Monday, July 6, 2015

Yin, Yang and Something in Between

      Who we are is too often contingent on what we were told we are supposed to be. There is an old proverb regarding the duality of man about two wolves in each of us, to paraphrase: there is a good wolf and a bad wolf, the one that thrives is the one you feed the most. It implies that not only are the two sides at odds with one another, but that only one can be in control. The two wolves reside in us all, most deny one and focus on nurturing the other. Each of us decide in every moment with which side we are going to identify. I don't believe that we have to decide. The greatest detriment to finding happiness is believing that the road to understanding is universal.

      Visualize instead that the point between the two sides is who you are. Imagine that we are not the sum of our positive and negative but rather we are a point between the two, each side a gravitational force drawing us toward it. We are then merely an entity between happiness and misery. The influence of these emotions is not written on our souls it is the effect of external forces. A person can be mired in awful emotion but still remain a good person and vice versa. The key to getting past this dynamic is understanding.

      Everyone will be unhappy at some point, but realizing that happiness isn't removing tragedy it is learning the difference and accepting each for what it is becomes paramount. Emotions can be managed if you have the presence of mind to be in control. Know that without sadness happiness is meaningless. Without hate love is meaningless. Learn to navigate the spaces between your emotions.

     Many of us are so selfish that we cannot look beyond our own feelings, empathy is a powerful tool for making others happy and divining what makes us happy. To be able to experience all of the highs and lows through someone else makes your own experience manageable. When someone you love suffers, you suffer only to a lesser degree. When someone you love succeeds, you succeed through them. Envelop yourself in that feeling, immerse yourself in their grief or joy and you will grow exponentially. 

      Explore your emotions, push them to the limit. Is levity a bandage for happiness or can it be sustained? Is our perception of all of this just a result of chemicals reacting in our brains? Are we all addicts chasing the dragon of feeling worth, maybe even just to feel worthy? Each of us has that one thing to make the feeling of emptiness subside if only for a moment, is that what we were meant to do? Is there even such a thing as meaning? Is complacency second prize to happiness or are they completely different things?

      We are comprised of millions of moments, each bearing a variable impact on who we have become. Every moment up until this point formed who you are right now and who you are is not who you were nor is it who you will be a moment from now. There is no one version of me as I would imagine there is no one version of any of you. We aren't what we were, yet we hold on so tightly to what was and what could have been that we stop valuing what is. So much time wasted looking back that we miss what is right here and now. Most of my life was regret until I decided to start looking forward. 

     Our past ripples into the future and what is important carries over. To live with both eyes in the rearview leaves us castrated, weak. You are only who you are now, right now. So be here right now! Any moment of doubt or skepticism or fear is you, own it. By the time you read the next line you will be someone else, embrace the “in the moment” you. What you were taught growing up is just the best attempt by someone who doesn't get it, its up to you to figure it out. Stop leaning so heavily on what you were lead to believe and decide for yourself what is. 

     Be something undefined. We can be anything we want to be at any point. Make each moment count and be the best YOU in every moment. We are human, we are Yin and Yang... We are something in between. Be what you are, not what you were told you should be.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nothing is True

     I feel it is necessary to preface this with a disclaimer. I am not, nor have I ever been, a scholar. I am not a college graduate. I passed high school by the skin of my teeth. All of my education and knowledge is from reading I have done on my own with no expert guidance of any kind, with the exception of the authors of the books I have read. All of my claims and theories are purely my OPINION. I have changed my mind many times about what I believe and what is real. From my current perspective “truth” is and always will be a lie. There is no truth. I accept the paradox that this statement presents, and understand that many will see it as the fatal flaw in my argument. I request only that you read this with an open mind.

     Everything we experience is ours alone. Each moment is filtered through everything that came before it, by every individual, in a very personal way. The present is viewed through a lens crafted by the past. No lens is the same, so no present can possibly be the same. This is the reason for which I have been in an existential crisis my entire life. The question of what is real has always plagued me. Everything is lucid until you start to think about it. There were many conflicting ideas presented in my early years to make me question the nature of reality and how people think. Religion was a primary factor in my confusion. Why was it acceptable for a guy to turn water into wine and come back from the dead, but not for Willow to have acorns that turn people to stone and a stick that turns a ferret into a woman?

      The distinction between truth and fiction became blurred for me, but it wasn't the kind of thing you could challenge without causing an uproar. People tend to get pissed off when you compare religion and fantasy. In my innocent mind I didn't see a difference between Jesus and Merlin, and to be honest, I still don't. In the interest of not being burned at the stake as a heretic, I have no problem with religion. My problem is with having countless people try to shove it down my throat. If you want to believe something, go ahead. All I ask is that you have a functioning understanding of what it is you actually believe and the intellect to defend it peacefully.

      To fight for an idea, especially one that isn't your own, on blind faith is foolish. I cannot count how many times I have gotten into an argument with someone who doesn't fully understand what they are fighting for. When you question the beliefs of someone who has never questioned them themselves, often you are met with a great amount of anger. This defensiveness and hostility towards thinking independently has frightened me as long as I can remember. How can so many people aggressively defend something they don't understand? Even when you find a way to make the zealots see the flaws and logical contradictions of their faith, they become hostile because you have shaken their fundamental understanding of life. This aggression has become a signpost for me.

      We are all under guard when our beliefs are in question, but the insecure and close-minded attack when they feel that those beliefs are threatened. Truly enlightened people accept the views of others and adjust their own where needed. It is possible to have a heated argument without it decaying into a fight. When people become enraged with me, it shows me that they are beginning to question what they believe and the seed of doubt has been planted. Having gone to Catholic schools my entire life, I have met plenty of religious people that fully understand their dogma. We have had peaceful debates and gone our separate ways hoping that the other has been changed by our own views. All the while knowing that nothing has changed, but we have acquired new ideas to challenge in our next encounters. This is the evolution of understanding in practice.

      In high school I started to think about the world in a purely logical way. I realized that perception was the key to transcending the debate over what was true and what wasn't. I thought about the way people viewed the world. Not just their point of view, but their beliefs and approach to understanding the universe. The catalyst for what may be the greatest (or worst) thing that ever happened to me philosophically was the ability to perceive color. I wondered if any one observer was in fact seeing the same color as any other observer. I had a very long conversation with a friend, who approached contemplation as logically as I did, about this concept. We came to the conclusion that two people looking at the same “color” could see two different colors, yet they would call it by the same name. Some colors can be described by other adjectives such as “warm” or “cool”, however beyond that, a color can only be described by the things that are of that color.

      After considering this, I realized that even categorizing colors by the emotions they evoke was insufficient. Everyone would have learned to associate the perceived color with the same feelings anyone else would have, regardless of the disparity of their points of view. In lay man's terms, if you see red as you do, but I see red as what you would call blue, we would both agree that “red” is warm because the color I see (although it is what you would call blue) is named red and would describe all the same things. For example, you and I see an electric stove's coils heat up, you see red where I see blue, yet we both call it “red”. Both of us associate that color with heat or warmth.

      The conflict of something so basic left me to wonder if everything was like this. Could reality be an amalgam of the overlapping perceptions of people in close proximity? The perception of color has already been proven to have regional biases. Could cultural differences be caused by the differences in localized perception? I called this effect a “false reality” because nothing would actually be real, but simply what is agreed to be real. I wanted to understand the difference between what is “true” and what is “real”. From this perspective facts became simply what the majority of people believe to be true. Every conception is still malleable and if enough people changed their perception of the illusion of truth, fact could be overturned.

      Reality is an illusion. Every entity in the history of self-awareness has contributed to the current perception of “truth”. How we view our world defines how we interact with it. The people around us see the same world, yet we all see things differently. It is possible for two people who live in the same space to see the world differently yet still coexist. They don't, however, live in the same reality and they pursue a different truth. Truth is the unattainable thing that has haunted humanity forever.

      Consciousness evolves as does everything else. The work we do now becomes the scaffold for future generations to build upon. It is necessary for us to have conflicting ideals for our children to challenge the status quo. The true endgame is the proliferation of species and intellect. The amassing of knowledge and the assurance of it's preservation is the singularly most important thing to me. The more points of view there are, the more avenues of thought there will be. When the day comes that we all agree on everything, curiosity dies and so do we. Challenge everything.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Struggle is a Gift

     Our strengths are in our weakness. Crisis of being is the most influential tool for progressing in life. What can you learn without challenging not only what is around you, but what you yourself are? Life gets pretty boring when you don't ask questions. As it goes: questions may bring answers, but the answers always beget more questions. Such is the nature of understanding. The key point to remember is that the pursuit of knowledge is bereft of meaning without the development of wisdom. Get beaten and broken down, it only makes you stronger. Pity the people who have never faced hard times, they see the world through rose colored glasses. Emotional pain can be the catalyst for great growth if you allow it to be.

     Every moment of pain and misery, every bad choice, all the happiness and exultation, and each victory has defined who I am until this moment. Where I choose to go from here is up to me and me alone. I can look back and lament my mistakes or I can look forward and allow them to fortify my will. I can accept that my past accomplishments are enough or I can set goals for new ones. There is no unseen hand that guides my way, there is only my state of mind.

     I know that I am a prisoner of my own mind. I use my rage, hate, and fear to strengthen the person I want to be instead of allowing them to slowly corrupt me. They are an anchor on my soul. I have turned that anchor into a weight that makes me stronger. I carry it with me. I use it as a tool to grow. Without it I would be weak. A trembling foal wet with afterbirth, struggling to stand. I don't have to be great, or even good. I only have to be able to look at myself in the mirror and honestly say, I am moving forward. I am becoming stronger. I am better than I was yesterday.

     Some people cling to what they know. They try to replace what they have lost with something familiar. Living in fear that the past will catch up to them and consume them. If you spend your life looking behind you, you will fail to see what lies ahead. Dragging that baggage behind you and looking forward is difficult, but from my perspective there is no other choice.

     We are and will always be only what we make ourselves, never what others try to make of us. Some people try to manipulate others to be like themselves. As though all the world's troubles would disappear if everyone could just see from the same perspective. I believe the opposite, the world would be a better place if we could all accept that everyone is different and it is those differences that make us great. If everyone was like me, my world would be painfully mundane. Culture has to evolve and our passion must change the world because a stagnant culture leads to uniformity. Uniformity leads to mindlessness.

     There are plenty of things in this world that I don't agree with, and at times I will try to change people's minds. It is a necessary part of the evolution of ideas. Like anything, without being challenged an idea cannot grow stronger. The weak ideas fade away and the strong ones spread. The important thing is to be open to new ideas, and allow yourself to be convinced that an idea you once supported may be wrong. Question yourself as much as you question others knowing that it is okay to change your mind.

     I love my friends because they aren't me. My best and longest lasting relationships were with the people I can argue controversial topics with and still remain friends. We are all perfect in our imperfections. Our differences are what make our relationships stronger. The closer you get to people, the more you support each other. Eventually you notice that you help each other carry the weight of the past. You may each be strong, but together you become unstoppable. Every link in the chain has knowledge and skills that the others don't. If we can appreciate that fact and allow them to be an extension of ourselves, then we will all be the richer for it. The road ahead becomes filled with companions, each helping the others get through their struggles. This is your family. Bound by blood or not, the people that hold you up are your brethren. Kindred spirits.

     So let's agree to disagree. At the same time, let's look beyond our self-righteousness to see the value of criticism. In my opinion, anyone that is not willing to accept other ideas is afraid of anything unknown. I can't blame them, it is in our nature. However we have come a long way from throwing stones. Still, when I watch the news I weep for humanity. Ignorance is a blight that can easily be eradicated with just a little compassion and understanding. We all started on separate paths, but we can come together to blaze a new trail for the next generation. Question everything, force our culture to evolve, and stand together for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Truth From Fiction

     I like to think I always do the right thing from a moral perspective. I believe that learning morality is one of the hardest things to do in life. At first everything is black and white. There is good and bad, right and wrong. As adults we know this is not even remotely true, morality is a gray morass of circumstance. Learning that fact is a slow process. It is supposed to be our family and community that teach us the ways of morality. They teach us to be good by their behavior. It happens without our notice for the most part. The little decisions to tell the cashier you weren't charged for an item, taking responsibility for breaking a glass, or helping a stranger. Although I learned from the people in my life, I learned even more from the characters in the stories I loved so much.

     I grew up worshiping the anti-heroes. There are two types of anti-hero that I identify with, the righteous person that doesn't want the role but fills it because there is no one else willing to do so and the vigilante who often has a murky moral code by comparison to the straightforward hero. (I intentionally say “person” because both men and women can be the hero and I don't believe there should be a distinction (“heroine”) a hero is a hero. Leeloo, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Charly Baltimore, and Tank Girl to name just a few, all proved to me that women play the part just as well as men.) The anti-hero possesses a more realistic set of qualities making them easier to relate to. Their struggles are closer to our own than those of the classic hero. They inhabit the gray area, straddling the fence between just and unjust. Temptation tugs at them and they have the potential to go either way. It is primal and we all feel its pull from birth to death.

     The stories we are told in childhood have a more overt effect on us because they cut out all the mundane day to day parts. The problem is that we learn to identify with the hero because they almost always win, an oversight that fails to give any real life validity to the fiction. We remember the hero making hard choices, but they are often in extreme circumstances and under great duress. Would children be more inclined to admire the villain if they won more often? Is a hero that fails to save the day still admirable in the eyes of a child? More importantly, is a purely righteous hero a good influence? Certainly aspiring to be purely good is well received, but in reality, sometimes moral ambiguity is a good thing.

     Every kid loves Luke Skywalker, but who doesn't want to be Boba Fett too? He has a jetpack. Even Darth Vader is pretty cool, but he is evil. Isn't he? Why is it that Boba Fett and Darth Vader are cool, but The Emperor is lame? Vader redeems himself and Fett is just a working man with an extremely narrow moral code, but The Emperor is simply pure evil. When we start to be exposed to stories with more sophisticated character depth morality begins to blur. We didn't notice, but we were learning that right and wrong aren't always so clear.

     I never believed I could be the upstanding hero type. I know I am basically good, but my first instinct when faced with what I perceive to be evil is savage brutality. In my mind there should be no mercy for those who are incapable of showing it themselves. Self-sacrifice, compassion, honor, and perseverance are the hallmarks of a hero. Sometimes it is easy to overlook the hero's better qualities when they are smashing an enemy's face. In our fast-paced, flashy culture we have forgotten how to peer beneath the surface, to peel back the layers and analyze things. We only see the veneer. I think superheroes are great role models despite the copious amounts of violence that comes with them.

     Of course, being a hero doesn't have to be violent. To solve conflict with words is always the best approach and I am proud to say I have never been in a fight in my life. Any conflict can be solved with discussion, provided both sides have the cognitive capacity to process such a resolution. For younger audiences dialogue is usually lost. At least in my experience with my children I notice they only focus on action. Maybe they can't follow the conversations, but they can see who wins a fight. As a plot device I think physical violence is valid, but it should be coupled with acts of altruism to strengthen the subconscious association of positive traits to the hero archetype.

     People complain about ours being a culture of violence, I disagree. We are a culture of shallow, vacant souls too preoccupied with our image and gadgets to really learn to see something for all that it is worth. Are our stories violent? Yes, but they always have been. Cain killed Abel. Beowulf killed Grendel and his mother. Stop blaming the stories and realize that ignorance is the only real villain. We don't need to become smarter, just wiser. To be virtuous requires only that you understand that you are a small part of a whole and it is your duty to be a positive influence on those around you.

     Take a good look in the mirror. Are you the hero in your story?

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Meek Shall Inherit Anxiety

      It is rare to have a conversation with another person that is wholly honest and self deprecating. All we do is lie to each other and worse, to ourselves. I only want to be unabashed and forthcoming without feeling judged. To do so is to leave myself vulnerable. If you give up too much you leave yourself exposed, more ammunition for anyone to take you down. Baring yourself and standing defenseless in front of the world can be cathartic, but more often than not it is when people begin to throw stones.

      We build barriers to insulate ourselves from each other, creating a representation of what we think best serves our interest. Some people put on a facade to be accepted, and others to disappear. The walls I built were made to show the world that I am angry and unapproachable, but behind the barrier I'm afraid. My fear isn't that I will be rejected or ridiculed, it is the fear of failure that holds me back. There are so many variables in any situation that I become overwhelmed by the avenues of possibility. My fear of doing or saying the wrong thing often leaves me paralyzed. Some would argue that inaction is equivalent to failure, but I don't see it that way. There are decisions that cannot be unmade and so I err on the side of caution.

      To get close to me you have to give part of yourself first. Some collateral, an offering of trust. Once I know that you trust me, I can trust you. I willingly open my chest and let spill even my darkest secrets. It has been a long while since I have let anyone in and my confidence wanes. Something I can't put my finger on looms over head, this dark cloud oppresses me. I recede back into my fortress avoiding all contact with anything new. I feel drained, worn down, and nearly broken. I find it hard to make eye contact again, like a wounded animal cowering in the corner. I am afraid that people will see the weakness in my soul. I can't bear the look when someone recognizes it in me.

      I live each day hoping for some affirmation that it was worth it. Most of the time I come up empty. Ordinary things have deep and significant meaning in my mind. A simple missed phone call is a traumatic blow to a relationship, an offhand comment holds hidden messages. Life becomes a puzzle that only I can see. I read too deeply into everything and I feel like the smallest decision is paramount to my future. Every word is a sword that has the potential to leave a deep wound, every thought a poison pill handled with great care. Choosing to remain silent and hiding behind my defenses has left me anxious and isolated.

      I want to believe that there is a reason for the way our lives play out. I hope that there is purpose, but each day that passes makes me feel like there is nothing. Everything I have ever wanted has been given to me, only to be promptly snatched away. I can only surmise that I am damned to be miserable because for some reason that is the only condition in which I am worthwhile. It is counter-intuitive for me to be most productive when I am at my emotional worst. When I am dragging the bottom, the silt rises. I can see the dark and dangerous thoughts that lurk in the deep recesses of my mind. Happiness is a shroud that blinds me to this side of myself.

      The strange thing is I like both versions of myself equally. When I feel satisfied with my life everything seems lighter, the burden of contemplation becomes insignificant. If I could stay in those moments forever I would. Maybe even die with a smile on my face, content. In the times when the veil is lifted and I am immersed in gut wrenching torment, I feel empowered. I become the hero in my own story and I have discovered my nemesis. What champion is complete without a foe to face? There is a love/hate relationship within my own mind. I become both protagonist and antagonist.

      My emotions manifest into physical forces. I feel things deeply, but I do not show them on the surface. There is only chaotic turmoil inside, yet on the surface the pond is still. Don't mistake the stoic, quiet people for disconnected, emotionless robots because I can assure you that we feel things on a level you can never imagine. We are deep wells. If you are fortunate enough to meet one that lets you peer beneath the surface, realize the amount of trust they have put in you. I think long and hard about every minute detail of every insignificant thing on a scale so enormously large that it becomes difficult just to be alive. Yet somehow I fail to understand my own duality. The world and everything in it is alien to me but so fascinating that I need to explore the most mundane facet of every little thing that makes it function. However, my apprehension keeps me hiding away from it all.

      I wonder about the meaning of life and sometimes, in the pursuit of the answer, I forget to just live. Having spent so many sleepless nights trying to figure out why I am here, I have missed so much of life. My quest for meaning has only served to lessen the weight of my existence. I have come to believe that the answer is: there is no answer. If you want purpose in life you have to create it for yourself. Destiny is the dream of the hopeless. Fate doesn't define you, action does. The day will come when I shed my anxiety and I walk the wire without a safety net. Until that day arrives, I recognize that I am the navigator of my own life. Only I can make myself become the person I want to be.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Death Only Kills the Living

      Jenna had been sick as long as I'd known her. Hiding the truth of what she was going through, she preferred to let everyone believe she was a drug addict than let them know how physically broken she was. When we first starting dating she told me her doctor said she wouldn't live more than five years and that she shouldn't have children because it would most likely kill her. It was obvious there was something seriously wrong with her. I had already spent many nights with her curled up in a ball riding out a wave of pain.
      Things started getting serious between us and she told me to walk away because she didn't want to put me through the tragedy that would inevitably come. I stayed because I loved her the moment I saw her and I knew it was real. She lived longer than the projected five years and she might have lived longer, having twins definitely took its toll on her body. She began to get very sick in 2009. She saw more than twenty different doctors and not one of them ever offered a conclusive diagnosis of her condition. They said things like “It seems like Lupus, but the tests are inconclusive” or “You definitely have some auto-immune disease, but your symptoms don't fit any of them specifically.” In and out of the hospital, no better than she was before, Jenna had lost her faith in medicine. She knew there wasn't a lot of time left and she told me what she wanted to happen after she died. At the time I thought she was just being morbid, but I am glad she did because in the end it was up to me to make the final decision.
      In October of 2012 she finally gave in to her ailments. For about a year before she died she barely ever got out of bed. She slept so much that I wouldn't see her awake for almost a week at a time. She almost never ate, towards the end she had a meal a week. I had to supplement her nutrition with vitamin saturated smoothies that more often than not she vomited up. Her condition got so bad that I could no longer sleep in the bed with her because she would get fevers of 105 degrees and sweat so much that the bed would be soaked, moaning and talking in her sleep. Through all of this she refused to go to the hospital because they always treated her like a junkie trying to get meds. I saw it with my own eyes, the judgment and condescension they treated her with and I could not argue with her fear.
      Eventually I had to quit my job to take care of her, thankfully she was getting disability money or we would have gone totally broke. She was no more than a skeleton anymore and to my everlasting shame I began to resent her. Two kids and a sick woman to take care of and all I could do was think about myself. I didn't think she was going to die, she had endured so much. My life had become only parent and nurse, I was angry with her for being so helpless. That has been the hardest part for me. The thoughts that came into my mind. How it would be easier to leave and take the kids, that I could live a normal life if I didn't have to care for her. Maybe now it is easier to only have the responsibility of having to take care of the kids, but there is a hole in my soul.
      One day in late September of 2012 I came home from picking the kids up from school. I found Jenna in the kitchen crying. I was already in a bad mood having to deal with the kids and their bullshit. I was not in a sympathetic mood. I asked her why she was crying and she told me she had gone to the bathroom and fallen in the hallway. She said her body had stopped responding, she couldn't see or hear or control her body but she was still conscious. I thought she was exaggerating. I told her she probably stood up too fast and blacked out.
      The next day I was in a different room when I heard the most terrible scream I have ever heard. I had my headphones on so loud I couldn't hear myself breathe and her scream sounded as clear as if she was in my head. She told me that she felt trapped in her body with no control and she was terrified. Now I was really worried, I thought she might be having minor strokes. I told her to go to the hospital because she would die if this kept happening. She promised if it happened again she would go. She never got to make that choice. Maybe if I had forced her to go she would still be alive. I will always question myself. Did I do enough to save her? She had been in the hospital so many times before with no resolution I didn't see the point in arguing with her.
      Two nights later, I was sleeping on the couch. I woke up to strange sounds coming from the bedroom at one o'clock in the morning as I often did. I saw something that will never leave me. She was bluish white and gasping for breath, eyes wide open but seeing nothing. I held her in my arms and called out her name, shaking her to bring her back to reality. She didn't respond. My heart began to race, fear had taken me over. I slapped her face to make her snap out of it, but her eyes didn't move, fixed in a blank stare. Her breathing slowed, still gasping but fewer and further between. Then she stopped. She didn't take another breath. I tried to feel for a pulse but my heart was beating so hard I couldn't feel anything else. Her doctor had given her a stethoscope, I ran to get it and quickly held it to her chest. There was nothing, not a single sound. Fear consumed me, but I forced myself to focus as I called 9-1-1. Dragging her onto the living room floor I told the dispatcher everything and proceeded to perform CPR.
      Within a few minutes I heard sirens and saw lights outside. I ran downstairs to get them and they continued to work on her. In the back of my mind I knew the odds. She was already blue when I found her and this was minutes later. I knew that night her brain was gone, but I still found myself begging the EMT's not to let her die. I pleaded, “Please, I can't do this alone!”, “Don't let her die.” A few minutes into all of this I heard a small voice behind me. “Daddy? Are your friends showing you how to save someone's life?” My heart froze. My son had heard the commotion and woke up. I told him to go back to bed and I would tell him in the morning.
      He saw it all. The gurney, the air pump, defibrillator. I told him to go in his room and wait. Jenna's heart started beating again and the medics brought her down to the ambulance. They told me what hospital she was going to and that they would call me for more information. I couldn't go with her because I had no one to watch my kids. When I came upstairs I told my son mommy was sick and had to go to the hospital again. I passed out on the living room floor waiting for the call from the hospital.
      Six o'clock in the morning I woke to the phone ringing, it was the hospital. I relayed every single bit of pertinent information I could. I made breakfast, took the kids to school as if everything would be like every other time she went to the hospital. My mother had come to help me, I broke down crying. I told her that I had watched Jenna die, I saw the light fade from her eyes. I knew enough to know that long without breathing would at the very least leave her severely brain damaged. I went to the emergency room. They had dropped her body temperature to try to preserve brain function. She was cold and unconscious.
      I was so angry with her. I begged her to fight, but she couldn't hear me. “Just keep breathing” I said, it became my mantra for ten days. “Fight for us! Don't give up, just keep breathing.” I didn't want it to end like this. I stared at the monitor display, watching her breaths per minute and heart rate. Any slight improvement was a ray of hope. That was the longest week of my life, knowing she would be brain dead, but still hoping for a miracle. I have never believed in anything, but I prayed to any deity that would listen to save her. She was in a coma for more than a week before they had a conclusive brain scan. I remained hopeful until the neurologist said that the scans showed 90% brain death and she would never be the person she was again. His “best case scenario” was that she would be able to see but never recognize us and never be able to speak.
      The decision to end any further life support was on my shoulders. We had discussed this possibility, but I couldn't believe I actually had to act on it. The following day I gave the approval to unhook her. We had all hoped she would pass quickly, but she was still breathing on her own. When I had a moment alone with her I whispered, “It's okay, you fought enough. You can let go now. I will take care of the kids. You don't have to worry about us anymore. Go be free of this.” Jenna was always too tough for her own good and she held on. The whole family sat with her that day waiting, but she did not let go.
      The next day her brother, best friend and I spent most of the day sharing stories, and reading to her. Still she did not relent. A few hours after we went home, when no one was with her, finally she passed away. Just as she had kept her illness from everyone, she chose to walk the last mile alone. She was always so much better than I am, I wish I could have traded places with her. I got to have the best of her even though I couldn't be my best for her. Her light pulled me from the darkness and I will be eternally grateful, without her I would probably have died a long time ago. She still makes me a better man every day for having known her. I can only hope that someone will miss me as much as I miss her when I am gone.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Weight of Being

     Everything made sense when I was a child. The rules were laid out for me, all the truths of the world were taught to me, and everything was peaceful. I don't remember the moment it happened, but I know that one day my experience clashed with the gentle tranquility of my perceived world. Something didn't add up. A door had opened and what I could see on the other side grabbed my attention. Answers only yield more questions and my pursuit of truth left me with a loosening grip on reality. Truth is neither good nor evil yet I could feel something stirring inside me, a malevolent force. Some of us are stalked by demons and mine were making themselves known. They don't strike when you are strong because they want an easy fight. When you falter, stumble, and fall they attack.

     About ten years ago I was incredibly depressed, the demons had me firmly in their grasp and they were dragging me down. I didn't want to do anything or go anywhere. Nothing was enjoyable and I couldn't think of anything that would make me feel any better. My darkest days were upon me. I felt downtrodden and miserable as though I was carrying the weight of a world I would never get to enjoy. The toils of life had worn me down and I could not imagine what purpose my continued existence would serve. The pressure of an unseen force was bearing down on me. The murky waters were rising, a flood was imminent. Frantically plugging holes in the dam, I could not stop the inevitable deluge. The intangible force broke through and I was washed away. Not a martyr, not anything. Another soul in the grinder.

     I had given up. Every day I woke up and thought “I can't do this anymore.” The talons of hands I could feel but not see tore at me. In a poorly considered attempt to feel something other than crushing sadness, I began to drink heavily. For a while I felt better. I could enjoy myself, be around other people, smile and laugh. It didn't take long for my weekends of debauchery to lose their luster. Being misguided as I was, I believed that if being drunk made life easier then doing it all the time was the solution. Every day for a few years thereafter, I was a drunken mess. Alcohol was my wolf in sheep's clothing, it's true nature hidden from me. I put my faith in it to save me from sadness, but it only brought me closer to despair. A haze clouded my mind, I couldn't feel anything anymore. I was lost and alone in the world and alcohol was my escape.

     On the outside I was always having a great time, but inside I was dying. I nearly destroyed myself, I hurt other people, and I lost any sense of who I was. Countless nights I found myself sobbing on the floor trying to talk myself out of ending my life, clinging to the hope that I would get through the nightmare my life had become. In that frame of mind dying was not only an option, but a reasonable one. Thankfully I never got to the attempt stage. Being on this path should have been enough to scare me away from the dark abyss I had created in my mind. It didn't.

     Hope eventually runs out. I didn't want to fight for mediocrity anymore. I didn't want to fight at all. All I wanted was a break from the constant flow of devastation and disappointment. The demons had twisted my reality to the point that I was ready to die in my early twenties. I stopped trying to fight depression and began to rationalize that it was who I was meant to be. Alcoholism became my crutch and I never blamed it for the problems in my life even after losing days of memory to black outs. I was on a straight course for death, whether it be at my own hand or not didn't seem to matter. There wasn't much comfort in knowing I was not the only one who felt that way, in fact that idea only made it worse. If I could sacrifice myself to shield others from this malady I would do so without thinking.

     In the end I got lucky and I made it out alive. I learned to fight my demons, however I can not claim to have any answers. For me, I had someone come along to save me. I changed every aspect of my life and took on some real responsibility. Things turned around almost instantly. That is not to say that I never feel the shadows of my past creeping up on me. There are moments, especially during hardships, when I want to surrender. With the right people to stand up and fight by your side it gets easier. You might be as surprised as I was to find out how compassionate people can be. I spent years facing dark times alone because I thought no one would understand. The fact of the matter is that there are people who love you and that is all the reason they need to hold you up. Fighting your demons alone is a choice so don't keep it to yourself, someone will help you through it. The fight goes on and although it may not always seem like it, living is worth the trouble.