Parental Overload: No Big Deal

Nothing like a week of screaming kids to realize OCD aint what it used to be.

Mood music for this post: “Mama Weer all Crazee Now” by The Runaways:

A week like the one I’ve just had would have been impossible just a couple years ago.

The kids were on school vacation, the same week as Sean’s 9th birthday and some very big security events in Boston. I did a lot of speeding back and forth between the Seaport Hotel and home for a kids’ birthday party, daycare duty, an evening trip to the N.E. Aquarium, etc.

Funny thing is, everything was fine. It was a fantastic week, actually.

Not even the house full of third graders rampaging through every room was enough to take me down. I enjoyed it.

I managed to bust out 11 articles and podcasts during the week, despite all the mayhem. It was fun. Hopefully, some security folks get something out of them.

Yesterday I mixed work with parenting and took Sean and Duncan to the Security B-Sides event in Boston. The venue was perfect for them:

Security BSides Boston by jack_a_daniel.

The security crowd seemed to enjoy their company. No one seemed to mind as Sean shoved Lego toys in their faces and gave detailed descriptions of each one. Heck, a couple of people came with more Legos for Sean, knowing he’d be there.

Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, the kids are something close to famous among my business associates.

As for me: No anxiety attacks. No fear or panic about getting articles written. And no worries as to what other people think.

Nothing more to say about it, really.

Just a few words to drive home my surprise and gratitude for this turn of events.

Happy Sunday.


MomDay Monday – School Daze

Every school has its issues.

Issues with teachers. Issues with other parents. Miscommunication. Problems with other students.

Every school.

There’s no getting around it. We’re all human. We all have failings. And a school is, after all, made up of us imperfect humans.

But at what point does a school have so many issues it becomes dysfunctional?

Is it when the faculty talks out of turn to your child about their parents’ divorce?

Or perhaps it’s when other parents refuse to accept that their child is the school bully & consistently puts the blame for their child’s behavior on the very kids he’s bullying.

Is it when there are arbitrary punishments meted out at whim? One day a behavior is punishable by making the child sit out of recess. The next day, the same behavior is overlooked. One day, uniform infractions are barely mentioned. The next day, a student loses privileges for wearing the wrong uniform piece.


But I believe it’s when a school & its principal are so afraid of criticism that they close off lines of communication to keep others from hearing it.

I believe it’s when a principal is more concerned with who saw a comment on the school Facebook page than she is with addressing the issues brought to her attention.

I believe it is when a student receives retaliation for the actions of their parent.

And I believe it is when anti-bullying rallies are held for the students but parents & staff are seemingly the biggest offenders.

The Kids attend a private, Catholic school. They have been there since they were each 3 years old, starting in the youngest Pre-K group. They have known their classmates for most of their lives & we have made good friends with some of the families of these kids. When The Ex & I decided to divorce, we quietly told The Kids’ teachers so they were aware of the situation at home & on the lookout for any kind of behavioral issues that might occur because of it. This school had an opportunity to show The Kids an example of what it means to be a Christian & support my children during a particularly tough time.

They failed.

Within weeks, it seemed as if everyone knew what was happening in our family. The rumor mill was in full force until people I hardly knew & rarely spoke to had an opinion on my divorce & The Kids’ reaction to it. I had been blind to the dysfunction in the past, believing my kids were in the best possible place for the best possible education. There were two things I hoped to keep consistent throughout the divorce as the kids lives were being uprooted. Their school & their house. I was determined to keep them in that school & in the house they had been in for the past 4 years even if it meant having to ask my dad for money. But little by little, my eyes were opened & I saw that there were issues with this school far beyond anything I ever realized. There certainly have been people on the faculty as well as other parents who have been more than supportive & I can’t thank those people enough for the kindness & support they’ve shown, especially to The Kids. But they have unfortunately been too few & too far between. It is school dysfunction at its best. Or worst.

I’ve stopped my insistence that The Kids stay in that school. It’s part of my letting go. And it’s okay. I am aware that any school will have issues, dysfunction, intolerant people & parents who violate the school drop off & pick up rules. At this point, I’m willing to take my chances.

But I’m keeping the house.

Happy and Productive in the Debris Field

The author used to come unglued around chaos. Now it floats past him.

Mood music for this post: “Sons and Daughters” by The Decemberists:

Looking at the week ahead, it’s amazing I’m not hiding in a foxhole right now.

I’m working from home the first part of the week while the kids are on vacation. Call it half a vacation, though I’m tackling a full plate of work each day.

Sean’s birthday is this week, so the house needs a scrubbing before party guests arrive Thursday.

I have a conference in Boston to cover the latter half of the week into the weekend.

And oh yeah — with two vacationing kids comes a lot of clutter.

I’ve always hated clutter. It’s one of the biggest OCD triggers I have. And you can’t have kids around without accepting a certain degree of clutter. There’s no eating without dumping stuff on the floor. There’s no Lego activities without getting Legos everywhere.

But something strange has happened in more recent years. I’ve found that these things don’t rattle me the way they used to.

I chalk it up to all the progress I’ve made managing my OCD and putting down the worst of my addictions.

Now I can peacefully co-exist among the chaos and clutter. If I have work, I can do it  and do it well sitting among the debris, like I did yesterday when Duncan decided to make a blanket/pillow fort right where I was writing a couple CSO articles:

Hell, I even helped him build the thing.

Then I sat in my half-covered chair and got working. And guess what? I got plenty done.

I feel better about zigzagging from the conference to Haverhill for birthday activities because I’ve already written and posted four stories and two podcasts about things that will be going on at the event.

It’s all good.

One more thing about the clutter, though: If you know someone with OCD that’s not under control, keep them as far away from chaos as possible.

For the chaotic mind, clutter is the worst.

It amplifies the crazy in your head.

That I can now exist in the clutter is pretty wild when I stop to think about it.

Oddly enough, I’ve probably swung a bit too far to the other side of the spectrum.

My wife pointed out to be recently that I’m more of a slob since cleaning up my act.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it?

Pieces of Mind

This happens every time I have a week of travel.

By the time Sunday rolls around, I reach a point in the afternoon where I sit in the chair by the living room window as my brain cracks into pieces. I feel a buzz, even though I’m sober. I feel some bloat, even though my eating has been clean.

Mood music: “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead:

I feel like a wheel that’s spinning so fast that it looks like it’s completely still.

I feel the need to go into hyper-active mode, even though that’s the last thing I should be doing today.

It’s been a good day. Good Mass this morning, a fun Lego run with the kids this afternoon, and the weather is spectacular.

But I’m preoccupied.

I’ve gotten to do a lot of writing the last two weeks and now I’m looking at a week where there will be a lot more editing than writing. Deadline for the May print edition of CSO Magazine is coming up soon and I got a week behind while I was in California. There are guest columns to edit and post, and a book proposal to tweak.

During the RSA security conference, an editor for a security book publisher approached me about writing a book. But my idea veers too far from their normal content, and I’m doing some tweaking to fuse my idea with some of what they’re looking for.

If it doesn’t come together, so be it. But until then, I’m going to preoccupy myself with ways to come up with something they can sell.

One way or another, the book is going to get written. It’s in my head and will scrape the inside of my skull until I let it out.

Then there’s Source Boston, one of my favorite annual security conferences, which is coming up the week after next.

My want is to work the conference hard each day and write a lot of articles from it, but that aint happening because Sean and Duncan are on school vacation that week. It’s also Sean’s birthday and there will be a kid’s party to help pull off somewhere in there.

It’ll all work out fine. It always does. But planning how to balance the work thing with family has always been a challenge for me.

In the end, Sean’s birthday will win out. It’s more important than the other thing. Wife and kids come first.

All these things are examples of me obsessing about things beyond my mortal ability to control.

I manage that instinct a hell of a lot better than I used to, but it never fully disappears.

The fear-anxiety part did disappear, and that’s made each day a gift.

But lying around care-free? Not gonna happen unless I fall asleep.

Ah, the life of a control freak.

As long as I keep it from becoming a control freak-out, it’s all good.

Welcome to my world.

Like Father, Like Son

The author finds that OCD behavior runs strong among the men in his family.

Mood music for this post:”Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin:

It’s been said that certain crosses run in the family. Addictive behavior. Depression.

Yesterday my father had three long stents inserted into his leg. Apparently the entire leg was full of blockages. He eats compulsively, and this contributes to the problem. In 1998 he had quadruple bypass surgery, but the bad eating continued.

He’s always been able to bolt down the food. That trait was passed down to my brain, where it mixed with OCD, depression and other nasty byproducts.

I put my binge-eating addiction down well over a year ago and embraced a 12-Step program through OA, just like you do if you’re kicking alcohol or narcotics.

But OA isn’t my father’s style. Never has been. Never will be.

I’d like to think I’m doing better than my father when it comes to taking care of myself. I kicked binge eating and alcohol, am maintaining a 65-pound weight loss without doing all the stupid things I used to do to stay thin.

But I’m no dummy. I know this family inheritance is still with me.

With addictive personalities, it’s always something. I’m completely addicted to caffeine, including Red Bull. Yesterday I drank two of them in the afternoon, after a morning of swilling the coffee. Then there’s the fact that I like cigars.

I don’t fret about it much because it beats the hell out of the addictions I put down; the ones that had made my life completely unmanageable and hurt the people around me in a variety of ways. And any addict will tell you it’s always going to be a struggle where you put down one thing and pick up another so you don’t go back to that first item. That’s a cross we bear for life, and the goal is to keep working to be better than the demons.

I also know there will come a time where I have to put away the cigars and cut back on the caffeine.

My life is Blessed beyond belief. It took many years to beat down the compulsive eating addiction. Longer still because it’s harder to acknowledge a food addiction than it is to come clean about something like alcoholism. No disrespect toward my friends who are recovering from alcoholism. I love them and am proud of what they’ve accomplished. I’m just saying that in our culture, some addictions are more glamorous than others. Binge eating is anything but glamorous.

Of course, any addict knows that their behavior is never glamorous behind closed doors, whatever the poison. Locked up alone with the demon, it’s a world of filth, shame and sickness.

I can’t say that my father has an addictive personality. I’m not in a position to judge him. I only know that he can put away the food, and the results have been bad.

He’s been through a lot in his life and still managed to be a kind, generous soul. I hope he sticks around for many years to come. But it’s not up to me.

I’ve noticed something else recently: Sean, my oldest child, is displaying OCD characteristics. When the boy gets into something, be it a computer game or Legos — especially Legos — he goes in deep and lets the activity consume him. In other words, he approaches these things compulsively.

The good news is that he’s otherwise much healthier than I was at his age. And he’s smarter than I ever was.

He also has another powerful advantage I didn’t have.

I’ve been far down the road he’s traveling and picked up a lot of coping skills along the way. Those skills have made all the difference.

And I can pass them on to him.

This makes me happier than you could possibly imagine.

Outing Myself

The author on why he chose to “out” himself despite what other people might think.

Mood music:

A couple friends have asked why I “outed myself” in this blog. Wasn’t I afraid people would blackball me at work? Don’t I worry that I’ll be defined by my struggle with OCD above all else?

It’s a fair question.

First, let’s get the notion of “courage” and “bravery” off the table. Some have used those words to describe what I’m doing, and I appreciate that. But I really don’t think it’s that. Like I’ve said before, my grandfather parachuting behind enemy lines at the start of the D-Day invasion was courage.

I’m  doing this more because the point arrived where, for the sake of my own sanity, I had to start being myself as openly and honestly as I can. Honesty can be tough for people who deal with mental illness and addiction. [More on this in “The Liar’s Disease“] But I decided I had to do better.

Admittedly, some of the motivation is selfish. We OCD types have overdeveloped egos and tend to go digging for attention. It’s hard to admit that, but it’s the truth. Being open about that forces me to keep myself in check. It’s also an invitation for those around me to call me out on acts of ego and selfishness.

The biggest reason for doing this, without question, is my Faith. I realized some time ago that when you rip the skeletons from your closet and toss them into the daylight, they turn to dust. Big sinister stigmas become very small indeed. Then you can move on.

I didn’t arrive at that viewpoint easily. It took many years of dirty work.

With my Faith comes a need to do service for others. In this case, I accumulated experiences that might be of help to other sufferers. Sharing wasn’t exactly something I wanted to do. It’s something I HAD to do.

We’re all in this together. Many good people have helped me along the way. Trying to help someone else is the very least I could do. In the final analysis, we all help each other.

Getting it all out of the head and into this blog has certainly been helpful, so thanks for indulging me.

Was it a risk to my career to do this? I don’t think so.

I don’t think I’d be doing this if I still worked for The Eagle-Tribune. The culture of that newsroom wouldn’t have allowed for it when I was there. I have no idea if the culture has changed, but I suspect not.

I’ve gotten a ton of support from those I work with now. I’m definitely lucky to work with the folks in this office.

Does that mean everyone should put their demons out in the open as I have?

Difficult to say.

It’s not going to be the right decision for everyone to make. There are a lot of honorable reasons for people to keep their demons private. In many cases, the veil is what you use to protect others as well as yourself.

But my veil blew away in the storm that was my life. Walking forward without it was all I could do.


Another Reason Addiction-Depression Stinks

I’ve mentioned before that one of the inspirations for this blog was a book called “The Heroin Diaries” by Nixxi Sixx, bass player and lyricist for Motley Crue. It’s a book of diary entries he wrote from late 1986 to late 1987, at the time the “Girls Girls Girls” album was recorded and the band toured the world to support it.

The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star

At the time, he was in the tight clutches of a heroin addiction that would nearly kill him by December 1987. He was in fact dead for a few minutes, but a needle to the heart brought him back to life.

Last night I was flipping through the book again and noticed that Sixx often went days without showering. If he took a shower, it was a good day.

His girlfriend at the time, Vanity, is also described as being a mess all the time because she was too high to notice.

As a former manager for Motley Crue put it, when you’re strung out the first thing to fall by the side of the road is personal hygene.

From my experiences with depression and addictive behavior, I can tell you there’s a lot of truth to that statement.

In my early 20s, when I was binge eating in the basement of the house in Revere, I would go days wearing the same gym pants and bath robe without taking a shower. I was so depressed I just didn’t care.

Besides, it’s not like I was having much luck finding girlfriends when I was clean.

My friends were often just as bad, especially Sean Marley, who at the time was descending into his own little hell and was running sleep-deprivation experiments on himself.

The hang-ups weren’t unique. I’d obsess about finding a girlfriend, which I couldn’t do because I was trying too hard. I was also going through my parental hatred phase. In hindsight I was an ungrateful slob. After all, they did let me have the entire basement apartment as a bedroom and let be throw parties at will.

Later on, after I met the love of my life and started getting serious about my journalism career, I made more of an effort at personal hygene. I showered more often, anyway.

But my weight was piling on as I dove deep into binge eating. Marley had recently died and I was doing an editing job that was killing me because of the hours I was putting in. I showered so I wouldn’t offend anyone, but I would wear the same clothes days at a time. I figured if I wore the same pants every day nobody would notice because I’d change the shirts. I’m sure some people noticed.

The good news is that I got over this sort of behavior as I went to work on the root causes of my OCD and related addictions.

So don’t worry. I’ve had my shower and a fresh change of clothes.

But if you’re standing next to someone in the elevator and they just happen to reek, go easy on them. They’re probably just going through a rough time.

With any luck, it’ll pass.