Dreading the Darkness

It’s 5:12 a.m. on Aug. 31, and it’s still dark outside. I already miss the 4:30 a.m. daylight of a couple months ago. Looks like my anti-depression experiment is underway.

Mood music:

I’ve mentioned before that the fall and winter are usually periods of depression for me. There are two reasons. The first is that some ugly things have happened to me in previous winters.

But the bigger reason is that the hours of daylight get progressively shorter, which always screws with my brain chemistry.

And so, on Aug. 1, my doctor and I started an experiment: Up the Prozac dosage early and get ahead of the winter, thus cutting the annual depression off at the knees.

There’s still been enough daylight to keep me from thinking about it too much. But now that September is upon us, I’m starting to feel a slight sense of dread.

What if this experiment down’t work?

What if it does and something bad happens because, well, bad things have happened in winter before? That’s the fear of loss thing I experience.

Having OCD means I can spin these concerns in my brain for hours. But while all these things go through my mind, I’m still feeling a sense of peace. I have a feeling things are going to turn out fine this time.

That’s not to say I won’t experience depression. But I at least have the happy feeling that I’m doing something about it instead of sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself.

That’s the key difference between now and the past. I’ve learned to take action. When you’re on the move, it’s a little harder for the bad stuff to catch you.

I’m on team for a Men’s Cursillo weekend in October, so I’ll be giving God a lot of my time this fall. Since prayer always heals me, this will certainly help.

I’ll continue to sponsor people in Overeater’s Anonymous, which is good because when you’re trying to help others help themselves, there’s not nearly as much time to sit around and spin the what-ifs in your mind.

My children will be in school, which means there will be a lot of school activities to keep the mind busy. There will be field trips to chaperone, homework assignments to help with and lunches to make.

There will be plenty going on with work to keep me busy, including trips to New York and Toronto.

And there will be plenty of good books to read and music to hear.

Life can be a lot of work. But it doesn’t suck.

In God’s Hands: My Search for Redemption

Some people don’t like to discuss religion. I can’t avoid it. It’s central to my recovery from OCD and addiction. These posts are about my struggle to find a moral compass and learn to “let go and let God.”

Mood music:

The Better Angels of My Nature

How a Jew became a Catholic, and what it has to do with overcoming mental illness and addiction.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2009/12/18/ocd-diaries-12-18-the-better-angels-of-my-nature/

Forgiveness is a Bitch

Seeking and giving forgiveness is essential for someone in recovery. But it’s often seen as a green light for more abuse.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/forgiveness-is-a-bitch/

Running from Sin, Running with Scissors

The author writes an open letter to the RCIA Class of 2010 about Faith as a journey, not a destination. He warns that addiction, rage and other bad behavior won’t disappear the second water is dropped over their heads.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/running-from-sin-running-with-scissors/

The Priest Who Came Clean

The author on a priest who had the courage to open up about his sins.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/the-priest-who-came-clean/

The 12-Step Survival Guide of Life

For those who need a 12-Step Program, here are a few lessons from the author’s personal experiences.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/06/01/the-12-step-survival-guide-of-life/

Pissing on God

The author gets a description of sin he’ll never forget.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/pissing-on-god/

God and Metal

Those who read this blog know two things by now: I’m a devout Catholic, and I have apassion for Metal music. Both have played a central role in my recovery from OCD and addiction. But the spiritual part has been getting the shaft lately.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/god-and-metal/

The Trouble With Wanting It All

Ever since I got over my fear and anxiety I’ve had a bottomless appetite to do it all. I want to travel everywhere. I want to see everything. And I want to participate in as many events as possible. Sometimes that gets me in trouble. Here’s an example.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/the-trouble-with-wanting-it-all/

Selfish Bastard

The author has found that service is an excellent tool for OCD management. Simply put, it forces him to stop being a selfish bastard.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/ocd-diaries-selfish-bastard/

The Rat in the Church Pew

The author has written much about his Faith as a key to overcoming mental illness. But as this post illustrates, he still has a long way to go in his spiritual development.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/ocd-diaries-the-rat-in-the-church-pew/

The Rewards and Risk of Service: A Cautionary Tale

Service is a major tool of recovery. But it can also be dangerous.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/the-rewards-and-risk-of-service-a-cautionary-tale/

We’re All Broken

The author finds that sometimes his church family is too judgmental.

https://billbrenner1970.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/were-all-broken/

More Bullshit About Mental Illness

Every once in awhile I read something on mental illness that sends my blood boiling. Please indulge me while I rant about one such item.

Mood music:

I recently tripped across a website called HeretoHelp, a project of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information. It’s a great resource for people like me who are recovering from mental illness and addictive behavior. It’s chock full of articles from medical professionals and people who suffer with various mental disorders. There’s also a news feed that includes upcoming events like mental illness screenings. I like the no-bullshit approach to the writing and layout.

The item that set me off was a fact sheet on discrimination and stigmas around mental illness. Specifically, it documented instances where employers view mental illness as a weakness; a reason not to hire someone. I’m not suggesting this form of prejudice is limited to something like depression. How many job candidates admit freely to having a heart problem or cancer? Employers discriminate against that, too, especially when they worry about health care costs and potential disability leave. I’m not even going to suggest that those are evil concerns.

But there’s something that strikes me as more insidious about the perception society has of people with mental illness. If you’re depressed, that somehow makes you a weakling who can’t cope with the normal challenges we’re all supposed to know how to deal with.

It’s true that someone in the grip of depression can’t cope with those challenges. I’ve greeted many “normal” situations like a crisis that threatened to bring everything crashing down. When I worked at The Eagle-Tribune, I was so paralyzed with depression and worry that I missed a lot of work. I also spent many a shift so mentally weak that I could barely edit properly. By the end of my time there, I was as close to a nervous breakdown as I’d ever come. I’d come much closer in the two years after I left that job, but I was in a pretty low place.

I still feel badly about leaving half-baked edits for the morning editors.

But here’s where I was lucky: Though I might have been looked at as weak by some of my colleagues, I wasn’t tossed out on my ass. I worried that I would be, but I had a lot of support from bosses like Gretchen Putnam, who I consider a dear friend today. At SearchSecurity.com, I had another nurturing boss in Anne Saita. I was in her employ when the mental illness, depression and addiction really started coming to a head. By some freak of nature, I was able to do some quality work for her during that time, but trust me on this: Had she not been the type of person I could open up to about what I was working through, I almost certainly would have failed at that job. I was that close to the edge.

In my current job, I’ve been Blessed enough to work around open-minded people that I was able to start up this blog without fear of getting blackballed.

So yes, I’ve been lucky. Others have not been as fortunate, however, and their livelihoods have suffered.

The article makes the following point: “Even clinical depression, which has arguably received the most media attention this past decade, is still stigmatized. A 2005 Australian study noted that around one quarter of people felt depression was a sign of personal weakness and would not employ someone with depression. Nearly one third felt depressed people “could snap out of it,” and 42 percent said they would not vote for a politician with depression.”

Considering that one of our greatest presidents suffered from crushing depression, that last sentence is particularly unfortunate.

The article also noted how addiction is also viewed as a weakness of character, something that a “strong” person could stop simply because it’s wrong.

“Addiction, which is a chronic and disabling disorder, is also often thought of as a moral deficiency or lack of willpower, and there is the attitude that people can just decide to stop drinking or using drugs if they want to. The study of the effects of stigma on substance use disorders is still a fairly undeveloped area, but research is revealing that social stigma and attitudes towards addiction are preventing people from seeking help.”

I love the description of addiction being a lack of willpower, because in the bigger picture a lack of willpower never held a person back in society. It suggests that someone who can’t help but eat junk food all day is somehow better than someone who can’t stop shooting heroin or drinking. Hell, smoking cigarettes with a few beers or a few glasses of wine is more accepted than the illegal addictions.

True, something like heroin can take you to a place where you no longer function in society. But my addiction was binge eating. It was perfectly legal. But the state it brought me to was about as bad as a heroin addiction. When all you can do is lay on the couch and isolate yourself from the rest of the world, it doesn’t matter what you’re addicted to, does it? The result is the same.

Maybe expecting society to  stop thinking of the depressed and addicted as weak outcasts is asking too much. It probably is.

All I know is that nothing will change unless more people in recovery work to break the stigma. I know many drug counselors, therapists and 12-Steppers who are doing just that. But we clearly have a long, long way to go before an environment exists where most sufferers can get the help they need and return to the world as productive members of society.

I’ll do my part by continuing to write this blog and sponsoring others who want to turn their lives around.

That’s all I can do, I suppose.

Wasted Worry

I’ve spent many years worrying — assuming, really — that various people hated me for some of the things I’ve done. This year, I’ve been realizing what a waste of worry it’s been.

Mood music:

By definition — my definition, anyway — OCD is worry out of control. You worry about all kinds of things beyond your control while failing to do something about the few things that you can control. Along the way, if you’re like me, you seek comfort from those concerns in whatever substances you happen to be addicted to.

I was reminded of all this during yesterday morning’s OA meeting. During the part where everyone can get up and share, me and two others focused on this peculiarity of our condition.

One woman shared about how she thought her brother had been badly hurt all these years over an incident where she smeared blueberries across his face when they were kids. She’s worried about it all these years, and recently told him she was sorry. He chuckled and reminded her that he smeared something on her first. She didn’t remember that.

Another woman shared that on the night of her senior prom, she was so full of insecurity that she took off without even saying goodbye to her date. Surely, she thought all these years, the incident must have devastated the poor guy. She recently contacted him to apologize, and he didn’t remember being hurt. All he remembered was that the senior prom was one of the best nights of his life.

As addicts, we have a very exaggerated perception of how people look at us. But, as this woman noted, “We’re just another bozo on the bus.”

I spent many years assuming that Sean Marley‘s widow hated me over something I did right after his death. A couple months ago we reconnected on Facebook and I sent her a note about how sorry I was. She sent a note back. I won’t share the contents, but let’s just say she hasn’t hated me all these years.

Last week I remembered something shitty I did to a co-worker a decade ago, and I’ve wondered in the past week if she has hated me for it. She has every right to. I guess I won’t know until I contact her to make amends.

All this comes back to three of the 12 Steps of Recovery that remain the thorns of my existence:

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step 9 has been especially vexing. There are some folks I can’t make amends with yet, though Lord knows I’ve tried.

I feel especially pained about my inability to heal the rift with my mother and various people on that side of the family. But it’s complicated. Very complicated. I’ve forgiven her for many things, but our relationship is like a jigsaw puzzle with a lot of missing pieces. Those pieces have a lot to do with boundaries and OCD triggers. It’s as much my fault as it is hers. But right now this is how it must be.

I wish I could make amends with the Marley family, but I can’t until they’re willing to accept that from me. I stabbed them in the gut pretty hard, so I don’t blame them one bit.

Thanks to Facebook, I’ve been able to reconnect with people deep in my past and, while the need to make amends doesn’t always apply and the relationships can never be what they were, all have helped me heal.

I recently got back in touch with two of my brother’s friends — John Edwards and Scott Epler. They were my friends as well, but they were always the older kids. Scott and I both lost a brother in 1984, and he had a hard road to travel like I did. But I found him alive and well, doing great things with his life.

Last time I saw Edwards was at Sean Marley’s funeral. I always assumed he was angry with me, too. He had good reason to be. When he went into the military and Sean and I were being anti-military (in my case because I was a chicken shit, afraid of service and the danger attached), I was a real asshole to him. He’s a minister now, and I’ve gotten a lot of wisdom from him already. I’m loving the reconnection.

Getting back in touch with Shannon Ross Lazzaro has been a gift as well. She’s one of those people who was always part of the Point of Pines circle I existed in. She was close to my brother and was still part of the family after he died. She’s now in Atlanta and has two precious kids of her own.

Mary Anastasio I met through Sean, and she never really went away. But in the past year we’ve had a lot more to talk about. She often reads this blog and tells me I’m too hard on myself, though I don’t try to be. I used to have a Thanksgiving Eve tradition where I’d go to her house and shoot the breeze with her mom. Her mom had a heavy Irish accent and all the word color you would expect with that. One of my favorite lines from her was that Mary “could use a good blow” — Irish-speak for a slap in the face. I can’t remember what Mary did to get that response, but we laughed hard, and I still do. Now Mary lives in Revere with a great husband and son. Her husband, Vinny, is a biker type, exactly the kind of guy I expected her to marry. I say that as a compliment.

Then there’s Sean’s widow. She’s remarried with kids and has done a remarkable job of pushing on with her life. She dropped out of my world for nearly 14 years — right after Sean’s death — until recently.

It’s funny how we spend years thinking about people from the past and how we may have impacted their lives for good or ill.

Sometimes, it turns out we did hurt someone and need to make amends.

Other times, it turns out we just have an overdeveloped sense of our own importance.

I’m working hard to understand the difference.

Summer of 1990

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the summer of 1990. That was a rough summer with a serious streak of depression. And yet thinking about it takes me to a happy place.

Mood music:

I’ve had to do a lot of digging into my past as part of my therapy and recovery from OCD. Sometimes I see it as a waste of time, since you can’t change the past. But it is important to get closure on the things that haunt you so you can move on. I can’t explain why. I only know from experience that it’s true.

That said, let’s dive back to this summer 20 years ago.

I was getting ready for my second year at North Shore Community College. I was hell-bent on becoming a writer by this point, but it hadn’t yet taken the form of journalism. Instead, I wrote a lot of song lyrics and poems. If you saw them, you would laugh. My favorite was something I penned as my friend Aaron was throwing up all over my basement hideaway because I insisted he get drunk with me. We split a bottle of vodka and he had eaten McDonald’s beforehand. The puke looked like brown confetti.

I sat on the floor as he passed out on my bed, and I wrote about the fear that I had just killed my friend. Twenty years later, we’re both still alive and kicking.

Back then I was binge eating and drinking with plenty of pot mixed in. To control my weight in the face of such behavior, I would run circles in the living room of the basement apartment for one to two hours at a time.

I remember being pretty down on myself because I couldn’t find a girlfriend. For some stupid reason, I thought I needed one.

I spent that summer working in my father’s warehouse and hated every minute of it. I’d put the headphones on and listen to my metal to pass the time, and the summer became all about getting through the days until the college semester started back up.

I tried to escape in movies a lot. Aaron, his then-girlfriend Sharon (a good friend to this day) and I went to the Showcase Cinemas in Revere a lot. One Sunday, we saw a movie called “Flatliners,” about some medical students who engage in an experiment of near-death to get a peek at the afterlife (or something like that). It was a dark movie, and for whatever reason, it sent me into a deep, deep depression.

That same week, Iraq invaded Kuwait and my depression deepened. I had a real fear of current events back then, and everyone was talking about Saddam as the next Hitler and people were mentioning the WW III segment in the Nostradamus book of predictions. This was it, the start of World War III, I thought.

Ironically, it was Sean Marley — a friend who would take his own life six years later — who snapped me out of it. He was on a real anti-government kick by that point, and he convinced me — rightly or wrongly — that the way to cope was to rebel against everything the government stood for. So that’s what I did. One day, in Sean’s car, I torched a dollar bill with my cigarette lighter after someone mentioned it’s illegal to destroy money. I was a real rebel at that point, in my own stupid mind.

I began to read a lot about the 1960s counter-culture movement in the face of the Vietnam War and that gave me inspiration. I started listening to The Doors a lot.

One movie that made me feel better that summer was “Pump Up The Volume” with Christian Slater. To this day, I think that movie has one of the best soundtracks of all time. Hence my choice of today’s mood music. That Soundgarden song was part of the soundtrack. The movie added fuel to the rebellious fire I was stoking.

A lot of life has happened since that summer. Some of it has been good and some of it bad.

But that summer of my 20th birthday was a turning point for me. I can’t describe it perfectly, but that summer was the first time I really, truly started to examine who I was, what I believed and what I wanted to be. It took nearly another 20 years to figure it out, and I guess I’m still figuring it out.

But that uneven summer was a start.

Another Unsettling Truth About Facebook

My friend Linda noted that I changed the settings on my Facebook page to allow wall comments. It amused her because it was my birthday. She knows me well. Truth is, I wanted to see the birthday messages. Here’s the uncomfortable thing that says about me…

Mood music:

I suffer from an inflated ego. It’s a side-effect of where I’ve been. I have this odd fear of being forgotten. And I didn’t want to be forgotten on my birthday. It sounds ridiculous. But there it is.

OCD types have big egos. Achieving big things is one of the ways we try to fill in that hole in our souls.  In my profession, getting access to the major power players of information security is a rush. I feel like I am somebody as a result. When I don’t make it to a big security conference, the wheels in my head start spinning. I start to worry that by not being there, I become irrelevant.

With this blog, when I write something that really connects with people, the ego grows a few sizes larger.

I’m somewhat ashamed about this. But I also think it’s a common thing among us. When people say they want their birthday to pass quietly without hearing from people, I don’t buy it.

Everyone wants some attention. That is exactly why Facebook took off. People suddenly found they had a way to project themselves in ways never before possible. Wannabe writers suddenly got to become “published” writers because they had a platform to do it with. For the most part, this has been a good thing, because a lot of those writers are very good.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how I worry every time I discover I’ve been “unfriended” on Facebook. I get itchy thinking about why someone decided to drop me.

I think the reason is because at the height of my mental illness and addictions, I was alone. In my adult years, I isolated myself because it was too painful to show my bloated face to the world. When I snapped out of it, I became a lot more social.

Some of the ego comes from the addict in me. Addicts truly believe EVERYTHING is about them. You wouldn’t believe how people like us manage to find ourselves in every situation real or imagined. When you’re at a party for someone else, you think about how much attention you may or may not be getting. The best description of this came from Alice Roosevelt Longworth, eldest daughter of one of my heroes, Teddy Roosevelt.

Of here father’s ego, Alice said, “He wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”

I shuddered the first time I saw that quote, because I identified with it. And it made me feel shame.

If Facebook had been around in Teddy Roosevelt’s day, he would have been absolutely insufferable with it. He might have found that it was a grander “bully pulpit” than the presidency.

Maybe he would have wasted all his time on Facebook instead of going on his African safaris or journeying down the infamous River of Doubt in South America.

Who knows?

All I know is that I do have a big ego.

I suppose the first step of finding more humility is admitting it.

All that said, I’m grateful as hell for all the people in my life. I felt truly blessed to have so many friends and family yesterday. It made for a wonderful birthday. I felt loved. And we all want to feel loved, don’t we?

That is something I’m NOT ashamed of.

40: The New 20

A lot of people get depressed on their birthday. Not me. The fact that I turn 40 today is almost a freak of nature.

Mood music:

When I was sick with the Crohn’s Disease as a kid, I lost a lot of blood and developed several side ailments. I’m told by my parents that the doctor’s were going to remove the colon more than once. It didn’t happen. They tell me I was closing in on death more than once. I doubt it was ever that serious. But nevertheless, I’m still here.

When the OCD was burning out of control, I often felt I’d die young. I was never suicidal, but I had a fatalistic view of things. I just assumed I wasn’t long for this world and I didn’t care. I certainly did a lot to slowly help the dying process along. That’s what addicts do. We feed the addiction compulsively knowing full well what the consequences will be.

When I was a prisoner to fear and anxiety, I really didn’t want to live long. I isolated myself. Fortunately, I never had the guts to do anything about it. And like I said, suicide was never an option.

I spent much of my 30s on the couch with a shattered back, and escaped with the TV. I was breathing, but I was also as good as dead some of the time.

I’ve watched others go before me at a young age. Michael. Sean. Even Peter. Lose the young people in your life often enough and you’ll start assuming you’re next.

When you live for yourself and don’t put faith in God, you’re not really living. When it’s all about you, there no room to let all the other life in. So the soul shrivels and implodes. I’ve been there.

I also had a strange fear of current events and was convinced at one point that the world would burn in a nuclear holocaust before I hit 30. That hasn’t happened yet.

So here I am at 40, and it’s almost comical that I’m still here.

I’m more grateful than you could imagine for the turn of events my life has taken in the last five years.

I’ve learned to stop over-thinking and manage the OCD. When you learn to stop over-thinking, a lot of things that used to be daunting become a lot easier. You also find yourself in a lot of precious moments that were always there. But you didn’t notice them because you were sick with worry.

I notice them now, and I am Blessed far beyond what I probably deserve.

I have a career that I love.

I have the best wife on Earth and two boys that teach me something new every day.

I have many, many friends who have helped me along in more ways than they’ll ever know.

I have my 12-Step program and I’m not giving in to the worst of my addictions. There’s still the coffee and cigars, but the stuff that made my life unmanageable has been brought to heel.

Most importantly, I have God in my life. When you put your faith in Him, there’s a lot less to be afraid of. Aging is one of the first things you stop worrying about.

So here I am at 40. I feel much younger than I did at 30.

I don’t know what comes next, but I have much less fear about the unknown.

And so I think WILL have a happy birthday.