‘Mental health … is an everyone thing.’

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PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Two pieces of writing I’ve come across as I continue to wonder what happened to my friend and, at times, still not believing it.

First, NBA player Kevin Love, a forward with the Cleveland Caveliers. He wrote a very personal piece for The Players Tribune about experiencing a panic attack earlier this season, and more importantly, on how it’s tough for men to talk about mental health issues because of the ways masculinity is imposed on boys while growing up:

“Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to ‘be a man.’ It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook. And look, I’m probably not telling you anything new here. These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they’re everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water. They’re a lot like depression or anxiety in that way.

“So for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different.”

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Photo by Jed Jacobsohn for The Players Tribune

This part, in which Love talks about getting a therapist and digging deep into his past, uncovering a trauma he never properly processed, reminded me of my friend Tomas, who witnessed the heart attack of his grandfather as a young teen. I remember Tomas tearing up telling me about it. I got the sense he never properly grieved or understood why he had to witness that event that led to the death of his absolute favorite relative.

“Telling a stranger about my grandma made me see how much pain it was still causing me. Digging into it, I realized that what hurt most was not being able to say a proper goodbye. I’d never had a chance to really grieve, and I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years. But I had buried those emotions since her passing and said to myself, I have to focus on basketball. I’ll deal with it later. Be a man.

“The reason I’m telling you about my grandma isn’t really even about her. I still miss her a ton and I’m probably still grieving in a way, but I wanted to share that story because of how eye-opening it was to talk about it.”

Love ends with an important point:

“Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need. So if you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through.”

Read his whole piece here.

Was Writing About Suicide Cathartic?

So, I’ve been given a lot of feedback about my tribute (?) piece/obit for Tomas, as well as questions on how I’m doing. How am I doing? Not entirely sure. I get the concern, but I also want to scream: “This isn’t about me!” This shouldn’t have happened. Can we go back in time, please?

It’s still so unbelievable. I’m unable to sleep well wondering if there’s any way I could’ve known he was headed down this route.

Yet, for me, the writing made me feel like I’d done something for him, in letting folks know about what a great person he was. But I hate that this is what it is: I hate that he is no longer. It’s unfair. And I recently talked to one of his best friends in the world and that person also feels robbed. It’s just so tragic.

So I googled “Best writings on suicide” and found a great piece in The New Yorker by writer Philip Connors, author of a book about his younger brother, who took his life more than 20 years ago.

He says he’s often asked if writing the book was cathartic for him. As a published author, he said he gets annoyed at the question because “… it annexes the territory of literature under the flag of therapy. As anyone who has written a book knows, there are a thousand other, easier ways to make oneself feel better: alcohol, masturbation, adopting a dog. For ‘survivors of suicide,’ as we’re known—a phrase that I’ve always found most peculiar, as if we’d tried it ourselves but the noose slipped, the cartridge jammed—closure is little more than a neat idea.

“This is not to deny that there are private reasons, in addition to public ones, to write such a book. The private reasons involve an impulse to describe a portion of one’s experience in language that has a ring of truth, to see one’s actions given meaning and form. They involve an impulse to transfigure the horrific, the chaotic, and the merely dismal aspects of one’s experience into a compelling story with a pleasing symmetry and shapely beauty—in other words, a work of art.”

But what most touched me is this kicker on the topic in itself. I will be getting his book, All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found (W.W. Norton, 2015):

“… let’s face it: that’s why people shrink from the topic of suicide. It bespeaks a misery beyond words. We don’t have the capacity to imagine our way into it. We don’t want to hear how the suicide of a loved one elicits suicidal thoughts in those left behind, either from despair or from a desire to achieve a perverse intimacy with the dead. But most of all we’re baffled by an act that scrambles our categories of justice. It offends our sensibilities in a way that almost nothing does anymore. A crime has been committed, but the victim and the perpetrator are one and the same. That is the essential conundrum of suicide, and a good part of what makes it so hard to discuss.”

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RIP, Tomas.

 

 

In which I write about my love for Big Band music

Image via Revive-Music.com
Image via Revive-Music.com

Totally random fact about me. If I’m getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, chances are I’m listening to old archives of “The Danny Stiles” radio show.

Stiles, who died in 2011, had this totally rad show in which he played “the greatest records of the 1900s” from 8 to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights on WNYC (820AM). Luckily, WNYC still airs archived shows.

I don’t know … it may seem corny, but throughout the show, I imagine couples dancing at parties in that era. In fact, Styles will talk about parties during the Depression, which must have felt like the highlight of the week, considering the circumstances.

I feel as if you could never stop learning about music history in this country. Stiles didn’t just play songs by the greats, such as Frank Sinatra, or one of my personal favorites, Glenn Miller. (Listen to “In The Mood.” You’ll know it. It was a global hit in its day.)

Stiles pays homage to the history of music from our country, often featuring musicians of color, who as you may know, are at the roots of American music, though it was brought to the mainstream by record labels and white singers.

On this week’s show, he played a song that I know (incorrectly) as “Mani” (the Spanish word for peanut) because I’ve heard it on old Spanish radio stations. The song is called “El Manisero/The Peanut Vendor” and though there were several versions by many recording artists, it was Louis Armstrong who made it a big hit in the 1930s as Cuban rhythms was influencing music in the States. It was smart of Armstrong to record it. All of this I learned on the Danny Stiles show.

But wait! There’s more.

How does listening to this show translate to music I’ve heard in the nightclubs today? Well, using “The Peanut Vendor” as an example, Uproot Andy (real name: Andy Gillis) tends to play this track (I’m guessing this is the version he plays, though I can’t be 100 percent sure) at his well-known “Que Bajo?” monthly parties. It’s obvious they sampled “The Peanut Vendor” sound. And now I’ll think of Danny Stiles and Louis Armstrong in 1930 the next time I hear it!

Bonus fact: Another of my favorite Big Band songs is “Midnight, the Stars, and You,” by Ray Noble, otherwise known as one of the songs in The Shining. Creepy, right? 🙂

 

ChronicleVitae: Revealing the Secrets of My Mental State

Screen shot 2013-12-20 at 12.11.09 PMImportant issue that needs to be discussed more often.

Via ChronicleVitae’s blog:

Life has thrown some changes my way in the past few years and the anxiety began to consume me. It started slowly, probably three or so years ago. Recently, it got worse. I became irritable and unfriendly, at first just when I was at home, then at other times. My wife has probably borne the brunt of the effects, and she’s a saint for dealing with it. I’ve tried hard not to let my children notice. I didn’t tell anyone at school how I was feeling.

Read the rest here.

On vacancy and bad dreams

nightmaresI haven’t been feeling like myself for a few months now. Tough to explain, but the easiest way to try is to say I feel vacant. I don’t feel angry, or sad, or anxious; just vacant. I don’t care about much beyond my work. I feel very un-passionate about many things, and that’s unlike me.

So I decided I need to do something about this. I went to my doctor for a full physical and got some great advice in the process. I also have gone back to vinyasa yoga classes, and introduced TRX- and Kettle bell-training into my workouts via Pedal NYC, a ’boutique’ fitness gym on the Upper West Side.

Perhaps most importantly, I lightened my freelance work load. I am still struggling with this, but I realized I can’t do it all. (Something that has plagued me for much of my life. The inability to say no. The overwhelming pressure that I put on myself because I feel like I have to work twice as hard as everyone else to do a good job; to get some kind of accolade by someone superior.) I’m feeling better, but it is a work in progress.

In the meantime, I keep having bad dreams. I wouldn’t necessarily call them nightmares, because I don’t wake up frightened. Instead I wake up exhausted from the stress of the experience. And I wonder what they mean. So, of course, I consulted a dream website on the Internet. (Can’t get more legitimate than that, right?) It’s called Dreammoods.

Check out the interpretation for the dream in which my brother David and I were trying to survive an awful tsunami with brutal tidal waves. I didn’t know if the rest of my family was even alive. It was pretty bad.

That same week, I dreamt that I was catching butterflies and trapping them in a special butterfly cage. The interpretation for that one isn’t anything to brag about. And is it right? I don’t feel possessive!

Then there was the dream in which my dog had dog friends over. (Weird, right?) And then my apartment began getting infested with baby rats, I started screaming and jumping on the couch, and the dogs all went to town on them, viciously sinking their teeth into the little rodents. There isn’t an exact interpretation for dogs biting rats, but there is dog protecting a master and vicious dog. And a different interpretation for rats, of course.

Most recently, and perhaps most disturbing, was last night’s dream. In it, I was on my way to my apartment (which wasn’t my real apartment because the hallways were carpeted), when a man tried to assault me. I can’t say for sure (you know how you can’t remember EVERY detail of a dream), but I thought he was going to rape me. So I killed him. With a screwdriver. I stabbed that tool several times through his heart.

Then, my friends (I can’t remember who) were trying to help me to hide, but I kept arguing with them about going to the police because I felt like I had a good argument for self defense!

And then I woke up. Frustrated, like I always am when I dream like this.

According to Dreammoods.com, “to dream that you were raped or almost raped indicates vengeful or resentful feelings toward the opposite sex.” (Really? Obviously things I haven’t dealt with if Dreammoods is, in fact, right.)

As far as me killing the would-be rapist, “to dream that you kill someone indicates that you are on the verge of losing your temper and self-control.  Consider the person you have killed and ask yourself if you feel any rage towards him or her in your waking life. Your dream may be expressing some hidden anger. Alternatively, you may be trying to kill an aspect of yourself that is represented by the person killed. Identify the characteristics of this person and ask yourself which of these qualities you are trying to put an end to.”

Well, since I didn’t know this guy, perhaps there is hidden anger in my life. (That one I can believe. Trust me.)

And as for hiding from the cops (though it was against my will), I found some clues here. And Dreammoods says “to dream that you escape from jail or some place of confinement signifies your need to escape from a restrictive situation or attitude. Alternatively, it suggests that you are refusing to face your problems. You are avoiding the situation, instead of confronting them.”

Hmmm.. Guess I have a lot of thinking (or some more dreaming) to do!