Author Archives: Buzzy

About Buzzy

I'm a librarian. And a government bureaucrat. And I have a mental illness. Sometimes I write about these things.

The empathy of silent voices

I’m solidly middle class. One might even say I’m yuppie-ish. I have a well-paying job, own a house, have a nice car, and am financially stable. I’m pretty fortunate, actually, given my modest upbringing as a child of welfare and food stamps, as upward mobility in the United States is pretty poor, despite what the American dream would imply. Nonetheless, I lead a pretty comfortable existence, with or without my mental illness.

Like many middle class folks, I rely heavily on my smartphone. I’m a total podcast junkie and listen to them almost any time I’ve got some time to myself where I don’t need to focus deeply. Podcasts have been a staple of my media consumption ever since I got my first smartphone in 2008, the iPhone 3G that poisoned me to Apple products forevermore. I listen to a lot of public radio, like any good white person. Among my favorites is The Diane Rehm Show.

Just today, I listened to a fascinating interview on Diane Rehm with Dr. Robert L. Okin, author of the book Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Streets. Dr. Okin decided over the course of a year to visit and interview people on the streets, speaking with them in detail about their lives, what brought them there, and what they needed. I have not yet read the book, but I hope to, as his interview was riveting. A large proportion of the homeless and inmate populations are mentally ill. Dr. Okin hoped to shed light on this fact in reference to the former, and help people understand just how similar the homeless are to all of us.

His stories were heartbreaking. Already quite vulnerable people made themselves even more vulnerable by opening themselves up to Dr. Okin, allowing their stories and photos to be made public in his book. He spoke to people who’d been sexually abused, ostracized, addicted, and mentally ill both before and during their homelessness. Dr. Okin discussed one man, Jeff, and his motivations and fears, motivations and fears shared by all of us. Jeff had lost all of his teeth, dental issues being common on the streets due to lack of care. His lack of teeth made him deeply ashamed. Jeff often dreamed of having a romantic relationship with a woman, but he willed himself to never look at women because he just knew that his lack of teeth would disgust them, even if he had dentures. A big nose was something you were born with, and thus many people would overlook it, he thought. But a lack of teeth indicated a dirty person, someone who didn’t live life correctly. Jeff wrestled with shame, as do we all.

I listened to this episode as I was removing blackberry vines from the property that I own, with a comfortable and well-maintained house on it, listening to a podcast on a device that I’m privileged enough to afford, after having come back from a meeting discussing giving scholarships to high school students who will be given a chance to succeed and likely will, and all that following a day working at a job that I’m fortunate to have only because others invested in my education so that I too could succeed. Jeff could have easily been me, I thought. I’m in a position where I can take medications and deal with my health and lifestyle in such a way that I can manage my dysthymia. Had my life’s circumstances been different, had someone – including me – made a different decision, I thought, I could have been on the streets. My mother raised my sister and I on a very low income, but we were fed, clothed, housed, and educated. What if our grandparents hadn’t been around to help support her and us? What if, like my father, I’d become addicted to drugs? What if our mother had died from the illness that has plagued her since my sister and I were young? What if, what if, what if?

The thought of what these people go through, how they must feel, and how very poorly I would have done in such a situation made tears well up in my eyes. Perhaps that was the sweat and sunscreen making that happen, but I don’t think so. That was empathy.

Empathy is not a quality I had to much degree previously, for reasons that are probably obvious to those of you who’ve read some of my other posts. Said more directly, I lacked empathy in any real sense of the term. Sure, I could intellectually identify with someone’s plight, but truly being able to feel what someone else might be feeling didn’t come until after I could see in color. Now, while I don’t consider myself strongly empathetic, I nonetheless am capable of imagining and, in doing so, feeling what other people feel, just as I did with the people Dr. Okin profiled.

I’m just getting used to processing empathy. It’s been hard enough processing the new-to-me emotions brought on by things in my own life, but processing emotions raised by events in others’ lives adds a whole new element. Reading or hearing about something like this in the past would have engendered a logical assessment of how awful such a situation was. It generally wouldn’t spur any kind of response, though. It wouldn’t make me change the way that I interact with the homeless. I’d still have avoided eye contact, still refused to help them, thinking that such things were better handled by supporting shelters and soup kitchens. Now, though, I’m not sure I can just turn my head anymore. We share a kinship, and I don’t mean our struggles with mental illness. Rather, I refer to our shared humanity. I’m finally able to grasp both the emotional and intellectual parts of being a humanist. Like Dr. Okin, perhaps I can carry a spare set of socks or a hat, buy a homeless person a sandwich or a bus ticket. These are things that I never would have considered before, showing my progress.

And the fact that I even have to consider them shows the sad lack of social progress in treating one of the underlying causes of homelessness. So please, give to your local homeless shelter, domestic violence center, social support agency, or whoever you feel would best support the downtrodden in your own area. Write to your state and federal legislators to encourage them to invest money in prevention rather incarceration. I don’t believe that we can completely eliminate mental illness, but at least we can prevent its most deleterious impacts on people’s lives.


Inadequate

Twice this month, I’ve broken down and cried. I’m not talking about the slightly weepy kind of crying; I mean the bawling while curled up into a ball on the bed variety. “Wrecked”, as S would say. Each incident had its triggers and buildups, though I saw neither coming. But both stemmed from my obstinate, deep-seated sense of inadequacy.

There were signs of these breakdowns that I see only in retrospect. In one, it was lack of sleep, missing my medications, and meeting some amazing people my partner’s life (more on that later). In another, it was – once again – lack of sleep, having just come back from a conference, a song, and possibly taking two doses of my meds. In both cases, my feelings were a jumble. It was only time and hindsight that helped me figure out the reasons for my tears.

<aside> I’m writing under the influence of that possible double dose of bupropion. I say “possibly” because I honestly can’t remember, which is why I would have taken the second pill in the first place. But my hands are pretty jittery, unusually so, which could be extra meds, could be the stint on the rowing machine this morning, or could be the kayaking trip from yesterday. Or all three! But considered yourself warned regarding this post: I may be overmedicated. </aside>

I’ve written about my feelings of inadequacy before. One of their likely roots comes from my father (or lack thereof). It took me a while to realize that I had such deep shame. I externalized it for a long time, and still do. The shame attaches itself to so many aspects of my life, but a few in particular: parenting, being a good partner, and job performance.

If you read my post about my father, I’m sure that you understand why I feel inadequate molding a young child’s life. Although “child” is a bit too specific. “Molding a young boy’s life” is more accurate. I break up a bit every time I hear some cheesy country song about a father and his son. Curse you, Brad Paisley.

I lacked a real father figure in my life. That role was served by my grandfather and mother, who raised my sister and I by herself on Social Security disability, food stamps, and the help of my not-at-all wealthy grandparents. But having my mother and grandfather weren’t quite the same as having a father figure. I looked up to my grandfather, certainly, but he acted like a grandfather. And an excellent one at that. And my mother’s parenting allowed for a lot of freedom but not a lot of guidance, as I’d always envisioned a father would do with his son.

I’m not really a “stereotypical gender roles” kind of guy; hell, typically I’m the least “manly” in the couple, however one might define that term. But, perhaps due to my history, I still think that a role a male parental figure serves in a boy’s life is somehow special. I am not a parent, but I do have some very dear young men in my life. I often don’t feel adequate to be a proper role model for them, to do parent-like things. People tell me that nearly no parents really feel up to the task, and they learn as they go. And they make mistakes. I get that. I know that. I also know that I’m a pretty decent male figure to have in a child’s life, all things considered. But I don’t feel it. I try to feel it, but I don’t.

That same inadequacy carries over into being a partner. For a long time, I depended heavily on a partner for personal happiness, a quality in which I’m assuredly not alone. It took a major depressive episode and its resulting revelations to help me take my happiness into my own hands. Now, I’m in a relationship that’s a partnership in the truest sense of the word, and I see how wonderful and healthy it can be. But that nagging sense of doubt still creeps in.

One of my breakdowns was predicated on meeting a couple of amazing people in S’s life. We stayed with them for a night, and I was in awe of how great they seemed and how much joy they brought to her and to each other. The whole experience felt so truly special, although it likely didn’t seem as such to S and them. I went to bed that night happy to have met some more of the people my partner holds dear.

And then I woke up in the morning, and the comparisons began.

Why would someone with such wonderful people in her life, and such wonderful people as potential partners, choose me? Awkward, unattractive, boring, diseased me. I’m not a catch, I’m a liability. All of my faults and inadequacies were laid bare, or at least the things I perceived as faults and inadequacies. I didn’t see how I could be a decent partner with all of those demerits against me. S accepts me wholly as I am, warts and all, and tells me so often. But I don’t accept myself. That lack of acceptance bubbled to the surface that morning.

This lack of acceptance carries through in little ways, where I feel rejected by small things that people do that really have nothing to do with me: “I have other plans tonight”, “I’m too busy for lunch”, “I’m tired today, but maybe we can catch up another time” etc. Such statements aren’t about me but rather about the other person. And usually, I know and feel that. But sometimes, I feel inadequate and turn those things on myself.

Inadequacy was queued up in my brain particular strongly of late because I just got back from the Oregon Library Association conference. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the professional year, a chance to catch up with respected colleagues and dear friends and learn from the amazing things going on at other libraries across the state.

Colleagues often come up to me at conferences like this and commend me for the work that was done in Hood River County. The work was indeed incredible, to be sure, and while I had my role in it, it was a community effort in every sense of the term. I get commended for other things, too. This year, I was involved in a few presentations which were well-received. People actually specifically complimented me after them.

I’ve learned to accept compliments more graciously as I get older rather than, as I often did and still sometimes do, deflecting them. In one sense, I welcome them; they help that shameful part of myself realize that maybe I’m not half bad. On the other hand, they also make me think of all of the things I did wrong. When I get complimented on a presentation, I think how unprepared I felt for it, how disorganized I sounded in my head as I spoke, how much better it could have been if only blah blah blah. And when people mention our library district, my head instantly goes to all of the deficiencies we still have, all of the things that I haven’t gotten to, the things at which I’ve failed. As I said before, I sometimes go through my work life worrying that my colleagues, staff, and community members finally will out me for the fraud that I am.

So this morning, before I cried, I was already primed for inadequacy. I began working from home, and my emails reminded me of the OLA conference. I also saw messages about the big conference I’m planning in Hood River, an event at which I feel like I’m failing miserably as it comes closer. I was alone in my house, having spent the night alone as well. While I sat down to check my email, I queued up a song S recommended that I’d written an old note I happened to run across that reminded me to listen to it. I broke. Hard. I cried on the bed with the song on repeat.

These feelings show to me now how essential therapy is to my treatment. I went into therapy this most recent time thinking I didn’t need it. Well, I “should” be in therapy, I thought, but I had no particular goals. My meds, diet, and exercise would keep me stable. But I do need help to work through some of these issues. Writing about them like this helps a lot, actually, but sometimes I need to talk to someone, too. Someone who knows what they’re doing. This is all to say, treating mental illness is complicated, people!

I know that I’m not really inadequate. Sure, I have my dirty laundry (much of which I air publicly on the interwebs!), but so do we all. The side of me that’s usually dominant knows that I’d be pretty good as a father figure, make for a pretty adequate partner, and am pretty good at my job. But I need to be patient with myself. I’ve done a lot of work in the past few months, and progress has been swift. Shame and inadequacy so deep-seated as these are going to take time to work through. They’re never going to go away, but at least I can learn to cope with them. For that reason, I think these breakdowns are healthy for me. I’m confronting those feelings on the surface where I can see and analyze them, as I do so well. But I also feel them with all of their intensity. And as a former emotional eunuch, that’s a part of my healing process. So bring it on, shame!

… but maybe could you wait until conference planning and budget season are over, please?


Heathen

I’m in a dysthymia support group on Facebook. It’s been an interesting, educational experience that I’ll write about some other time. The group has been of particular interest lately, however, as the group has been arguing over the proper role of religion in such a group. A friend of mine in an illness support group had a similar experience.

The argument was spurred by a couple of posts and comments. First, a participant asked, how can a benevolent god leave me to suffer with this terrible affliction? This is a mild version of the problem of evil, considered one of strongest arguments against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent being. It essentially boils down to this: how could such a being allow the clear evils that occur in our world to happen? Proponents of theism do not have a good argument to defend against the problem of evil other than “god has a plan” or “we’re incapable of understanding such a being’s motivations”. These responses typically are dismissed out-of-hand by most philosophers as the non-responses that they are.

(Did I mention that I’m a recovering philosophy major? If you didn’t know, then you do now!)

The second event that caused the religion flare-up on the dysthymia group was a person saying she didn’t want people to pray for her when someone said as such in response to one of her posts. This woman had poor experiences with religion in her youth, and prayer made her uncomfortable. Others perceived this as an attack on their religion and their well-wishes.

I have a confession to make. Well, okay, I already made it in my very first post: I’m an atheist. Or, more accurately, I’m a humanist. Like many humanists, I dislike the term “atheism” because it defines my belief system in terms of another, more “dominant” set of beliefs, rather than accepting it as a system unto itself. By proclaiming a lack of belief in a supernatural being(s), I am not making an extraordinary claim about the world. Quite to the contrary, those who believe in a supernatural being(s) are making such a claim, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Such evidence is lacking (See how easily the cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments for the existence of a supreme being(s) are dispensed). I also dislike “atheist” because there’s still a significant amount of bias against humanists.

Many people who have chronic or deadly illnesses find comfort in religion. People use it as a source of strength and hope. Step two of Alcoholics Anonymous is “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. It’s hard for many to imagine having hope in absence of faith. Otherwise, the world just seems random and cruel. And just as those people in the dysthymia support group think, religion gives people the power to carry forward, confident that things will get better.

Such beliefs seem unnecessary and often counterproductive to me. Nonetheless, I don’t begrudge people feeling comfort in religion, as long as they’re not forcing it upon others, of course.People should find solace where they can. The thought of suffering through an illness such as dysthymia minus the help of the divine likely seems frightening to some, but I receive my comfort from science, reason, interconnection, and our common humanity.

So religion doesn’t help me to live life with dysthymia. What does help me is the thought of how incredibly amazing it is that we’re here. Us. Individually. The specific people that we are. Think about it: in order for the multiverse to have produced you, it took a series of events and choices spanning billions of years. Billions with a “B”. Any slight difference anywhere along that line of happenings could have produced someone or something completely different. But instead, you are the culmination of the multiverse’s work. I think that’s pretty damn amazing, and inspiring. How can I not be spurred to make the world a better place when it took so long for it to make me the person who I am, cosmically and just within my lifetime? Richard Dawkins says it best:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?” (From Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder)

It’s hard to see such perspective when I’m in the throes of depression (Which, by the way, might very well be an evolutionary adaptation. More coolness about the world!). Then again, as evidenced by the interlocutor in the dysthymia support group, neither necessarily would a religious perspective. But in my stronger times, I find the enormity of the world an inspiration, even if there may be bugger for intelligent life here on earth.


Brave

Next week I go to the Oregon Library Association annual conference. I always have a great time there, especially now that I’m more established in my career. It’s a time to network with colleagues, learn from other libraries, and see some good friends. It’s also a time that I wear a lot of my faces. The work face, to be sure, but also a face I find both exhilarating and draining to wear: the presenter face.

But, as I’m wont to do, I digress. I didn’t log on to discuss my multiple personae. Instead, I wanted to write the post I’ve been threatening to write for a while: how could my decision to go public affect my career.

I didn’t fully understand the ramifications of what I was doing to myself personally by going public with my illness. Since my identity has historically been so tied to to my job, I worried primarily about whether I was deep-sixing my career. This was definitely a valid concern, as these advice articles show:

To be sure, I didn’t think that my current employer would fire me on the spot. After all, mental illness is covered in the USA by the Americans With Disabilities Act: “An individual is considered to have a ‘disability’ if s/he has a physical or mental impairment” (source). More importantly, as I’ve noted, I’m performing fairly well in my current position. I worried far more about the chilling effect on my future career. What if I applied for some fantastic new job and they did a web search on me only to find this blog? While one might not admit it, what supervisor wouldn’t give pause at the thought of hiring someone who’s at risk of a mental breakdown or suicide? And what library would want members of their community to search for info on their new library director only to find his blog where he talks about his plan involving a razor blade and a bathtub?

I’ve noted before that my work has been one of the few areas of my life where my confidence has tended not to wane. My resume is pretty decent, and I’ve been in the profession for a while. If someone wouldn’t hire me because of this blog, I thought, then maybe I don’t want to work for them. Call it arrogance, call it bravado, call it what you will, but that’s what I thought (and still think); they’ll have to take me as I am.

The personal risk I was taking was not foremost in my mind when I decided to go public, though. Oh sure, when I was writing my early posts and considering releasing the blog to the world, I thought about whether a future date might find the blog and turn around running. But worrying about potential romance wasn’t something that concerned me, despite being single at the time.

New Yorker cartoon by Peter SteinerI guess I pretty much thought, well, I’m writing this stuff. Maybe I could help someone else, or educate someone, by sharing it? This seem brave to me. Perhaps a bit because of the career worries, but not much. After all, I was still sitting behind a screen somewhere, and so too would be any readers I might have. The Internet seems so impersonal, even if people I know are reading this. Internet, dogs, blah, blah, blah. So I told WordPress to let sites index me. Consequences be damned!

It started sinking in when I was going to a meeting about the possibility of starting a Columbia Gorge chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). A song popped up on Pandora. A song I’d never heard. A song that really forced me to consider what I’d done.

I almost started crying, something I find myself saying often now. Well, often for me. The enormity of what I was doing was sinking in. I was on my way to a meeting where I was going to tell people, in person, that I’m a wackjob, a crazy, a mental case. That freaked me the hell out; telling people to their faces just seemed so … vulnerable. And, to top it all off, I’d also been telling the entire damn Internet. Potentially anyone who wanted could type a few words and find me discussing some really personal shit about myself. It gave me pause.

Personal shit indeed. If I were to have paused anywhere, it would have been my last post. It was by far my hardest yet to write; it brought up so many deep-seated issues that I still ponder and will continue to ponder, despite having mostly come to terms with them. It was one of the only posts I’ve considered deleting. It was far harder to click “Publish” on the post about my father than for ones on my self-hatred, on breaking down in public, or even on suicide. I felt like I was revealing a part of me to the world that I barely yet knew myself.

Two things gave me the confidence to share that story, despite my new found hesitancy. The first was my therapist. Early on, when I told him I was considering making my blog public, he encouraged me. His only worry was that I would want to write about a topic but hold back because it might be read by others. That would be detrimental to my healing, he thought.

The second was you. Thinking of the responses I’d received from many of you helped show me that I hadn’t made a terrible, terrible mistake. You shared some incredible stories with me, about your own struggles with mental illness, about how it touched a family member or friend, or simply about the difficulty you have sharing your emotions. Your stories were incredible and inspiring (and I feel extremely guilty that I haven’t responded back to many of you yet!).

You gave me a gift. You revealed intimate parts of your life despite the fact that, with many of you, we don’t even know each that well. You made yourselves vulnerable. And if I learned anything from Brene, it was that vulnerability is much more a source of strength, not weakness. We make ourselves vulnerable by opening up to each other, and it’s pretty fucking scary. But I hope that you’ll continue sharing, because now I know that it’s also pretty fucking brave.


Daddy issues

Digging into the depths of your psyche sometimes brings up things you’d long since forgotten, long since tossed aside as no longer meaningful, no longer relevant, no longer affecting your life. I’ve been doing a lot digging lately. With a backhoe. It was bound that I’d dig up some forgotten parts of my psyche eventually.

As my friend Travis noted, treating a mental illness is an all-encompassing process. Treatment has to be holistic, and I don’t mean in a woo-y, new age-y kind of way. Rather I mean that you have to treat yourself from multiple angles. In my case, those angles are chemical (bupropion), physical (good exercise and diet), and psychological. The first two parts are easy, relatively speaking. The third is really fucking hard. You have to examine yourself with such intensity and so deeply that the ugly parts are bound to rear their ugly heads. Only by confronting the ugly parts can I really proceed further in my continual journey of self-actualization. And that journey of self-actualization recently took me down the “you have repressed issues about your father” road.

My father, Dan, has never been a significant part of my life. Or really any part of my life, for that matter. He was simply … not there. You’ll notice that I refer to him primarily as Dan. I don’t really consider him a father in anything other than the genetic sense because, quite frankly, he wasn’t my father. That role, to the degree that anyone did it, was filled by my mother and grandfather. I’m a little unclear on the timing, but my father started using cocaine either slightly before or while my mom was pregnant. It changed him, she said. He was not the man with whom she had fallen in love. Initially when I was born, a tiny thing, under six pounds, with a mop of strawberry blonde hair, he claimed that I couldn’t be his. “Red hair doesn’t run in my family” he said. Later, he admitted that I was indeed his; my mom thought that his denial was the result of a crazy girlfriend he had at the time. The courts ordered him to pay child support. He was in arrears by tens of thousands of dollars by the time I went to college. He may still be, for all I know.

So Dan was never really in my life. My mother didn’t prevent him from seeing me or vice versa. He just never really seemed to want to be a part of my life. Years passed. I never met him, even though he lived in the same tiny town of 300 people where I grew up. I saw him a couple of times growing up; my mother would point him out when we were in a store or something. Still, I never actually met him in person until I was 18, shortly after I graduated from high school. He came to the library where I worked and asked if he could speak with me. I barely recognized him, as I’d only seen the man a handful of times, and only in passing at that. He spoke to me a bit in his car, something about meeting my grandparents and how I should read Zorba The Greek. Honestly, I had a hard time understanding what he was saying. The conversation was disjointed, as if there were leaps of logic happening in his head that I just couldn’t follow. I suppose the conversation was as one might expect from a mind addled by years of cocaine use.

I spoke with Dan a few other times in my life. For a few years after college, I worked in my hometown library. There were a couple of times when he’d come in, chat a bit. Talking with him was similarly difficult to follow, kind of like trying to follow the logic of a 9-11 truther or a birther: “logic” really didn’t apply. When I finished graduate school and got my first professional job near my hometown, he visited me there a couple of times, too. It was awkward, to say the least. By that time, he had moved to a community about fifty miles south of my hometown and worked with the local animal shelter.

Perhaps I should tell you a bit about Dan, the pre-cocaine Dan, that is. Much like Dan’s conversations with me, my description will sound disjointed. All that I have are snippets that I’ve heard, mostly from my mother, but from other people sometimes as well. Dan was a gifted man, a chiropractor of amazing talent. In fact, aside from when she described what he was like while snorting coke, my mother had nothing but good things to say about him; even in my youth, I could sense the love she had for the man my father was. He was fiendishly smart, funny, a free spirit who enjoyed animals, surfing, and Chinese checkers. He was the only person who could beat my mother at Chinese checkers, so she said. Others who found out Dan was my father had similar praise to heap upon him. I often heard, “He was the best chiropractor I’ve ever had”. What a nice guy he was. How fun he was. And always an emphasis on how intelligent he was, how sharp his mind was. I was often told that I inherited that mind, most often by my mom. That was why I seemed so different from the rest of my small family, she said.

For most of my adult life, I denied how much Dan’s absence affected me. After all, I was successful. Valedictorian of my high school class. Graduated summa cum laude from college. Received two masters degrees at the top of my classes. Built a strong track record and earned respect in my chosen field. I achieved these things despite his absence, I told myself and others. I would brush off suggestions that my lack of a father affected me. When my ex-wife and I went to counseling and we each spoke separately with a psychiatrist, I dodged the issue by saying it wasn’t relevant. I said the same thing to the therapist I went to shortly after I was diagnosed with dysthymia. And I once again professed my father’s irrelevance to my current therapist fewer than three months ago.

But I was just being obstinate, as you’ve no doubt surmised. It took yet another amazing conversation with my partner, whom I’ll refer to as “S”, and a lot of soul-searching to realize that. The truth is that Dan’s absence loomed large in my youth, adolescence, and into the rest of my life, although I told no one this. In my last post I mentioned that the first “adult” album I bought was Paul Simon’s Graceland. The second was Genesis’s We Can’t Dance. I bought it initially for the delightful “I Can’t Dance”, but it ultimately was this song that spoke to me the most, despite not being an exact match to my own situation:

How could I not feel like my father was saying I was no son of his, after all? I mean, he actually explicitly said it shortly after I was born. And even after he admitted that he fathered me, his absence spoke volumes. Even though we lived in the same tiny town, he never tried to contact me before I graduated high school, and my mom made no attempt to stop him. As a young child and adolescent, I mainly just heard about how friendly, smart, and generally awesome Dan was. It didn’t take much for my young mind to put two and two together: that seemingly cool person I envisioned wanted nothing to do with me. That thought was primary on my mind during my first suicidal episode, laying in that bathtub as a fifteen-year-old, contemplating grabbing that temptingly-close razor blade.

Thoughts like that drill themselves deep into your subconscious. They poison the well. They develop into shame. And eventually, those thoughts get buried so deep that you don’t even remember they’re a source of your shame and insecurities in the first place, hence my deflection. “My lack of a father didn’t adversely affect me”, I insisted. <snort> Right, of course it didn’t. How ever could it negatively impact your life to think that you’re so terrible that your own father didn’t want to be around you? But there I go being uncharitable to myself again. I had to think that it didn’t affect me, really, to protect myself. Otherwise I would have collapsed from its weight years ago.

But back to that conversation with S I mentioned. I don’t recall now how he came up, but I was speaking about Dan with her, telling her all of these things I knew about him, the small snippets. I told her a few more, too, ones I haven’t yet mentioned in this post. The time shortly after I graduated when a high school acquaintance told me that Dan was at my graduation but left before it ended. When the same acquaintance told me that Dan maintained a scrapbook of newspaper clippings mentioning me. His efforts to reach out to me. The last time I spoke with him when he said he was proud of me, and I pushed it aside as if I’d just been told that by a complete stranger. He basically was at that point. While telling S this, I hadn’t really acknowledged Dan at that point as a source of my shame.

Partway through the conversation, S started crying, and I didn’t know why. I tried to get her to tell me, but she refused, instead encouraging me to continue talking. Finally, after another few minutes, she said, “Don’t you see, Buzzy? He stayed away because he loved you so much.”

Cliché though it may be, I felt like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks. Three monumental things hit my brain all at once. First, the ultimate source of many of my thoughts of inadequacy came racing back up from the deep pits where I’d buried them. Second, I finally understood why I held so much shame in my heart. And third, I was just given a completely different, and far more plausible, explanation of a critical part of my life. S really should be billing me hourly.

Those details I hadn’t mentioned earlier in this post, about the scrapbook, his profession of being proud, his presence at my graduation? Those didn’t fit the hypothesis in my head, so I’d essentially relegated them to the “irrelevant data” part of my brain. Now those data points fit together into a different, stronger hypothesis. Perhaps Dan thought that he’d simply have made my life worse by being a part of it. He’d ruined his own life, after all. How could he allow himself potentially to do the same thing to his son? Or maybe he was just so ashamed of how he’d abandoned me early in my life that he simply never could muster the courage to see me until he knew I was heading off to a successful life. My mind raced with possibilities. What if Dan had chosen otherwise? How different would my life be?

After gnawing on these revelations for days with no progress, I finally decided that I would give myself dedicated quiet time to think about this and only this. It was during my drive home and then back to work. I removed all distractions to my brain, aside from driving itself. Yeah, yeah, maybe a ton of metal hurtling down the freeway at 65 miles per hour isn’t the safest place to dig into the depths of your soul, but I’m a busy man!

While running through these what-ifs, I came to a realization: none of it mattered. Now that I was on the road to recovery, I understood that I liked my life. I have great friends, a nice house, a dream job, live in a beautiful area, and have the bestest partner one could ever hope to have. More than that, though, I like who I am. I turned out okay. And the reason I turned out okay is at least in part because of Dan. As my mother often said, I inherited his agile mind. My mind is one of the few things in which I (mostly) retain confidence even in my worst moments (and despite the fact that it sometimes leads me astray). I’m able to make connections quickly, to assess and create complex arguments, and generally to understand the world around me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no genius, but I can hold my own in the world, for the most part. That mental acuity comes from Dan.

However, there’s more to it than that. Dan’s absence, and my feelings of inadequacy resulting from it, gave me a reason to strive. Maybe I could prove myself  worthy  of attention, of love, of respect, if I worked hard enough. Got good enough grades. Accomplished great things. Left a mark on the world. That six- or seven-year-old is still in me, that child who saw all of those other kids’ fathers and wondered why mine wasn’t around. That part of me strove to prove myself a worthy son. But I don’t need to prove myself a worthy to a man who was never a father to me in the first place. He had his own reasons for not being a part of my life, and those are his own battle. And in realizing that, now I can proceed to confront the shame deep within me and thereby prove myself worthy to myself, despite all my imperfections and despite my disease. I’m the person now who needs to accept me for who I am. And so my healing proceeds.


Kodachrome

Lately, there’s an interesting synergy between a few of the cultural items I’ve been consuming. I just finished reading Allie Brosh’s great book Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That happened. If you’ve never read Brosh’s blog Hyperbole and a Half, you’re in for a treat. She is both brilliant and hilarious, and the simple artwork accompanying her posts just enhances her brilliance and hilarity further. She’s written two posts that are some of the best writing about depression I’ve ever read: Adventures in Depression (aka Depression Part One) and Depression Part Two. If you’re instead up for a laugh, try The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas, pretty much any post about her dogs, or numerous of her other posts.

Anyway, Brosh’s book is a collection of some of her greatest work combined into one handy volume, <shameless self-promotion>which is probably is conveniently available at your local public library</shameless self-promotion>. Depression Parts One and Two are both included. I’d read them before, but reading them with my new perspective helped me see and identify with far more things. Brosh talks about how her own battle with depression began with a bombardment of emotion but later developed into feeling nothing at all. This seemed awesome at first, she noted, and I totally concur; it does seem pretty great, being supposedly immune to the emotional slings and arrows life directs at you. However, she makes a brilliant observation about the problem with that thought. She says it far better than I do, so here you go (emphasis added):

The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief. I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore.

But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don’t feel very different. (Source)

Seriously. I cannot express how true that statement is for me. But before I start trying …

Today, as I was driving home, I was listening to an album I haven’t heard in a long time: Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park, August 15, 1991Simon’s Graceland was the first “adult” music album I ever bought, you know, after I graduated from the California Raisins and The Little Mermaid soundtrack (Sebastian is boss). I still think that’s probably the pinnacle of what little good musical taste I have; I’m not alone in considering Simon to be one of the most brilliant lyricists in recent history.

But enough with my fawning. On my ride home, I heard Simon’s Kodachrome.

I was listening to the song just before I stopped to get my mail, staring up at the beautiful tree-lined mountains visible from everywhere in the town where I live. Now that I’m in a better place, I truly appreciate their majesty, just as I can now better enjoy the stunning range of colors and patterns in a sunset and the magic when the river shimmers in just the right way. Staring up at those mountains, the song’s chorus came back to me.

Kodachrome
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s
A sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take photographs
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away (Source)

And as I was driving back from the post office, a line from the second verse similarly struck me:

Everything looks worse
In black and white (Source)

In my first post, I described how my dysthymia manifests as an almost complete lack of feeling, an emotional deadness. I felt almost no excitement when I got the call saying I got my current job, despite my yearning for it. Watching my nephews at Christmas, I had no joy. I could muster no sadness when a good friend told me she was raped. As Brosh says, it wasn’t that I chose not to give a fuck; I was incapable of offering up any fucks at all. I lived in that black and white world that Paul Simon feared; everything did indeed look worse because it all felt the same: like nothing.

Feeling nothing all the time is excruciating, just as feeling sad all the time is. You look at the people around you and see them laughing, crying, being joyful, being angry, being something. But you’re stuck with nothing. You know that you should be able to feel these things, although you’re not just “shoulding” yourself. Really and truly, you want to feel something. The world was meant to be experienced in the fullness of its colors, with Kodachrome film, where you’re able to give a fuck what happens.

And those months, those years of not being able to feel, they make you ashamed. You’re have no excitement, no joy, no sadness, no anger, but you know you should. With every fiber of your being, you know. Then comes the shame death spiral: the less you feel, the more shame you feel. The more shame you feel, the more you really don’t see much point to life at all. You feel nothing; wouldn’t it be easier just to not go through all the rigmarole and truly embrace the nothingness?

A couple of weeks ago, I mustered up the courage to talk to a friend and former partner who experienced me at quite possibly the worst parts of my life. That person who I was then – no, who I am – that person is someone I hope no one other than me ever has to experience again (I’m not really thrilled by the idea of experiencing him, either). He was taciturn. Dickish. Mean. Uncaring. That person was so awful, and the thought that someone else had to experience him was so terrible, that I pushed my memories of that time into a deep recess of my mind. He was still there, and still is. But even I didn’t want to face him, so he got shunted off into a corner.

My friend told me what I was like then. I was monotone, pale, clammy, full of contempt, emotionless, unwelcoming of beauty in my life. My worst personality flaws were enhanced to the Nth degree. I was judgmental, dismissive, and close-minded. I was black and white because that’s the world I saw. And it took the amazing support of my friend, and me hitting rock bottom, when I was about to grab the razor blade and crawl to the bathtub, to make me realize that I needed professional help.

That person who I was then is still in me, is still a part of me, but now that I’m in treatment and had a few epiphanies, he’s become someone I’m willing to face. He’s my Dark Link, but I can’t really fight him. He’s me. How am I going to fight myself? Instead, I have to accept him, because, as my friend sagely pointed out, he’s just me with the worst parts of myself front-and-center. I am judgmental. I am dimissive. I am close-minded. I am callous. I try not to be those things, and usually I’m not, but those qualities are always lurking below the surface even in my best moments.

And I am having good moments. More than moments. My life is great, and now I can see that it’s great. I give fucks, Many, many fucks. Sometimes it’s hard to give fucks. I was intensely sad when I discovered that my feelings of inadequacy are from deep inside me, for instance. Since beginning treatment, I’ve been angry, guilty, and frustrated. I’ve also been joyful, excited, loving, playful, and empathetic. Those are colors. I’m seeing them. And I’d never trade them to go back to that black and white world. So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away.


Perfect the way I am

So I’ve been telling myself that the first post I would write after making this blog public would be about how that decision affects my career prospects. I still plan to write that post, but a lot has happened since the blog became public last week. First off, thank you to all of you amazing people who reached out to me, thanked me, and told me your own stories. Your support is heartening, and admittedly a bit overwhelming for reasons you’ll hopefully see later in this post. Your stories were heartfelt and vulnerable. I plan to respond to each of you when I can. However, the “a lot that happened” to which I referred actually only peripherally has to do with making this blog public.

The treatment for my illness is multi-faceted, involving pharmaceuticals, decent sleep habits, good nutrition and exercise, and therapy. I see a fantastic therapist based here in the Gorge. Initially, when I started seeing him, I wasn’t sure why I was there. I didn’t really have any goals for therapy, as I was feeling pretty damn good when I decided to start seeing him. Really, I was just going to a therapist because I thought that I “should”, given my condition. I was pretty close to deciding not to see him, actually. But as I started opening up, I saw how truly insightful he is and how helpful his perspective can be. He gave me some great advice recently that I’d like to share, though it requires a bit of backstory first.

I’ve referenced my assholish observer several times, that somewhat removed part of myself that constantly criticizes what I do and who I am. He feels a little like he’s the personification of my disease, belittling me so as to make me weak to dysthymia’s ravages. But I had an extremely difficult revelation last week: that part of myself isn’t really a separate “diseased” part of myself that I thought he was. He’s me. The actual me. You know, that person I’ve been trying to discover now that I’m healing.

This revelation came as a result of some things in my personal life that sapped my confidence. I constantly feel inadequate. My colleagues in my community and the library profession seem to have a fairly high opinion of me and what I do. I do not. I’m always thinking that I’m not getting enough done, that I’m doing substandard work, that I don’t keep up enough, that I’m letting people down. There’s a fear that lives with me continually that people will find out these things and realize me for the fraud that I am.

Last week, those feelings of inadequacy were brought to the fore of my personal life in a way that I’m not sure they ever had before. I’ve pretty much always felt inadequate socially. But I’ve never really confronted those feelings head on and stared at them so directly in the face as I did last week. This confrontation made me feel like there was no way that I could be a decent human being, a loving romantic partner, a good role model or parental figure in a child’s life, or even a halfway decent friend. That was the “real” me thinking those thoughts, not my companion asshole.

The culmination of this came when my partner and I were talking through some things. We decided to stop at a restaurant and sat in a quiet corner to chat. In the course of our discussion, when I realized just how inadequate I truly felt, I broke down crying in her arms. I’m not sure I can adequately express how shocking this event is for me. In my adult life, I cry very rarely. I cry around other people even less than that. And I literally had never cried in a public place before during my adult life. Ever. And there were people at the restaurant aside from my partner whom I knew, and who likely could see me. I probably could have stopped the tears, but I didn’t care. For some reason, I didn’t feel ashamed about it. I needed to cry at the feeling of my own inadequacy.

So that was part of my realization: that I had a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy. The rest of it came one night while laying with my partner. We were discussing some of what had happened and what we’d been thinking. Because she’s truly the most caring person in the universe, she said that I was “perfect the way you are”, which caused yet another breakdown. But hey, at least it wasn’t in a public restaurant this time, right? That was the moment when it donned on me that that person who hated me so much, who constantly criticized me, wasn’t some removed, diseased part of myself. It was me.

Which brings me back to therapy. I talked through all of these things with my therapist. He said several amazing things. When I told him about my breakdown in the restaurant, his first word after I told him was “congratulations!” That affirmation meant so much to me. But after he heard everything, he told me the issue: a deep underlying shame that I let control me. And once he said it, I instantly recognized its truth. He recommended that I look into a research professor in social work named Brené Brown. He suggested that I read her latest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. He also suggested that I check out her two TED talks, in particular her first talk from 2010 called “The Power of Vulnerability”.

This talk was a revelation. I have done so many things over the last several months that have made me extremely vulnerable: admitting the extent of my illness, tackling planning a large work-related conference that I have no experience doing, entering a new relationship with an intense emotional connection and acceptance the likes of which I’ve never experienced before, potentially becoming a larger part of a child’s life in a way that’s foreign to me, writing this blog, seeing a therapist, making the blog public. All that vulnerability digs up my shame, and it’s overwhelming, though in a good way, I think. Brown’s talk, together with all of these recent life events, made me see just how weak I thought vulnerability was.

I don’t know from whence this shame comes. Perhaps it’s from my childhood. Perhaps it relates to my failed relationships. Perhaps it’s me internalizing all of the self-hatred that dysthymia levels at me, because that assholish observer is still there (even if I now know that he’s not really my harshest critic). More likely, it’s some combination of all of these things and more. As Brown mentions in her second TED talk, I have plenty of well-deserved guilt for my actions, guilt meaning that “I did something bad”, according to Brown. But for years I’ve considered those actions as meaning “I’m bad”. That’s shame. It’s going to take me a while to accept that my mistakes don’t make me a terrible human being, but I’m going to try. I may not be perfect, but as a very dear woman told me recently, maybe, just maybe, I’m perfect the way I am.


About this blog

This is a pinned post. Please scroll past this entry to see the latest content. Thanks!

Hi, my name is Buzzy, and I have a mental illness. Specifically, I have dysthymia, a chronic depressive disorder. If my initial declaration sounds a bit like I’m at an AA meeting, that’s on purpose. Despite increased understanding and realization of the extent of mental illness, there’s still a lot of shame in declaring that you have one. I hope that this blog is a small step in helping dissolve a bit of that stigma, somewhat for others but mostly for myself and the shame that has lived in my heart for so many years.

This blog explores the intersection among myself, my life, my work, and my illness. It particularly looks at how my screwy brain chemistry and addled thoughts affect how I interact with the world personally and professionally. If you want to get a better sense for what it’s all about, I recommend checking out my first two posts:

Hopefully you find this blog useful, interesting, amusing, or otherwise fulfilling for whatever reason you chose to read it. I will try to update it regularly, if not necessarily on a regular schedule. Please check back regularly! And please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or just want to chat a bit more. Happy reading (pun intended)!


The Thought

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been doing really well these past few months. I’ve had the most emotionally vibrant period I think that I’ve ever had in my life. However, the other day, I got an abrupt reality check.

I’d had a fantastic weekend before I experienced what I’ve come to refer to as “The Thought”. Valentine’s Day was probably the best I’d ever had. My partner and I had an amazing time going out to dinner and a show, and the next day I spent some time away from home with her and her family. Life was good. Great, actually.

Then, early on Tuesday morning, I was driving home when a thought crossed my mind. “I want to swerve this car into a rock and crash. I want it all to end.” This thought seemed to come from nowhere. The weekend had been truly excellent. Then, I want to kill myself. What gives?

While the thought itself came out of the blue, it was not without warning signs. I mentioned once that trying to keep my dysthymia at bay is a little like playing Whack-A-Mole. Treating myself is like smacking a bunch of moles with mallets to keep them in their tunnels. Those moles are my dysthymia, and I keep smacking them down to keep the disease under control. Each of the moles comes out of a specific tunnel, representing the things I need to avoid to keep dysthymia at bay. Poor nutrition. Lack of exercise. Not enough “me” time. Whatever the hell’s going on chemically in my brain that requires a mallet laced with bupropion. Obviously the chemical issue has been a huge problem for me in the past, but my drugs, together with my other measures, seem pretty good at keeping that tunnel mole-free.

My ongoing nemesis throughout my life, and the tunnel from which I have the hardest time preventing moles from pouring forth, has been insomnia. I’ve never slept well in my adult life. Ever. Usually this manifested as difficulty falling asleep and inability to stay asleep once I finally did. When I did sleep through the entire night, it was not a restful sleep. I’d awaken feeling like I’d hardly slept at all.

So lately, moles have been streaming from the insomnia tunnel, although perhaps I didn’t recognize them for what they were. My sleep had been very poor the week and and half preceding the Thought. Those nights, I was getting maybe four hours of uninterrupted sleep, and then my body would wake up. The best I’d get after awaking would be intermittent snoozing. I often simply gave up at about five in the morning and got up to start my day. The night before The Thought, I was up at 3.00a in a state of panic over my lack of sleep, wondering how I was going to make it through my very busy upcoming three months. In other words, I was exhausted. Still kind of am, actually, though I’ve been catching up. I haven’t yet ascertained the reason for my lack of sleep, although I hope that my upcoming doctor appointment can help me figure it out.

Despite the lack of sleep, I still had energy. Large amounts of it, at least to me. Even with sleep deprivation, being on bupropion and treating myself correctly has given me far more energy than I had when my dysthymia acts up. So I hadn’t noticed the lack of sleep affecting me overly much.

Obviously it did, though. I wasn’t prepared for this fleeting suicidal thought; it hit me like a semi. If I’m feeling generally down, I can steel myself for the inevitable deluge of morbidity. But I wasn’t prepared this time. That short moment scared the shit out of me. I didn’t see the warning signs. Aside from my early morning fretting, I still don’t know what the warning signs were, if there were any to see at all. And that scares the shit out of me even more.

Perhaps, by allowing it to scare me as it has, I give The Thought too much power, though. Lately I’ve been listening to National Public Radio‘s fantastic new podcast Invisibilia, about the crazy parts of our brains that govern so much of what we do and who we are. In their inaugural episode, hosts Lulu Miller and Alex Spiegel use the dark thoughts that sometimes pop into our heads as a way to explore the history of psychotherapy.

The main frame of the show is a man who keeps having thoughts of wanting to violently kill his wife. That thought is used to explain how different therapy approaches try to handle the issue. Do you logically challenge the thought? Confront it directly? Push it aside as a random firing of synapses? The way the show explained these different approaches fascinated me. I’d used each of those strategies before to deal with my own dark thoughts. I’d challenge them. I’d confront them. I’d push them aside. But just like those moles, they kept popping back up.

There are good reasons why these strategies don’t always work for me. First off, depression isn’t logical. Challenging the thoughts certainly is useful, but I’m not really in a logical state of mind when having them. The asshole is too loud, too imposing. Confronting my suicidal thoughts also is of limited use in the moment. Death isn’t something I’m fearing, it’s something I’m welcoming. What use is confronting it?

My chosen method is usually pushing aside the thoughts. Ignore them. Bury them. Distract my mind so much that it doesn’t have the opportunity to wallow in darkness. That’s where working has helped. Work has helped keep me from following through on suicide in a few ways, one of which is that it distracts me. Rather than focusing on the train wreck of my life and the morass of my mind, I focused on work. There, I had some control. There, unlike my life, I could improve things. There, I could make others happy, even if I couldn’t do so for myself. Work was my escape from The Nothing.

My reaction to The Thought was similar, although I was far more cognizant of what I was doing. The Thought was fleeting, but my fear of and focus on it was not going away. Was all that work I’ve been doing over the past several months for naught? Before I went into work, I stopped by my partner’s house. She was a rock, someone dear on whom I could focus, to remind me of the happiness of which I was capable of feeling. But we both had to go into work, so I once again forced my mind into work. I had a particularly interesting challenge on which to focus at work, a complex, fascinating one involving our Code of Conduct and a future ordinance and public forums. I threw myself into it with gusto. And it worked. The Thought fell by the wayside.

After work, I was still rattled by this minor relapse. It wasn’t something that would have phased me much before, as it was fairly common. Despite my newfound happiness and positivity, I thought I was still abundantly aware that I have an illness that likely will never go away. The Thought showed me that I must not have really believed it. Now I do. I have The Thought to thank for that. I still don’t know where The Thought came from. Perhaps it was just my dysthymia saying, “Hey, remember me? I’m still here. I can still fuck with you.” And yeah, now I know it’s going to continue fucking with me. But I’ll be ready for the little bastard next time.


Will the real Buzzy Nielsen please stand up?

For pretty much all of my post-undergraduate life, my identity has always been tied inextricably to my job. “Hi, I’m Buzzy, and I’m a librarian”, or something along those lines. This connection has been enhanced due to the circumstances of my current job, as it’s high profile in both my community and the Oregon library profession. I’m “the library director” or “the librarian that reopened that library”. It’s flattering, certainly, as people seem to respect me for my work, but it has also become fundamental to my public identity.

Identifying closely with your profession certainly isn’t something specific to dysthymia. While I don’t really have statistics on it (how would you even collect them?), the topic is at least common enough to be covered by the Wall Street Journal, among others. Work is such a significant part of what we do as adults that it’s only natural that we become associated with it, both to ourselves and others. I’d imagine this is especially common among childless adults like myself.

Despite its frequency among  many people, I feel that my dysthymia has contributed to the overzealous job identity in my own life. Let me say that I’d likely be susceptible to this phenomenon even without a mental illness. But said illness likely contributes in a couple of ways. First, I invest a lot of energy into my work face. I realize that kind of sounds like begging the question, but consider this. I’m inclined to identify strongly with my job anyway. Because of that, I’m also inclined to invest a disproportionate amount of my limited energy resources into that job, and therefore into the mask I wear to do it. It creates a circular relationship: as I invest more of my meager reserves into my job, I become yet more identified with that job, which makes me want to invest even more energy into it. And on and on and on. A vicious cycle, surely.

The second way dysthymia relates, though, is the way it infests your personality and makes you think you are it and vice versa. As Robert M. Miller says,

“Dysthymia is also an interesting disorder from the neurobiological perspective because it is often difficult to discern from other personality disorders, such as a depressed or gloomy personality.” (source)

For most of my life, I assumed that being an emotional eunuch was just who I was. The times that I saw some passion, some emotion, some small degree of color, were not terribly promising. In other words, the potential “real me” scared the shit out of me: an angry, bitter, guilt-ridden, dejected shell of a man. Why would I ever want to learn more about that part of my identity? And in some twisted confirmation bias, I conveniently ignored the few good, emotion-rich years I’d had when I was married, where the actual real me probably flourished. So I thought my dysthymia was my personality, was my personal identity, was … me. Rather than exploring that reject who I seemed to be, I retreated into my job, where I seemed to have some success and respect; that guy I was while at work actually seemed like a decent human being.

So who I was increasingly became identified with what I did. I was a librarian first and foremost. That was how I related to the outside world. That’s still a large part of how I relate to the outside world. It probably always will be a significant part of how I relate to the world. But in contrast to needing to converge my many masks, I need to diverge my identities. I am not my job. I also am not my dysthymia. I’m not precisely sure who I am, but my treatment is helping me investigate. And discovering who that person is will help me not only be better at my job, as I’ll be more balanced, but more importantly it will help me be, well, me, and the best me I can be at that. So slowly I’m divesting some identity currently tied up in my job and am reclaiming it in the personal sphere. I’ll let you know how things go.