Erin’s Avett Brothers Birthday Present, Part 2

This post is for Erin on her birthday.

Mood music:

I know I gave you your birthday present early: an Avett Brothers concert almost a month ago. But I’ve been thinking about this band lately and realize that one reason I like them so much is that a lot of their songs make me think of you.

A lot of their songs are about love that gets tested only to grow stronger than before, and that’s been our journey.

The song “And It Spread” makes me think about how self destructive I used to be and how you pulled me through it and made me a better man.

There was light in the room
then you left and it was through
then the frost started in
my toes and fingertips

and it spread into my heart

then for I don’t know how long
I settled in to doing wrong
and as the wind fills the sail
came the thought to hurt my self…

then you came back from space
with a brand new laugh and a different space
you took my hand and held it up
and shot my arm full of love

and it spread
and it spread into the world
and it spread
and it spread into the world 

One of my favorite songs is “Head Full Of Doubt / Road Full Of Promise” because of this one section:

When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it

When I think of your love for me and others and the things you do for everyone — no matter how ungrateful some people are — I think of that song. I hope you feel the same way, that “If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected.” Some friends and family will get self-absorbed and stupid sometimes, making you feel unloved and under appreciated. But I know they love you a lot, too. But like me, they just lack the ability to show it sometimes.

“Kick Drum Heart” has a great line that makes me think of my life with you.

There’s nothing like finding gold
within the rocks hard and cold
I’m so surprised to find more
Always surprised to find more

I won’t look back anymore
I left the people that do
Its not the chase that I love
Its me following you. 

I’m always going to follow you, because when you lead the way, we find more gold.

Not material gold. I’m thinking gold in the form of our children and the beautiful experiences we continue to collect.

You fill in all my holes. I hope I’m doing the same for you.

You often make remarks about how you’re getting old. It’s usually after a long day, when your tired and all the aches and pains are amplified.

But as far as I can tell, you’re only getting better. That sounds corny and it is. But it’s true. You left a dead-end job and started a business that’s flourishing after less than two years. Sean and Duncan become more amazing by the day and that’s more because of you than me.

If this is what getting old is about, I’ll take it.

This is just another long-winded way for me to say Happy Birthday.

I love you more every day.

A New(ish) Weapon Against OCD Fidget Syndrome

At any number of events, you can see me darting around all over the place, taking pictures with my Android phone. The obvious reason is that I want to capture the special events in life. But it has also become a good weapon against what I call OCD Fidget Syndrome.

Mood music:

I’ve mentioned the fidgeting before. A byproduct of my OCD is a serious discomfort with sitting properly for any length of time. One way I manage it is by putting my feet up on the desk when I work, which for some reason helps me minimize the bobbing and weaving. There’s also the windmill hands. Those who know me well have seen it at one time or another, usually when I’m sitting at a desk engaged in a project. My face gets slightly contorted and I start shaking my hands around like they’re on fire.

Taking pictures gives me a positive outlet for all that nervous energy. But I’m no professional. For that you have to talk to my sister-in-law Amanda or my friend Kevin Littlefield. I just mess around with the phone camera. But lately I’ve gotten more brazen about it.

Now I’m experimenting with all the nifty free camera apps available in the Android Marketplace.

My favorite is Retro Camera, which gives every image a rustic glaze. It was a life-saver earlier this month when Sean and I were camping in the driving rain. Sitting under a tent can be bad for my fidgeting ways, but the camera helped:

I also used the app to take one of my profile pictures. 

In this one, I took Retro Camera into the bathroom  and put the phone behind my head as I stared in the mirror:

Here’s one of Sean reading in a tree out back, also taken with Retro Camera:

I recently discovered some other apps that allow all kinds of craziness for the less-than-average photographer. There’s the Camera Illusion and Photo Illusion apps that let you take pictures that look like pencil drawings and infrared images. I’ve gone nuts with that one, as the following snaps show:

My niece, Madison, in the supermarket

Erin giving our nephew Owen a smooch

My massive re-usable Starbucks traveling cup

Someone left this Curious George stuffed doll lying around

Self portrait using the pencil feature and a red overlay

For this one I used the emboss effect, which didn’t make me any less ugly. But it was still a fun experiment.

Nothing special. But it beats fidgeting.

A Visit To The Prozac Nurse

Last night was my annual pilgrimage to Beverly, Mass. for an appointment with the nurse who manages my Prozac intake. She has done better for me than my primary care doctor did. Here’s why.

Mood music:

Drugs used to treat mental disorders must be tightly controlled. Too little and it won’t help you. Too much can make your disorder worse.

When I first started taking Prozac in 2007, my primary care doctor was prescribing it. My depression and anxiety were melting a hole in my heart and I was at my wit’s end. I had resisted medication for a long time because I didn’t believe in them. I saw it as quitting.

Needing medicine to balance out my brain chemistry and make me human meant I was weak and couldn’t control the OCD on my own.

That’s the thing about OCD. The craving for control blinds you.

But years of therapy, though helpful, hadn’t helped me break the spell of fear and anxiety, and that was limiting me. So at my doctor’s suggestion, I gave it a try.

The anxiety and depression evaporated within two weeks and I felt like a new man. But I would still be in and out with mood swings. I eventually figured out that my doctor wasn’t the best person to manage this drug. He’s a fine doctor, but these capsules have a complexity I think was beyond his expertise.

When I started seeing my latest therapist, he gave me a hell of an education.  He was the first therapist to help me understand the science behind mental illness and the way an inbalance in brain chemistry can mess with your thought traffic. He also provided me with quite an education on how anti-depressants work. Indeed, there’s a science to it. Certain drugs are designed to shore up the brain chemicals that, when depleted, lead to bi-polar behavior. Other meds are specifically geared toward anxiety control. In my case, I needed the drug that best addressed obsessive-compulsive behavior. For me, that meant Prozac.

He also told me it was stupid to take my prescriptions from a primary care physician. Essentially, he said, that was like putting a 12-year-old in charge of a dynamite stockpile.

So he sent me to my current Prozac nurse.

Last year, she knocked my 60-milligram dosage back to 40 for the summer. With the longer days and extra sunlight, the logic was that I wouldn’t need as much. It worked until late summer, when a couple weeks of cloudy weather and earlier sunsets sent my brain chemistry out of whack.

I went back up to 60 and had some steep mood swings in the process. It evened out fairly quickly, but as far as I was concerned, those mood swings weren’t worth the experiment.

So last night, she decided to keep me at 60. If it isn’t broken, why try to fix it?

She asked how I was doing with my therapist.

“Excellent,” I said. “I walk in there with a large cup of Starbucks and he glares at me like a father who can’t get his kid to tie his shoes just right.”

She smiled. “Next time,” she said, “You should walk in with two large cups.”

To that, we laughed like schoolkids who had just shared a dirty joke.

My therapist has buttons I like to push. One button is that he thinks everyone should quit caffeine and do yoga. I’m apparently not the only one who likes to have fun with that. The beauty of it is that I can do that, he can take it, and I still get something valuable from my appointments.

As I’ve said before, drugs without therapy won’t work in the long run. Mental wellness requires a lot of things: Careful diet, therapy is a must if you have a disorder and sometimes you need medication, though that isn’t always the case.

When I have an appointment with the Prozac nurse I usually cuss about it. It takes me an hour to get to her office for something we could do over the phone.

Yesterday, I badly wanted to cancel.

Erin wouldn’t have let me, anyway.

“You need these appointments,” she said yesterday, as she frequently does when I balk at going.

And so I went. I’m glad I did.

OCD Diaries

You Are Bigger Than Your Thoughts

A reader recently sent me a question about destructive, overpowered thinking — a hallmark of all OCD cases. She described a recurring thought about jumping out a window.

Mood music:

“I tend to get pure OCD (thoughts),” she wrote. “At the moment it is about jumping out a high window. I try to sort out in my head mentally why I am having this thought. Is it my true desire? Can I stop it from happening? But there is also an OVERWHELMING URGE/THOUGHT to give into the thoughts, or NOT FIGHT THEM – LIKE MY MIND TELLS ME NOT TO HELP MYSELF. Why is this in your view? Is it because it is what I really want?”

Here’s my attempt at an answer:

Let me start with an admission: I have no idea if it’s what you really want, as I don’t really know you. But I certainly hope that’s not what you want.

I’ve watched friends end their lives because their thoughts overpowered them, and, while I never seriously considered suicide, my thoughts took me down a dark alley. I gave in fully to my addictions and deep down probably didn’t have much interest in being around for long.

Somewhere along the way, I found my way through it. This makes those suicides all the more tragic to me, because as a man who got to the other side, I know exactly what they denied themselves by choosing to end it.

As OCD cases, we lack an ability to move beyond our obsessive thinking. It spins in our brains like a scratched record (remember those?) and as the needle hits the scratch it tears at our sanity. Imagined desires and fears become the real thing. In our minds.

When that happens, I try to remember that I am bigger than my thoughts. It took a lot of hard work and ultimately some medication to get there, but I did get there.

That doesn’t mean I no longer have obsessive thoughts. Of course I do. But they are no longer little things that are blown up and distorted into a life-or-death crisis.

I go on with life, even when my thoughts suggest I do otherwise.

People like us, when we are recovering from addiction and an underlying mental disorder, rely on a set of tools to live better, more useful lives. For me, a food plan is one of them.Twelve-step meetings are another. Some people think thinking is a tool, but it’s really just another insidious bastard that robs us of sanity.

I was reminded of this during a 12-Step OA meeting I was at last year. 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.

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.”

In the final analysis, we are bigger than our thoughts.

Your thoughts tell you to jump out a high window, but the voices in your head are not real. They can suggest you do things. But you always have choices.

I hope you find the way past this. I did, so you can.

OCD Diaries

A Relationship That Changed for the Better

Since my father’s stroke last month, I’ve had some long talks with Dianne, my step-mom. Those conversations illustrate how much we’ve both changed over the years. Or is it just me who has changed?

Mood music:

Let me be honest: Ours has never been an easy relationship. I spent the better part of my teens and 20s resenting her to the core. Our quarrels had all the drama of a TNT series. The two of us in the same room was like throwing a match on gunpowder.

I’ve often wondered who was more at fault along the way. Knowing myself as I do now, I tend to think the trouble was more my fault than hers, because she had the misfortune of joining the family right as I was hitting my malcontented, conflicted and rebellious teenage years. I had a chip on my shoulder the size of an ashtray and I was full of hatred for a lot of reasons real and imagined.

A look at the broader picture shows how she was really at a disadvantage.

My brother died only a few months after she appeared on the scene, and she was home the night he had that final asthma attack. She plunged the adrenaline needle in him while waiting for the ambulance because that’s what you were supposed to do in the event of these attacks. But his number was up, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

She was also there a couple months before, in October 1983, when Michael had a similar attack that almost killed him that night. The doctors didn’t think he was going to make it that night, but he bounced back from the brink just in time, just like I bounced back from the brink more than once when the Croh’s Disease was attacking me so bad that the doctors were ready to pull out the colon and throw it in the trash.

I guess I was just a little luckier than he was.

Anyway, me and Dianne were always in conflict. I thought she was in the marriage with my Dad for his business success. I fought constantly with the step-sister she gave me. I was jealous of the step-brother she gave me because he was suddenly the cute youngest kid. Before my parents divorced it was Michael, Wendi and me, the youngest. Being sick, I was also spoiled rotten. Then the step-siblings came along and Michael died, making me the oldest son, a title that carried a lot of pressure.

I blamed it all on Dianne.

Of course, she also gave me a beautiful half sister in late 1985 who came along at just the right time, bringing joy to the family I never thought we’d see again. I was always grateful for that.

But still we fought. By the late 1990s we were barely speaking to each other. The resentment and hurt ran too deep on both sides. Then, sometime in 2000, things started to change. We met in a small breakfast place on the Revere-Malden border and talked it out, civil in a way that had been inconceivable just a year earlier.

I don’t remember the contents of the conversation exactly. But somewhere in there, we agreed that something had to change. I think the change really set in after Sean was born a year later. Becoming parents gave her a whole new respect for me and Erin. Actually, I think that for me, becoming a parent was when I finally started to grow up. A decade into parenthood, I get a lot of what she was trying to tell me back when I was a self-seeking kid.

Fast-forward to 2011. I know now that back then I was looking for people to blame for my pain and she was too good a target to pass up.

She has stuck by my father through all kinds of illness and turmoil. She loves him deeply, and worries about him constantly.

Nothing has made that clearer than the past month.

I’ve watched her push past the point of exhaustion and borderline madness to care for him.

She’s lost a lot of sleep and you can see it in her eyes. This month has been vastly more brutal for her than the rest of us, except, of course, for Dad. She’s gone over the cliff for him. That’s what love is all about.

I’m sorry I ever doubted her feelings for him when I was younger.

But that’s in the past. We talk to each other as grown-ups now. The respect is mutual. Things can never go back to the way they were.

Thank God for that.

OCD Diaries

Screwing Your Kids In The Divorce, Part 3

This is one of those things that is technically none of my business. But when I see a beautiful little girl suffering the consequences of someone else’s stupidity, it’s hard to stand there and say nothing.

Mood music:

There’s a guy I know who is staring divorce in the face. This is a message for him.

When a marriage falls apart it’s never a one-way street. Husband and wife are both guilty of falling short in this union. But it happens. We’re all human.

Here’s the problem: When divorce is imminent, both parties tend to find ways to hurt each other, even when they don’t mean to. It’s simple, really: You hurt like hell because it didn’t work out. It’s easy to focus on your future ex’s role in the failure but hard to look at where you fell short.

And so, seething with anger and eager to land a few crushers, you do little spiteful things to get back at her.

Exhibit A: You both have a little girl and need to share custody. Who gets her three days a week? Who gets her for four? What works best for each work schedule?

You’re not working, so you can have her any time you want. So you pick your days and leave your ex with the days you know she has to work.

This forces your ex to find daycare for your daughter and it ensures mother and daughter will hardly get to see each other on what is supposed to be their time together.

Now, in the best of circumstances people work and family time often suffers due to crazy schedules. That’s life. But when you can prevent such a situation from happening, why wouldn’t you?

Because you’re a wounded animal, and you want to maul the person you feel put you there.

Your own faults are too big to face right now. In fact, you probably can’t even see them. Your faults are like the sky — so vast it’s hard to focus on every bird or plane that crosses it.

So fuck her, you say. Let her deal with it.

Here’s the problem: You’re not just hurting your ex. You’re hurting your daughter.

I’ve seen it for myself. She bounces from one relative’s house to the next. She gets all the love a little girl can get, but she misses her mom. And because her mom has to drop her and run, she’s upset and confused a lot.

I remember when my parents divorced 31 years ago. I was 10 years old — in a much better position to process things than your little girl is now. And I was still confused and angry when they shipped me off to summer camp. I felt unwanted, lonely and isolated. The scars burn me to this day. Then the custody battles intensified and I felt like a piece of paper tugged at from both sides. Grab at something fragile that way and you tear it down the middle.

And my parents’ intentions were good — they wanted to shield me from the court proceedings and ugliness that goes with it.

Your intentions are crap. You just want to stick it to your ex.

You love your daughter and want to protect her. I’ve seen that. Your feelings as a Dad are not in question.

But you’re hurting her anyway. She’s collateral damage in your little dance with stupidity.

Nobody can make you do things differently. It comes down to the future you want for your daughter and whether you want peaceful co-existence with your ex in the years to come.

People can help you with a lot of things, but nobody can make your decisions for you.

So here’s a little advice from someone who was burned by divorce as a kid and just spent the last few years facing down a bunch of personal demons:

–First of all, start dealing with your issues. You have serious depression going on. I’ve lived with depression for much of my adult life and I know it when I see it. Find a good therapist who can help bring it out of you.

–Try harder to find a job. Sitting on your brains all day is fueling your depression. You have talent. I’ve seen it. You can never feel whole if your abilities are stifled. Besides, as a dad you have financial responsibilities. That includes helping to pay for repairs around the house. You may not live there anymore, but your daughter does. Refusing to help pay for things because you were kicked out hurts your little girl. That is unacceptable.

–As you approach future divorce proceedings, think about what’s best for your daughter — not about what’s worse for your ex.

You didn’t help bring a kid into the world to kick her around and leave her adrift. That’s certainly not what you want, is it?

I’m also sure you want her to love you the way you love her. Trust me: If you don’t stop this bullshit, she will learn to hate you.

She’s a smart little firecracker and she catches on quick.

Once she sees your role in all of this, she will hurt you back. Trust me: I’ve been down this road. The names, faces, finances and geography were different, but the hurt and the effect it had on me as an adult is the same.

Don’t let it happen.



OCD Diaries

Medical Marijuana For OCD Treatment: Not For Me

I just read an interesting blog post on how medical marijuana could be used to treat OCD. There are medicinal helpers for this disease, but pot would never work for me.

Mood music:

Here’s an excerpt of the article, from the official website of hemp legalization advocate Jack Herer (originally published on the All Voices site):

OCD is a treatable disease. With adequate therapy and correct counseling by experienced psychiatrist and physicians, the intensity of the disease can be decreased in little time. Effective treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder are now easily available, and fresh researches are yielding new and improved therapies that can help people with OCD and other anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Some doctors even say that Medical Marijuana (Cannabis) can also help in eliminating the disease. Dr. Breen of Southern California insisted that he has been successful in treating two patients with OCD via medical Marijuana. He shared, “Today I had two patients who have been successfully treating their symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder with medical marijuana. One was a 46-year-old man whose symptoms are primarily having ‘to check things all the time.’ He explained having to walk back to his car all the time to check his door locks etc. The second was an 18-year-old male who had the compulsion to try and touch the ceiling in a room. In both cases their symptoms were disruptive to their daily lives.

Let me be clear: I personally have nothing against pot use. I’ve seen alcoholics do far more damage to themselves and others than those who smoke marijuana. I’m also dumbfounded that we don’t use hemp a lot more often as an alternative fuel source and other things, like paper. Keeping pot illegal does nothing to curb drug use. It’s as useless as Prohibition was in the 1920s.

It may even be helpful to those suffering with OCD.

But it is not for me.

The reason is simple: I have an addictive personality. I can get addicted to just about anything with destructive results. My main problem is with flour and sugar. Alcohol is a close second.

I smoked plenty of pot in my late teens and early 20s and I know how I react to it: I binge on any kind of food available to me until I’m ready to explode. Then I pass out and, when I come to, forget what I was doing. I must have liked that enough to keep doing it for a time. But then I kept binge eating long after I stopped enjoying the feeling I got — if I ever did at all.

I also bristle at the suggestion that a drug can “eliminate” the disorder. You never completely get rid of it. You just learn to manage it in a way where it no longer makes your life unmanageable.

But if a little marijuana helps someone else get there, who am I to judge?

OCD Diaries