Archive for Slices of Life

I’m Back

Dear readers of this blog,

In case any of you have been worried about me, due to my silence on this blog over the past couple of months, I’d like to reassure you that, although I recently went through a very rough time, I am now back at work and am gradually returning to my routine activities (such as moderating and updating this blog). Unfortunately, I still can’t provide a date as to when the paperback version of Fat White Vampire Otaku will be available or when my other completed novels will be out from MonstraCity Press, either in ebook or trade paperback form. Right now, taking care of our boys and their needs is a full-time job for Dara, and it is almost a second full-time job for me. I can’t predict when she will find herself with the spare time and spare energy to return to her role at MonstraCity Press. However, in the meantime, I will endeavor to update this blog reasonably regularly with fresh content. Thank you all for your patience and understanding and for your continuing support. It means the world to me.

Best wishes to all,
Andy Fox

Bad Trip

sponge

This past week, I discovered something new. It is possible to have TOO MUCH serotonin in your system at one time.

YES, you read that right: TOO MUCH, as well as too little serotonin causes a problem (maybe this isn’t news to you, but it was news to me).

Turns out my problem was related to the fact that I’m taking two medications at the same time (among other), both of which have the effect of raising one’s serotonin (one is an anti-depressant, the other is a new [to me] anti-anxiety drug). I just started taking this new [to me] anti-anxiety drug last week (it replaced a different anti-anxiety drug, which I wanted to stop taking because it tends to be addictive over time, unlike the new one), on last Thursday (a week ago yesterday). Sunday, for those of you who read my blog regularly, I noticed a new “blip” on my perceptual radar: I couldn’t watch my son Asher play Minecraft for more than a few minutes without getting motion sickness.

Tuesday, I began experiencing something else somewhat new: I noticed how “spongy” my work keyboard felt. And how “spongy” my laptop’s keyboard felt.

By Wednesday morning (I had fortuitously taken the day off from work to babysit Levi), EVERYTHING felt a little “spongy.” “Spongy” was the word of the day.

But then the effect started to increase. And that’s when I began freaking out. Everything felt like it was at a remove; if I heard a song, I couldn’t get it out of my head (and I recalled every single lyric to David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity” as soon as I thought of the title of that song, while searching for a proper metaphor for what I was feeling).

I decided to take a shower. After my shower, I found myself a much cleaner but still “spongy” person; the prickles of water had not banished my weird sensations.

That’s when I REALLY began freaking out. But it was a panic attack unlike any I’d experienced before. Because even though the symptoms were causing me to have the panic attack (psychologically), those same symptoms (off too much serotonin in my system) were preventing the physical symptoms normally set off by a panic attack — i.e.: I wasn’t experiencing any speeding up of my heart rate, nor sweating, nor increased respiration, nor uneasiness or discomfort within my stomach and bowels. I knew I was having a panic attack, but I couldn’t feel myself having one.

Let me tell you, that is one bizarre set of sensations.

Thank the heavens above, I was able to get a fifteen minute appointment with my psychiatric nurse later that afternoon (I just had to hold it together until my wife could drive me to the appointment, since I sure as heck wasn’t going to try driving myself). I described what I was feeling, and he said, “Sounds like too much serotonin in your system all at once. Take a break from swallowing the XXXXX pills and see if your symptoms recede by late tonight.”

Yes, the symptoms did recede by late that night (but it was kind of hellish getting there). (Because on the way to “normal,” I experienced two crazy-ass nightmares… I remember the second one… I was a dead body that folks just wouldn’t leave buried… they kept picking me up and doing stuff with me…)

So now I’ve been off XXXX for nearly two days. I’m not feeling nearly as dizzy/loopy/”spongy.”

But it is definitely a matter of degree. Although it’s been a couple of days since a swallowed an XXXX pill, I’m still noticing how darn “spongy” this keyboard feels…

It is Possible to Get Motion Sickness…

Getting Sick

… from watching your kid play Minecraft on a 48” flat-screen TV.

I discovered this baleful fact on Sunday. Asher, my middle son, has fallen in love with that game. Due to the fact that my wife (and I, I must admit) wanted to be able to stream Netflix movies to our big flat-screen TV in our bedroom, we purchased our used Xbox 360 unit from our daughter, Natalie, and installed it next to the TV facing our bed. This is great for watching movies. It is a little less great, however, because it makes our bedroom the only spot in which our kids (and their visiting friends) can play Minecraft.

Until very recently (before Sunday, in fact), this did not pose any great problem for me. The Minecraft background music is soothing, generally. If I want to be in my bedroom, on my bed, taking a nap, I simply had to direct the kids (usually Asher) to turn the volume all the way down.

However… and this is a big “however”… Asher has become steadily more proficient with playing the game. He has speeded up his rate of play dramatically. In fact, as I discovered to my regret (and nausea), he has speeded up his rate of play and movement to the extent that watching him play for more than two or three minutes causes me to suffer motion sickness.

“Oh, just close your eyes, then!” you may find yourself saying about now.

I did. After I got nauseous. It took me a full twenty minutes to start feeling close to normal again. I also discovered that it isn’t easy to keep your eyes continually shut for twenty minutes when you aren’t sleeping. And it is virtually impossible not to watch whatever is showing up on that 48” flat-screen TV if your eyes happen to be open.

“Oh, just send the kids out of your room, then!” you may find yourself saying about now.

Well, I try. But they are addicted. I don’t know if they are literally addicted, but they act like they are. My commanding them to shut down the game and leave the room results in paroxysms of protest and howls of hurt feelings.

Solution? (Is there ever a long-lasting, “one use fits all” solution to problems which arise between parents and children?)

Well, I could retreat from my own bedroom. Later in the day, once the boys had crept back into my room and ensconced themselves on my bed to play Minecraft once again (after I had banished them the first time), I did opt for taking shelter in my son Levi’s room to read my Captain Britain collection in a semblance of peace (and with a non-upset stomach).

I suppose my newfound ability to get motion sickness from watching a video game being played at high speed is just another sign of aging. When I was a lad, I could spend hours riding such carnival thrillers as the Octopus, the Zipper, the Round-Up, and the Himalaya; now, five minutes on the Flying Swings makes me want to ralph. I’m not alone in this – my seven-years-younger brother admitted to me last night that motion simulation machines get him sick, that he can’t ride any of the “scary” rides at Disneyworld anymore, and that seeing Avatar on an Imax screen made him stare down at the floor and clutch his stomach. That makes me feel just a bit better. (And at least I didn’t get sick during my viewing of the 3-D version of The Lego Movie this weekend.)

Two Hard Days

The hardness of a day is entirely relative. I thought my first day at Prince William Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Center was the hardest day of my life, while I was living through it. Yet I also know that in years past, I have considered the day my first wife told me she wanted out of our marriage, then left for work, leaving me behind with a broken leg, as the worst day of my life. I have also considered certain childhood days, such as my earliest day of mental and physical torture at the bus stop waiting to be bussed to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, as the worst day of my life. Or the day I told my mother I could not mentally handle another single day of junior high school, and that I would need to be home schooled, and she replied that I was simply being ridiculous and of course I would return to my school the next day. Or maybe the worst day of my life was the day I discovered my home in New Orleans might have been destroyed and my stepdad denied me, my wife, and my two baby sons shelter in their home in Albuquerque, an act of ultimately unforgivable parental betrayal. Looking back now, who is to say which of those days was truly the worst day of my life? Each of those days seemed like the worst while I was living through it.

These past two days I would not rank as among the worst of my life. Monday, however, was a day that Dara ranked as among the worst of hers, and so she called me to ask me to come home early and relieve some of the pressure on her. Levi had taken his medications on an empty stomach and vomited all over the back seat of her van. Slightly later, he descended into one of his worst anxiety fits ever, caused primarily by boredom (he has been out of school since his release from the hospital two weeks ago). He tried throwing a rocking chair down a set of stairs at his mother, then engaged in such violent acting out that she was forced to call 911. By the time the police officer arrived, he had calmed down to the point where the officer said he could do nothing for Dara (and this after Levi tried kicking the officer in the shin). Right after this incident, Dara got a call from Judah’s SAC Program (School After Care Program), saying that Judah had been throwing tantrums and had tried on several occasions to escape from the facility. So she had to take Levi, who had barely finished his tantrum, to the SAC Program to pick up Judah. Then they went to visit a potential private school for Levi, one which had indicated it would take Prince William County funds in lieu of private tuition monies. The only bright bit of the whole day was that this school seemed to be an appropriate placement for Levi, if we are able to convince the County to send him there and pay for his tuition.

After Dara’s panicked, exhausted call, I took the midday train home. I arrived just in time to see our ninety-pound hound dog, Romeo, muscle his way past Judah and escape into the neighborhood. This is significant because an anonymous neighbor has been reporting us to the County Animal Control Center and has demanded that we be assessed with a $325 fine, with the option of the dog being taken away from us (I can only assume that Romeo, a non-aggressive animal, has been running across their lawn and leaving examples of defecation behind). We have been utterly unable to prevent Romeo, a powerful, stubborn (but extremely lovable) dog, from escaping this way. Even building a fence around the front part of our home would not solve the problem, because we cannot count on our children to always latch the gate, and Romeo could simply push through two doors, rather than one.

So I made the difficult decision that we would have to surrender Romeo to the same adoption SPCA agency from which we’d acquired him a year and a quarter ago. I didn’t like making this decision; Romeo has been as much my therapy dog since my release from the hospital as he has been Levi’s therapy dog. But I saw no choice; these anonymous neighbors could keep reporting us and suing us until we are drained dry, and putting up a $1200 fence offered no assurances of solving the problem.

So, early Tuesday morning, I drove Romeo to the Stafford SPCA and surrendered him back to the folks we had acquired him from. They, bless their hearts, were extremely kind about this. They said they love Romeo and will do their best to find a more suitable placement for him. In the meantime, they are sheltering him in comfort. I was allowed to spend a final twenty minutes with him. Lots of tears on my part; it didn’t help when he came over to lick my face. Saying goodbye to him was as hard as when I had to put down Baxter, my favorite cat who had contracted feline leukemia. I took a fistful of tissues from the SPCA and cried most of the drive home.

Then, a half-hour later, it was time for me to pick up Levi from another school he was visiting, another possibility for placement. I took him out to lunch at Noodles and Company, one of our favorite restaurants, and then we spent the afternoon at the Air and Space Museum Annex of the Smithsonian Institution, the facility located near Dulles International Airport. I tried everything I could to keep him from getting bored, and I succeeded (we took the guided tour of the facility for the first time ever). All of the standing and listening, however, wore both of us out. Then we took the long drive home, and I immediately had to take Asher to tae kwan do lessons and wait for him. I had Judah with me, so I got him a snack at Taco Bell, and then we went to Second and Charles and browsed a bit (I treated myself to a Hawkeye graphic novel that had gotten great reviews in the comic book online press). By the time I got the boys home, I was literally too tired to butter a potato. I gulped down some food and then retired to bed while Dara attended a meeting and I allowed the boys to break the school-week rules and watch TV. I felt somewhat better after a twenty-minute rest and spent the next ninety minutes reading some of the original Len Wein Swamp Thing comics before finally surrendering to sleep.

This morning, I fought the snow and the bitter cold to get back into the office. The last two days feel like a bad dream (not all parts, but most). Even so, I got some writing done, some good work I am pleased with. How I managed it, I have simply no idea.

I just pray that things get a little easier from here on out. I and Dara have both been worn down by crisis after crisis, with no rest in between; like a pair of mountains being worn down by an inexorable glacier and unending storms.

More Evidence Supporting the Decline of the West

photo taking idiot in car

Some people seem to take great glee in coming up with fresh, creative ways to be complete jackasses.

This past week, I experienced something new. Something new, infuriating, but mostly unsettling.

I was driving south on Smoketown Road in Woodbridge in Northern Virginia, and I needed to get into one of two left-hand turn lanes to make a left onto Prince William Parkway. Traffic was heavy, and the turn lanes were entirely filled with cars, leaving me no room in which to change lanes to the left.

So, while we were all stopped at a red light, before the left turn arrows turned green, I paused alongside a set of cars in the rightmost left-hand turn lane and put on my left turn signal. I then attempted to acquire the attention of a driver who would pause long enough (when the left turn arrow changed to green) to allow me to merge.

I caught the eye of one young male driver and smiled and waved at him, hoping he would let me merge. He paused for a second, just long enough to allow me to start to begin my merge. Then he speeded up, cutting me off.

Here’s the unique part — or at least unfamiliar to me until now. As he passed me, expecting to see an angry, disgusted look on my face, he had out his smart phone and took a picture of my face through my driver’s side window.

I don’t think I gave him exactly the expression he was hoping for. I found myself more amazed that he’d had foresight and seconds to whip out his camera in time to immortalize my expression and (undoubtedly) upload my photo to Tumbler or Facebook with a suitably snarky comment posted below it, along the lines of, “Here’s some idiot I really pissed off by pretending to let him merge into the turn lane, but then cut him off at the last second.”

This was a guy in his early twenties, not some young teen who had just passed his driving exam. This must’ve been a practiced bit of behavior for him, because his planning and execution were so precise.

And thus, to paraphrase Pink Floyd, I’ve just witnessed “another brick in the wall” added to the rampart of anarchy and barbarism which seems to be eating away at the edges of our society.

On the good side of the ledger, Levi came home from the hospital last week and enjoyed an excellent (fit-free) first week back home. He has been very loving and in turn has been abundantly loved by his parents, brothers, and dog.

Also, I took the boys to see Walking with Dinosaurs, and unlike the execrable Free Birds, I place it on my list of the year’s best films.

You CAN Beat the School System (if you have a good lawyer)

usa_flagMiddletown-Insider

I am writing a much different blog article today than I’d anticipated writing the day before yesterday, thank God. If the Prince William County Public Schools Administration had not come to their senses yesterday, this blog post would have begun this way:

The public school system is NOT your friend.

Especially not if, like I do, you have a child who falls between the cracks of what the system defines as “normal” and what it defines as “special needs.” My son Levi is now ten years old and in fourth grade. Prior to the age of two, he was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum with Pervasive Developmental Delays. My wife Dara and I immediately got him into speech therapy, occupational therapy, and later, social skills therapy. Recently, his elementary school has treated him in a barbaric fashion, putting both his psychological and physical well-being in jeopardy. And they have written their regulations in such a way that they can assure themselves of legal immunity regarding this abuse. Our lawyer has advised us it would be senseless to try to sue the school for their use of isolation with my son, because the regulations have been written so broadly that litigation becomes almost impossible.

But after five years of struggle, yesterday the Prince William County Public Schools System with the administration of Coles Elementary School finally removed from the process at last decided to treat my family and my son Levi in a decent fashion. For now. Because we had decided to make a big stink. Because we had procured a lawyer who has litigated cases such as ours before.

My family and I moved to Prince William County in Northern Virginia in the fall of 2009, just before Levi was to start kindergarten. My wife requested that Levi be tested at that time for special services. His elementary school, Coles Elementary, denied him any services, stating that he was “too high functioning” to qualify. Over the following four years, Dara continued to request that Levi be re-evaluated for an I.E.P., an Individual Educational Plan. Levi was denied multiple times, because school psychologists and Levi’s teachers insisted that his problems affected only his social interactions, not his academics. But during the summer prior to Levi’s entering third grade, his situation took a turn radically for the worse.

Suddenly, my sunny, almost-constantly smiling eight-year-old began experiencing severe anxiety attacks and pervasive distorted thinking. During a visit with my father, the boys and Grandpa and I watched an old classic science fiction film together on TV, The Incredible Shrinking Man. Levi insisted that we turn the movie off before it ended. For months after, he compulsively fretted that he was shrinking. He told me he understood this was impossible, but he could not stop worrying about it.

Minor setbacks, such as dropping a toy in a drugstore, breaking it, and having to endure a brief scolding from me, resulted in major panic attacks which were extremely hard to control. Dara and I had no idea what had happened. Had he begun entering puberty early? Had a surge of fresh hormones produced this change in his affect?

Levi told us that he could not bear it, that he felt he was going crazy. He called his recent troubles, “my Dark Ages.” He begged us for help.

He had been seeing a talk therapist as part of a social skills group. Now we took him to a child psychiatrist. The psychiatrist prescribed an initial mix of three medications for Levi, then changed them several times until we seemed to find a mix which banished his depression and which eliminated his distorted thinking and compulsive worrying, even if it did not completely eliminate his panic attacks, which still surged whenever he felt unduly criticized or could not have his urgent needs met quickly enough. But these medications had undesirable side effects Levi put on a great deal of weight, he became lethargic, and he also had difficulties sleeping through the night, which required the addition of a sleeping aid.

At school, things failed to improve with Levi. His third grade teacher was utterly unresponsive to my wife’s pleas that Levi be allowed some accommodation due to his emotional illness. His teacher and the principal replied that, since Levi’s emotional troubles had not adversely affected his academic performance, he would not be given an I.E.P., an Individual Education Plan, nor would he be provided with an assistant teacher shadow who could respond to his emotionally fraught requests for interpretation and re-explanation of classroom project instructions before his frustration and fear of failure developed into a fit. The teacher was unyielding; she regularly chastised and punished Levi for behaviors to which his Autism Spectrum disorder made his especially prone, such as failure to bring work from home to school or to properly follow instructions. She even denied some of his urgent attempts to use the bathroom. All of these chastisements produced fits. He was now having several fits per week, sometimes even multiple fits in a single day.

His teacher’s primary response to Levi’s fits was to have him stand out in the hallway outside the classroom until he could stop moaning and crying. Yet this proved to be humiliating to Levi, his classmates, and to Levi’s younger brothers, both of whom could hear Levi’s fits from the next floor down. Dara met with the school’s principal and asked that Levi not be humiliated in this way, that whenever he would fall into a fit, he should be isolated from his classmates under proper supervision so that the other children would not be disturbed by his outcries.

Levi’s fourth grade teacher proved to be less inflexible than his previous teacher had. She met with a bit more success in stopping Levi’s fits before they could get rolling. Yet he continued having them on a regular basis. Also, his medications continued to cause adverse side-effects. His weight continued to balloon, and he began falling asleep in his classes at school. Dara consulted with Levi’s psychiatrist, and they agreed they would try to gradually wean him off of two of his three medications to see how he would handle this and if it resulted in any improvement with his lethargy and weight gain.

However, matters grew worse. Levi’s teacher began reporting that he was having as many as eight separate fits in a single class day. Dara was told he was no longer being placed in the hallway to “cry it out,” but the replacement solution was not fully explained to us. It turned out to be quite horrific, indeed; perhaps acceptable to a school bureaucrat, but a reminder of the severe punishments of a bygone era in public education to any layman who heard of it.

When I first had heard reports of Levi being locked into a printer or copier closet during his fits, alone, I denied to myself that the school could be doing anything wrong or against policy. I assumed the room that was spoken of must be an administrator’s office or an empty classroom, and that a councilor, administrator, or teacher would sit with him inside the room to watch him until he calmed down.

But descriptions of Levi’s confinements began reaching Dara and me from other parents who had been inside the school when Levi’s fits of wailing began. The said the room was not an office or a classroom but a printer supplies closet, and that he was put in there alone for up to twenty minutes, beating on the door and screaming until his fit finally subsided. An adult was present, but outside the door, not inside with Levi, where he could have injured himself with any of the stored equipment during his fits. Asher compounded the school’s administrators’ guilt by saying that the lights were left off in the printer closet when Levi was forced inside.

Shortly after I heard this confirmation of the school’s potential psychological and physical endangerment, if not abuse, of my son, I experienced one of Levi’s most violent fits yet, in public, without Dara present to support me. I had to chase him across the sidewalk which fronted my middle son’s Taekwando studio, dashing past a crowd of wide-eyed parents, many of whom clutched babies in their arms. My biggest fear was that Levi would run out into the busy parking lot. I tried to grab him, but he eluded my hold. I was finally able to corner him against a concrete post and secure him there until, a couple of minutes later, Asher emerged from the studio. I trundled Levi and Judah and Asher into the car. Levi’s fit, combined with Judah’s answering petulance and shrieking, continued all along the twenty-five minute drive home. Levi’s fit then lasted another twenty minutes before it finally subsided. All in all, his fit had lasted a full hour.

I had never experienced anything even remotely this bad and this traumatic with Levi until now. Within two days, I experienced the symptoms of my first-ever full-scale panic attack. I spent a week over the Thanksgiving holiday in treatment at a psychiatric hospital.

Two days out of the hospital, I insisted to Dara that she allow me to accompany her to her upcoming re-evaluation meeting with the Coles Elementary School administration. Even with me barely able to talk, barely able to walk, due to panic attacks partially inspired by the revelation of Levi’s treatment at Coles, the school administrators still insisted that they had done nothing wrong, and that nothing was amiss.

They had the gall to state that the primary responsibility for Levi’s solitary confinement in what they euphemistically called the Resource Room was the fault of Levi’s mother, Dara. Dara had been the one to insist that Levi not be allowed to have his fits in the hallway outside his classroom, where he humiliated himself, his brothers, and his classmates. Dara had been the one to insist that Levi be taken somewhere private and isolated (and properly overseen) while he was suffering through a fit.

Even in the midst of a gathering panic attack, I had the wherewithal to ask myself, “What if Dara had insisted that his teachers spank Levi with a wooden paddle whenever he had his fits? Would a parent’s directive to do something out of the realm of allowable school discipline have overridden their own regulations and forced them to violate their own approved procedures?”

Near the end of the meeting, they offered to show Dara and me the so-called Resource Room, which other parents and our son Asher had described as a printer or copier closet. I refused to walk up to the second story to view the room, knowing that I was on the verge of a major attack, and seeing the room where my son had been so cruelly treated would plunge me right into it.

Dara went to view it. She told me later that they had sanitized it, removed all printers, copiers, and associated equipment and supplies from inside. Their best offer was that Levi be tested yet again, for the third or fourth time, for his eligibility for supportive services, now that his “situation has changed.” This would require repeating the same lengthy psychological examinations to which he had already been subjected multiple times. They threw us a bone by saying they could arrange for such procedures within two weeks, rather than the six weeks it would normally take. This was their version of urgency.

Within two weeks of this meeting, Levi suffered a very severe fit which got him admitted to Dominion Psychiatric Hospital for four weeks. Coles Elementary staff were given permission by the doctors at Dominion to do all of their re-testing and re-evaluating of Levi while he was a patient in the hospital.

In order for us to get the system to declare Levi eligible for special supportive services, my wife Dara had to attend a meeting with the Prince William County Public Schools System Administration, in the company of her lawyer and with no representatives from Coles Elementary School actively participating. The presence of our lawyer, who has long experience litigating cases such as ours, may have been the tipping factor which induced the administration to be reasonable. Yet this was the culmination of nearly five years’ worth of effort. Who can say how much trauma my son might have avoided if the system had decided to be “reasonable” five years ago, when he was in kindergarten?

So, yes, one can look at this situation as the system finally coming to its senses. But what can account for the Coles Elementary School administration’s dogged refusal to allow Levi an I.E.P. and a supportive aide, someone who could immediately respond to his distress and head off his fits? The cost of such services wouldn’t have come out of the Coles Elementary School budget; funding for such services comes from federal, not local, sources. Money factors, however, may have played a role. Dara and I have learned that a school’s selection as a Prince William County School of Excellence depends, in part, on their percentage of students having I.E.P.s, with the higher the percentage, the less likelihood of being selected as a School of Excellence and receiving additional grants. But is it only money issues which accounted for their stubbornness over such a long period and so many conferences and re-evaluations?

I believe other factors were at play. I sincerely believe Levi’s conundrum was partially the fault of a sense of “lese majeste.” This particular principal, Ms. Forgas, apparently viewed us parents as serfs, supplicants, rather than her customers and employers. I believe she and her associates dug in their heels because they made a decision regarding Levi five years ago, and they refused to admit that they were wrong then and have only become more and more wrong in all the time since.

In a small way, this is government at its tyrannical worst. Should the Prince William Schools System Administration not back up the promises they made to us yesterday in thirty days, when they will be required to render a final judgment as to Levi’s school disposition, it will have earned a tenacious, implacable political foe in me. In such an instance, I will place myself on the barricades opposing any requested millage increase for the schools, and I know many other parents who will stand with me, whose children have also been denied supportive services to which they are legally entitled. I still retain the option of unleashing the hell-hounds of public opinion upon them, should they prove that their bout of reasonableness was only a momentary aberration.

Quick Update: Have Been Back in the Office a Week Now

Those of you who have been following my “recovery blog” over the past month may have been mystified as to why I suddenly dropped off the radar a little over a week ago. It was because I went back to work, as planned, on January 2. I used my regained driving skills to get myself to the early VRE train and headed back to downtown DC for the first time in nearly two months. Boy, did it feel GOOD! I kidded with my boss that I kissed the ground of my office building as soon as I crossed the threshold. He told me that feeling wouldn’t last long, not around here. Everyone has been very welcoming, kind, and understanding thus far. I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things. I greatly impressed my psychiatric nurse, however, when I saw him yesterday; he told me that, based upon what I had looked like to him a few weeks back, he hadn’t thought I’d had a prayer of going back to work as of January 2. I told him the combination of a new drug he’d prescribed for me and the terrific group therapy program in Fredericksburg had done wonders for me.

My biggest project over the past week has been getting enormous amounts of writing/editing done on The Super-Mensch Syndrome: The Story of a Compulsive Over-Helper (and Why You Shouldn’t Be One). I experienced a tremendous breakthrough in personal insights related to my birth family last Saturday during my talk therapy session, and I spent three hours that night writing at blazing speed, getting 4,000 words into the computer. I’ve been working nearly as quickly on the book the rest of this week.

Levi remains in the hospital, but Dara may be getting him released to home either tonight or tomorrow. I’ll keep everyone updated.

Rest of the Fall Foliage Dinos

Two of Dinosaur Land's original dinos at the front entrance

Two of Dinosaur Land’s original dinos at the front entrance

Fall is over; winter began a week ago. 2013 is nearly gone, and I must say, “Good riddance” to the bulk of it. I pray 2014 will bring more blessings than curses.

Iguanadon

Iguanadon

A friendly Bronto Jr.

A friendly Bronto Jr.

These are all photos taken on Levi’s tenth birthday in early November, so they are all bittersweet for me to contemplate. Still, with the passing of fall, it is time to clear my palette (and my blog) of these now out-of-date images, colorful though they may be.

Tyranosaurus claims Gigantosaurus as a victim

Tyranosaurus claims Gigantosaurus as a victim

Allosaurus

Allosaurus

One of those nasty venom-spitting dinos from JURASSIC PARK

One of those nasty venom-spitting dinos from JURASSIC PARK

I enjoyed two visits with Levi at his hospital over the weekend. He read to me from his journal, which is his version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, complete with cartoons. He is almost painfully honest in all he writes, and many of his jokes have real bite for anyone who is familiar at all with his situation. He shared with me his character descriptions for a story or series of stories he wants to write about a group of future Boy and Girl Scouts from eight different planets, his version of the Legion of Superheroes. From hearing him read from his journal and listening to his story ideas, I think he is at least as talented a storyteller as I was at his age. His “Uncle” Barry N. Malzberg asked me to try to dissuade Levi from becoming a science fiction writer, but now that the kid seems to be bound and determined to follow in his dad’s footsteps, I promised Barry I would always enforce the dictate, “Don’t ignore the day job! Writing science fiction financially supports about two percent of the people who make the effort to write and publish it (and two percent may be overstating matters).” Of course, by the time Levi reaches his earning years, the publishing paradigm may have changed half a dozen more times.

Iguanadon and Triceratops

Iguanadon and Triceratops

I’ve found that I enjoy giving Levi “Grandpa Frank’s Magical Back Rubs and Back Scratches” as much as he enjoys receiving them. There is something simply marvelous about that sort of rhythmical body to body contact which is meditative and soothing, both the the giver and the recipient. Plus, it has been a pleasure to introduce my mother’s father into Levi’s life; after all, my Grandpa Frank was my best friend until I reached the age of five, when heart disease stole him from me.

Giant Ground Sloth munching on some autumn leaves

Giant Ground Sloth munching on some autumn leaves

Vicious Allosaurus

Vicious Allosaurus

My brother Ric gave me the gift of clarity and closure today regarding my relationship with my mother and stepdad. Essentially, I learned that there is no relationship anymore, nor any possibility of reconciliation, so I am finally free to grieve. They have chosen to believe their own self-absolving lies, and it sounds as though this transaction has transformed them from the decent and mostly kind people I once knew into hollow shells of their former selves. They are pitiable to me now, as sad as this is for me to admit. But even if they continue to delude themselves — especially since they have chosen to do so — this does not mean that I can allow myself delusions of my own. It is time for me to grieve the relationships I once had.

Another shot of the Tyranosaurus-Gigantosaurus battle

Another shot of the Tyranosaurus-Gigantosaurus battle

All kudos to my wife Dara, who has ensured that not a single visiting period has passed since Levi has been in the hospital during which he has not had either me or her as a visitor, often with Levi’s siblings along. And additional kudos go to my father, Levi’s grandfather, who has called Levi nearly every night he has spent in the hospital. I’ve told Dad that Levi will never forget this kindness, ever.

A fall gathering of thunder lizards, featuring Apatosaurus and Styracosaurus

A fall gathering of thunder lizards, featuring Apatosaurus and Styracosaurus

I’ll be returning to work and to at least a portion of my former writing schedule the day after New Year’s Day, this Thursday. I have been away from work for nearly two months now. I enjoyed my first extended writing session at Panera Bread on Sunday before visiting Levi. This was my first long writing session since two weeks prior to Thanksgiving. It’s hard for me to believe I’ve been away from my laptop for that long (with the exception of keeping this blog updated). Many thanks to all of you who have stuck with me throughout my “recovery blog” series. I’ve enjoyed every comment I’ve received. Your feedback has been extremely gratifying. May all of you enjoy a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

About to Scratch the Itch to Begin Writing Fiction Again

juggling_books

I’ve come across two opposed quotes which most clearly explain the dilemma I have faced since early November of this year:

“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”
― Gustave Flaubert

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
[Letter to Max Brod, July 5, 1922]
― Franz Kafka

I have not written a single word of fiction since November 12, 2013, or nearly seven weeks. This is among the longest continuous hiatuses I have taken from writing fiction in the past twenty years. The other two hiatuses of note were in 1997, when I broke my leg and my marriage in quick succession and wrote nothing but a pair of brief poems and one short story over an eight month period; the other was in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of much of New Orleans and the upending of my life, during which I was able to write only nonfiction for about five months.

I agree completely with the Flaubert quote. I need an ordered life, a schedule, most especially, to permit me to write. I need a modicum of serenity in order to enter the minds of the characters I have set into motion and to hear their thoughts and statements. I need to be rested and reasonably at ease.

I have been none of these things during the past seven weeks. On Sunday, November 10, I called a dear friend of mine who had suffered a stroke and who needed friendly listeners to allow him to practice his slowly returning power of speech. I was awe-struck by his courage and optimism, especially given that he is a man who has always made his living through words, and a large percentage of his words were now stubbornly out of reach. I told him that, should I ever suffer a similar fate, I would pray to see it through with even a portion of the courage he was displaying.

The very next day, I suffered the first full-scale panic attack I had ever experienced. Within days, I was suffering symptoms comparable to those of a mild stroke. At times, I sensed a “lead mucous” gathering at the top of my head and draining into my neck, shoulders, and back, reducing me to a somnolent zombie. Other times, I experienced muscle stiffening in my neck, shoulders, back, and arms so painful that it reduced me to partial paralysis and made it impossible for me to walk any faster than a slow shuffle. At times, I found myself unable to speak in any sentences containing pronouns or articles, like the character Rorschach in the graphic novel Watchmen. The terror, disorientation, and pain I suffered was akin to a car wreck continuously experienced over a period of several weeks, rather than thirty seconds.

The primary cause of my panic attacks was directly experiencing one of my son Levi’s most violent anxiety fits for over an hour, soon after learning that he had been subjected at his public elementary school to, at best, inappropriate restraint, and at worst, emotional abuse and the potential for physical abuse through negligence. A secondary cause was the emotional stress of an extended estrangement from my mother and stepfather and the strain of keeping the full truth of this estrangement from my children, out of fear of damaging any future relationship they might enjoy with their grandparents. Yet I had also been making my personal stress and anxiety levels worse by pushing myself beyond my physical limits to squeeze as much writing and editing time into each work day. I was seeking to ameliorate what I perceived as a failure in my chosen second career of traditionally publishing commercial fiction by going the route of self-publishing, with the editorial and formatting assistance of my wife, Dara. Together, we founded MonstraCity Press, and I set a very ambitious publishing schedule for our first year, to incorporate both some of the eight unpublished novels I have sitting on my computer’s hard drive and newly written novels. I was aiming at a first year’s output of four or five books, both in ebook format and in trade paperback. My extended writing and work schedule involved me getting out of bed at 5 AM and often not getting home until 8 PM.

All this stress resulted in my worst mental and physical setback since I broke my ankle and suffered a broken marriage in 1997. The only writing I’ve been able to accomplish since early December has been maintaining this blog, which has become a journal of my recovery and a highly valued lifeline and source of healing. But until now, fiction — the act of entering and inhabiting another person’s head for extended periods of time — has been beyond me.

Yet I have sensed myself getting stronger each day. An analogy for my overall recovery has been my increasing ability to drive my car. As of two weeks ago, my friends and relatives were driving me everywhere I needed to go. However, driving with my mother-in-law was such a nerve-wracking experience that I ended up hurrying my return to the wheel. At first, I found it impossible to split my attention between the road and any conversation in the car. I directed my kids to never ask me any questions while the car was in motion. The only music I could stand listening to was Lou Donaldson. Lately, however, I have regained the vital ability to split my attention between the road and conversations in the car. I’ve also been willing to listen to music which does more than simply sedate me; I’ve been listening to the Talking Heads and David Bowie and Bruce Springstein’s The Rising, music I listen to when I want to make myself feel things. Until very, very recently, my mind and nervous system have been enmeshed in a storm of uncontrollable emotions, and I would do anything to avoid additional emotional stimulations of any kind. If I’m now listening to The Rising again, it means I am beginning to thaw from my paralysis.

I need to reflect on the second quote above, Kafka’s quote: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” I also agree 100% with this sentiment. For over twenty years, daily or near-daily sessions of fiction writing have been a vital part of my mental health regimen. For the past seven weeks, the blogging has taken up some of this role. But blogging or non-fiction cannot take the place of creating a world and the voices which inhabit that unique world. So I plan to return to writing fiction the day I return to my day job, Thursday, January 2, 2014.

It is instructive for me to reflect upon my experiences following my last two fiction-writing hiatuses. In 1997, various chance meetings and associations resulted in my coming up with the idea for Fat White Vampire Blues, my breakup recovery novel. Although the book had little to do with a divorce, it centered on a protagonist who had fallen into an extremely comfortable and comforting rut, and who’d then had that rut plowed under, in the process being forced to become a very different sort of man/vampire. It was a very emotional work, and possibly for this reason, it has been my most commercially successful work to date, by far.

Following the Katrina disaster, all I wanted to write about was the impact of the storm on New Orleans and upon my friends and family. I began a non-fiction book, The Janus-Faced City. I also began writing, in parallel, a fantasy novel about the storm and its supernatural accelerants — The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club. All the right emotions were there for both projects: I was filled with a passion to write and to explain. But the subject matter proved too vast for me to handle at that point in my writing career. I simply found myself with too much material for any single book. I exacerbated my difficulties by insisting that my Miasma Club, the confederation of bad luck spirits responsible for the storm’s onslaught, be made up of thirteen ethnically distinct trickster or bad luck entities. This required me to come up with back stories and side plots for thirteen supernatural characters, in addition to a large mortal cast, and the original manuscript ballooned in size to over 225,000 words, too long to be commercially published (or so I was told back in 2006). I had to endure the writer’s agony of five complete rewrites to slim the book down to a manageable 130,000 words.

Today, I have seven and a half additional novels strung from my writer’s belt, and I feel much more confident in my ability to plan out a manageable plot of reasonable length. I feel I have much better control of the material I am currently working on. Just as in 2005, I find myself suffused with new and powerful emotions and desires to work on new projects, both fiction and non-fiction. In fact, the non-fiction book I have in mind, to be called The Super-Mensch Syndrome, has its roots in the longest segment I wrote for my never published book of essays The Janus-Faced City, a long section on my leadership of the New Year Coalition, the New Orleans-based educational and public safety campaign against holiday gunfire.

I have no wish to become one of Kafka’s non-writing writer-monsters. January 2 can hardly come quickly enough. But I know I will need to recognize my emotional and physical limitations and pace myself much more reasonably than I’d been doing during the half a year leading up to my breakdown. As much as I may want to be one, I am not a Super-Mensch. The books I have in mind will not fade from my brain, and with time and patience, and the modern miracles of self-publishing technology, all of them will eventually see print and find an audience. I just need to focus on time and patience.

Three Jews, Christmas Eve, a Satori

jesus-teaching-scroll

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, I wanted to return at least a small portion of the kindness my family has received from our neighbor Larry, whom I have described (to his embarrassment) as “a perfect Christian gentleman.” He invited us to come hear him sing in his choir at the Potomac Ridge Baptist Church. Since Dara would be in Falls Church, visiting Levi, it would be up to me to take Judah and Asher to the church service.

I took a Buspar pill for what my doctor has described as “anticipatory breakthrough anxiety.” I knew I would be driving to a church I’d never seen in the dark, that Judah would probably act out as least as badly as he does at services at our own synagogue, and that I would have to arrange for Dara, Larry and Nora, and the boys and me to meet at a Chinese buffet (an “old Jewish-American Christmas tradition”) after the service, with us all arriving at different times. So I knew to expect stress. I got all the stress I expected. What I didn’t expect was to experience a fleeting but precious satori, or moment of insight.

I know some readers will read the words “Buspar” and “satori” in the same paragraph and think to themselves, “hrrmmmm… This is a perfectly expected and acceptable reaction. Religious insight achieved under the pressure of mental illness may properly be viewed with mistrust. However, an equally acceptable, logical, and scientific explanation of such an event may be that mental illness opens new neural pathways in the brain which give access to thoughts and insights which were not previously reachable by an individual. In any case, my insight had been building slowly all day, since many hours before I had swallowed my “anticipatory breakthrough anxiety” Buspar pill.

Much of the open discussion in my therapy group yesterday morning ended up revolving around matters of faith. One young man, unmoored in any particular faith tradition, had asked those of us in the group who had strong connections to a faith to explain how we still believe in G-d’s presence when evil is also present. The answer I provided was that I live in a state of constant religious doubt. When I am able to feel optimistic, I can sense G-d’s presence all around me. When I am mired in pessimism or depression, however, it can be almost impossible for me to trust in the sureness of G-d’s presence. I told the story of how my overhearing the news several weeks ago that Secretary of State Kerry had signed a nuclear accord with Iran’s ayatolahs, allowing them to proceed with their uranium enrichment programs after so many years of misdirection and running out the clock, had driven me into a tailspin. Given that Iran’s leaders for years have bragged about their approaching ability to wipe out Israel with a “single bomb,” news of this new diplomatic accord sent me reeling into a fresh panic attack. I found myself unable to trust G-d… I felt that, since G-d had not stepped in personally to prevent the original Holocaust, a second Holocaust would inevitably follow from President Obama’s and Secretary of State Kerry’s fecklessness and over-eagerness for an accord. I despaired. When I related this story to another friend of mine, he had wisely counseled me, “Pray for optimism…” which means, “Pray for the ability to believe in G-d’s presence.”

Not wanting to end my story to my therapy partner on a down note, I related another story, one I had experienced in ninth grade, during perhaps the lowest point of my life, when a plague of bullying from fellow students had set off all sorts of noxious Asperger’s Syndrome defensive reactions in me, and I was seriously considering dropping out of school altogether. One afternoon, when I had taken refuge in the quiet and solitude of the school’s library, a young man whom I had never seen before approached me. He said two short sentences to me: “We aren’t all bad. We don’t all mean to do evil to you.” He was referring to the large population of junior high students who had tormented me over the past three years. Then he walked away, and I never saw him again. After hearing him speak, my Asperger’s Syndrome zone of madness faded quickly. I was able to start fresh at North Miami Senior High School with far fewer visible symptoms of being disturbed and was able to gain many wonderful new friends, a number of whom remain my close friends to this day. I came to the conclusion that the mysterious young man had been an angel sent by G-d to relieve my madness. I realized, of course, that his arrival and cryptic statement to me could have been a “mere coincidence,” that he had been observing me from afar and had made an independent, compassionate decision to intervene in my life. Yet even that suggested G-d’s influence, if not direct involvement.

As a writer and a storyteller, I have come to the firm conclusion that storytelling is a partnership. The writer originates the meaningful signals, but a reader must be present to decode those signals and to add his or her memories, experiences, and sensory images to the story in order for the act of storytelling to be complete. I realized that by choosing to interpret the young man’s intervention the way I had, as one of G-d’s mysterious interventions, I was allowing the act of storytelling to be complete — G-d had told the story, and I had chosen to interpret my experience of that story as being G-d’s story, directed to me specifically. This is what I explained to my therapy partner. Man is always caught between the evil inclination and the good inclination. Giving in to the evil inclination is aided and abetted by a refusal to play the role of a G-d-sent story’s recipient. Accepting the good inclination is assisted by a willingness to be G-d’s storytelling partner. As human beings, we are constantly presented with this choice. This is why my older friend had counseled me to “pray for optimism” — pray for the ability to be G-d’s storytelling partner.

On the drive over to the Potomac Ridge Baptist Church, I explained to my boys, as I had on a few occasions before, what the religious, theological disagreement between Jews and Christians stemmed from. Christians believe Jesus to be the special Son of G-d, part of a Trinitarian Diety, as well as the annointed and Biblically predicted Messiah. Jews, however, can respect Jesus as a gifted teacher and a gifted rabbi of his day, and a man who acted to spread the faith of monotheism to millions of persons who had previously been pagans. I said we would show our love and respect for our Christian friends and neighbors by enjoying Larry’s choir performance at the church, then joining him and his wife for dinner afterward.

We sat next to Nora, Larry’s wife. Judah almost immediately crawled beneath the pew to pretend to sleep, as he is wont to do at our own synagogue. I began listening to the singing and to the pastor’s sermon. I leaned down to take a long sniff of the scent of my middle son Asher’s hair and to kiss him on the cheek. At that moment, I experienced the presence of my personal G-d to everyone who had crowded together within this church. I did not experience a “coming to Jesus” — I experienced the presence of my own Jewish G-d among my sons and me and all the hundreds of devout Christians in the sanctuary. I received a direct confirmation that G-d can choose to make his presence felt anywhere and everywhere… anywhere and anytime we are willing to complete the storytelling process. I had told Levi many times on my visit to him in his psychiatric center in Falls Church that G-d is with him at all times and in all places, even in the hospital. But those had just been hopeful words. Tonight, I was experiencing the truth of those words I had so devoutly wished to believe in. The satori did not last long; Judah began punching my ankles and Asher squirmed, and I was tossed out of the moment. But I determined to remember it.

Before the satori had entirely failed, I managed to extend my realization. I thought back to my dread fear that G-d had not personally intervened to stop the Holocaust, and that this had meant, in the words of Richard Rubenstein, that G-d had not been present in the camps and perhaps had not been present anywhere on Earth, and that life is essentially devoid of meaning. Yet I remembered a story I had recently heard from a victim of the Holocaust. He had related that he had seen an SS guard wrap his beer stein in a section of scroll torn from a copy of the Talmud. The man had begged the guard to give to scrap of scroll to him as a gift. Perhaps recognizing the absurdity of this request and how “small” it made the Jew seem (or perhaps because of G-d’s indirect intervention), the SS guard complied with the request and handed over the damaged, torn section of scroll. The Jewish man and his friends took the scroll, and, despite its obscured, blurred letters, used it for months to conduct study sessions of Talmudic lessons. They had turned their camp into a synagogue, using the most damaged tool imaginable. This story proved to me that G-d’s presence, if one’s will is strong enough, can be experienced anywhere — even in the camps of the Shoah. I realize that for any non-survivor to equate stories from the Holocaust with religious meaning verges on blasphemy. I take this risk, because I interpret it to mean that if I and enough other Jews and Christians of allied faithfulness interpret the story of Kerry’s accord with Iran as a challenge for us to become involved in protecting Israel and the Jews from a second Holocaust, this indirect intercession by G-d can result in such a disaster being averted.

I have met three exemplary Muslim men from Pakistan in the past couple of months. One allowed his children and relatives to play happily with my children at Colonial Beach. Another, Mr. M., engaged in frank, friendly conversations with me in the hospital regarding similarities between hallal and kosher forms of cooking and Jewish and Muslim views on evolution, and we had become close friends. Another man, a physician’s aide, had sat in the emergency room and compassionately assisted my son Levi after his breakdown, despite knowing Levi was Jewish. I know that if I were to be invited to visit any of these men’s mosques, I would also experience the presence of my G-d among the Muslim worshipers. I realize that what Imams who preach hatred of other religions do with their flocks is to deny their congregations the ability to act as G-d’s partners in the storytelling process. Hatred is not part of G-d’s story. Hatred is an unfortunate consequence of our provision of free will; the ability to choose the good inclination would be meaningless without the option to choose the evil inclination. A person’s ability to serve as G-d’s partner and story recipient can be reduced or abolished by many things — illness, natural disaster, pain, or belief in a leader who intends to deny the truth of G-d’s story.

I experienced this insight only very briefly before I found it necessary to carry Judah out of the church and into my car on a very, very cold night. But I clung to it as something precious, something which I wanted with all my heart to share, even if it may be redundant of other’s insights or if it can be explained away by my recent emotional breakdown.

I would like to wish all Christians the full drought of joy which comes from today’s celebration of Jesus’s birth among human beings. I would like to wish all those, like my family and me, who do not believe in Jesus’s identity as the Messiah and in his divinity to take joy and solace from the wonderful feelings of fellowship and G-d’s presence which stem from this very special day.

Visiting Levi

Levi with his pair of Heinlein juveniles

Levi with his pair of Heinlein juveniles

It isn’t easy to visit one’s child in a psychiatric facility. Especially when one has only recently emerged from such a facility oneself. Especially when the child in question is ten years old, and is fully aware of what has happened to him, and what may still happen to him.

I hope most of you will never experience this sort of event. But I also hope that, if you ever do, this brief post will make its immanence seem less ghastly and more hopeful than it would otherwise.

Levi’s facility is located in Falls Church, about an hour’s (confusing) drive from our home. Dara made a commitment to Levi when he was admitted this past Tuesday that she would not allow a single day to pass when either she, me, or another loving friend or relative would visit him during each scheduled visiting session. Thus far, she has kept her promise. Saturday was my first opportunity to join her on a visit to my son.

A friend of ours was kind enough to take in our two younger boys for a sleep-over with her grandchild, allowing Dara and me to have a night to ourselves, a luxury we haven’t enjoyed in many months. Despite our first destination, Dara dressed up for a special date, picking out an outfit much more attractive and sexy than might be expected for a visit to a psychiatric facility. She served as my guide; Fairfax County can be bewilderingly confusing, especially during the heavily trafficked holiday shopping hours.

The facility was neat, uncluttered, and well-organized. We were required to leave all our possessions, save car keys and one form of photo ID, in our automobile. We carried in a bag of short sleeve shirts and short pants for Levi, because due to the unseasonable warmth, the ward had been hot. I also packed him my yellow smiley-face stress ball I’d received during my own recent hospitalization. I wanted Levi to have something personal and tactile of mine, so that he could squeeze it in his fist and remember that I am there with him in spirit, if not in body. My own father did something similar for me when I was about Levi’s age and had been missing him terribly, our only meetings being our scheduled weekly Sundays together and furtive lunch rendezvous at my school. My father gave me a pair of his cuff links, which I stored in a clear pill bottle and hid atop the wooden slots which held up my upper bunk, so that it would always be right above my head. I kept those cuff links for years. They always reminded me of my father’s presence in my life.

Levi introduced us to his two roommates, both of whom he said he liked very much. Unusually, all three boys shared a passion for origami, so Levi had been “loaning out” much of his origami papers. Dara promised to bring him more on her next visit. Levi showed off several origami boats he had made, and he spoke proudly of having started reading a Fritz Leiber short story from a collection I had Dara bring him called The World Turned Upside Down, a collection of stories chosen by Jim Baen and David Drake as the stories which had had the biggest impacts upon their childhoods. During the past couple of months, Levi had developed a voracious appetite for science fiction, and to my delight, the authors he gravitated to were all “old school”– Asimov, Jack Williamson, Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, and Edmund Hamilton. My oldest son was blossoming into what old-timers would call a TrueFan.

Dara and I accompanied Levi into an empty activities room so we could have some private discussion. Whatever new medication he had been placed on had made him jumpy and hyper, but he was alert, talkative, and very happy to have us both there. He explained that he had been assigned his own nutritionist to help him keep kosher, that all of the staff were friendly, that he had made some new friends, and that he looked forward to art therapy, music therapy, and popcorn movie nights. His one fear was that his psychiatrist had told him he would not be released from the hospital until he had gone five days straight without a crying fit. Levi feared this would mean he would never be discharged. I explained to him that, no matter what his doctor might have told him (in an effort to scare him away from his fits), the insurance company would never allow him to remain hospitalized longer than two weeks.

Levi enjoyed squeezing the stress ball. I asked him if he’d been thinking at all about Grandpa Frank, my mother’s father, who had invented “Grandpa Frank’s Magical Back Rub.” He said he would need to begin thinking about Grandpa Frank. I asked him to sit in a chair so that I could give him one of those magical back rubs and back scratches. He really enjoyed this. I asked him if he remembered that G-d was always with him, whether he was in the hospital or not. He said he had remembered this and thought of it often. He said he was looking forward to additional visits with Dara tomorrow, when she would be accompanied first by Levi’s older sister Natalie and later by his younger brother Asher. Levi thought he had gone two days straight without a crying fit, and he was proud of this. Dara and I were allowed to stay for one hour.

Levi and me at RavenCon in Richmond, VA

Levi and me at RavenCon in Richmond, VA

After leaving the facility, Dara and I indulged in our first date we’d had together in months, a special dinner at the Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant. Eating delicious vegetarian food together, talking and laughing about the past, even past incidents involving visits to psychiatric hospitals, we were reminded of why we love each other so much and why we have remained such a strong couple, one which pulls together in times of adversity, rather than pulling apart. I made a commitment that we would schedule at least two nights per month as date nights, no matter how much we would end up spending on baby sitters. After dinner, we stopped by Ross and Barnes and Noble to buy a newborn gift for our wonderful neighbor Larry’s new grandson, winter vacation activity gifts for Asher and Judah, and a new box of origami papers for Levi. I felt remarkably calm, placid, and filled with a sense of general well-being.

As often happens with me, I experienced my delayed emotional reaction to the visit the following morning. I awoke already in tears, bitterly missing my Grandpa Frank, my first best friend, who had been taken away from me by heart disease when I’d been five years old. I mourned his absence because I knew that if he could, he would be an enormous help and comfort to Levi. I consoled myself by reminding myself that I had made Grandpa Frank a presence in Levi’s life, even though Levi had never met his great-grandfather. Levi showed much wisdom at his next meeting with Dara when he requested that my father, his Grandpa Dick, call him at the hospital right after visiting hours ended. He wanted to tell Grandpa Dick about his roommates, his new friends, and his sense that he had been making progress in the hospital.

So my oldest son and I, who already share so much (a love of old-time science fiction writers, a strong interest in history and travel, and many symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome, which had gone undiagnosed during my childhood), now shared something new — a stay in an inpatient psychiatric facility. But just as my six-day stay allowed me to make tremendous strides towards a resumption of emotional equilibrium and mental health, so am I confident that the same will prove true for my oldest son. He says his stay thus far has been “like a hotel for kids.” He approaches his challenges with at least as much courage as I was able to muster. And so he makes me proud… not at all ashamed.

Thoughts on Anger and Gratitude

Fatman, accompanied by the Legion of Junior Super-Villains

Fatman, accompanied by the Legion of Junior Super-Villains

I have posted this photo previously. It is a picture of my sons and me from this past Halloween. They were excited and happy; I was excited and happy. My mantra for much of this week has been, “Dear G-d, please give me back my old, happy life.” THIS was my “old, happy life,” from only a few weeks ago.

I have been attempting to compose a blog post for the past three days. Wednesday I was too down and depressed to attempt writing anything. Thursday, my head was full of thoughts, but by the time I arrived home, I was too exhausted to open the computer, much less write. I tried getting up early this morning to post, but I overslept. And now it is the beginning of Shabbos. Dear, forgiving, loving G-d, please forgive me my sin of blogging on Shabbos. Not being able to write these past three days, for a man to whom writing currently means salvataion and serenity, feels like I have been denied food and drink. Forgive me, I beg You.
*****************************************************************

Wednesday’s unofficial theme (for me, at least) was Anger.

Anger has always been for me the most difficult of emotions to process and handle. As a child, only one person in my household was given “leave” to be angry, and the rest of us were not permitted to show anger. Thus, I learned to fear any expression of anger on my part. Also, as a young boy, I worshipped politeness and tended to respect figures of traditional authority, such as clergy (of any religion), police officers, and members of the military. I developed a code of gentlemanly behavior, similar in many ways to the Japanese code of warrior’s chivalry known as bushido. Bushido emphasizes loyalty to the clan, or uchi, and avoidance of the expression of inappropriate emotions at inappropriate times in inapprorpriate company. Failure to live up to these standards results in “loss of face,” or what we Westerners would call “shame.” My code only allowed me to express anger in the defense of my family or friends; expressing anger in my own interest seemed to abrogate my code and has thus always caused me shame. Shame is produced in my breast by inappropriate expressions of temper with my children, with my work peers, or with my teachers.

On Wednesday, I nearly lost control while speaking with one of the therapists at my group therapy. I attempted to tell the full, harrowing story of Tuesday night, when I had experienced a full week’s worth of stress in the space of a few hours and yet had avoided having a panic attack. This therapist, for reasons of style or personality, rushed me in some very disconcerting ways, such as frequently sighing, staring at the clock, and telling me on multiple occassions to finish my tale. I felt a fury build in me. However, I did not realize until hours later that my fury actually had little to do with this particular therapist, but was rather sublimated fury resulting from my hidden anger at a close associate who had inadvertently caused great harm to my son, Levi. The therapist’s condescending mannerisms reminded me strongly of this person’s ways. I wrote a full page of obscenities, thus avoiding voicing them, and since my anger did not recede over the following hour, I left the facility three hours early to try to work off my anger. I went to the Fredericksburg Battlefield, but it was too cold out to walk. So I drove back to Manassas, got a haircut (finally), which came with a very welcome massage, and I tnen attended to the not-so-fun but necessary task of cleaning the dried vomit out of the back of my car. I went home and tried to nap, but Judah, my youngest, insisted on imitating his older brother Levi by throwing a phony, faked fit over a missing piece of Lego creation. Although I was unable to deal with him at the time, I later warned him that his fit was completely inappropriate and any resumption or repetition would result in harsh consequences. He seemed to listen. I did not want to blog that evening, because I dislike blogging majorly negative experiences, as doing so tends to reinforce them.

Thursday’s official theme was Gratitude.

Gratitude, to me the opposite of Anger, is my favorite emotion to experience and express. A different therapist showed our group a video which indicated that expressions of gratitude, whether received by the object of gratitude or not, tended to increase the happiness of the emoter by between two and eighteen percent. I had often experienced this myself. We were given an assignment to write a letter to a person who had either been greatly influential in our life or who had been enormously beneficial. I chose to write a letter to my coworker who had escorted me down to the nurse’s station when I had my initial panic attack at work, and who did not shame me in the least when I began weeping about my son’s state. I also wrote a similar letter to my wife, Dara, for whom I have so much to be grateful, including accepting my faults and limitations and shouldering so much of the pressure of this past month. We were also asked to compose a list of things we are grateful for. Here, in part, is mine:

I am grateful for my boss’s very supportive and humane phone call, which lifted my spirits by reinforcing that my office wants me to return. I very much WANT to return.

I am grateful for a haircut and massage which helped to ease my tension and anger.

I am grateful for my dog’s affection, and even for his sense of depression due to Levi’s absence; he demonstrates his loyalty by sleeping each night on Levi’s empty bed.

I am grateful for Judah doing his homework in my company, cooperatively and without rancor.

I am grateful for any good night’s sleep.

I am grateful for the jazz in my car which allows me to drive in a placid and safe manner.

I am grateful that I was able to gain understanding regarding the true source of my worrisome anger on Wednesday.

I am grateful that Dara has made several safe drives to and from Dominion Hospital in Falls Church, an hour away from our home. I am grateful I will get to visit Levi on Saturday.

I am grateful that Levi has met at least one friend in the hospital and that he is looking forward to participating in art and music therapy.

I am grateful for Asher’s frequent expressions of love and his offers of back rubs.

I am grateful that on Tuesday night, I did not panic when Judah began uncontrollably vomiting in the back seat of my car. I am grateful that the staff at McDonald’s did not seem especially upset by the mess we left in their bathroom sink.

I am grateful for the kindness of the staff at the IHOP on Hoadley Road, particularly Santa Claus and Charlie, the IHOP District Manager. Bless them all.

I am grateful for the wonderful circle of friends and relatives who call me regularly to check in on my status, and especially to those who have sacrificed time to come visit.

I am grateful and honored by the support of my therapy group, who expressed outrage to some of the staff following my early exit on Wednesday. The welcome I received from my fellow patients completely restored my faith in my program’s worthwhileness.

I am grateful that I had the presence of mind to apologize to the therapist I had been angry with for my inappropriate expression of fury and that I could tell her it was mostly not her fault at all. I experienced that sweetest of experiences which G-d in His grace sometimes allows us to be a part of: the making of a former foe or perceived enemy into a friend. (On that subject, I wish more would be written about one of the most extraordinary events of the Twentieth Century, America’s rehabilitation of Japan. Although much popular history is incomplete [including the popular history of this event], I believe this was the first time in history that an assaulted nation treated a conquered enemy with such compassion and understanding, enabling Japan to remained completely Japanese and yet, in some ways, to also become more American than America. I have always been enormously fond of the Japanese and, as I state above, I feel a genuine connection to and affinity with their culture. I hope to visit Japan someday.)

I am grateful for the sorrowful but necessary understanding that many good, well-meaning people are mostly unable to recognize signs of enormous distress in those persons who surround them. This could be said to be due to conditions which place them on the autism scale, but it is more likely that it is due to narcissism. Three times this week I have exprerienced good, well-meaning people completely ignore the visible signs of either my son’s emotional distress or my own, and how they continued with their behaviors which were contributing to our distress. I believe this common phenomenon is the root cause of virtually all domestic violence. Such narcissistic ignorance and failure to properly observe often leads to tragedy.

I am grateful for the courage and the serenity for me to today have made a fourth attempt to reconcile with my mother. I am grateful for my brother’s willingness to assist with this attempt. Also, I am grateful to G-d for potentially answering a prayer I have been making for a year and a quarter. Ric mentioned that my mother has been reading articles on autism in children. This may mean nothing at all, or it may mean that G-d, as He did with Pharoah, is softening my mother’s heart. Reconciliation and healing may follow. I should know within a few weeks.

A Few More Fall Dinos; Tuesday’s Notes on Recovery and Resilience

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Two of my wonderful and brave sons, Levi on the left and Judah on the right, confront the fearsome spectacle of an autumn dino massacre. I believe they would have been just as brave and just as winsome had they known the trials which would await our family a month later.
**********************************************************************************

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This giant prehistoric chicken, which of course post-dated the dinosaurs by several dozen million years, looks as though he could use a friend. In times like these, can’t we all?
**********************************************************************************

Damn, this day started out good. It ended up bruising, but at the same time fortifying.

Today was my brightest, most hopeful day since the initial hours of my illness. My first day of group therapy had left me emotionally drained but hopeful of better days to come. I suffered a pair of related panic attacks, but by being proactive, I found myself able to work my way through both of them without major upset. A discussion with my brother Ric appeared to set me on a path to achieve a sense of closure, one way or another, regarding one of my three major stress issues. I felt, despite temporary setbacks, that I was truly moving in the right direction.

Today began with my assumption of the status of Zen Master of I-95 South. I mastered my phobia of driving alone by bringing along my “silent partner,” soul jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Lou asked me no questions, and he demanded no quick answers. He allowed me to achieve a sense of peacefulness on the busy highway. By mastering my fear of the highway, I was able to meet one of my biggest goals regarding returning to my office on January 2: driving solo to the Manassas VRE train station.

My second day of group therapy began on a much lighter, brighter note than my first had. Rather than filling out reams of questionnaires and trying to tell my life story multiple times at triple speed, I received gifts of friendship from two members of the group: a recommendation for a good vegetarian Greek restaurant in Fredericksburg, and a notion for a perfect late Hanukkah present for my most special girl. For the record, my score of predicting assholes in the “Who’s an Asshole? Who’s a Sweetie?” game ended up 100% false negatives. A bad score I was happy to achieve.

I shared my ambivalent feelings about continuing to write journal notes for this blog. Two caring relatives had warned me yesterday that I was putting myself at risk by posting publicly details of my recovery process. One relative reminded me that the government, my employer, has the power to see and read any materials it wishes to. Another relative told me that the spread of some of my stories had resulted in some of our school-based friends no longer wishing to allow their children to associate with our children, due to me. According to an old Jewish teaching story, bits of gossip, true or false, are scattered on the wind like the feathers from torn, beaten pillows. Not all the fingers in the world can regather them. I consoled myself with the unalterable truth that my story is already out there. No efforts on my part can vacuum the rumors and tales back into their bottle. Regarding the parents who no longer wish to have their children associate with mine, all persons are entitled to their own fears and phobias, and all are free to set their own limits on their associations. I can feel disappointment, but not anger. Regarding my employers, I can honestly state that their conduct is in no way dishonored by my illness. The onset of my illness had nothing at all to do with my duties at work. My supervisors have praised my performance and are openly hoping for my swift return. I have let them know I have a strong desire to support my valued coworkers and a powerful wish to return to the office as swiftly as events and my stamina will allow. The stories I have chosen to share do not besmirch or damage the reputation of my employers in the slightest. They have been fully supportive of me, at least as supportive as I have had any reason to expect. Writing this blog for a presumed larger audience (larger than the audience of one which my personal journal would have) gives me the confidence and practice I need to produce writing for the audience awaiting my fiction, and writing my fiction on a regular basis has always been an essential part of my daily mental health regimen. So by working on this blog, I am setting the stage for a vital component of my ongoing recovery. This blog is a record of recovery. Any probing eyes with any discernment should be able to tell the difference between a tale of disability and a tale of ongoing recovery.

I shared my sense of this being a turning point of a day with one of my closest friends, a man who has recently seen me at my worst. It gave him a sense of accomplishment and hope, as I intended it to.

A portion of the day’s therapy was given over to a discussion of cognitive behavioral therapy. In laymen’s terms, this is known as either “Doing the Opposite” or “Embracing That Which One Fears.” If one suffers from depression which seems to force one to retire to one’s bed, the way to combat it is to force oneself to socialize as best one can. If one fears rejection, one should actively seek out opportunities for acceptance. I realized I had been intuitively putting “embracing that which I fear most” into practice, both by forcing myself to drive independently and to spend time in the company of my contentious children, whose fits and shrieks I had learned could drive me to the edge of a breakdown. Realizing that I had been putting cognitive behavior therapy into practice by instinct gave me an increased sense of confidence, both that I could still trust my own judgement and that by consciously practicing it, I could likely achieve even more positive results.

My day ended far differently than it had begun. If I chose to be cute, I would call it “A Tale That’s Too Sh_tty.” I was recently informed by a mutual friend that my dear friend Lucius S. had suffered a stroke. His primary disability involved processing language. The mutual friend asked me to call Lucius so that Lucius could practice speaking to a sympathetic listener. I was overjoyed to have such an opportunity. I was more overjoyed to discover the strength of character with which Lucius confronted his disability and strove to overcome it. I told him I considered him to be a Superman, which he shyly disavowed. Yet I also shared with him a prayer that, should I ever be struck down by a similar fate, I would request that God provide me with at least a portion of the same courage which Lucius was so obviously drawing upon. Less than a week later, I suffered the onset of my illness, which, in its early stages, due to the effects of medications, felt as though it had been a minor stroke.

The details of the end of my day are both painful and painfully funny. I arrived home, Zen Master of I-95, to find two police cruisers parked in my driveway. I immediately began repeating a simple mantra: “I will NOT freak out. I WILL not freak out.” I knew the only reason the two cruisers could be parked in my driveway. Levi had suffered another uncontrollable anxiety fit, and Dara had been forced to call 911 for assistance. Worried about me, Dara instructed one of the officers to meet me as soon as I exited my car. I reassured the officer by admitting that I had experienced the beginnings of a panic attack but had overcome it with my simple mantra. I told him how much I respected the hard work he and his partner are responsible for, particularly in such cases of domestic disturbances. I told him I was grateful that his partner would be escorting Dara when she drove Levi to the hospital.

Dara called our neighbor Larry to come be with me and with my other two children. I praised Larry as an example of a Christian gentleman and a Christian neighbor. He, like Lucius, disavowed my praise, but I told him that, as Jew, not a Christian, I am not bound by the dictates of avoiding praising acts of Christian kindness, so although he could not accept the praise, I was free to offer it.

I found my two younger sons watching episodes of Felix the Cat. They did not yet understand that their older brother was being brought to an emergency room. I passed the beginnings of my nightlong acid test of mastering a panic attack by joining them in front of the TV and comforting them with hugs and kisses, as we had been apart for many days. They were gentle and grateful for my affection, which made me only love and appreciate them all the more strongly. I attempted to contact Dara at the hospital to ascertain Levi’s current condition, but her cell phone had no reception from within the hospital’s thick walls. I knew I needed to take my children to get something to eat. A day earlier, I had sworn to Dara that it would be weeks before I could trust myself to drive my children in my car, due to their constant questioning me and quarreling with one another making me fear I would lose control of my automobile in a fit of frustration or anger. Yet tonight there was no one else to bring them somewhere where they could eat dinner. I determined to bring them to IHOP, the International House of Pancakes, which sets aside Tuesday night as Kids’ Night. Before we ventured out, I made them promise they would be mature young men and not distract me from my driving with unnecessary questions or fighting among themselves. They promised. I told them I would give a sterling report of them to their mommy if they followed through on their promise. To their enormous credit, they managed this difficult feat. We arrived at the IHOP without incident.

Rather than the typical Tuesday night face painting, our IHOP had an all-American non-Nordic Santa on hand, along with supportive elves of all races and genders. My Jewish boys, who do not celebrate Christmas other than by observing the American Jewish tradition of eating at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve or Day, were completely charmed by the dark-skinned Santa. They wrote him “Dear Santa” notes and made him Christmas pictures, as well as posed with him for photos (although Judah indulged his shyness and hid his face). Asher proudly announced to Santa that he had brought along his special Coles Elementary School Principal’s List cap, which he’d acquired as a reward for earning straight A’s. Santa insisted on a special Santa-Asher photo. Asher quickly decided that this Santa was the coolest Santa he’d ever met. The invisible hand of the brilliance of American cultural capitalism made its positive mark upon me: studies have proven that the human brain cannot discern any difference between genuine smiles and forced smiles, and I forced so many smiles that my brain began to believe I was cheering up. I called over both the Santa and Charlie the IHOP regional manager to explain, with tears in my eyes, that they had given my family so much more than they could realize. My oldest son had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital that afternoon. The end of the day should have felt like a tragedy, yet their innocent, ignorant warmth had turned the evening into a time of celebration for my children. I shook Santa’s hand, then I embraced him, holding in a sob.

Judah, unfortunately, allowed his eyes to be bigger than his stomach. Without my realizing he would be overdoing it with Christmas cookies and chocolate, I allowed him to order himself a bowl of ice cream as a third dessert. Dara called and requested that we stop by McDonald’s so that I could pick her up a large vanilla latte, fat free and sugar free, which she needed to stay awake in the Emergency Room with Levi. I told her we would visit her and Levi at the hospital as soon as possible. At the corner streetlight only a block away from the McDonald’s, I smelled, heard, and sensed my youngest son begin retching a very full meal of macaroni and cheese, french fries, cookies, chocolate, and ice cream into the back seat of my Kia Rondo. Asher, sitting next to Judah, began to immediately protest in the vehement way only a slightly bigger brother can. He threatened to begin retching himself if I did not immediately get Judah out of the car and away from Asher’s sensitive nose. I was stuck at a red light. I said to myself, “I will not panic. I will not panic. I will work my way through this.” I finally turned into the restaurant’s parking lot and had Judah strip off his jacket, pants, and shirt, which were thoroughly soaked in vomit. I also scooped up my umbrella and snow scraper/brush and the floor mat, all of which had been inundated, as well. I fruitlessly scooped chunks of semi-solid, semi-digested dinner from Judah’s lap and car seat. Then I pleaded with the partially frozen child to accompany me and my soiled possessions into the McDonald’s, where we made straight for the men’s room. Most unfortunately, I discovered that the faucet in sink was motion activated, which meant I needed to wave the filthy clothes in front of the sensor to get the water to begin flowing. This did not make my task easier. Judah assisted me by taking his sopping wet clothes, which I had wrung out, and placing them in front of the hot air blower in a mostly futile attempt to dry them. To the child’s enormous credit, he redonned his sopping clothes without protest. I scooped the semi-solid vomit and toilet paper out of the filthy sink and deposited them with my hand into a garbage can, ignoring the aghast looks of a fellow customer. I then went out to the counter to order Dara’s tall skinny vanilla latte, apologizing profusely for the disaster I had left behind in the bathroom. The young assistant manager, to his enormous credit, did not give me a fish eye but responded with placid understanding, the best possible response to a man on the verge of a panic attack. Part of my mind realized I had been subjected to a true acid test, and thus far, I had somehow passed with flying colors.

Asher insisted that we drive to the hospital with the windows open. I blasted the heat so Judah would not go into hypothermia. We found the “automatic” entrance to the Emergency Room mysteriously locked. A paramedic wheeling a trauma victim cursed like a drunken sailor, then immediately turned abashed as he realized he’s just hurled several “F-bombs” in full hearing of a seven year old and an eight year old. I told him not to sweat it, that they’d already heard it all in PG-13 superhero movies. The door finally opened. We delivered the coffee to Dara in Room Five. I saw my oldest son dressed in hospital scrubs, sleepy from a nerve-wracked nap, awaiting his transfer by ambulance to a separate psychiatric inpatient facility. I swore to him that God would stay with him anywhere he might end up, and my thoughts would be with him, and the spirit of his Great Grandpa Frank would look down upon him and mentally soothe him with special back rubs and back scratches, even without me to serve as Frank’s physical stand-in. I hugged Dara and reassured her that she didn’t need to worry about me so much; the entire evening had been a massive acid test for me to prove I could withstand a panic attack, and I had allowed the acid to wash over me without losing my skin.

At home, I had Judah take a hot shower. I then did something which I had not had an opportunity to do in more than week: kiss the boys goodnight in their bed.

I had passed my test.

If anyone from my office is reading this blog post, please know that I faced my challenges with the perseverance of a Marine, if I may be so immodest as to claim such men and women as my model. Being afraid, and yet still doing what one knows one must do, is the definition of courage. My prayer of a few weeks before had been answered: like Lucius, I had discovered a reservoir of courage with which to keep my illness at bay. To those parents who do not want to expose their children to me, I humbly suggest that exposing their impressionable child to a person who has managed to conjure even a small scrap of courage is not a thing to be dreaded. It might even be celebrated.

This is my recovery in progress. True to cognitive behavioral therapy, I have “embraced fully that which I fear.” And I have survived the embrace. I will return to my office, as planned, on January 2. Thanks in part to my work on this blog, I will have the confidence to once again listen for the voices of my characters in my head and type their fictions upon my keyboard. I am getting stronger. I am reattaining my old stamina. I will recapture my confidence.

If anyone who reads this blog post responds with aversion or disdain, the fault does not lie with me or my choice of events to share. I can be fully confident of this truth now.

Still More Fall Foliage Dinos; Monday Thoughts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s an inquisitive, egg-eating fellow, out for a morning fall stroll. Perhaps he will find the perfect pheasant’s nest? And breakfast?
******************************************

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A friendly Styrachiosaurus, a horny brute, but one with a pleasant grin. I built an AMC “Snap Tite” plastic model of this guy back when I was Levi’s age. With moveable head, legs, and tail. I wish I still had it!
*******************************************

Some Monday, December 16 thoughts:

I am working very, VERY hard to reattain my prior stamina and skills.

I am very, VERY confident I will return to my office on January 2, 2014, as planned, and that I will also restart at least a portion of my former writing schedule, as well.

The first day with a new therapy group is, I think, always the hardest. You are coming in to the middle of their movies, and they are coming in to the middle of yours. Plenty of storytelling gets lost or foreshortened.

Some say it is easy to get bored with one’s own story. I agree (having told it so many times), but I think it is a bit more difficult to become bored with others’ stories (thankfully).

It does get tiresome to tell one’s story over and over again to a succession of listeners. I am very tempted to simply write the entire saga down on paper, and then hand it to the next interviewer and say, “Please — just read my dumb ramblings, okay?”

Trying to squeeze a story of fifteen years’ of gathering stresses in 45 minutes is taxing. Trying to squeeze the same story into 10 minutes is EXHAUSTING.

Men don’t like to cry in public. They don’t like to cry in front of women. They don’t like to cry in front of men. Not even in front of dogs.

Watching HBO documentaries on substance abuse is a harrowing, horrifying experience. But one of the biggest surprises is how POLITE all but the most addled victims are to the medical staff who surround them. Is this just an American thing? Even a man who had his arm half-sawed off politely described his situation and his state of consciousness to his attending doctor. Very, very odd to watch.

Waiting can drive one crazy. Especially when one is susceptible to panic attacks. It is like being a little boy who desperately needs to use the bathroom and jumps up and down on one foot, holding his privates.

Today, I was the MASTER of I-95 South! Hooray, ME!

Stage fright, ironically enough, can be even worse when one is on anti-anxiety medications (because they slow one’s reaction times).

I am meeting a surprising number of retired police officers and Marines. The rescuers, it seems, often require rescuing at the end of very long, stressful years.

It is surprisingly common to discover young women of exceptional attractiveness in these discussion groups.

On the other hand, a great many mental health professionals I have spoken with have exhibited signs of emotional stress or impairment.

When one plays the first-time-in-the-group game of “Who’s an asshole? Who’s a sweetie?” I have found that the percentages aren’t so good. About fifty percent of my guesses end up as either false positives or false negatives. Sometimes people “cheat” and change overnight from an asshole to a sweetie, making the game even more unpredictable.

The hardest questions one is asked don’t tend to come from the professionals. They come from fellow patients, who innocently, unexpectedly ask you a question about the one thing which is hurting you the worst.

More Autumn Dinos; More Thoughts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Big battle between a Titanosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus. I place my bet on the Tyrannosaurus.

***********************************

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For a bonehead, this fellow looks really lovable. I like him very, very much. I would like to keep him in my backyard with Romeo, my dog.

***********************************

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This giant mantis is a “ringer” among the dinos, but I like him anyway. He is a throwback to The Deadly Mantis, a favorite film from my childhood. I believe that is Judah, my seven year old, standing next to him to provide a sense of scale. Or maybe not; perhaps Judah appears in another one of my dino photos.

*************************************

Here are some random thoughts of the morning, presented in no particular order:

My mouth (and I’m sure yours, too) tastes DISGUSTING after waking from a night following a late night dinner of cheese eggs and raisin toast at Waffle House and a mouthful of medications. Iced tea helps cut the bitterness (and half a banana).

Modern conveniences which have had a major impact upon my life: free bananas in hotel lobbies (indespensible for taking meds); flavorless Miralax powder which can be mixed with any beverage (indespensible for dealing with what the meds do to you); and, most importantly, free computers and wi-fi in hotel lobbies. This last has been a true life saver on two occassions. The first was back in 2005, when Dara, Levi, Asher, and I were stranded at a Doubletree Hotel in Albuquerque during both Hurricane Katrina and Bubonicon. I would have been completely out of touch without the hotel’s computer, because all of my personal computers were back at my house (under water, I believed). It enabled me to constantly check the NOLA.com website for news of the West Bank and to try to determine the fates of our eight stranded cats. The Doubletree staff were extremely accommodating, allowing me to sit at their computer for hours at a time, knowing I had come from New Orleans and could not go home anytime soon. The other time a hotel computer has been a lifesaver is right now. I am not without my personal computers, but again, they are at home, where I left them. I am staying this time at a Hampton Inn in Dumfries, Virginia, close to I-95, where I needed to go to stay with my mother-in-law so I could have a temporary respite from my children (as horrible as that sounds). I do not have my paper journal with me, either. So this blog, which I can log onto from almost anywhere, is my substitute journal.

People can be incredibly nice when you are able to ask them to do nice things for you. This was not always possible in the hospital. Oftentimes, I was too paralyzed with panic to get out of bed, and when I was able to get up and see an aide, oftentimes my messages of distress were not passed along to the nurse. Do not believe your preconceived notions of the speediness of care in hospitals which you have received from TV shows; hospital staff can be very blaise about patients’ distress, particularly when they are dealing with a lot of alcoholics with DTs, so they do not rush to your bedside and provide soothing cool cloths on your forehead and nice injections of morphine. I discovered the only way to get some immediate attention is to thrash about in bed while screaming at the top of my lungs, “I’M SCARED! I’M SCARED! I’M sCARED!” They come, but they may not do anything. Also, your mother-in-law will not turn down the volume on MSNBC unless you manage to ask her (found that out this morning).

When you are in a state of ready susceptibility to panic, it is like you are a science fiction telepath (like Professor X or Jean Grey) whose powers cannot be turned off. You turn into a helpless sponge which soaks up all the vibes and emotions of the people surrounding you. This is the biggest reason why I need a temporary respite from my children. They all want my immediate attention and panic or have a fit when they cannot immediately have me. Also, electronic waves from TVs or radios can be mind worms. Things I have learned to avoid: all TV and radio political talk (whether progressive or conservative); most “modern” comedies; big rooms with bad acoustics (like indoor swimming pools); live accordians; some food shows on TV; any form of internet, radio, or TV current events news. Things which are acceptable: Disney animated movies made before The Little Mermaid (ones without snark); episodes of The Munsters and I Love Lucy (the original series, only); cheesy horror movies from the 1970s (such as The Dunwich Horror or Madhouse with the brilliant Peter Cushing and Vincent Price). Thing which are sometimes okay: certain episodes of Star Trek: the Original Series (none of the “edgy” ones, like “Dagger of the Mind” or “Amok Time;” only the silly ones involving Tribbles or Harry Mudd); some episodes of Kolchak: the Night Stalker (ones without too many scenes set in the newsroom); and soft-core pornography with very little plot (lesbian characters preferred).

It is the hardest to stop laughing when you know that someone who shouldn’t hear is listening to you laugh.

Things I am sort of like right now: Dustin Hoffman (as Rain Man), but with a somewhat better haircut. The fellow from A Brilliant Mind, but who can’t do any maths harder than second level algebra. An eccentric with a circle of friends a lot like that of Johnny Depp in Ed Wood (and, friends, rest assurred, that is a TOTAL COMPLIMENT).

It is very difficult being an empath/emotional sponge. The last few times I was like this were all bad: when my then-disturbed stepdaughter Natalie was prone to violent fits of frustration; when I was in the final month or two of my failed first marriage; and when I was little boy who came home from Sundays with my father to face my mother who practiced cold rages upon my return, who would turn down the temperature of the house by forty degrees because of her anger at my having enjoyed time with my father; those nights, my only escape was to walk my dog outside for ninety minutes and then to disappear into the bathroom for another hour. My safe havens.

It is very hard having “diahrehea of the mouth” out in a crowd, knowing you cannot control it. I am working very hard on regaining my internal editor (although anyone reading this blog may doubt my sincerity). Still, I am making progress, just as I am with my driving skills.

I am looking forward to starting group therapy on Monday in Fredricksburg. I am told I should expect a more coherent set of co-patients than those I had at the hospital.

I will never, NEVER sneer at anyone who is struggling with alcoholism or substance addiction. I now know without a doubt that these folks are engaging in self-medication. The main difference between them and me is that my medicine comes in controlled, supposedly safe dosages, as opposed to malt liquor from a can or a rock of cocaine. I have met some of the loveliest alcoholics and substance abusers I could ever hope to meet. Some I would like to stay friends with forever. Some did far more for me than the professional staff at the hospital to survive my panic attacks (having experienced such attacks themselves). Alcoholics and drug abusers are most DEFINITELY among God’s children, and I MUST love them as I love all the other, “normal” people who have tried their best to help me.

Also, I apologize very much that I could NOT get Spellcheck to work properly in Word Press on this PC. Please ignore my errors, if you are kind!

%d bloggers like this: