A letter I wrote to a now departed friend

Back in October, I wrote a letter to a troubled friend who has since passed away. I thought that I should copy it here (minus the first names of others mentioned in the letter) in the event that it is lost elsewhere. At the time, I thought it was a valiant attempt to help her, but now I know that I didn’t really understand how ill she was.

——

I’ve thought a long time about what to write back to you, and I’m not sure where to begin. There is much proverbial food for thought in your two messages. I can relate to the struggle of addiction. U2 captured the problem well with their lyric, “I feel numb/too much is not enough”. Perhaps numbness is not the core of addiction. Instead, it’s any feeling that seems inappropriate in the situations we face. So we stifle or soothe those feelings with whatever addiction we’re facing at the moment. I think I will be addicted to something for the rest of my life. For a long time I’ve restricted this problem to nicotine and caffeine (and sometimes food, which was easily my biggest problem). I avoid classically addictive things because I assume they would destroy me, e.g. gambling and narcotics.

The first and likely the easiest thing for you to drop would be alcohol. Alcohol never helps depression or anxiety. It also harms sleep. The rest one gets after drinking is poor, too.

I should also disclose that I don’t have much faith in psychiatric meds, at least the ones prescribed for depression. Every one I tried eventually stopped working. The list: prozac, effexor, celexa, lexapro, remeron, paxil, trazodone. I also tried Zyprexa and an anxiety med whose name I don’t recall at the moment. None of these meds did much for me.

The only things that worked were the opportunities to love with E** and R**. Also the habit of physically exhausting myself. Love and wearing myself out is what worked. I’d also like to mention that the healing power of love resides in loving more than in being loved. Love can heal even if you do not feel loved in return. Loving heals because it relieves us of the burden of thinking of oneself, however temporarily.

It sounds like you would need medical supervision to alter or reduce the medications you are taking. I don’t know much at all about medically induced comas in rehab. I’ve only heard reference to them in treating opiate addictions. Change or recovery will be challenging no matter what therapy is used, but it will be worth it.

I’d also like you to know that my recovery has not been perfect, but I’ve grown to accept my situation. Some days I wake up inexplicably pissed, afraid or downright depressed, but I move forward. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with post SSRI “brain shocks.” On occasion I also hallucinate. Last year I was home alone and saw a clown and R** walk through the kitchen. Neither of them were there. I’ve seen L*** and R** at work on their days off. This has been happening sporadically for years, and I’ve gotten used it.

I am flawed, but I survive. I am happy because I accept that I am a mess.

Dreams

I relish vivid dreams, whether good or bad. Occasionally I am gifted with what I call a blessed dream, one that has moments or entire plots infused with a degree of happiness that is only fleeting in waking life. Some of these dreams seem to take on the quality of religious or meditative ecstacy. While I have heard the theory that dreams are wish fulfillment, I think the blessed dreams are more than desire. I do not know their origin. They could be feelings that the business of living has tempered out of us, like the inverse of a tantrum. It is possible that socialization has tamed away some good along with the bad. With that aside, I admit that I believe the blessed dreams are significant enough for reflection.

Last night I had a blessed dream about one of my aunts. In this dream, I was talking to her in a sparsely furnished room, almost like a 1940’s version of an efficiency apartment. There was nothing in this apartment that was made after her birth. All had the slightly hardboiled, worn and windswept character of the years right after WWII. As she approached me, she looked to be lit from within, aglow with grace and good. It also looked liked she had been considering something bittersweet, like a hint of mourning come back from the grief of long ago.

As dreams are elusive to waking memory, I recall little of my conversation with her. She showed me a black and white photo I hadn’t seen of my greatparents standing in front of a car from the 1930’s. She told me that no one has that picture anymore. Then I felt a great amount of love as we parted.

I have had a few dreams lately about relatives in which their good natures are made manifest. In real life it seems that over the years I repeatedly lose touch with my extended family despite that I care about them a great deal.

Weighty Matters

After my major depression dissipated (it lasted from 1992 to 2009), I also lost significant amounts of weight. I lost weight slowly over three years in hope that I would be at a healthy weight for the first time for my fortieth birthday. In this venture I was successful. For three years,  I’ve kept off all but 20 of the 135 pounds I lost. I wish there were some formula I could devise and follow so I can devote less of my psyche to this venture. There’s no denying the comfort of reaching and keeping a goal that was so elusive for most of my life, but I feel it is time to focus on something other than my size. I hope that in shifting my focus that I don’t reinflate. It is time to more fully consider matters deeper than my surface.

Tattoos

Tattoos are one of many trends I do not find tempting. I suppose that the prevalence of tattoos is not merely trendy since they become commonplace back in the 90’s, while I was still in my twenties. I haven’t once considered getting one done in the meantime. I figure that my genes and varying size have conspired to imprint me with nature’s original body art, stretch marks. If I want my tribal markings to appear, all I need to do is expose my skin to the summer sun for a while. Soon enough key patches of my arms and legs will get that inverse zebra look, as stretch marks do not tan (at least mine don’t). Some may desire a tattoo to capture a sentiment or tell a story, and my marks can serve those functions too. When they can be seen, my marks reveal that I am not pretending to be perfect and that I have changed over time. What else is more dependable than imperfection and change?

 

Transforming the National Political Conversation

I think that both major parties waste too much political capital on trying to abridge established rights. Why not take it as given that we have the right to keep and bear arms, terminate a pregnancy until the 24th week, or marry someone of either sex? Hardly anyone embraces all three simultaneously, but all three are established rights. The talk of abridging rights is a key driver of our polarized political landscape. People are more apt to get defensive when a right they value is threatened.

Rather than trying to control the choices these rights imply, why not use politics as a tool to shape policies that help with problems associated with these rights? For instance, what can we do to lower unwanted pregnancies to reduce abortions? How about focusing on the reduction of crime and terror so people don’t feel so inclined to build an arsenal for their safety?

The three rights I’ve chosen as examples of course do not enumerate all of our rights, but they have been tinder for many arguments that prevent consensus on useful political action. The laws of this land should not be a theatre for personal values or any one religion. There should not be bills, ballot measures or new amendments that take away rights.

Politics

I am startled at how polarized this country has become in the last decade. It seems that a growing contingent of the U.S. is elevating politics to a near religion. I thought that the practical benefit of a two party system was to provide an arena for opposing views so a policy consensus could be reached that would benefit the most within the constraints imposed by the Constitution. Instead of lively debate, I see attempts to remake this country according to the vision of just one side or the other. The capacity to compromise is essential to maturity, so why are we as a nation becoming more immature as we reach our 240th birthday?

While it is true that there is a personal dimension to politics, I feel it is folly to take political issues so personally that one is willing to reject friends or family because of opposing viewpoints. This great country of ours was founded in part on the freedom of speech, so who are we to try to subvert a basic right by  browbeating each other into political agreement?

As the election approaches, I welcome hearing  opinions from many perspectives, even if some of those stances may be extreme. I do not mind hearing an impassioned point of view, but I hope that I don’t see more people threatening to “unfriend” or otherwise alienate others based on political differences. Our friendships and family connections should not be threatened by disagreement over this election, whether Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump gets elected.

Performance fantasies

I have found a way to turn the secret life of this Walter Mitty to my advantage. From my childhood onward, I relished daydreams of being able to sing well enough to get major radio airplay. These fantasies did not involve writing songs or even putting a fresh twist on a cover song. I often could not resist imagining what it would be like to sing a hit song with perfect fidelity to the original. For years, this was an embarrassing habit, for I don’t sing all that well. To even entertain the possibility of being able to sing like Aretha Franklin bordered on a delusion of grandeur. For a time, this contributed to depression because I kept thinking that I was not entitled to imagine doing the impossible. Isn’t that what an imagination is uniquely suited for?

When I had agoraphobia, my therapist suggested that I imagine being successful at venturing out instead of staying home over catastrophic predictions of what could go wrong away from home. At the time I considered that it would do no harm to try to imagine success at something practical even if the outcome did prove negative. Life is full of false predictions, so go with ones that are uplifting (kind of like it being better to be a fool with faith than a fool without it).

It took me more years to see that there was also benefit to imagining success at something impractical, like being able to sing a hit. Just let go of the embarrassment of likely failure (there will only ever be one Aretha, after all), and imagine mastery, the capacity to inspire others. There will never be a need to test such a skill, at least in my case.

Life is full of subtle delusions. Choose ones that will move you forward. The theatre of your mind is your show. There is no harm in creating a positive phantasm rather than a disaster. Each of us is an event that won’t be encored. We are all as special and valuable as our heroes.