Strong Too Long, Or Weak Too Often?

There’s a saying on Facebook that depression isn’t a sign of weakness, but simply the result of being strong for too long. Somewhat true — though weakness does feed the beast.

Mood music:

I’m feeling it this morning.

I’ve always taken a certain level of satisfaction from my ability to stay standing in the face of death, illness, family dysfunction, depression and addiction. Sometimes, I get an over-inflated sense of survivor’s pride.

People love to tell you how awesome you are when you emerge from adversity stronger than before. The victor is placed on a 10-foot pedestal and life looks hunky-dory from up there. But it’s only a matter of time before the person on top loses balance and crashes to the ground.

I’ve fallen from that pedestal a bunch of times, and my ass is really starting to hurt from all those slips off the edge.

All this has me asking the question: How much can you blame depression on being strong too long when many times it comes back because the victim has been weak?

I don’t think there’s a precise answer. I only know this: I feel like I’ve been trying like a motherfucker to be strong 24-7. But I don’t seem to have the fortitude to maintain it, and I give in to weakness.

In the past, that weakness would involve indulging in food, alcohol and tobacco until I was too sick to function.

Today, the weakness involves getting angry and self-defensive and distant at the drop of a hat.

For all the progress I’ve made in managing my OCD, there are still moments where I go weak, put the blinders on and do some stupid things.

It’s the compulsion to keep staring at the laptop screen when one or both kids need me to look up and give them some attention.

It’s stopping in the middle of a conversation with my wife because the cellphone is ringing or someone has pinged me online.

It’s spending too much money on food and entertainment for the kids because it’s easier to me at the time than  cooking the food myself and playing a board game with them instead.

I’ve been working double-time at bringing my compulsive tendencies to heel, going through some intensified therapy. The short-term result is that I’m an angrier person than I normally am.

My therapist made note of that anger at our last meeting. The trigger in the room was him taking me back to my younger years in search of clues to present-day debacles. I thought I was done with sessions like that five years ago.

But I’m learning that the road to mental wellness is not linear. It goes in a circle. It’s like driving to the same place every day for work. The drive to work and back is a loop of the same landmarks, the same traffic patterns and the same behind-the-wheel thinking sessions.

I’m learning that managing my issues is going to involve frequent trips back and forth from the past to the present. This pisses me off. But I know I have to keep at it.

I guess I’ll always have my weak moments because of the events that shaped me.  But you can still be strong throughout it, learning to regain your footing more quickly  and being better at the kind of discussion with loved ones that prevents endless miscommunication from adding up to a mountain of pain.

I don’t know when I’ll truly reach that level of strength. But for now I’m leaning hard on all my coping tools, including the music and the praying.


Don’t Let Anger Blind You To What Really Matters

The front office at my kids’ school is mad at me and another parent for complaining about something on the school’s Facebook page. I don’t think they saw yesterday’s post in this blog. That would make them angrier still.

Mood music:

I’ll admit I was angry when my wife told me the principal and office administrator got after her about my behavior. It’s not like I jumped up and down on Facebook yelling obscenities and calling people names. I simply agreed with the other parent’s dismay over a specific matter of the school not following up with parents on a school closing next week. I think I was more ticked off that they gave Erin trouble, because she did nothing wrong.

I make no apologies, because, as I said yesterday, we practically break the bank every month paying the tuition to send our kids there. In essence, we parents are the customer. The customer is not always right, contrary to popular belief. But school administrators should respond to them as if they were, unless the parent is way out of line, which we weren’t.

On to the main point of this post.

There’s a lesson here for everyone, whether you’re dealing with difficult people at your kids’ school, in your workplace or on your street. Anger should never blind us to what’s truly important.

Some are probably asking why we would continue to go to a church and send our kids to a parochial school where there’s dysfunction. My answer is simple:

–For me, going to church is about getting closer to God. Everything else is second fiddle.

–Our children’s education is far more important than squabbles with parents and administrators, though it obviously becomes a problem if the latter has a negative effect on the former.

–This is our home, and I don’t believe in pulling up stakes and leaving because of dysfunction in the institution. I’d rather stick around and try to be part of the solution. That’s not always possible and sometimes it’s best to leave. But I don’t see this as an example of that.

–If you leave and go to another community, you’ll find dysfunction there, too. Where there are humans, there is dysfunction. That’s life. It may not be fair, but no one ever promised life would be fair.

Since this is an issue within our parish family, I can’t help but bring my faith into the remainder of the post. If religion isn’t your bag, leave now.

This is Holy Week, where we remember the sacrifice Jesus made to give us all a shot at redemption. It’s incredibly easy to forget the core message when we get busy arguing with each other over matters that are more political than spiritual.

I officially became a Catholic at Easter of 2006. I was in a pretty dark place at the time, struggling with a binge eating habit that had me shot-gunning $40 worth of fast food on the drive from the office to the house every day. I was crazy with fear and anxiety, the result of OCD out of control. I was a depressed, disgusting mess inside, and it was slowly working its way to my outward appearance.

Finding my faith was a major step in bringing those demons to heel.

But it remains a struggle sometimes, especially when you have disagreements with people in the community. So I wrote up the following manifesto to help bring me back to the center. I’ve used it several times in this blog, but it bears frequent repeating.

These are the bullet points. Click on any of them to see the full explanation.

1. Don’t Succumb to “Happily-Ever-After” Syndrome.

2. Peace IS NOT The Absence of Chaos. It’s a State of Mind (or, if you really want to get technical, a state of being in God’s Grace).

3. What You Get is Only As Good As What You Put In

4. Don’t Let Politics Get in the Way

5. Plan to Fight the Good Fight to Your Dying Breath

Keeping my head and heart on those personal items is much more important than besting church and school officials in an argument.

And so I move on.

New OCD Diaries Banner

We’ve been working feverishly on the new OCD Diaries site. Spotify-based mood music? Check. New design and platform? Check. Now, we have a new banner.

The idea was to replace the background — which symbolized OCD and addiction, specifically — with something that more accurately captures the broader, darkness vs. light flavor of the blog.

Many thanks to Andy Robinson for coming through with a kick-ass design — again.

For a look at more of Andy’s work, check out his website.

‘Shattered Hopes’ Director On My ‘Learned Helplessness’ Post

Ryan Katzenbach, director of “Shattered Hopes: The True Story of the Amityville Murders,” sent me a note on Facebook yesterday regarding the post I wrote on one of the themes of the film: Louise DeFeo’s “learned helplessness.”

Ryan always responds to his fans when they have questions or comments on the documentary. Given his high profile and workload, it amazes me how accessible he is. Anyway, I wanted to share what he wrote to me, because it really captures the purpose of this piece of work:

Bill, this was truly great reading. When we finished with Part I, and in watching the subsequent installments through the editing process, I had wondered if our film would actually help anyone out there who finds themselves caught in a similar situation of domestic, be it verbal or physical, abuse. Originally, this started as a means of understanding the family dynamic of 112 Ocean after hearing stories, like those of Peg Giambra, the juror from the case, when she told of the horrifying stories that she encountered while sitting through the trial. 

For me, growing up in a home that was never dysfunctional or abusive, there was a huge gulf between understanding WHY people stay and WHY they don’t leave. When you grow up absent any such environ, you simply don’t understand. I would ask myself “given the means of the Brigante family, why didn’t Louise do something?” Part of that answer, I would learn, was due to the era. We didn’t recognize domestic abuse as we do today; it was hushed, it was quieted, and essentially, it was a man’s right as the king of his castle. But then, when Drs. Hickey and Puckett began to apply clinical psychology to the situation, it really came into focus. Part of what they did was help us understand the tumultuous cocktail of dysfunction and WHY and HOW it happened. The next part of what they’re going to do is help us understand the psychology behind murder itself, and reviewing the elements of our forensic study encapsulated in Part III, it is, in many cases chilling. There are passages that cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, still. Far, far more haunting and disturbing than Jodie The Demonic Pig. Because this stuff is REAL.

I hope that maybe as a residual, perhaps….MAYBE….somehow…some person who sees our film and finds themselves in this type of domestic abuse situation will be able to summon strength from the story of the DeFeos to do something in a proactive approach to escape their personal insanity. If just ONE person were to learn from what has been presented and get out of their situation, then perhaps the DeFeo family did not die in vain…..maybe their lessons will impact others and from this, we can draw a positive from a story that is otherwise dark and negative.

Just my thoughts.

Thanks for the feedback, Ryan.

‘Religion Flies You Into Buildings’

Here’s my thing: Everyone should be free to believe what they want. I choose the Catholic faith. I have friends who are Muslim, Jewish and Atheist.

I only judge you by whether you’re a kind soul or an asshole.

Mood music:

But there’s always someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else — someone who is so certain their belief is the only right answer that they’ll go to extremes to put down people who feel a different way.

That’s when we get slogans like this:

Victor Stenger Bus Slogan

This is apparently the brainchild of Victor Stenger — a slogan idea for the so-called Atheist Bus Campaign.

The message to me is this: Those who put all their faith in science never commit evil and always live for the greater good. Muslims, on the other hand, are twisted and evil and fly planes into buildings.

I think someone out there has gotten too sensitive about all those “evil scientist” stereotypes from the movies.

The bigger truth is that human beings twist everything: science, religion, systems of government. To suggest it never happens in your corner of the woods is to be fooling yourself.

You’re also dishonoring all the good people who died on Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorists had twisted Islam into some evil thing it’s not meant to be, and they killed Atheists, Christians, Jews and other Muslims that day.

You can say religion flies us into buildings, but science gives us potential mass killers as the nuclear bomb.

Take your stupid talk and go screw.

Romney’s Lesson: When You Try To Be Someone Else, People Notice

This post is about what happens to politicians when they try too hard to be someone else. Mitt Romney is in the thick of it. John McCain was four years ago, as was Al Gore eight years before that.

Mood music:

It’s not just a problem with politicians. Musicians have fallen in the trap. So have writers. I’ve been there myself.

In the desperate search for success and fame — and getting elected — it’s easy to try to be someone you’re not. The problem is that you inevitably get caught.

The Romney of today is not the Romney that was elected governor in liberal Massachusetts. His brand of conservatism was far more moderate a decade ago. When he decided he wanted to be president, he immediately shifted right. People see right through him, which is why he’s having so much trouble sewing up the Republican nomination.

It’s the same mistake McCain made in 2008, when he was trying so hard to please the right instead of being the straight-talking “maverick” that gave George W. Bush hell in the 2000 Republican primaries. Meanwhile, Al Gore was trying so hard to distance himself from Bill Clinton that he completely denied his role in shaping the policies of the Clinton Administration.

Voters could smell the rat every time.

It’s really no different from what you see elsewhere in life. When we’re not acting like our natural selves, the people who know us best take notice.

I speak from the experience of trying to replace my brother after he died, of trying to be Jim Morrison in college and of trying to be a hard-nosed newspaper editor in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I also speak as someone with an addictive personality who has often lived in denial and lied to bury pain and shame.

The more I talk to fellow recovering addicts and emotional defects, the more I realize we have one big thing in common: We want to please everyone and be loved for it.

I wrote about my own experience with this in a post called “Why Being a People Pleaser Is Dumb.”

I wanted desperately to make every boss happy, and I did succeed for awhile. But in doing so I damaged myself to the core and came within inches of an emotional breakdown. It caused me to work 80 hours a week, waking up each morning scared to death that I would fall short or fail altogether. I wanted to make every family member happy. It didn’t work, because you can never keep everyone happy when strong personalities clash.

In the face of constant let-downs, I binged on everything I could get my hands on and spent most waking moments resenting the fuck out of people who didn’t embrace me for who I am.

I won’t lie. I still struggle with that. It’s possible I always will. But I’m not running for office, so it’ll never be quite so glaring.

But no matter how small your world is, someone will always see through your phony exterior.

The problem for Romney is that his true colors are bleeding through on the big stage.

About Father Canole And Keeping The Faith

Life as a Catholic in the city of Haverhill, Massachusetts can be a bitch, sometimes. Here we are waking up to news that another priest, Rev. Robert Canole, has resigned from his pastoral duties in disgrace.

We look up to our priests and count on them for inspiration. We go in a confessional with them and spill our deepest, darkest faults. Then some of those priests let us down hard.

According to my local paper, The Eagle-Tribune, Conole won’t be coming back to Sacred Hearts Church. My old friend Paul Tennant wrote:

Conole’s resignation has been accepted by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. He was investigated by the Archdiocese of Boston for “serious adult-related misconduct,” according to a statement read by the Very Rev. Arthur Coyle, episcopal vicar for the Merrimack Valley Region, during weekend Masses at Sacred Hearts.

He left in May under a shroud of mystery. Rumor had it he was dealing with anger management issues. At the time, I wrote a post encouraging people to send him cards and letters of support like they did when my former pastor, the late Dennis Nason of All Saints, took a leave of absence to confront his alcoholism.

I also wrote something when Father Keith LeBlanc, a former priest at my parish and most recently pastor of St. John’s across town, left in a hurry after it came to light that he was being investigated for mishandling church dollars. It turns out he spent $83,000 of church money on porno movies and got three years of probation after pleading guilty to larceny. That one really hurt because LeBlanc led my RCIA group the year I converted.

But I still believe in what I wrote at the time, which is that everyone fails and has a shot at redemption.

Sometimes I wonder how I can stick up for these priests. After all, how much can a Catholic take? These are the same priests who tell us how we should live, how we should vote and how we should treat others. Theoretically, I should be mad as hell.

And yet I’m not angry. Sad, yes. But not angry.

I still believe what I said before, that as human beings, we all fail frequently and have a chance to set things right.

I’ve written about my own failures a million times in this blog. I’d be a hypocrite if I ripped into these priests. I’d probably feel differently if I was the victim of a pedophile priest. But I’m not.

In the 11 years I’ve lived in Haverhill, Mass., I’ve seen the best and worst sides of the Catholic Church.

On the ugly side, there were priests who played a part in the sex abuse that ultimately blew up in Cardinal Law’s face. There are parishioners who get so caught up in church politics that they forget what they’re truly there for, and they make life miserable for others. There was Father LeBlanc.

On the other side of the spectrum was Father Nason going public about his alcoholism, inspiring us all with his comeback. And, most importantly, there are all the people who have found their faith in recent years regardless of whatever ugliness is in the headlines, including me.

We all fail, no matter what our position in life. The important thing is what we do with our failures.

I hope these disgraced priests find a way to turn their experiences into something we can all learn and benefit from. The jury is still out on whether that will happen.

But as I keep saying, my faith is in God, not the humans who serve the church for better and worse.

That’s what keeps me steady in moments like this.

Eagle-Tribune file photo