Death and Taxes

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Just a partial return from me on Tax Day, the holiest and most introspective day of the year, to let you know that I intend to resume full service (and then some) next week. For now, Mr. Fabiola is letting his engine cool a bit.

I appreciate your understanding during this time, but I look forward to getting back into a routine again, and having specific things to write about. That will be a big help.

Losing my grandmother was rough…but seeing how it affected others she was close to — related and not — is what really hurt. The strained relationship I have with my family doesn’t make it any easier, as I ended up without much of an outlet for mourning. It’s hard…but it happens. It’s a part of life. Specifically, it’s the last part.

It’s sobering when you lose a family member. I joke a lot with my friends that we don’t really feel like adults. When does that start? I don’t feel like a kid, either. I just feel like I’m somewhere in the middle…and many of my peers seem to as well.

I think you start to feel like an adult when the previous generation or two starts to pass on. As those lives wind down, you realize that yours is winding down as well. As those people go away and do not come back, you realize that, one day, that will be you, too.

And that’s when you’re an adult. When you realize that anything you’re ever going to do, you need to be doing now. Fortunately for me, I realize that I am doing much of it now. The reminder that I don’t have forever doesn’t fill me with despair, but has rather given me a little more appreciation for what I have, and for where I am.

On the subject of taxes, I got unexpectedly hammered by the government. I owed a pretty large chunk of money, thanks to the (mercifully short) time I spent unemployed this past year. I sent in my tax return about a month ago and got an electronic acknowledgment that it’s been accepted…but the money is still in my account, so I have no idea what to do now. I guess I’ll just wait around until it disappears? Or should I let someone know?

You’ll probably notice that I’m trying advertising again. This time I’m using Google Ads, so they should be pretty reliable and unobtrusive. If you’d like to toss a fraction of a penny my way, click one now and again. If not, that’s fine too. The only thing that I do ask is that you let me know your thoughts. If you get some obnoxious ad or see something spammy, or it in any way interferes with whatever it is that keeps you coming back to this site, let me know, please. If I can defray the cost of webhosting, that’s great. If I’m doing it at the cost of readership, that’s far from great.

Years ago when I managed an appliance store, we hired somebody I knew when I was a kid. His name was Joe. He’d hit a really rough patch in his life…I knew little about it at the time, but when he re-emerged we brought him on as a delivery driver.

Only a month or so before he’d been involved in a serious car accident. His brakes failed on the highway, and his car went underneath the chassis of an 18-wheeler. The roof of his car — and much else — was sheared off. He ducked. His car veered into a ditch, where it crashed and caught fire. He doesn’t remember being pulled out of it, but he was. I saw the photos of the car. It seemed miraculous that anyone could have walked away from that…let alone with nothing but some bumps and bruises.

Joe agreed, I guess, in his own way. He was going to get his life back on track. He said the same thing he said when he showed anyone those pictures. He said, “I shouldn’t be alive, but I am. God wants me here for some reason.”

He struggled with a lot, and I couldn’t begin to express — or want to try to express — the nature of whatever demons he faced every day. But a matter of weeks later, still fresh off of his awakening, he died of a heroin overdose. He didn’t come to work one morning. Later that day his roommate found his body.

The other delivery driver was named John. John knew Joe well. He was happy to see this man — who, at one point, was probably a friend — start taking his life seriously, and working toward something…even if that something was just a job and a steady check.

When John found out about Joe’s death, he threw something on the ground. It could have been his clipboard. I don’t remember. But I remember that he threw it. And that he looked up at the sky, raised a middle finger, and said, loudly, “Fuck you.”

John wasn’t a man prone to theatrics. He had his own kind of posturing and self-assurance, but these were small. He acted like a tough guy, but the kind of tough guy who didn’t need to say much. When this facade broke, and he cursed whomever it was that he cursed, it hurt. It was scary. And I remember it — that moment, those words, the sound of those words and the gravity of that gesture — more vividly than I remember anything about Joe.

Seeing others dealing with unexpected death is always harder for me than dealing with it myself. In the latter case, I know someone’s gone. It’s sad, but, eventually, it’s something you can come to terms with. When it’s somebody else, though, the victim is still alive, and is carrying a new kind of pain. I can say with confidence that it’s nearly always a kind of pain that nobody deserves.

Do something fun this weekend. Whatever you might consider fun to be. Have yourself a good time. One you can look back on and be happy about.

You may not die tomorrow, but somebody sure will.

Textual Static

The Black PageJust a bit of a heads up that it might be a short while before things get back to normal around here. My grandmother passed away, and it’s hitting me in waves. I don’t know that I’m in a position to elaborate quite yet. I’ll need some time.

But I do want to share my appreciation for everyone out there. It’s always hard when somebody you care about — and who cared about you — isn’t there anymore. But it makes it a bit easier to know that there are others — great friends, great readers, great coworkers, a great significant other — that are there for you.

A loss is always a loss. And while I have more to say, I won’t be saying it now.

Just take a moment (you can afford to) and let somebody know you love them.

Golden Slumbers

Metal Gear
Just a few short words about where I’ve been. Or, one short word: asleep.

This entire week or so I’ve been feeling drained and lethargic. As best I can tell, it’s due to a medication I’m on, which has recently had its dosage reduced. This is good news, at least on the whole. But my body seems to want to hibernate until it adjusts…and that’s been problematic for a few reasons. The most visible to you is probably the lack of updates on this site. It’s something that I hope gets rectified soon. Especially since there’s something I really want to get written and ready for this week.

I’ve been more or less useless outside of work, which soaks up what little energy I have. It’s nothing to worry about in the long-term, and I don’t feel sick or uncomfortable at all. Just dead, dead tired.

So…yeah. I appreciate your patience. Again, I’m hoping to have something special ready this week, and to resume my normal level of erratic productivity soon.

Goodnight.

A Request: Make This Woman’s Valentine’s Day

Valentine

One of my most appreciated (and appreciative) friends, Emily Suess asked me to share a request. And…yeah. The moment I read the post, I knew I’d be more than willing to help.

Emily’s post about it is here, but I’m going to paste the content below. It’s short, and I don’t want an extra click to stand between anyone and participation.

At Christmas, Cheryl Gregory had a stroke.

She is unable to see her two sons.

Her siblings have been doing their best to visit her and keep her spirits high, but recently she was transferred to a new facility. She wasn’t recovering as well as the doctors like, so they transferred her to a new location in a different county. While the distance makes visiting her more difficult, it also doesn’t help that her brothers and sister are only allowed to see her for two hours a day.

Recovering from a stroke is hard enough, but fighting depression and loneliness makes getting better even more challenging, no matter how good the doctors and nurses may be.

Cheryl is only 63, but if her recovery doesn’t progress, she may have to stay in a nursing home for the rest of her life.

So I’m reaching out to my own family, friends, and complete strangers to show Cheryl some support. As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’m asking everyone I can to mail her a postcard, a get well card, a Valentine, or submit an online patient card to lift her spirits. Have your kids draw her a picture. Fold and mail an origami crane. Anything you can think of that might bring her a little extra joy.

Send a Valentine or get well wish by snail mail.
Cheryl Gregory
C/O Serenity – St. Mary’s
1116 Millis Ave
Boonville, IN 47601

Send an online greeting to be printed & delivered by hospital volunteers
St. Mary’s – Send a Patient Card to Cheryl Gregory

Use the share buttons
If you’ve only got five seconds or you already have plans for Random Act of Kindness Week, consider passing this post along with a simple like, share, forward, or retweet. Don’t forget to use hashtag #RAKweek2015.

I don’t know Cheryl. But I know depression. I know loneliness. I know distance.

I’ll be participating, and I’m asking you personally, if you have it in your heart, to send something as well. I know I have a lot of talented, artistic, and good-hearted people who visit this blog regularly. If even one of you took the time to mail a valentine to someone who’d appreciate it as much as Cheryl, you’d make my day, too.

Pills

antidepressants

I’ve opened up, a bit, about some of the emotional struggles I’ve faced. What I’m not sure I’ve opened up about yet — and what actually has bearing on what happened here at the end of October — is the fact that I take medication.

Which makes me crazy. Right? I mean, I’m not in pain. I don’t have cancer. Is it fair of me to just pop a pill and gloss over the hard times when everybody else has to deal with their problems like an adult?

These are the kinds of things people assume. They must. Otherwise people like myself would be a lot more open about the fact that we take the medication we do. Somebody can mention openly that they take Percocet — a very addictive and frequently abused painkiller — because they sustained a physical injury. Very few people would begrudge them this escape from their pain. In fact, they’d be likely to make allowances for fluctuations in that person’s behavior. They are, after all, on drugs.

Mention that you take an antidepressant, however, and you get a very different response. Anything from a skeptical “You don’t seem depressed…” to an openly dismissive eyeroll. Every so often, yes, you’ll get a response of understanding and support. These responses tend to come from people who have taken them as well, or have close friends or family members who have. That is to say, they’ve learned that it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Why, exactly, is this something that needs to be learned? Isn’t the fact that somebody is taking medication to help them through their problems a good thing? Wouldn’t the far scarier situation be that somebody with psychological issues refuses to treat them?

When this site went down, I was in Chicago. I’ve never been there before. I didn’t get to see much of the city. One reason for that is that I was there on business, and though I wasn’t in the office, eight hours’ of work still needed to be done each day.

The other, much more serious, reason is that I was suffering withdrawals.

I take a pretty minor dose of Zoloft. Not because it’s a magical pill that makes the bad things in life go away. That doesn’t exist.

What does exist is medicine that helps to regulate the chemicals in my brain. And that’s what I need. Before I started taking it, I had issues with anxiety and with depression. Now I still have those issues, but in ways that are far easier to deal with, and to understand. Anxiety is no longer crippling, for instance. It still exists, but the way I experience it now — thanks to medication — is closer to the “normal” experience of anxiety. Depression isn’t as deep anymore, nor does it linger anywhere near as long.

I’ll be honest with you: medication doen’t unfairly circumvent the problem. What it does is give me the help that I need to face it head-on, and learn to deal with it in a way that will not kill me.

It’s not evasive action. It’s not retreat. It’s the opportunity fight in the battles that I used to lose outright.

I say it’s a minor dose because that’s important. It’s so minor that I’ve missed taking it for days, and haven’t had any problem. In Chicago, however, far from my pharmacy, with my forgotten plastic bottle an insurmountable distance away, it happened. I went through withdrawals. When I realized I’d left my medication at home, I didn’t worry. It’s never been a problem before.

But now, all at once, it was. And so when the site went down…well, no offense to anyone, but that was the least of my worries. Sure, I probably could have called my hosting company and handled it that way…but…

…I couldn’t.

At all.

I couldn’t do anything. Because my body was rebelling. My mind was rebelling. They got used to medication that they wanted, badly. And it was mutiny.

That’s the best way I can describe it. I was barely able to force myself out of bed and for much of the trip unable to force myself to eat. My body was having none of it; it wanted Zoloft. Which I didn’t have. And which I could not have. It wasn’t pleasant.

Years ago, before I left New Jersey, I took Lexapro. I was sold on the idea because it wasn’t habit forming, and only had to be taken temporarily. Apparently the medication was designed to “teach” your brain the appropriate chemical levels it would need to operate normally. So you’d take it for a while, and when you stopped your brain would remember how much of what chemicals it needed to produce. Sounded great.

In Florida, I went off Lexapro.

It was habit forming. It didn’t teach my brain anything. And I entered what was probably the worst three or four weeks of my life.

The withdrawals were severe and debilitating. I wasn’t me. So much of that time is a blur, and a dark one. What I remember about it I remember second hand, from friends who were there for me, listened to how I felt, and can remind me now what it was like.

Otherwise I’m left only with scattered details. Mornings that I’d wake up on the floor, unaware of how I got there. Times at work that my brain would seem to shut down and reboot…sensations of sight and sound coming back only gradually. Phantom shadows that belonged to nothing. And a day that I was driving in my car and heard Neil Young singing “Harvest Moon” on the radio. It’s a sweet song, one I quite like, and not sad at all. But hearing it, in that state, I had to pull over, because I was breaking down. Weeping hard. Some emotion had been triggered by it. One I still can’t place. This wasn’t me.

In Chicago, the withdrawal wasn’t as bad as that. It was bad enough that I wasn’t in any kind of shape to do…well, anything apart from the work I was sent there to do. I brought a book, and couldn’t read it. I brought my 3DS, and couldn’t focus enough to play. I had friends near there…but I didn’t want them to see me in that state. That wasn’t me, either.

I meant to say all of this in my last post…but was still recovering. I didn’t have clarity of mind. And I wanted to make sure I got one point across better than I could have at the time:

People taking medication for emotional problems just need a little bit of help. That’s all it is.

It’s nothing to be afraid of, and — as I hope the above makes clear enough — not at all an easy way out. People who take that medication are necessarily working harder than those who don’t need it. For most people, brain chemistry and emotional stability just happen. Like breath. Or a beating heart. You don’t need to focus on it. Sometimes something may interrupt it, but it doesn’t take much to get it back on track again.

For me, and for folks dealing with things so much more difficult than I am, that’s not the case.

Getting things back on track takes labor. It takes time. It takes focus and attention. It’s hard work, because the track may have to be built again from scratch.

Just understand. That’s all.

When you find out that a friend or a colleague or a family member of yours takes some kind of antidepressant, antianxiety, or even an antipsychotic medication, you know the best thing to say?

Nothing.

At all.

Because that’s not them. The medication is a tool, and a necessary one. Otherwise — I can promise you confidently — they wouldn’t put themselves through what’s involved with taking it.

Don’t draw attention to it. It will just make them feel uneasy, even if you think the attention you’re giving it is positive.

If you must say something, let them know you’re there for them, and leave it at that. If you’re not there for them, or you aren’t able to leave it at that, don’t say anything.

Mental health issues are scary precisely because we know so little about them. Limitations in the field of medicine — both logistical and ethical — make it very easy for doctors and scientists to study the physical healing process, and almost impossible for them to study the mental healing process.

We’re making progress. We’re learning. But we’re in dark, scary waters, fighting an enemy we know nothing about.

Don’t be afraid of the people who need help. By definition, they’re weaker than you are. If anything, they’ll be afraid of you.

Help them. Or don’t.

But never hinder them. And be aware that you’ll never know what that person is going through on the inside. They’re suffering wounds so deep nobody — that person included — can see them.

You might think their medication is frivolous. And you’re welcome to think that.

But if so? Keep your mouth shut. And have the decency, at least, not to trip them up as they seek the safety you take for granted.

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