of numerous things going to hell, and me struggling to reel them back in— none of which I will share here now.  All in all, things turned out okay, but not without a lingering, nasty aftertaste…or several different lingering, nasty aftertastes.

2018 also had some great moments of joy—specific moments of laughter and happiness I can vividly recall, also none of which I will share here now.

This far into 2019, it would be a bit strange to be making resolutions anyway, unless maybe I was claiming they were tied to a little procrastinating around the Lunar New Year. But, still, I’m abandoning the idea of resolutions, at least for 2019.  And I’m trying to learn to accept that much of life is way beyond my control, and that I’ll be okay…or I won’t…and that not being okay will probably be okay as well.

I tried to attach some meaning to the dream of the shart – that it was advising me not too push things too hard or they would become messy – or perhaps to push hard because even if the outcome was messy, it would still be fine—I’d wake up to a fantastic meal with some of the people I loved most, or a disgusting mess in my pants that really wouldn’t be that difficult to clean up.

At any rate, the (forced) meanings kept coming back to how I should or shouldn’t force things, how forcing things would turn out either good or bad.  And then it got all meta – about how I keep starting posts, only to abandon them because they seem too forced –and therefore too bland, like almond chicken –or too sloppy, poorly planned, and offensive, like a shart.

The whole concept of intentions –push to get a reaction, or hold back to make the right, polite points, merely led to almost every writing effort over the last year turning into either a dull essay, or a mean-spirited rant – with those efforts usually being abandoned to steer clear of that dullness, or to unload that spite on somebody in some pointless, online argument that added up to nothing beyond the sound of clacking keys and the fury of unanswered tantrums.  For the most part, the posts just didn’t get finished, or if the writing was more or less completed, did not get put out into the world…much like I’ve been struggling over the whole idea of posting a shart-centered missive, ostensibly connected to New Year’s resolutions.

Ultimately, I realize I’m attempting to assign meaning to this dream because 1) it occurred on the first day of the year; 2) I was woken out of the dream at the point of a particularly striking and unpleasant visual unlike anything I recalled from any previous dreams; and 3) I’m struggling with just how much energy and effort I can and ‘should’ be devoting to writing, especially pieces that feel obligatory/how much energy I can and ‘should’ be devoting to engaging in patterned behaviors in general/how much energy I can and ‘should’ be devoting to breaking old patterns of behavior.

Maybe it all just comes down to the message that I should sh*t or get on the pot…and sh*t…or get off the pot. At least don’t sh*t my pants unintentionally?

Or perhaps push it. Push it real good.  But with intention.  Although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t initially related to scatological…uh…actions.  But then again…

I know it’s gotta mean something about making sure you know what you intend to accomplish, or that you are making reasonable efforts to make sure you have some kind of control over the outcome of your actions, or…?

Anyway, Happy (belated?) (Lunar?) New Year!

 

 

 

 

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Grousing Into The Void

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

I’m in one of those spells where everything writing-wise is coming out all wrong. It’s not writer’s block, as such. I’ve been writing—some. But I get partway into something and it ends up sounding muddled, or just heads off in its own direction.

When writing goes off in its own direction, it can be a pretty great thing—if it works or is at least interesting. Lately, though, it’s just been frustrating and boring. And all of the recent writing that’s chosen its own direction has just walked away. As in, it’s been very pedestrian.

For instance, a few weeks back, I started in on a piece about how the Fifty Shades of Grey movie promotes gross misunderstandings of human sexuality, along with committing the possibly worse sin of being bland. But what I managed to cobble together sounded almost as ill-informed as the screenplay, and nearly as tedious. Not to mention, Fifty Shades wasn’t exactly a hot topic by the time I got around to it.

Another piece on equating authenticity with a lack of personal growth came across as snobbish—and not in an entertaining way. I set it aside.

Writing on anti-Millennial stereotyping in the media led me to make generalizations nearly as pointless as the ones I was attempting to challenge.

The politically-motivated shootings at a Colorado Planned Parenthood Clinic, followed shortly thereafter by the politically-motivated mass murder in San Bernardino, might normally have prompted me to write pieces challenging pro-gun-violence myths. Instead, I squandered some of my time and energy arguing online with pro-gun-violence folks, some so completely irrational that I fear they might be Trump supporters.

Grouse

Grouse…

void

…meet void.

This is not to say that the time and energy I spend writing my blog is anything other than a squandering.  It’s just one that provides me with some focus and enjoyment—or, rather, some enjoyment when I can actually focus. At some level, we all know that if we stop whatever we’re doing, the world will continue on—although we hope a part of the world might be impacted, or at least notice.

Of course, as I’m puzzling through all of this, perhaps I should mention that I got a promotion at work. I love the new role, but it came with a major upheaval in my schedule. I’m still struggling to functionally organize my time away from the job.  That said, the writing travails started to take hold before I was even offered the new position.

At base, I think it might come down to a fear that the time spent writing is wasted, or at least that its standing in the way of me getting other, more practical things done. More and more lately, the writing sessions, have ended up with frustration, leading me to move on, with the intent of doing something ‘productive.’ Unfortunately, that productivity hasn’t exactly materialized.

So for now, I’m going to go do something really productive—like stringing up Christmas lights (much later in the season than I intended) that I’ll have to take down in a few weeks’ time.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

 

Suicide at the Oscars, part two: ‘The Phone Call’

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

It was a great year for crisis lines at the Oscars—or, rather, for films involving crisis lines. Not only did the documentary, Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 take home a statue, but so did the short, live-action film The Phone Call. And, while Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1 tried (perhaps a little too enthusiastically) to convey a sense of the actual drama that can occur at a crisis line, The Phone Call comes across as a disturbingly simplistic endorsement of suicide-on-demand and irresponsible behavior by crisis line workers, all while portraying a dangerously inaccurate view of the function of crisis lines.

I will begin with the same bit of disclosure I placed at the beginning of my piece on Crisis Line: Veterans Press 1: Having spent more than five years working full-time for a crisis line, and continuing to work in a position sideways from, and occasionally overlapping with, such work, I can’t help but come to these films with something of a bias. And I will also offer up a spoiler alert for The Phone Call: if you haven’t seen it, and you don’t want to know exactly what happens, stop reading now.

The Phone Call seems to have generated most of its praise based on the acting of Sally Hawkins (as Heather) and Jim Broadbent (as Stanley/John)—which is undoubtedly solid, even given the ludicrous material. But most reactions seem to ignore any other critical angle—like the crass manipulations taking place in order to make The Phone Call happen at all.

To begin with, the call center where the story takes place seems to be lost in time. Despite the opening shot of the movie panning by a sign that reads “City WiFi Zone,” the crisis center apparently has no computers and no Internet hookup.

Now, I don’t know the current state of crisis line call centers in the UK, or really the state of any such call centers aside from the ones I’ve worked in, visited, or seen in documentaries—all in the United States. But I will say that if a call center in this day and age equips workers only with a pad of paper, a pen, a phone, and a lamp—they are verging on worker abuse. Absent the most dire of funding situations, failing to provide crisis line workers with computers and Internet access is simply unacceptable, given the relatively low cost of such amenities—and the necessity of such items in making it possible for workers to track down lifesaving information—or even to assist callers who are simply trying to access other services.

At one point in the movie, we see Sally Hawkins’ character, Heather, get up from her desk—thankfully she sat at the front of the room near the bookshelves—to try and look up the “mystery caller” in the notebooks where past call records are kept—handwritten on paper.

Add to that the script manipulation of having absolutely minimal staffing. Despite there being numerous desks in the call center, when Heather arrives, there is only one other worker there–Daniel.  At the only time Heather even considers enlisting Daniel’s help with Stanley/John, Daniel is talking with another caller, back turned to Heather, and flipping through a phone book, or some other reference material. She immediately (and completely irresponsibly) determines she can’t get Daniel’s attention—as if muting her phone and calling across the room would have been too much trouble to stop somebody from dying.

'Would you look at that?  Daniel's busy.  Guess you really are going to die today, Stanley.'

‘Would you look at that? Daniel’s busy. Guess you really are going to die today, Stanley.’

Stanley/John is also supposed to be a sympathetic character, the main reason being that his wife, Joan, died two years ago after a long struggle with cancer. As Heather questions Stanley/John about other family members he may have, we also find out that he and Joan tried to start a family, but had only one stillborn child, 25 years ago, and then were unable to have any children after that. Certainly, it’s a sad tale. Certainly, we can understand Stanley/John’s despair.

But just imagine being in the same situation as Heather—or really any crisis line worker—being treated the way Stanley/John is treating her. Stanley/John has decided he is going to die, and has decided that whatever random worker answers the phone is going to have to listen as it happens.

John/Stanley sobs, makes vague statements indicating he has taken actions to kill himself, and refuses to provide information under threat that he will hang up to prevent anyone from tracing the call and sending an ambulance. The audience has to accept that either the call center does not utilize caller id—further putting workers in a terrible situation—or that John/Stanley blocked his information, in order for the whole ‘hanging up’ thing to really work as a threat.

Stanley/John eventually reveals that he’s taken “Antidepressants” that he got “from the doctor.” But killing oneself with pills tends to be a lot trickier than most people realize—at least to do it in the calm, and apparently quick way that Stanley/John manages, all while allowing for a conversation and a quick death before the ambulance crew can arrive and try to revive him—and without his body doing its damnedest to try and expel the deadly pills he’s ingested. Then again, perhaps Heather waited a good long while before calling for the ambulance, as she was looking through notebook after notebook to find the right person named John who lived around the corner from the Boston.

The big moment of connection for Heather, where she (mostly) accepts Stanley/John’s decision to die, is when Stanley/John asks in a pressured tone, “Can you just stay there and talk to me? Are you allowed to do that? Can’t you just stay there and talk to me and hold my hand? Isn’t that alright?”

Heather’s answer: “Of course, I can. I’m not going anywhere.”

There are an infinite number of much better answers Heather could have given at that time. For instance: “No, that’s not allowed, Stanley/John. I’m not here to make you feel better about killing yourself. And, to be honest, if I was really doing my job, my co-worker, Daniel, here would know everything that was going on, and probably already have an ambulance heading your way.”

Instead, in the course of the short conversation, Heather passes up numerous chances to make more than just a conversational connection with Stanley/John. For instance, Heather and Stanley/John discuss jazz, including Stanley/John telling Heather he could teach her how to play tenor saxophone properly. Yet, rather than latch onto that, and suggest that Stanley/John maybe teach music, or otherwise get back into music, Heather doesn’t push on that point of Stanley/John’s ambivalence at all.

In fact, beyond asking about immediate family, Heather does nothing to find out if Stanley/John was involved in anything else in his entire life beyond his relationship with Joan. Work? Friends? Family? Hobbies? Pets?

Heather also does nothing to explore what Stanley/John has done to deal with his grief over the loss of his wife. All we know is that he got antidepressant pills from his doctor. Apparently, Heather takes this as evidence that Stanley/John really has made a valiant effort to deal with the kinds of normal struggles anybody feels at the loss of a long-time companion. ‘Oh? You got a prescription? Wow—that was very brave of you. I’m sorry you still ended up feeling something.’

And perhaps the most obvious thing Heather leaves out is asking how Stanley/John’s wife, Joan, might react to Stanley/John’s decision to kill himself. Or maybe we are meant to accept that Joan is the kind of person who would want her husband to die—that she’s something of a monster, and Stanley/John is really stressed out because he’s two years late on following through with their suicide pact.

Throughout the conversation, Heather lets Stanley/John bully her into not talking about the things she should be talking about, all with the threat that he’ll hang up, and the assertion of his ‘needs’—how he just can’t go on without Joan, but really needs someone to ‘hold his hand’ at the end.

We are supposed to find it comforting that once Stanley/John insists that it is, in fact, too late for a rescue, he compliments Heather, saying, “you’ve been wonderful. You’ve been a wonderful friend to me.”

But Heather is not Stanley/John’s friend, and isn’t supposed to be acting in that capacity. And really, if Heather was either doing her job right, or actually acting in a capacity as Stanley/John’s friend, she would have done more to try and help him.

And then we get the most maudlin endorsement of suicide ever committed to film—we see the ambulance arriving outside Stanley/John’s home. The camera switches to an interior shot of the home’s front door. We see someone arrive, and…it’s Joan! We never actually see Stanley/John, only hear him talking to Joan for a while.  She talks about how she’s “been looking for” him, and they both agree that they’ve missed each other. So, we get this reunited-in-death sap that makes this suicide seem cute, since it helped an old couple get back together.

'What, John?  You've gone and killed yourself?  You go to hell for that, don't you know?'

‘What, John? You’ve gone and killed yourself? You go to hell for that, don’t you know?’

It’s no surprise that director and co-writer Max Kirby comes out of the world of commercials and music videos. The Phone Call is practically a commercial for suicide, with all the depth of the average music video. It’s a concept piece that tries to press emotional buttons, while keeping the audience from engaging in too much thought.

As we watch The Phone Call, we are not meant to think about the value in going on with life, and finding meaning after loss. We don’t even get a serious look at suicide, depression, or mental illness, because we are given only the most surface reasons for Stanley/John to kill himself. We are supposed to take this all as somehow romantic—the sad, old man who just can’t go on without his wife. Isn’t it sweet that he’s killing himself?

And perhaps even more aggravating is the summation of the movie from its official website: “Heather works in a helpline call centre. When she receives a phone call from a mystery man, she has no idea that the encounter will change her life forever.”

I’m not sure exactly what we are supposed to take away from this tagline—that the big change in her life is that she is now carrying the burden of having sat through this man’s death, while being derelict about trying to help him? The big scene we are supposed to take as evidence of change is one in which we see Heather following through on part of the conversation she had with Stanley/John—to go back and visit a jazz club she used to frequent. We see her getting cozy with call center co-worker, Daniel, a potential relationship that was hinted at early in the movie. ‘Gee whiz, isn’t it nice that all it took was the suicide of an old man to make me get out and live a little? Isn’t this rosé delightful?’

To clarify, my reaction to the movie is not meant as some discussion about the right to die, but about the way crisis lines operate, and the absolutely awful way this is portrayed in the movie. It is simply not the job of crisis line workers—paid or volunteer—to just “hold a caller’s hand” while that caller dies by his/her own hand.

It is a hazard of working at a crisis line that one may end up on the phone with somebody as that person dies. But this is much different than such an occasion being the purpose of that work. A police officer has the potential hazard of being shot on the job—but it is not the police officer’s work to be shot on the job. A teacher may be subject to the hazard of being verbally abused or even hit by an angry child—but it is not the teacher’s job to be verbally abused or hit.

And what kind of horrible people would you be attracting to work at the crisis line if you told them that part of their job was just to listen as people die? What would be considered an appropriate level of intervention if just letting people die was considered an acceptable or even desired outcome?

Heather, like any crisis line worker, when confronted by questions of listening versus intervening, should make it clear that, as much as crisis line workers are there to offer support, they are required to intervene in order to prevent callers from completing suicide. And with experience and training, one will gain a better idea of just when that intervention needs to take place.

In the case of The Phone Call, there was an admission that a suicide attempt was already underway; and for all intents and purposes, Heather did nothing. We are supposed to see that as somehow touching, and even life-affirming.

Don’t just feel about that. Think about that.

 

And now for the obligatory ending: If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the national (U.S.) suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-TALK.

 

The Old Normal

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

Just how the hell does anybody on a regular Monday-to-Friday workweek ever get anything done?  I mean, aside from work work?

For the entire month of November, and the first few weeks of December, I was on a Monday-to-Friday, 8-to-5 schedule. This was only the second time in over 20 years that I had been on such a schedule—the previous time being the training period for a new job, just like the most recent episode of “normalcy” was.

I was commuting at the same time as everybody else (read: taking almost three times as long to get to and from work as the trip should actually take). I was having lunch at the same time as everybody else (god help anyone who only has a half-hour at noon to try and get out to procure some nourishment—thankfully, I only had to do this a few times, and had a full hour for lunch).

I was doing my grocery and other shopping when everyone else was—either on my way home after work, or on the weekends—when the stores are at their peak crowdedness.  Navigating a single aisle at the grocery store, waiting for people to make their decisions and get out of the way, or waiting for them just to notice they were blocking the entire aisle by hanging onto a corner of their angled grocery cart while staring at a wall of spaghetti sauce, was trying.  And forget all of those little errands—running to the post office, for example—the extra-long lunch-hour or Saturday morning lines—uggh!

Everything seemed to take much longer than it should have. Everywhere seemed so much more crowded than it needed to be.

I felt crushed by this tyranny of scheduling normalcy, this chronometrically-imposed and enforced bottlenecking. Just how do people do this, day in and day out? How do they ever get anything done beyond the extra-slow commutes, and the added imposition of everybody else doing the same damn thing at the same damn time—or at least trying to?

Aaaaagh!  I feel like a stretched-out, messed-up face pinned down by a floppy clock!

Aaaaagh! I feel like a stretched-out, messed-up face pinned down by a floppy clock!  Or is that a decapitated, vomiting swan, wearing a fake beard pinned down by a floppy clock?

I forced myself through the daily tasks I absolutely had to complete, and blew off the rest for the weekend, and then blew them off again, as if maybe this next week I wouldn’t feel so tired after spending most of my waking hours devoted to work and the process of getting there and back.

Weekends felt short. By the time I felt rested and started in on that to-do list, the to-do list was necessarily pared down a great deal, with Sunday evening and Monday morning hanging over my head–sending me into to-do list despair.

I suddenly understood the asshole-ish behaviors of driving a bit too fast and recklessly to get that parking spot, the feigned ‘oh-I-didn’t-see-you-and-that’s-why-I-let-that-door-swing-shut-in-your-face-rather-than-chancing-you-getting-ahead-of-me-in-that-long-f***ing-line,’ the impossibly tight closing of the gap between one’s own car and the one just ahead to prevent anyone from merging and making the commute take even nine seconds longer. I suddenly understood these behaviors. I did not engage in these behaviors. It seems it would take years of this ‘regular workday’ harshness before one would be pushed to such extremes.  But I was just a tourist here in normal-land. I knew I would be leaving before long. I didn’t have to act that way.

The particulars of the situation helped me appreciate what I had experienced for so long, in terms of scheduling and work. When my kid was little, I was self-employed, working out of the home. All that time, getting her to and from school was a pleasant walk or a short drive—a little break in the work day.  I could attend to tasks at my own pace, except in the few ‘busy seasons’ when all hell broke loose and I had to hunker down for a few weeks or a month, working every waking minute, except for those quick trips to the school and back.

Later on, when I angled toward jobs in the mental health field that required shift work, it was so much easier to work all night, or in the evenings, and take care of all those other daily tasks when very few others were. There were several periods when I was allowed to knock out 40-hour workweeks in three days, leaving the rest of the week free—or for much of that time, free to go to grad school or work a second job. At any rate, I wasn’t tied to the same schedule as the bulk of the rest of the working world.

I’m now back to a bit of the old normal—a work schedule that helps keep me from needing to move about too much in the peak hours of the work-imposed world. I’m thankfully off of graves—not that I hated that—but it takes a toll, especially when you’re trying to spend some normal day hours with family and friends, and working occasionally at a second job that takes place during the day.  I’m back to having a few weekdays and a weekend day off, a schedule of four tens–and with no second job sapping hours from my days off.

I’m trying to get back to where I can spend my days off getting some stuff done—like writing on a sort-of-regular basis, or getting back to those projects around the house that are perpetually sidetracked or shelved. But I’m also having to undo a number of bad habits and weird practices that still linger after years of being up all night most nights, and sleeping during the day. Hell, I started writing the rough draft of this just before 2 a.m. since I fell asleep early and then couldn’t stay asleep through the night.

Still, the adjustment to the new schedule isn’t nearly as rough as the adjustment to the ‘normal’ world of the rest of the day-walkers. I’m settling in to something of the old normal—awake and working during the days—just not always when the rest of you humans are clogging everything up.

While I enjoyed the training I was doing, it wasn’t really all that fun visiting your overcrowded, poorly scheduled world, and I definitely wouldn’t want to live there.

When Therapists Attack: Self-Care Fails on the Road to Implosion

Within the past few days, it’s become abundantly clear to me that too many transitions and too many stressors, combined with an inability to engage my deepest self-care strategies, led to some, shall we say, unbalanced behavior.

Really, it was the kind of week where having to tolerate even the smell of flavored coffee, much less the existence of it preventing access to real coffee, was essentially the second-to-last straw in a minor blowout.

It wasn’t until after having about five-and-a-half hours of dead-to-the-world sleep, with no pressing concerns to address on waking, that it began to dawn on me just how skewed I had become, and what the sources of the real stress were.  That is, I can cope with flavored coffee (it’s existence, not me consuming it–yuck!) when I’m actually able to process the big, looming weirdness and stress that comes with the fields I work in.

Even now, as I’m trying to write this, I’m “fixing” other things rather than fully committing to exploring the issue.  I started off by repairing a latch on a coffee container, and then moved to cleaning out the battery compartment of a remote control (a battery had leaked inside of it earlier in the week).  I then rapid-wrote multiple pages of another potential blog post.  So, really, when things are big and disturbing, I engage my rather developed ability to avoid directly addressing or processing things.  Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten to the point of being able to engage the big guns among my stress-reducers—those that allow near-complete disengagement from the stress—the re-set button to problem solving.  Although, come to think of it, I could probably do that now.

[Right here I wanted to insert a clip of a deleted scene from the movie, Out of Sight, wherein George Clooney and Ving Rhames discuss the joys of taking a hot bath—which would have made sense in the discussion I would have had around said clip, but seeing as I couldn’t find a copy of that clip…anyway, if you know where I can link to it, let me know.]

Still, writing falls into the category of de-stressors—which is another thing that should have been an obvious sign to me that things were off.  That is, I was unable to come up with a single thing to write about until I actually realized what was bothering me (stuff), why (because it was annoying/disturbing), and what I could do about it (nothing, really).  And when I say I was unable to come up with anything to write about, I don’t mean that in a literal sense.  I’ve got plenty of topics.  I just wasn’t connecting with a particular angle or idea long enough to make anything out of any of them.  In fact, I hadn’t even opened a “new” document to get down to work, or scribbled anything in my notebook, or on a scrap of paper that I could reference later.  I just felt dead about the whole concept of writing (aside from pointless Internet political arguments, which are usually one of my most easily identifiable procrastination strategies).

Perhaps the thing most getting in the way of the established stress reduction routine involves changes in my schedule that leave me with less “alone” time, where I am free to do what I want without having to consider the plans of others.  Ultimately, this is a good thing, but in the adjustment phase, a little trickier than I prepared for.

On top of the change in routine, there has been what I’ll call a health concern within the family that is being addressed but is not fully resolved (as if anything ever is).  But we’re in the “looks fine, but let’s just check out one more thing so we can provoke some more anxiety while you wait to see how this turns out” phase.

On the counseling front—people working in the mental health field are bound by ethical codes that make it essentially impossible to openly discuss our jobs, except in very limited ways with very specific people—generally speaking, people who are bound by the same ethical codes.  Over the years, I have developed a way of discussing work with my wife, without really discussing work with my wife, so that I can vomit out all of the really disturbing shit that hits me on a near-daily basis, and move on with life, leaving the clinical concerns where they belong–back in the office.

Because of the way our schedules now synch up, or fail to synch up, there are points in the week where that discharge of emotion and thought that I usually work through with my wife (who patiently allows it without pressing me for details) is not happening in the relatively immediate way that had previously been possible.

So, let’s just say that among the more run-of-the-mill stressors, and in addition to the less run-of-the-mill stressors, something was relayed to me that knocked me sideways, and led me to fixate on [redacted for the purposes of avoiding an ethics violation].

Keep in mind that I routinely speak with people who see suicide as the best possible solution to their problems, and people who have committed heinous acts against other people they should have been protecting.

Despite de-briefing with a colleague who was also aware of the situation, I didn’t realize how much I was carrying the ‘relayed information’ with me when I went on to another work environment—one where flavored coffee has recently become a hazard—one where a malfunctioning printer complicated routine tasks—one where an unusually lively conversational environment led me to (attempt to) stifle many of the extremely dark, sarcastic remarks that are often a part of the purging process that allows many of us who work with disturbing situations to avoid becoming swallowed by that dark void of unholy despair.

Laugh and the devil laughs with you.  Cry and the devil knows he bested you.  Make a sick enough joke, and the devil realizes you’re not worth the trouble (although such jokes should only be made in the company of people who are involved in the same dark field as you, and who understand the devil the joke is aimed at).

At any rate, the stressors of the job with the on-the-fritz printer and the flavored coffee and the enthusiastic conversations, and an inability to productively address some of the simple, usually fixable things that were happening, led to what can only be described as an overreaction on my part to a co-worker asking me to take on something which I felt was not, and should not be, in any way, my responsibility.  Even worse (in terms of sparking my overreaction), the thing I was being asked to address would not have been an issue if the previously aforementioned unusually lively conversational environment hadn’t led to something of a shirking of normal, simple responsibilities.

Now that I’ve done some explaining, although not justifying, of my overreaction, let me say that one of the great things about working with other counselors, which can also be a terrible annoyance about working with them, is that in situations where people are distressed in some fashion or another, they will, first of all, tend toward the supportive, and second of all, tend toward calling one on one’s bullshit—of course, in a supportive fashion.  Wait, I think I left out the potentially annoying part—which involves the voicing of exploratory questions about why one might have behaved in a particular way.  Note that this is only annoying when one does not want to have to, say, be held accountable for one’s behavior and would prefer to just be left alone in one’s asshole-ishness.

I will say I was particularly fortunate to have worked that night with a colleague who frequently has a different take on things than I do, but whom I also feel has extremely sound clinical judgment.  And while I won’t say she identified the specifics of what was going on with me—at least not in one concise interpretation (and to be fair, I had not shared with her a great deal of what was going on in my little world)—she did indirectly prod me to recognize the vast number of adjustments I’ve been making of late, and how much I’ve been minimizing their impact on me.  She also gently kept me accountable to the concrete reality that my overreaction was in no way necessary, and was also damaging not only to the target of my overreaction, but to me as well (most notably because I spent the rest of the night obsessing about it and why I let it happen in the first place).

I was also fortunate to have another colleague remind me that I love my co-workers and have a lot of fun at work, despite the stressful nature of the job.

Looking back a few days later, it should have been obvious to me that I was carrying a big burden regarding the ‘relayed information’ when I found myself unable to discuss it (in a vague, clinically appropriate way) with the colleague I was working with that night.  I brought it up briefly, but used ethical concerns as a way of dropping the subject—when really what was going on was that talking about it, or trying to process it, was provoking such anxiety in me that I just wasn’t ready/willing to deal with it.

I will just say now that I am extremely grateful to be in constant contact with some great people who are pretty amazing at this work, and who can tolerate my faults, but are also willing to help me do what I can to address those faults in a positive fashion.

Oh, and I would also do well to remember this…

Lake control

 

 

 

 

The Sweetest Hangover

The last time I posted anything on Respect the Blankie I was plunging into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)—an event/contest of sorts wherein thousands of participants each try to knock out 50,000 words—about 200 pages—of a novel (perhaps an entire novel) inside a month.  I am happy to report that I “won”—meaning I reached the 50,000 word goal.  Those 50,000-plus words now exist in the form of a partial novel that will probably never be completed.  After forcing myself through that much material in that amount of time, all while keeping up with my paid work, but while dropping most of my other ‘recreational’ pursuits, I’m not convinced the story is worth pursuing.  I latched onto a basic premise early in the month and forged ahead.  Careful plotting and ongoing revision were replaced by the drive to get the word count where it needed to be.  Okay, in truth, I never carefully plot things out, which is perhaps of one of many themes of my life.

In large part, having abandoned the writing of this blog for a month was a major factor in forcing myself to best the NaNoWriMo obstacle course.  I didn’t want to take on a challenge, use it as a reason for not tending to other things in my life, and then not complete the challenge.  Then, on December first, I experienced what others refer to as the NaNoWriMo hangover.  I had met my goal, but felt wiped out writing-wise.  And much like those suffering a hangover often promise themselves they will never drink again, I didn’t really want to engage with my story and characters that much again.  It had gotten to the point where we were all fighting each other, anyway, and being entirely too polite about it.

So, around the third of December, when it dawned on me that I was avoiding my writing life, I realized I couldn’t go cold turkey, but needed a little hair of the dog—or hair of a different dog—I still wasn’t going to go back to the novel.  I pledged to get back on track to posting at least one ‘article’ a week on the blog, with the reset button cued to the beginning of December.  I am bringing this post in under pressure of that deadline.  Having completed the NaNoWriMo challenge, though, made me consider a number of other things about what I am doing, and what I am capable of—or perhaps what I want to be doing, and how I can be more capable.  When am I actually challenging myself to do things better, as opposed to more or perhaps just enough?  When am I getting stuck in a rut, as opposed to settling into a comfortable groove?

To be sure, it was an exciting feeling to realize I had met such an ambitious goal.  But it was a goal with a built-in hangover.  It was about doing too much just to prove I could do too much—yet another theme in several parts of my life.

So for now, I reflect on my writing life and its interplay with the other aspects of my existence.  When I started this blog, my intent was to tie it to concerns of mental health, to have a focus on issues relevant to my chosen field.  I have largely kept in line with that goal, but it has been difficult at times to get a solid idea and bend it into an article worth reading.  In part, some of that difficulty is tied to my connection to some rather dark corners of this field, subject matter that is difficult enough to begin with, without the added complication of lacing it with Style.

At other times, I have written things that have been personally satisfying and entertaining, but which I decided did not adequately fit in with the mental health angle, or did fit in with that angle but were potentially…uh…antagonistic, or easily interpreted that way, and so abandoned them.  One such post that I decided to go ahead and put up anyway actually served as the seed for an article, completed with a collaborator, that has since been accepted for publication (more on that when it actually comes out, months from now).  So I’m re-evaluating my standards for subject matter.  That is, I almost second-guessed myself out of a publishing opportunity because I was afraid some ideas might be taken the wrong way—by whom, I don’t know.  Well, actually, I could tell you what I’m thinking on that account, but it’s all an idiotic circle of self-limiting hooey based simultaneously on the fear that nobody and everybody will read a post and everything/nothing will happen to make things go in a direction that can’t possibly be good unless it is.

So, for now, the goal is to write about whatever moves me to write, and in the way I want to express it, without getting too worked up about things being taken the wrong way, rather than trying to maintain a narrow, polite-ish focus.  After all, every aspect of our lives contributes to our mental health, or lack thereof/limitations thereon.  So, here’s to reasonable goals, and fewer hangovers of any sort.