Archive for the ‘Mental health’ Category

McCain….and Mom

This past week, Sen. John McCain received a lot of attention, or notoriety depending on your views.  Like a modern-day  Caesar Rodney (look him up 🙂 )

rodney  He rose from his diagnosis and returned to Washington to cast an unexpected, deciding vote on a piece of healthcare legislation. Captivity, campaigns, cancer….at 80, he certainly is a determined fighter.


Mom is a determined fighter too.  Older than he is by a bit, she continues to battle back from the broken leg.  Her determined cry is “I’m going home, to see my cat.” She means it.  She’s doing everything she can in rehab to walk and move again, including eating every day to keep her strength going.  She’s seen the patient who didn’t want to walk, returned to the hospital.  She wants no part of that; she’s going home.

I have to admire her drive, her determination to get better.  I’m not sure I’d have had it in her position.  I’m not even sure I had it in my position looking at her when this started. It certainly would be easy to get depressed and defeated in the rehab center.  It can’t be a lot of fun, particularly sitting and waiting for therapy…food…everything.  And yet she perseveres.

Some people are just born with the streak of spine, backbone, gumption that pushes them forward.  Mom has it, and I’m glad.  I doubt I’ll be that strong, should I find myself in that position.  Maybe I’ll surprise myself.

Or not.


Email Anguish

There is a particular email frustration I have, that I’ve seen at work and in private life, that drives me up a wall. Part of it deals with senders of email, and part with repliers of emails.  It forces me to pull out my soap box and rant……


For senders…..WHY for the love of electrons and in the name of all things efficient do you insist on putting a massive list serve alias in the “To” line instead of in the “bcc” line?!! By putting it in the to line, everyone can reply to everyone, which on a list serve can bollocks up, jam up, and overwhelm a system.  The better solution is to send the email “To” yourself and put everyone else in the “bcc”.  That way the correspondence is always between only you and one recipient.


For repliers…….What The Freak makes you think you need to “Reply to all” when you tell the list server to take you off a list, or to say anything else??  If you NEED to reply, DON’T REPLY TO ALL!!!  That only adds to the system overload and problems.  Just hit “reply”.  This isn’t like your private life, where everyone on the alias is a personal friend that wants to read what you say.  IT’S A LISTSERVE….it could have dozens, or hundreds or THOUSANDS of names that DON’T WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!!


Thus endeth my rant.  I hope it helps 😀

Unregretted decisions

Historically I have a difficult time making decisions because I too easily see the other side of an argument. Which is an unusual problem, because too often people are unable or unwilling to consider the other side of an issue! But there have been two decisions I have never regretted, never looked back on, never had second thoughts about.

The first was a decision to surrender my appointment to a service academy. I was appointed out of high school, and went through the bulk of that first summer. Truth be told, I was admitted by virtue of mind and test tacking abilities, and the body was never, EVER, as good or good enough. The decision to leave was difficult, mostly because of the reaction I would face back home and the need to get into school someplace that fall so I wouldn’t be trapped at home. But although it was difficult, I have never, in all the years, regretted the decision. I still think I could have made a good military officer (more Al Haig than David Petraeus), but I’ve never wished I had stayed, never was sorry I hadn’t pursued that path.

The second decision that I never looked back on was the decision to have a family. Alright, it was a very small family, just one child, but the decision to do it was a long time coming. It took me years to get to “yes”. In fact, I think my then-wife despaired of ever having a child because of my reticence. And yet, once she arrived in our life, I never regretted, never looked back.

It’s interesting that these are the two decisions I have the most confidence in, because they have had very different outcomes.  The decision to leave the academy meant I ended up in a school that would take me rather than one I had selected.  It meant my major was decided through a certain randomness of taking copious ‘introduction’ classes in my freshman year rather than the history/political science/oceanography major I to which I had aspired.  And the major lead to all sorts of ramifications in my career path when an accident (TMI) and politics (Reagan recession) substantially altered my planned paths.  But all has turned out acceptably, as I have found a passion for environmental sustainability and planning that I would not have expected.

The decision to have a family….ah, now that’s a different outcome.  The divorce and subsequent estrangement from my progeny has produced years of sadness and pain, and even a nervous breakdown. That’s just from my side of the divide, from my perspective. I have to imagine it’s at least as bad from the other side, to grow up in half a family, to have life so dramatically changed.  And yet….and yet. I still don’t regret the decision.  Even through the emotional distance and disconnect, the love, pride, joy, hope that I feel for her outweighs the pain I’ve felt.

Two decisions.  Two turning points in life.  Neither regretted.  I suppose that is something  for which I should be grateful.

Holiday Thoughts

The holidays have come and gone, the last remnants of lights disappearing from the houses of those reluctant to lose the spirit of the season.  Since I didn’t decorate, there’s been no need to un-decorate, and so instead I thought about the time and what I learned.


First, holidays are about others.  Until this year there was always a piece that involved receiving, but this year even that last tiny portion disappeared.  I’ve been discovering for the last few years that the best parts of gifts and giving was trying to find a gift that surprised or met a need. This year it came with a gift of a book to a friend who didn’t know I’d been paying attention, and to a late gift of 45’s (yes, records believe it or not!) that brought back good memories for someone.

I also discovered that the time can be highly productive.  Without having work lurking in the back of my mind (because almost all projects slowed to a frozen-molasses crawl during the last three weeks of December) I became free to focus on the things that I had been putting off for weeks or months but that I’d not had the energy to tackle.  From cleaning out closets to building new shelves, framing pictures, and catching up on reading, a whole list of things was accomplished.  (A word of caution however; don’t save it all for one week! I was exhausted after the first five days because I was doing so much!  Fortunately I had a couple of extra days to recover).

Finally, I acknowledged yet again that there is a difference between alone and lonely….although sometimes I don’t realize it until it’s too late.  Many of the days of tasks were done alone, and there were a couple of days that I probably didn’t speak to anyone because I was in the apartment taking care of things.  But while that’s good, the alone times tend to morph and change and become lonely times. And in the cold of winter darkness that can be especially trying.

Clearly this post has been percolating for a bit, because the holidays I’m talking about were Christmas and New Year, not Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day!

Safe Zone Sillies

There has been no shortage of issues from the election that have stirred thoughts and irritation with me this year. One aspect of the past campaign that has bothered me (there were lots, but we’ll focus on just one for now!) was “safe places”.  Really, when did we become like this?

Let me start with an affirmation that I firmly and unequivocally believe that there are people who have experienced great calamities, events that truly are triggering.  An unexpected reference or description of sexual violence can trigger PTSD in a survivor.  Or a scene of physical violence that could provide a reaction from a domestic abuse survivor.  Theres I understand and support.  The trauma of what they have been through should be respected, and consideration given to how they would react if the trigger were sprung on them unknowingly. They have personally suffered something and there is an aspect of it that requires particular care and deference due to the nature of it.  For this type of situation, pre-notice for them of pending possible issues seems appropriate.

But, Jiminy Crickets folks, not every mean word, opinion, reaction requires a safe zone! Contrary opinions and mean people are a way of life (even more so now in the anonymous safety of the internet). Dealing with criticism and harsh words are a part of life. Dealing with angry, unkind, spiteful people is (sadly enough) a part of life.  We need to deal with it, learn to handle it, learn to let it roll off.  Yes, there should be limits on some things, but the protection should be for the people who have gone through a trauma.

When we claim too broad a privilege it diminishes the value and purpose for those that actually need it.  Call for it too often and for too frivolous a reason and it becomes “wolf”, except that it’s not then the false crier who suffers by the silent sufferer.  And much like surface tension in an overly full cup of tea, once broken the spillage is uncontrollable.

Let’s be more judicious in calling out the need for safe spaces.  Let’s learn to hear and manage those reactions, take away the power they have over us.  Be sensitive to actual people who have experienced actual harm.  But not call “safe zone” just because our feelings are hurt.



Time change

Even though we’re on the upslope of daylight, even though we are gaining precious minutes each week, even though I have so far survived this….I still feel the need to rail against Standard Time and mourn the loss of Daylight Savings Time.  Because I need to save all the daylight I can, have it touch me all that I can.  I don’t know the full story of the creating of daylight savings time and standard time. But it’s time for it to stop. Let’s do Daylight Savings and keep it there, year round.

The world has changed considerably since Summer Time, as Daylight Savings Time was first known, was introduced.  Things have even changed since we codified it in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  At one point it made sense based on how we lived and the condition of the developed world.  Technology and society have moved on and the reasons for supporting the constant switching of time are no longer so valid. We now have a 24-7 existence where people do everything from telework (thanks to the web) to shop and even go to the gym at all hours.  I’ve seen the Washington Beltway as busy at 11 pm and 1 am as it is at 11 am and 1 pm. We have designed energy-efficient facilities, use LED lights, and drive higher efficiency vehicles.  The idea of saving energy….has evaporated like frost in the sunlight.  A working world that was ruled by 9-5 schedules is different from what we have now.  Now it’s ruled by 24-7, and people do everything at all hours.

The time difference doesn’t help with farming and crops.  We have lost the society where there were large number of people on the land, and farming was a manual chore.  Now we don’t have large portions of the population living on farms and rising up early to milk cows and till the earth anymore. Farms are still important, they just are just significantly more automated and mechanized, and less impacted by the clock.

The time switching doesn’t help protect kids going to school.  The most dangerous time for pedestrians and for accidents is when the clock changes and we have a sudden shift in light and dark and twilight.  And now, because of football, band, aftercare and numerous other activities, they tend to go home in the dark instead of leave from home in the morning in the dark.

Finally… screws with my SAD and ruins months of the year for me (what?….why yes, yes, it IS all about me!).  Seasonal Affective Disorder is more widely recognized and understood, more widely diagnosed than ever before. It is the depression that comes from lack of light and disruption of rhythms, and the shift of the day only brings the dark of night upon us faster and faster.

Yes I’m grateful for the extra minutes I’ve been gaining these past couple of weeks.  Yes, it helps with my mood and my exercise; with my energy and productivity.  So I say “Down with Falling Back!”  Change the rules.  Have Congress do something useful AND unify the country (since there are a couple of states that don’t participate in this Ponzi scheme of the clock.  Stay with Spring Forward….do it in the spring and keep it there!


I’ve shared previously on how I tend to use the library for blogging, and how the renovation of the Central Branch has forced me to change my routine. I adapted to that change better in June and July than I expected I would.  Creativity and determination flowed!  (yes, I know, 4 or 5 or 6 blogs a month is not a great production for many, but as an engineer unaccustomed to creative writing, it is a great milestone for me!).  I was on track to survive the changes, survive the disruption……..

Or not. Here it is the end of October and …..I’m still out of my routine.  Apparently, library renovations work similarly to home renovations, taking longer to finish than anticipate.  At least that’s what I’m surmising from the change in the date of the re-opening of the Central Branch.  Originally it was set for early September, just after school started.  I even stopped by that weekend, only to find a still empty parking lot and still shuttered doors.  I went on line (which I should have done earlier, yes I know, thank you very much) and discovered it would be early October.


Okay, I can survive it another month.  And my production of pieces in September suggests that I was able to keep the new routine going.  But then it moved from early October to mid….to late…and now to early November.  Will this dangling promise ever be done?  Do they have Michelangelo giving the completion date to Pope Julius?

I’m frustrated that I lost my blog mojo in October because of this. I put off work at the East Columbia Branch because I wanted to be back in my familiar haunts. The delay caused me to slip, to neglect, to ignore the writing I wanted to do.  The pending dark of Eastern Standard Time isn’t going to help me get back into the groove either, as the promise that Winter is Coming only brings with it the promise of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that accompanies the loss of daylight and warmth.

Grumbling only helps a little.  But grumbling in writing, that helps more because at least I’m writing.   Perhaps I’m finally going back to the First Rule and reminding myself of it yet again.

And aren’t you glad at least that I’m not writing about the 1000-day Siege of the 2016 Election? 😀

Lives Lived

I took a trip this weekend with a friend of mine.  She was going to the retirement party for an influential college professor from her undergraduate days.  I was along for the ride and to keep her company during the trip.  We had a fair amount of time to talk (driving in a car has a tendency to give you that) and I learned reams about her that I didn’t know before.

I’ve always known her as a very, very bright (impressively so), technologically oriented scientist. What I didn’t know was the path she took to get there.  Actually, while I say path, the reality was that roads had ended and there was no path.  She created a path through obstacles that would have each thwarted lesser motivated, lesser determined people.  In doing so, she became the person I’ve known, and yet the one who hides scars and wounds and damage that most won’t ever see or guess.

During the trip we visited her childhood best friend, one that has been friends with her through all of this.  Down bucolic tree-lined old-style streets we drove until we arrived at a quaint 1920’s bungalow with the biggest, most magnificent ginkgo tree I’ve ever seen.  Her friend, as it turns out, is taking care of a parent who is slowly and painfully dying mentally and physically.  It was a scene of caring, of compassion, of struggle that I have not been witness to in recent years.  My friend helps out where she can, emotionally and financially, despite her own continued problems and challenges.  A friendship of that many years does, I suspect, lends itself to that but it still takes intentionality and commitment.


It struck me how little we know of the struggles that others have gone through, or are going through. It has made me grateful for what I have in a way I haven’t been for a while. Despite what I view/viewed as a life ending divorce and apparent estrangement from progeny, despite never having had a plan or a goal in life–I’ve had it very easy compared to many and done well despite myself.  Too often I fail to appreciate the good, and over emphasize the bad. And while I have become better at giving, at sharing, at empathizing, I could do better. I think, sometimes, that if I can’t give as much as I think I should, I shouldn’t bother.  It’s a perfectionist trap because it creates a lose-lose situation.  What I need to do is continue to slowly stretch the giving muscles, gradually build the overcoming tendons, build the life-endurance strength in me.

Maybe this trip will help me help my friend when she needs it. And whoever else I see that needs help.  Thank God for the eye-opening of the trip.





Shared Shame: Porn and Purity

I’m sure it was entirely coincidence the two articles appeared in the Washington Post on the same day.  I seriously doubt that the editors would have intentionally placed them in such close proximity to each other, even if they were in different parts of the paper.

The religion section had a discussion on the sexual purity movement, and in particular a book that discussed kissing dating goodbye and helped spawn the movement.

The Magazine section included a feature article on one individual’s recovery efforts in overcoming addiction to pornography.

Two diametrically opposed topics, it would seem. But upon reading, it occurred to me that both topics are linked by the same issue — shame.

The problem with the purity program was shame.  While setting high standards for people to follow, and without giving tools and understanding, one of the results of espousing those standards was a sense of shame for not just any acting on the desires, but in many cases for even having the feeling of wanting to act on it.  The normal response of the body to maturation through the teens and twenties, the normal curiosity, even the thinking of what if (and the resulting response) were viewed as wrong and sinful.  The solution to the problem was to deny, to lock up, to isolate.  Purity was lifted up as rules against, evilness of the body, evilness of the mind, rules of “not”….and precious little about how to respond, what to do, how to mature through this normally turbulent phase.  I get this.  In college I felt dirty and shamed by both mental thoughts and my body’s reactions, even if it was from just holding hands.  Seeds of self hate and soul desolation were sown.  I’m pretty sure some of those roots and vines still hold. A normal reaction declared unnormal and wrong.

In addiction, it is perhaps less surprising that shame plays a massive role in the problem.  No one wants to be labeled an addict, but the stigma is particularly harsh against a porn or sex addict.  If you doubt this, think of the reaction of the press and yourself to the death of River Phoenix or Prince from drugs, compared to Anthony Wiener or Tiger Woods.  Society views it, much as alcohol was viewed 80 years ago before AA, as a failure of moral character.  The use/abuse of pornography and sex brings condemnation on the person, and a feeling of shame not just for the act, but the nature of the person committing the act.

Both issues suffer from the existence, the dominance, of shame.  The person is shamed for not having the right moral character for having gotten into the situation; the person has not just acted bad, they are bad. And that occurs whether the bad was an act or a thought or a reaction.  Damned either way by high horses…and high sparrows.  There’s a reason this scene is so powerful and resonates with us.


What is needed is to increase our capacity for grace; grace for those whose reaction is normal, grace for those whose action is addiction. While these two articles happen to be linked by sex (abstinence or addiction) and shame, there is a need for the application of grace to so much of our lives.  We spend far too much time condemning and shaming and far too little time helping and supporting.  I see it in our responses to fallen heroes, people of opposite opinions, people with whom we interact.  I see it with ourselves, too.

Grace is not easy.  It is as nearly divine as we can get.  It takes work, skill, effort….and ironically the practice of itself when we fail at it.  But whether we fail to measure up to purity, or abuse porn, or abuse ourselves, we need to practice grace, extend grace, to improve our lives.

Shared shame; porn and purity.  Both needing the abundant exercise of grace.



Lost Direction

It happened while I was out walking this past week. Walking helps me with my thoughts and stirs my creative energies for writing and more….for however creative I am when writing. But at some point on my walk, it struck me.
I’m lost.

Antique Compass on Map
It was a bit of a shock when I realized it. To a fair degree, it snuck up on me and surprised me. I thought I’d had a good plan and direction but…..well, apparently not.

I’ve become lost and direction-less, in life.

In both my work life and my personal life, I’ve lost my bearings. Again. The first time I lost my bearings was in the divorce. The things that I had always assumed would be there in a usual life– home, wife, child, love, connection, growing old — all disappeared. As thought the loss of the marriage wasn’t severe enough, but there was the loss of fatherhood as well. It was quite a shock, and at least one bout of severe depression (nay, nervous breakdown) was the result.

I rebuilt, and up until this past week thought things were going well. I had realized that sustainability was a passion. I was engaged in that at work, driving the vision forward, and doing it as a volunteer at the Robinson Nature Center as well. Add in the blog, walking, and (recently) the cat, and I felt that perhaps I was setting forward on a new path.


The effort at work seems to have slid away. The word has come down that I’m not promoteable, and the sustainability work I’ve been doing has been  usurped , taken over, assumed by a different group that has very different ideas on both what to do with it and how to do it.  Instead of directing the effort that I’ve been leading and championing for a decade, I’m now told that I can help them but that they are setting the course….despite having neither the skill set nor the passion.

The volunteer work on this has also dried up. While the Nature Center is going great guns, there is no longer much interest in the green building portion of it.  The LEED Platinum building is now an only-occasionally considered aspect, and my time as a volunteer is dwindled to almost nothing.

I have become totally unmoored, now drifting along without benefit of goal, direction or guidance. This is quite a shock to me.  I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly resilient person; the breakdown in 2010 was proof of that!  Interestingly, when I think of resiliency in my friends, it is a quality that I think of in a couple of the women that I know — Jen and Jess in particular.

At this point I don’t know what I’ll do.  It is, most likely, a measure of growth to even realize what has happened, to put label to it.  There is a certain degree of comfort in being able to label it, to recognize it.  That recognition has at least caused me to start considering things in a new light.  Are there classes I want to take for which I now could have time?  Is there a degree, another Master’s or a PhD, that I desire?  Or a certification?  Perhaps a new volunteer opportunity.  Or explore writing in greater detail, and act on the children’s books, the technical books, the contemplative book, or the historical books that I have been tossing around in my head for a dozen years.

Meanwhile, I bob along in the waves.  Moor to come 🙂 I hope.