Tuesday, June 30, 2009

-ability

I have been a nervous wreck all week preparing for my interview for Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at West Chester University, which was today. When all is said and done, I think the interview went fine and I made a good impression. I was not prepared, however, for the anxiety that came afterwards when my thoughts of "what if I don't get the job?" turned to "what if I DO!?" I spent the rest of the afternoon with Debbie walking around West Chester (which is a beautiful town--think State College, Manayunk, and Doylestown all rolled together) and stopping in Borders and getting caught up reading Get It Done When You're Depressed by Julie Fast (author of Loving Someone with Bi Polar Disorder).

It seems there are two kinds of depression--the depression that causes lethargy, and the depression that causes anxiety. I have always been prone to the first, but have been struggling with the second lately--which is new for me. Given that I have been going through a large number of changes and life stressors in the past year (moving, changing jobs, interviewing for jobs, finishing school, getting hit by a car, new relationship, introduction to new family, entertaining the thought of marriage, etc.) I think it is only natural to be experiencing some anxiety, so I am cutting myself some slack and, as Tim says, "being kind to myself." Nevertheless, I feel the familiar cognitive distortions, overgeneralizations, emotional reasoning, etc., that hints at depression underlying a lot of this anxiety.

The job at West Chester is everything I've been hoping to find. And what are my thoughts now that it's here? "I can't do it. They'll realize I'm a fraud. Who am I to direct other people? I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough, I'm not outgoing enough." Etc. Clinically speaking, I know this is depression talking. 99 good things about myself and all I can see is the 1 flaw, a flaw that may or may not even have any bearing on my ability to carry out the work this job entails.

But it still looms large. A diagnosis can feel like a branding sometimes. Just google my name and the article in The Philadelphia Weekly on The Urban Hermitage Project comes up, which mentions that I am bi-polar. It is kind of like having an STD. Then again, Debbie googled my name before we started dating, and saw the article, and still wanted to go out with me (if not more so, for curiosity's sake). Taking this into account in the prospective job search, I think about what my friend Tim told me, "if someone found out you were bi polar and wouldn't hire you for that reason, is that a place you would really want to be working for anyway?" He has a point, and I need to remind myself of this.

Bi polar disorder can be (and is) considered a disability, but it is a disability I have learned to live with--and not only live with, but to thrive with (or in spite of); it is as much an ability as a dis-ability. I may have a different set of limitations, but that doesn't make me any different or less capable than the next person for fulfilling the demands that a job may entail.

I am proud of all I have accomplished in spite of my illness. I recently obtained my master's degree after five grueling years of part-time schooling in addition to working full-time. I have written articles and been published in various periodicals and websites. I rode my bicycle across the country. I have kept my faith. Having to battle to keep depression and mania at bay will continue to be an ongoing struggle for me--in the workplace and in every other place in my life--but it is my own struggle, and I own it, and will continue to accomplish what I can in spite of it.

I often thank Debbie for "taking a chance on me." If she didn't, we wouldn't be where we are. I hope I can extend the same kind of thanks to WCU in the next couple weeks. If they will take a chance on me, I am pretty confident I can say I would return the favor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Awakening Sights (2 out of 3)

When Prince Siddhartha, the future Gautama Buddha, first stumbled upon old age, disease, and death outside the realms of his sheltered palace, he was "greatly disturbed." I had a similar experience spending Sunday in the ER with Debbie's father, who was taken in for chest pains. The sight of old age and disease right before me came like a sharp blow, something I was not used to or prepared for.

My two grandfathers died before I was born, and I was sheltered from the death and funeral of my grandmothers, both of whom died when I was young. I cannot recall ever having gone to a funeral; there have been no major medical emergencies in my immediate family, and my parents are still young enough to be independent and active. I have never had to deal directly with serious bodily illness or death in my twenty-nine years among those closest to me. I guess it's about time I left the palace.

Debbie's father ended up being stable pending some tests, but it was still a scare. I found myself in an existential funk after leaving the hospital, besides being concerned for Dr. Resurreccion's welfare. Disease and death are always potentially just around the corner; old age sneaks up on us a little at a time, but promises to overtake us at some point. I know it sounds silly to just be coming to terms with this reality at such an age, but in all honesty, I never really had it in front of my face before in a way that personally affected me like it did this weekend. I haven't been able to shake this sharp, unsettling feeling that it is just a matter of time before it all hits even closer to home in my own family. Until then...one day at a time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"When the music changes, so does the dance."

--African proverb

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Little Goes a Long Way

12 Things Rob the Fob did today in an attempt to fly a fat, action-based FUCK YOU in the face of lingering depression:

1) Rearranged my bed and made plans to build a couch;
2) Listened to Bone Thugs 'n Harmony;
3) Made a doctor's appointment for a physical;
4) Made chocolate milk after dinner, and had a cookie;
5) Went for a run for the first time in months, and did pushups and situps;
6) Went to the Salvation Army and just browsed;
7) Had coffee with Tim and talked about being present, and looking for a CBT therapist;
8) Resolved to avoid unnecessarily thinking of the future, breeding anxiety;
9) Decided to accept that work-wise, 'where I am now is where I'm supposed to be...now;'
10) Made efforts to love myself for who I am and not for who I am not;
11) Thanked God for my family, Debbie, Tim, and all my supportive friends and their emails;
12) Wrote this blog.

It helped.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Falling off the Rungs

Two of the hardest things about being bi polar is how it affects your relationships, and how if affects your work. I was told recently I was turned down for a position I really had my heart set on in campus ministry, and also had an interview today that I totally bumbled up and don't expect to get a call back for. With stress being such a trigger, I find myself wondering if there are certain jobs I would just not be cut out for.

I remember after college when I moved back home I briefly got a job working as a counselor for sexually-abused children. I was deeply depressed at the time, and I found I was more of a liability at the job because of my depression and inability to face crisis situations, and so I felt I needed to tell my boss what I was going through, and resign. I felt like such a failure, it was all I could do while driving home not to careen my car into a tree.

I faced similar feelings today after realizing that I might not be cut out for the very jobs I thought I would be so good at. My dad slugged through years of teaching while depressed simply by being stubborn, knowing he had a family to support, and that quitting was not an option. Work is hard enough; working while you are depressed is torturous. And interviewing while you are depressed feels like professional suicide.

This was posted on a Bi-polar support group site I read recently, to which I could really relate:

"I was always career minded. However, being Bipolar has now disrupted my career one too many times. Up until 7 years ago I was climbing the corporate ladder with a packaging company until I had a psychotic episode for the first time. I had to quit work for 6 months and then I scored another job with another company. But the same thing happened again. I had a hypermanic episode and became psychotic again and had to quit work. I have been through the same cycle now 5 times where I find work, get the job, relapse and loose the job. The last job lasted 2 days before relapsing again. I guess a sales career was too much pressure. What I want to know is what opportunities are out there for people like me (us) where it seems stress is a trigger. I get so depressed about my illness and the thought of going through this again is scarey. Is there other employment options that are out there that doesn't require any experience and is rewarding? I have been unemployed now for over 7 months since the last episode but it has really been 18 months since I was full time employed. What can I do? What is there to do?"


I hope to never have to go through another psychotic episode, one that has me hospitalized and forced me into taking a leave of absence from work. Thankfully my relationships are in order...I have a supportive family and an understanding, supportive girlfriend. Some people don't have this, and I don't want it to be something I take lightly or for granted. Even though I hate taking medications, I feel like I am on a pretty good set now that allows me relative stability, even with the occassional dips into depression I am presently experiencing.

But the dips are unnerving...will this spiral out of control and leave me jobless? Will I be able to do what is required of me? Can I even tell my boss of my illness, or is this something I need to keep hidden? Will I ever find work that is meaningful, or do I have to limit myself to what I can realistically do without undue stress? I know I have gifts. I know I have talents. I know I am called to do something. But being bi polar does not make this process any easier. Then again, maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Indignation of the Undignified

I went to visit the Lord yesterday down on Connaroe Street at St. Mary of the Assumption's perpetual adoration chapel. I was never fond of St. Mary's...if you asked me I couldn't put a finger on it...but there was a feeling of not belonging there. My feelings were only reinforced after yesterday.

I try to spend my time in adoration reclining, as it is written in Jn 13: "There was reclining on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. " I don't assume a stiff posture, or sit proper. In fact, my position is pretty undignified: I lay on the pew on my side, against the wall, with my head on a pillow, so I can rest with the Lord, and not be worrying about my bodily pains, sore back, etc. Sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes I just lay there gazing on the Lord in his elegant monstrance. I do not worry about being prim and proper before the Lord, because he is my Lord, and he knows me, and knows my ways, and knows I mean no disrespect, but only want to rest, and rest with him.

So I am reclining on my side, relaxing with the Lord, laying my burdens upon him, when after a while a man (I assume he worked for the church or had some official capacity, maybe as the Govenor of the Chapel or something?) comes through the door and approaches me and asks, "Is everything alright here?" And I respond, "yes, I am praying." "Yeah?," he says, and looks at me suspiciously, as one might regard a homeless person who is not breaking any laws but is sleeping somewhere he should not be, and says, "Ok," he says slowly, as if I have been stamped and approved to pray in the manner and position in which I had chosen, "it just seemed...unusual" (referring to my posture).

I was unnerved, and fought to choke down the "how dare he" idignation that comes when one is reprimanded for straying outside the bounds of social norms. There I was minding my business with the Lord, having a conversation and not bothering anyone. But I understood it was unusual. I remembered 2 Samuel, where it is written:
"Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart."

And I thought of St. Therese the Little Flower, who often fell asleep in meditation, but said:

"It ought to worry me that I go to sleep during meditation and thanksgiving. Well, I don't worry! I think of how little children are as charming to their parents when they are sleeping as when they are awake. I also think of how doctors put their patients to sleep before operating on them. Lastly I think of how Our Lord sees our weakness and knows that we are but dust."

And what the Gospels say:

"People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'"

I fought indignation when I left shortly thereafter and saw the man sitting in his sleek black Dodge outside the church, blocking the street. I do not like being judged, but then, am I not so quick to judge as well? Of course. Best to forget it; as David said: "Therefore, I will celebrate before the Lord." Besides, as it is written, "Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death." Serves her right.


Resurrection

A military wife is told
her husband has been killed in battle.
She grieves, but on the third day
she is told it was a mistake,
that her husband had the same name
as someone else who was killed,
and that her husband is alive.
She rejoices;
he has come back to life
without ever having died.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Welcome to the Roadkill Cafe

I just watched Half Nelson tonight. I had seen it before when it first came out, and knew it was worth seeing again. Ryan Gosling is an inner-city teacher with a drug problem. He wants to make a difference, while his own life is spiraling out of control. In one scene, he unknowlingly has one of his students deliver drugs to him in a motel while he is partying with a couple of crack smoking hookers. He looks up at his student from the floor with a broken wry smile; he has nothing left to hide. I know that smile. It says, 'you're lookin' at it.' This is all there is to me...this is all there is. What you see is...well, what you get.


How often, in religious circles, do people try to hide who they really are; how often do we try to prop up our fallen scarecrow of an angel guise while it's clear we are cowering behind it in plain view. "I'm just a broken-down piece of meat," says Mickey Rourke. And its true; some days I couldn't describe myself better. The trick is to try to be better--not be a broken-down piece of meat-- but even that falls short under the weight of trying to be in a relentless world of "doing." Sometimes it's just who you are.

I wonder if God has a whole freezer full of rotten meat in his back room he's picked up off the side of the road, because he doesn't know its bad meat, that it will make you sick if you try to eat it, that even when you cook it is still stanks and no amount of A1 ain't ever gonna cover that stank up, and that God has no sense of taste or smell, and doesn't see the flies flying around all nasty, and that he thinks we're the best damn meat he's ever had, and he don't get sick either. He just reaches in and grabs some of that rotten meat and sears it on the Purg-a-Tory grill and oh you never smelled something burning so bad, makes you wish you never ignored expiration dates and fell for the $.99/lb SALE TODAY Manager's Special sealed up in cellophane scam. But somehow that meat comes out alright, and better than alright, this is SOUL FOOD baby, he says, and takes off the Kiss the Cook apron and sits down with St. Peter and eats you up slow, no sauce nothing, just you on that white china bleeding out rare clean as day and says: KHATAM BOI AINT THAT THE BEST DAMN STEK YOU EVER ET??

Hats off to the chef.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Between Here and There

"The things we really want to do are usually the ones that scare us the most."

--Po Bronson, What Should I Do With My Life?


When I started The Urban Hermitage Project last fall, I was fulfilling a dream...building my own little place, implementing sustainable design, attempting to live as a hermit-writer, downsizing and simplifying everything about my life, evangelizing. It had all the good makings of a quarter-life crisis. I bit off a lot...and had some trouble chewing. More than anything, my time spent on the hermitage project was a period of growth, of stepping outside my comfort zone, and simply trying something on for size, something new, so as to stave off any regrets later in life of not having at least tried to live a more....deliberate life.

One thing I don't think I shared during the course of that project was the fact that after I had moved everything out of my apartment and into the bus on the last day of my lease, I drove down the street with all my posessions and parked. I had no where to go. Everything was packed in such a rush I had no room to move around inside. I cleared a place in the middle of the floor to sit down and felt completely broken, like I had gambled something and lost, big time. I don't know what it was I was betting with...my dignity, my security, the simple comforts of running water and plumbing and a street address. But I know I had stepped out of one thing and into another. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to go, or how to start this life, how to make it work. I felt trapped. It started to rain, and I started to cry.

Looking back, I still don't know what prompted me to undertake such a project, to radically alter my life...and then radically alter it back to the way it was; moving back to the same neighborhood, back to the same company and work. I don't think I was the same person after that experience, though. For me, it represented the shaking off of clothes that no longer fit. It was the moving into a new stage, through a very eccentric and memorable rite of passage that was completely my own. Months later, Debbie would google my name before we started dating and find this project online and be totally fascinated by my eccentricities. If for some reason this was the only reason to have undertaken the project, to have brought us together, it would have been worth it.


Now I am waiting to hear about a job teaching religion and working in campus ministry at St. Joe's Prep, and I am scared...scared they will say no, and scared they will say yes. I know I would be great for the job, and feel called to it. I went through my interviews, and felt I did everything I could to present myself as the best candidate. It is now out of my hands. I'm afraid of not being able to do the job. I'm afraid of being great at the job. I'm afraid of not getting it and being stuck where I am now. The thing we really want to do is usually the one that scares us the most. What we are really called to asks the most of us. Dreaming and planning your future is easy...living it when it is delivered is another matter altogether.