I’ve been meaning to write this post for months now. It’s as much for me as about me, but I’ll do my best to make it a worthwhile read. As Kurt Vonnegut once suggested, “Use a reader’s time in such a way that they won’t feel that time was wasted.” A few words of warning:
• I use the word “I” in everyday discussion way too much, and this post is about me, so, if you’re not interested in how I’ve been doing, do yourself a favor and move on.
• I know exactly what I intend to discuss, but have no idea how I’m going to present it, so this could easily become a blogwreck in short order.
• I’m not a fan of the victim card, nor do I get along with folks who maintain a persecution complex. Everyone’s got problem’s, the world is not out to get you and deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.
That last one continues to challenge me. The universe is NOT a meritocracy. It’s just a universe. Go figure.
Everyone’s Got Dead People
The older we get, the truer this becomes. Many of my old school mates and friends have already lost one or another of their parents. Some have lost children. The recent swath of musician and celebrity deaths cutting across our daily feeds has been pretty intense. No one gets out alive and I don’t believe in the hereafter. So my dad went to his grave convinced he would see me again. I watched him go certain this was our final period of time together. He said I would come around eventually. I said nothing to challenge his beliefs. Who knows? One day I’ll cross that threshold myself, and I’d love nothing more than to be completely wrong in my own ideology and run flying into my father’s waiting arms. It would be such a comfort to believe I’ll see my father and brother again.
But I do not.
So most of my friends know I lost my brother, Duane, in 1998. He’d broken his ankle, and while waiting for surgery, a blood clot formed. When he went to lift himself from the gurney to the operating table, it dislodged, traveled up to his heart and killed him almost instantly. He was only 34. This untimely death of their first born son devastated my parents. I knew I had to be the rock for them during that time – Duane would have wanted me to step up. So I did, but I suspect denying myself my own proper grieving period haunted me for many years.
We’ve all got dead people. We’ve all got jobs and obligations. With support and understanding from friends, somehow, we move on.
In April of 2013, my father, who’d smoked nearly 3 packs a day of unfiltered Pall Malls for over 40 years, was diagnosed with lung cancer. The initial prognosis was optimistic – chemotherapy could knock this sucker out. But the chemo made him weak. His body couldn’t take it. He died six months later, in September 2013.
We’ve all got dead people. I’m fortunate that I had a job at the time that allowed me to spend two afternoons a week sitting with him those last two months. And he was lucid up until the last two days, and under hospice care, so he felt no pain. There are certainly worse ways to go.
But This Is About Me, Remember?
In May of 2004, I experienced a massive panic attack on my way to work, barreling down Cross County Highway at 60 mph. To this day, it’s the worst panic attack I’ve ever had, although I’ve since had a few that came close. Prior to this event, I’d had a number of sporadic anxiety attacks, going back to my early twenties, but nothing nearly so incapacitating as this. I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder. While we’re at it, I’m also an introvert (INTP for those interested in a Meyers-Briggs sort of way), more than a little agoraphobic (not formally diagnosed, but I know a thing or two about me) and anti-social (surprise!) to boot.
I managed my Panic Disorder through medication, a psychiatrist, and a therapist. Then my dad died. Then the occurrence and severity of panic attacks and related symptoms (it involves a lot of time stuck on the john) led me to a situation where it seemed best to register my condition with my employer as an FML-protected malady – meaning they couldn’t fire me for any attendance issues related to Panic Disorder. Before long, my corporate job went south. You do the math.
And my panic disorder has been growing worse ever since. I’ve gone from seeing my psychiatrist twice a year to once a month. I’ve filed for disability as I struggle to maintain a very modest income working from home.
Who’s Gonna Drive You Home Tonight
The most difficult aspect for me is, I used to love to drive. I consider myself an excellent driver. Driving, just for the sake of driving, to think, listening to tunes as the world passes by, used to be something I enjoyed. Now it is a struggle. An endurance test. Simply put, fear of another panic attack while sailing down a highway, or even the back roads of Indiana close to home, mixed with an increased frequency of actual panic attacks while driving, essentially nixes my ability to report for work at a concrete and mortar job. At least for now. My psychiatrist and I continue to work on this via medication and the construction and fine-tuning of a daily routine and long/short term goals. Lists. Checklists. A PLAN for chrissakes! One of my daily activities now is to try to get out once a day and drive for 10-20 minutes.
Understand, it’s quite embarrassing to admit this.
A few related sidenotes here:
• My therapist, an awesome force of nature who recently retired, spent 12 years off and on trying to get at the root of “why” I have Panic Disorder, like a detective, or a doctor trying to locate the tumor so we could remove it.
• Only recently, as my visits with my psychiatrist have increased, did I learn she has a completely different approach. She actually told me, “I want you to stop trying to figure out why you have panic attacks. You have a medical condition. It’s no mystery. Don’t waste time trying to solve something we already know.” Time will tell how this new way of looking at it will help, but it was kind of an epiphany to hear this.
• I would have been one sunk battleship a long time ago without the amazing support and patience of my wife, Jill. She’s currently the chief bread-winner in our house, and she’s watched me lose days, even weeks of my life to extended bouts of depression brought on by my current situation. She’s been priceless and I love her so much. This article gives a pretty fair idea of what she’s had to contend with. Thank you, honey.
I Have To Believe It’s Getting Better
That does not mean my current struggle hasn’t caused some collateral damage. I am keenly aware on an unspoken level of the continued frustration my wife often feels. I know sometimes it spills over into resentment. I know she’s a saint for not letting bitterness get the better of her. We’ve had our moments. This whole thing is stressful for her on it’s own level, unrelated to me, as our financial situation has slowly dissolved from peaches and cream to just squeaking by. It ain’t easy. I know. It’s important to understand I haven’t become catatonic – I’m fully aware of how crazy and maddening this period has been for all concerned, not just me.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’ve thought on more than one occasion, “If only I had some decent life insurance …” Thankfully, I’ve never felt inclined to suicide (believe it or not, I consider myself an optimist), but I’m hardly immune to morbid thoughts – especially during periods of depression, which I’m trying to manage, but seems to come and go, and seems to have been doing more coming than going the past year.
But one thing that keeps me going, keeps my wife going, keeps my family going, is the firm belief that things will get better (see? optimist!). This is not a permanent state. But just like I didn’t get to this point overnight, I’m not going to get out of it overnight. Small steps, do what you can, and do not beat yourself up when you fall short.
I still have my family. I still have ways to make money to support them. I still have dreams as a musician. I can still write. I’ve almost completed an EP that could perhaps be described as “Music to give up all hope for mankind to,” as the subject matter is a cathartic snapshot of many of the events and issues I’ve described here in blog form. Once I complete that, I intend to start writing some jingles, because I can and because there is a potential to make money that way. Also, it’s time to double-down and renew my job search for work at home opportunities in my field (design, research, social media, marketing). If I can at least get some additional part-time, freelance work, that would make a huge difference. So I need to update my online portfolio and get back to work.
I’ll continue to challenge the driving bug, and the larger panic disorder in general, bit by bit, day by day.
Long term, I have a Sci-Fi concept album (feel free to listen to some rough instrumental mixes) I’d like to work on, a number of singles and one offs, and further album ideas already bouncing around. I’d like to start a Facebook page for my band (my wife sings and plays some bass), Sturgeon’s Law.
I want to be a great husband again, because my wife deserves so much more than just “good” or “well-meaning,” and there’s always room for improvement as a father to my two boys.
It’s not like everything’s gone to shit because of my Panic Disorder and associated depressions – check out this video. It’s an international collaboration making music with some good folks (including one very pretty and talented lady) that culminated in this song. It was so much fun putting this together that we’ve all decided we’d like to do it again sometime.
Hope springs eternal. Sometimes I just forget to look up. So if you are ever feeling down, first, be nice to you. Second, don’t forget to look up from time to time.