I went out of my office in late afternoon to have a cup of coffee and sit in the park near our building. I brought with me a copy of Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo. Everything about the setting was beneficial to anyone seeking calm and perhaps serenity. The sun was was out and a medium blue sky was above. Trees shaded the walkways and the benches lined along them. Sitting down and reading was a bit tough, though. I wanted to enjoy the setting and read maybe 10 pages or so, but my mind kept drifting inward to something strange, but hard to identify. It was a few minutes before I realized what it was that seemed to be percolating and that was unguarded emotion, something that I have been used to putting out of its misery like a wounded dog for many years with food and sometimes booze or prescriptions they give you that are easy to mistakenly take the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.

The emotions that I felt were of lonesomeness, fear and warriness. It’s been a while since I stared them in the face and didn’t blink. It’s strange how emotions are supposed to help us to navigate life and for the most part serve a purpose and yet we also can’t help but avoid some while embracing others.

Maybe it’s alright to feel a bit lonely at times. It doesn’t need to be ignored, denied, buried or obscured. Perhaps anger at loved ones, friends and even ones self are reasonable responses towards certain situations. It could be that self-doubt is something that can bring forth greater faith in one’s own life.

When we’re left to face the potency of our emotions without flinching, it’s kinda scary. Next year I turn 30, which is one of those milestones in life. It is my hope that a decade from now – or sooner – I’ll have a better grasp over my emotions and be more accepting of them rather than trying to push them away. Today felt like a good step in that direction. I got up from the bench, went back to my desk and focused on some of what I was feeling, inviting it to stick around in my mind’s eye for a while without judging or encouraging it. For some reason, it made me feel more alive, though frightened. Strange how things work.

Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about being a mindful observer of my anger. This morning – its’ 5:30 a.m. and I hardly slept – I realize that part of what I was experiencing was the side effect of withdrawal from about a month or so of steadily taking Klonopin.

For a decent part of eight years, I’ve been prescribed this medication to treat anxiety. When I was 21 and the panic and other anxiety disorders that had been largely sporadic in episodes  in my brain began to worsen, it was the yellow pills that helped to bring my mind into some balance. I’ll never forget the night in my apartment in Boston after more than a week of intense anxiety that I took one of these pills. It had been prescribed to me earlier in the day by a Chinese psychiatrist (no, not like some ancient medicinal root). She warned me that it was addictive so it would need to be managed well. When I finally did take it ours later, I noticed an effect within minutes. My brain, which had largely been in overdrive for days, seemed to slow down to a managable pace. I felt a bit more control. At the time, I had no idea that was the same drug a lot of people use to cut loose.

Over the past eight years, I have taken it on and off, but rarely night after night for more than a week. Since early June I was laying on it more than I should have for sleep and to relieve stresses that I normally can handle just through breathing or doing something I am about to do in a a few minutes, which is to go for a run. Klonopin was more helpful for me during times of intense panic that came night after night or in relaxing on an airplane. Though I have been prescribed a daily dosage, I’ve never taken it that way until recently.  So, beginning a few days ago, I began to taper back until yesterday, when I took literally one quarter of a pill.

Last night was an awful night in some senses and I think it was because of my body perhaps saying to me, “what the fuck, man go take some!”

I slept fitfully, and experienced two very frightening dreams. I also woke up in a panic at one point. Combined, although I laid down at 10 p.m. feeling restless, I slept on and off for probably a combined five hours. At one point I got up and turned on my computer to play a simulation baseball game I have. I had trouble thinking straight, though and my lineups made little sense (my players did perform very well though!). After a shower and some stretching, I put on a familiar song list on iTunes and ran my photos on a slideshow. I drifted off somewhere between Emmylou Harris singing “Sweet Dreams” and Ray Price and Willie Nelson singing “Soft Rain”. Still, I’m up early, but tired. I have little doubt this is my body’s response to not having the little yellow pill!

I want to only take it for flights and extreme panic attacks that keep me up. Like recently, when I finally ditched taking Ambien, I’ll go through some withdrawal, I’m sure. Right now, I’m going to put my sneakers on and head out for a run to see if that helps. After all, I’ve got a big day of work ahead of me and need all the calm I can get. Just not from a yellow pill.

It was strange how I was just able to obsrve within myself how a little anger can impact and influence my thinking patterns. It’s interesting that I was able to sit in the impartial observer seat for a little while, noticing how frustration over something was causing me to think very negatively.

A few hours ago, I returned to my apartment from a nice fulfilling run in which I felt myself right in the moment most of the way, not thinking about work or money or anything else that my mind tends to want to drift off towards. My roommate and I had a minor argument about something and although I acknowledged he was right, I still felt a well of anger inside of me. The conflict was resolved, it didn’t involve shouting or anything, but for some reason, I felt mad. Mad at constructive and relavent criticism coming from this person. I went and took a shower and did some energy exercises and yet I still felt this negativity peppering the way I felt. As I drove to get a cup of coffee, everyone on the street, everything around me seemed to irritate me. At first I was mad at myself for feeling angry, but then I understood that I was in a beneficial situation. I was actually watching my mood change, observing a cause and effect relationship between my thoughts and my mood. Suddenly, it felt alright to be a bit angry, to acknowledge it, not judge it or try to bury it, but to see how it works.

Its alright to be angry, so long as you dont punch holes in the wall!

It's alright to be angry, so long as you don't punch holes in the wall! (that's not me right there)

I was angy because of the perfect shit storm of things coming at once; returning to work tomorrow after a few days off, something my roommate had said during our disagreement, and the fact that some of my days off were spent making repairs to something that was not my responsibility. All of these factors are reasonable in contributing to feeling anger. It’s alright to feel angry sometimes.

That said, I’m choosing to do somethign alright with it; to accept it as a lesson and to appreciate being able to witness how anger works without beating up on myself. Since sitting there with my  coffee, noticing my negative thoughts and accepting them without standing in judgment of myself, the anger has lost some of its punch and I actually feel quit better. Strange how these things work.

I’ve incorporated the core-affirming thoughts that I wrtoe about in my last blog into my running routine. Sometimes when I am running through this city, my mind drifts back to the things that I particularly don’t want to think about or perhaps would do better not to think about, like a lazy coworker, soemthing hurtful a friend or stranger may have said, the state of the world or the state of my wallet. These are allt hings that seem to take a toll, if overvalued on the whole person that I am because my focus becomes less on me without the externals and more on me made up of the things that bother me on the outside.

That said, harping online about the personal flaws in my thinking makes me feel a bit like a weakling, which I’m really not. I think everyone – from the smartest person in the world (which I am not) to the dumbest person in the world (which I’m not) fixates on externals. It’s just a matter of how well you can ignore them and not let them bother you. As annoying as they can be, I respect “bros” a bit because they are pretty cool with just saying “fuck it” about some of the defeating thoughts and project the tough, guy, ‘hell may care’ attitude. A pushover pussy I’m not, but neither am I a bro type.

I can’t tell. Perhaps I should, even at the old age of near 30, reinvent myself as a bro. Maybe it would preclude the need for c0re-affirming thoughts!

I’m a big fan of the Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi. A family member of mine who is a counselor gave me a copy a few years ago when I was really struggling with self-confidence issues and had ballooned to about 220 lbs! (though I’m not sure the weight was why they suggested the book).

That was in the spring of 2006 and some of the concepts in the workbook seemed daunting. It was hard to read that each person has worth, particularly because months before I’d been laid off from my first post-college job, was single (still am) and had next to no money (still don’t!).

Two months ago I revisited the book, which is modular. It’s format is like any other self-help workbook in that it requires a good deal of effort to not only read it but do the exercises. Schiraldi, like my other favorite self-help author David Burns, emphasizes the power of thinking, that we sometimes have overvalued ideas and distortions in our thinking that are the direct result of issues in our lives – generally speaking, our earlier years. Both authors teach that it’s how you think that in many ways determines how you feel. Thinking is more than half the battle in daily life.

To grow up feeling that one needs to have good grades, good looks and good athletic ability to have any worth, when one reaches his or her adulthood they will certainly have a disadvantage in negotiating the day-to-day challenges of existence. So much of how we feel is how we think. If a person succeeds five times in landing new customers for his company but on the sixth time fails to do so, the law of  averages would  indicate  that  he’s  pretty  successful. Still there are many people who are totally unable to accept any type of failure or set back in their life (I know, I’m too often guilty of that) so that they feel they must be successful all the time or nearly all the time to be happy. They must succeed to be worthwhile. That is a thinking pattern that can lead to a very miserable life. That and other distortions of thinking are what Burns and Schiraldi emphasize hold people back from acknowledging their core value and the blessings of day-to-day existence. It’s very easy to do.

(more…)

Last Sunday I drove though my hometown (which isn’t far from where I live) and stopped off at the Little League park at which I was first introduced to baseball. It was late afternoon and rain had drawned large portions of the diamonds and grass. Nobody was there and I sat in the bleachers of the Majors field for a few minutes and snapped some photos of the waterlogged terf. After a few minutes of sitting, I ventured over the gravel parking lot and through the vacant concessions area over to the Intermediate field, where I have the most vivid memories of Little League. Not good experiences, either. And at the risk of sounding like a person who whines about bygone days I’ll say it was a bit weird to look out nearly twenty years later on a field where I had so little fun.

I was in the fourth grade and played for second base and leftfield. If memory serves me, we wore a blue uniform and I managed no hits for the entire season, which was probably about 10-12 games. I was a laughing stock on the team, I believe, petrified of stepping into the batters box for fear of getting plunked. It’s very normal for batterds to get beaned in Little League and Babe Ruth as pitchers lack the accuracy. Few kids could ever really be hurt by a pitched ball, although it is possible – particularly with the use of extremely light weight bats – that a linedrive could cause some damage.

I can’t account for how many times I was hit during my at-bats that year. It must have been enough to really freak me out because when I would get up, my strategy was to draw a walk rather than risk getting whacked on the forearm, elbow or shoulders. In Little League, a pitcher can only walk so many batters before the umpires force the hitter to strike out or put the ball in play.

I remember one Friday night we were just such a situation in which the pitcher couldn’t issue anymore walks and so I stood in the batters box with fright, diving backward with every pitch, all of which danced out of the strike zone, prolonging the at-bat and making me look foolish. My father was on one of the small bleachers watching. My teammates were shouting to me to swing. A coach was as well. Dad has always been a mild-mannered person and so he was about the only person who probably who wasn’t pushing me along to swing.

The intermediate Little League field where I embarassed myself in the spring of 1990!

Eventually the umpire told me I had to take some cuts and I did, closing my eyes and flailing the bat through the strikezone three times. I was down on strikes, relieved to be out of the dreaded batters box but ashamed at having been shown up by my cowardice. I was ten at the time and until then was pretty assured of my baseball abilities and enthusiasm. After that, it took several years for me to have any interest in the game. My father, while driving me home from the park, told me there wasn’t much point in my playing Little League if I wasn’t going to even bother batting. The whole situation was humiliating, really.

Finally, on the last day of the season, batting lefthanded, I bunted the ball back to the pitcher and was called out, but I suppose it was better that I’d risked getting plunked. I can’t remember if my father was there for the game. All I know I was happy when it was done.

Nevertheless, the shame of the whole thing, of being neutered in a way in front of my Dad was awful. That summer I began playing hockey at a summer camp where I began to turn that shame into something more agressive. Over the next few years – and especially after I started playing at a level that permitted contact – I would go out of my way to get into the action (whether it helped or not) and play the body. My father watched a lot of those early morning games and I suppose I felt I had to show him that like one of my older brothers who also played hockey, I was not scared of getting knocked down, even if indeed I wasn’t looking forward to it. For youth hockey, I became something of a decent player, actually. I ended up scoring goals even and skating well.

When I finally did decide to take another crack at baseball, it was because of my undying interest in the game. It was seventh grade and I played Babe Ruth. I wasn’t much of a hitter, I suppose, because it took me about five or six games to finally get a hit, but when I stepped into the box I wasn’t so afraid of getting plunked because I felt my father’s eyes on me whether or not he was there. There had to be some manhood and bravery to show him. I couldn’t whine and cry about getting my hand bruised or a welt on my back from an errant pitch. I was never a good baseball player, per se, but the three years I played in Babe Ruth were fun and the fear of getting wailed was nonexistent, particularly after I learned how to lean towards the catcher instead of diving out of the box.

It’s strange that I should be thinking a lot about that 45-foot from home-to-first diamond, but I suppose it is because recently I have been visiting some of the bad thinking habits I’ve developed over the years and I see that some of them are indeed rooted in events and mental misconceptions from childhood. As I said, my Dad was never heavy handed. He was sweet actually and though at times I have felt very weak in his presence because of how stoic he his, he is a good friend. In hindsight, I know my Dad was never the type of screaming loon sports father that some kids had and that when he told me I should quit Little League it was more because it was a waste of my time and his time than anything else.

Still, over the years, I suppose I’ve never totally shaken a feeling that I don’t live up to unemotive person that my father can be at times; the man who rarely complains, who seems to take discomfort in stride and succeeds at so many things. The man who went to a great college, earned two masters degrees and risked his life in Vietnam as a young man. I’m not sure if this is all fair to my father, either. He’s quiet, but he’s loving and certainly has supported and encouraged his children. It’s really strange how for years I could have these thoughts and yet unlike some of my friends, my father never called me a fuck up, never struck me and even at times put his arm around me during hard times, trying his best to provide some support.

I realize it’s a meme of sorts (if that’s the right word). Or maybe it’s a cognitive distortion that Dad is dissapointed in me, that I don’t live up to his expectations. It’s slightly self-centered really. After all, the man has three other sons and a daughter. I guess it all comes down to him appearing the strong silent type and me being more vocal about things that are going on in my head. I suppose as I kid I transformed my father into something he isn’t and recently as I watched him bury my beloved grandfather, I started to understand just how human this man really is, flawed even, to the point that I feel I love him even more.

Whether it was striking out in Little League, getting bad grades through most of school, having health problems in college or being laid off from my first serious job, Dad’s always been there. The strong silent type, sure but someone who truly does care about his family, whether they make it big or not.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the incredibly futile losing cause that some people embark on when they attempt to picket or counter protest the Westboro Baptist Church. It was in advance of their actually coming here to Albany to protest against what I have still yet to figure out. Their protest announcement, which is by now unavailable on their Web site, mentioned President Obama in particular, but then again most of their protest announcements do. During their few hours in Albany, the Phelps held up their incendiary signs alongside a house at 677 Washington Avenue, directly across from Albany High School. The also protested in front of the State University of New York building on Broadway and at a spot on Fuller Road off of Central Avenue. None of spots seemed particularly sensible, but then again this is the Phelps we are talking about. Today, they are up in Plattsburgh making their rounds.

The house next to which WBC protesters carried on their demonstration in the morning

The house next to which WBC protesters carried on their demonstration in the morning

In today’s Albany Times-Union there was a brief story by staff reporter David Filkins about their trip to the Capital City on the Hudson.

Said Margie Phelps, a daughter of church patriarch Fred Phelps, “We use words and do things you can’t ignore. The irony is that they think they’re hurting us. If they really wanted to do damage, they wouldn’t show up. But the bigger the commotion, the more attention we get. More media, more photos, more coverage.”

And therein lays the whole strategy of the circus act that is the Westboro Baptist Church. If nobody took them seriously, they wouldn’t have any pull and get any extra attention. Instead, too often, when the church makes one of its bizarre trips to a new town, people come out in droves to counter them, which to me is insane because these aren’t exactly people who are fickle in their beliefs. They may be a part of a destructive cult-family, but they are certainly set in their ways and unbending. Only God Almighty can move that mountain.

Rather, I think that the Phelps touch on a raw nerve of insecurity in a lot of folks. They may not necessarily be worrying if the bold statements on the placards are true, but at the same time they also may be unsure of their own beliefs to a degree and made uncomfortable that others may believe things about God that really seem so contrary to what they’ve been taught to believe or want to believe.

counter protesters

counter protesters

At yesterday’s brief showing near Albany High there were several Evangelical groups that rallied against the Phelps with various speakers calling on God to spread his love around the crowd. At the same time, they were standing next to people who were angrily doing what the Phelps do, which is to condemn others to hell. There were also people with signs quoting scripture that would condemn the Westboro Baptist Church members to hell, which to me seems very insecure.

On the secular side, there were other people who felt the need to be bothered by Westboro members walking on the flag.

I stood near a cop who was asked by a few men if he could  arrest one young woman for trampling on the flag. They seemed to have some vague notion in their mind that it is permissible to arrest someone for desecrating a flag. Actually, the Supreme Court has held that most forms of desecration are protected speech. Would we want to live in a country where you’d be put in the tank for that? I wouldn’t.

In all, it was something to observe, not to get up in arms about. Margie Phelps has laid out the organization’s priority, which is to rattle cages. When people allow themselves to be disturbed by their shocking and crazy message, they betray a particular weakness that is very unappealing.

Overall, we know that the Phelps family has problems. If the Bible tells us that we can know people by their actions then I think it is safe to deduce that there is a lot of pain and fear in the Phelps family. After all, three of Fred Phelps’s four defected children have recounted stories of awful physical and psychological abuse the whole family suffered from him.

It is more than likely his church, which is mostly made up of his family members, suffers from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome. He has acted as a God-man for so long and he has put the fear of hell in their brains so much that they are all disconnected from the world, hostile and uncaring.

But if people didn’t give them the finger, curse at them or even hold their own placards, it’s more likely some more church members would fall away. That is because they only know negative attention. They only know the nasty man who runs the show there.

I’m sure the Phelps will be away a long time before they return to Albany. In the meantime, I think people have to be a lot less insecure and certainly a lot less corny.

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