Robin Williams And Mental Illness

 

To all that don’t understand how someone as rich, successful, and loved as Robin Williams could kill himself, I’d just like to politely and respectfully remind you that depression and other mental illnesses are medical conditions.

They are diseases.

And sometimes diseases are terminal.

Scientists and doctors can see the proof and effects of mental illness using PET scans and SPECT scans of the brain.

This is real.

No one ever asks why a rich, successful person gets cancer, or diabetes, or Alzheimer’s.

You never hear, “But your life is awesome! What’s so bad that you have cancer about it?”

Or, “Why don’t you just pick yourself up start acting a little less diabetic?”

Now, I don’t really expect that Robin’s death or even this short essay will cause major changes in how the mentally ill are treated or viewed. But I hope we can all start having conversations about it.

That’s how ideas and information spread sometimes, one person at a time.

And any progress is huge.

How Passion Works For Me

I like to camp at the Marriott, and forage the bar for cocktails, and tell ghost stories around the air conditioner.

That's “roughing it.”

Especially if there's no free wifi.

I can't imagine having to spend the night outside in the East Coast humity. That sounds like a punishment. I'm itching just thinking about it.

It's not that I don't enjoy nature. I like it very much, just not enough to sleep with it.

I feel like we're in the Friend Zone.

Also, I really don't like my routines to be disturbed because it brings up significant anxiety. And I'm not always in the mood to push through it, which is really what it takes for any sort of meaningful growth.

Most of the time, when I'm making choices, I have to pick the one that feels just a tiny bit less painful than the other. Possible change needs to stir some kind of passion within me.

There's been a lot of talk around the internet about passion lately. A quick Google search will bring you lots of interesting reading.

Some sites say you should follow yours into a career. Others say that's the worse thing you could do.

I'm not going to advise anyone either way, because I'm referring to passion in the largest possible context: As a force for change.

For instance, I don't like to travel. It's not that I don't want to see new places. I just find traveling to be a giant pain. There's long lines at the airport, unwashed people sitting next to me on the plane, lost luggage, and babies that scream the entire way across the Atlantic Ocean.

In spite of this, I did visit Germany when a former girlfriend was living there.

I loved her passion for her work as a dancer, her sense of humor, and her insecurities. I loved the way she was kind to me, and supportive, and understanding of my flaws. And she was beautiful, just the most lovely creature to ever walk into my my life thus far.

The opportunity to spend time with her had the power to smack me out of any compulsive routines. I got a passport. I left the country for the first time at the tender age of 39 to go to a place where I didn't speak a word of the language; I had a little picture book that I used to point to stuff I wanted.

Was it fun the whole time? No. But it was an investment of my life energy into something that I felt passionately about – a true intimate connection with an amazing person that I adored.

So, what's the lesson here?

It's possible for me to do amazing things. It's possible for me to break free of routines and habits.

If I'm passionate.

If I value the experience more than staying the same. If I value the opportunity more than I fear the change.

And also, when I'm passionate I'm successful, whether it's in music, or writing, or whatever. Passion makes me stick it out when things get tough.

It helps me to jump out of my normal comfort zone.

But still not into bed with nature.

This is my airport face.

 

 

 

 

What’s On my Mind?

 

This isn't a real post.

Well, it sort of is.

Because I'm posting it.

And guess what?

James-Writes.com celebrates being 2 years old this month!

That's right!

I want to thank everyone who's read my work, offered advice and tutelage, and helped get things rolling.

I'd also like to thank all of the people who put up with me.

You see, before there was James-Writes.com, there was just me texting a few friends.

I did it a lot. Probably too much. And it usually happened late at night during my “Cocktail Hour.”

Until they asked me to stop. Which I did.

After some of them threatened me.

Then I found Facebook and it's always asking, “What's on your mind?”

So, I started telling it. And some people liked it!

And some asked me to stop.

But, I didn't!

And James-Writes.com was born.

So, in honor of 2 years, here's a little of what's on my mind.

 

 

 

The Real Value Of Star Trek

 

Sometimes the end of a relationship rips a hole in you so big that you're not sure if anything is going to fill it again. Something has been torn from you.

Before a certain someone came along, you were living just fine. But now that they're gone, you wonder if you can survive without them. You feel weak. A dull pain, or maybe a sharp one, throbs in your heart, that organ that does its job pumping blood and oxygen every day and you rarely notice it.

You feel it now, don't you? In your chest? It's still doing its job, but it's labored and deliberate.

The cloudy days are your favorite because that's the outer world expressing how you feel inside- gray, cold, dank.

You grasp onto anything that keeps the trace memory of a dead relationship somewhat alive, reliving conversations in your mind, wondering what you could have done differently, and telling yourself you did the best you could.

Maybe you did.

You can try alcohol, but that's short lived. You can try a rebound relationship, but that'll probably get messy, and hurtful, and sad, spreading the pain like a cancer. There's nothing lonelier than being with someone while thinking of, and longing for, another.

Sometimes the oddest things, the most unexpected things, bring us comfort. After one of the worst breakups of my life- Okay, I'll call it THE worst breakup- I learned to command a starship.

That's right.

I had missed Star Trek: Enterprise in 2001 when it aired since I'd spent several years not watching television. I discovered it one night on Netflix after already barreling through Firefly and The Walking Dead. I decided to give it a chance.

I'm glad I did. The characters, their lives and interactions, were compelling. And it is of course a space adventure.

And that's the point I want to make here. Because of that show, I was able to connect with something from my childhood that brought me comfort and joy. It helped transport me, if only for a few hours a night, to a time before romantic relationships even existed to me.

I watched so much Star Trek that summer that I seriously could've commanded my own vessel. I could've raised shields, fired the photonic torpedoes, and gave the order to take the ship to warp.

Not long after I began watching Enterprise, I listened to a podcast called The Mental Illness Happy Hour. Host Paul Gilmartin said that when his depression is especially kicking his ass, he finds World War II or serial killer documentaries to be soothing. He doesn't know why. They just are.

And I had been doing the same thing. Except for me, it was intergalactic adventures.

So, if you're struggling, I hope you'll follow your intuition wherever it takes you to find comfort. Maybe, you'll pick up a long-forgotten hobby, the joy of writing, or playing a neglected musical instrument.

Maybe you'll decide to take a cooking class, or study martial arts, or connect with something from a simpler time. A time before your breakup. A time before your relationship.

We can't go back in time. That's not possible. But I believe there are lessons there that can help us. And learning from them may bring us some joy in the present that we can take with us into the future.

I rediscovered my love of space adventures and of writing posts like the one you're reading.

What will you discover?

 

 

The Things I Learn On Friday Night

 
Why did the Magnum P.I. mustache fall out of fashion? Even Tom Selleck shaved his off for awhile. He’s since grown it back. And I think that’s just a big middle finger to the whole TV industry.

Tom Selleck does what he wants with his facial hair. Deal with it.

I respect that. The dude has chest hair, too. He never shaved that off. He’ll go for a swim and climb up out of the pool with the chest hair and the mustache and all.

The young actors don’t have that kind of confidence. They’re all shaved and waxed and sanitized. Is this because the modern woman is into that?

Women in the 80′s knew what was up. That’s because Tom Selleck told them.

Tom didn’t have any Facebook or texting. He had to actually step up and let women know that he was interested in dating them. And he did that with a naughty grin and the class of a gentleman.

Cruising a red Ferrari and solving crimes in his Hawaiian shirt, he was rugged and cool. So much so that Spielberg originally cast him as Indiana Jones, but it didn’t happen because of Selleck’s contractual obligation to CBS.

It’s true. You can watch Tom’s Raiders of the Lost Ark screen test on YouTube, and also an interview where he tells the story to David Letterman.

He’s working again on TV, playing a cop on a Friday night show. Friday night, by the way, is now the purgatory of television. It’s where they put all of the half-assed programming.

It didn’t used to be that way. We had Knight Rider and The Dukes of Hazzard. That’s quality television.

A talking car, David Hasselhoff way before the burger on the floor incident, good-hearted rednecks, and Daisy Duke. Dig that!

Obligatory Daisy Duke Pic

These were hour-long adventures where good and bad were clearly defined and stories were neatly wrapped with a moral and a lesson about life.

Now Friday night TV sucks. It’s geared toward older people who fall asleep on the couch before the show is over anyway, so who cares what they put on?

Tom deserves to be treated better by the television industry. We all do.

But here’s the deal: Tom owns Friday nights now. He owns them on yet another cop show.

Now, I don’t know Tom personally, but I can’t imagine his long term professional goal was to be on a Friday night cop show. I think he’d probably rather do something new, more creative, more edgy.

And I think a lot of people feel this way about their lives. So many of us are stuck in our own equivalent of the Friday night cop show.

We feel bored or perhaps the life we’re leading feels like the consolation prize.

We feel typecast. Like we’re doing the same stuff over and over, like we’ve been through this before but life just keeps happening.

We aren’t doing bad. But we don’t have the job or lifestyle that we want. We aren’t dating the person we want. Other people in our lives aren’t behaving the way we want.

What’s the answer?

Be the best at being you.

Own it like Tom Selleck.

I started writing again about two and a half years ago while going through one of the toughest times in my life. There were things happening that I couldn’t change, so I decided to write about them rather than ruminate on their inflexibility.

That turned out to be the best possible thing I could’ve done. Not only was the writing therapeutic and entertaining for me, but it brought new people into my life who encouraged me and helped me, including Joshua Fields Millburn. And I can’t recommend his writing class highly enough.

I’ve gotten emails from people around the world telling me how my writing has meant something to them.

And those emails mean so much to me. Thank you, to everyone who sends them.

So, not to make everything about me, (because the doctors say everything’s not always about me) but I am learning to make the most of the less than ideal parts of life.

And you can too.

You don’t have to start writing, but you can be the best at being you.

Whatever that means.

Be the friendliest bartender, the kindest nurse, the hippest teacher, or a super hero attorney. Be a rock star stay at home parent.

Or dig up a long forgotten hobby or passion.

Paint your masterpiece on Instagram. Take weird iPhone pics and tweet them. Compose little tunes and unleash them on the world via YouTube.

I bet people’ll take notice.

And I bet you’ll take over your little corner of the world like Tom Selleck took over Fridays. I bet you’ll create a niche for yourself and interesting times will come looking for you like the ratings came looking for Tom.

And you can do whatever you want with your facial hair.

Using Netflix For Dating And Birth Control

I don't want kids.

It's not that I hate them. I often work with them. I just don't want to have any of my own.

On a date, that goes over pretty awesome. You would think I just admitted to having a collection of human heads preserved in my freezer.

Which I don't.

There'd be no room for the vodka.

The “Kid Talk” can suck all of the air out of the room and send the evening careening into a black hole.

I usually tell women on the second date, unless the first date isn't going well, or I'm in a hurry to get home and watch Netflix.

Good stuff on Netflix. I'm a big fan of House of Cards.

And Kevin Spacey's character on that show doesn't want kids.

This got me to thinking… I grew up watching a lot of TV.

As a matter of fact, I think TV was one of my favorite things about childhood and very few of my favorite characters had kids.

Do you think Thundarr The Barbarian had time for kids living in that post apocalyptic world? I don't think so. And I can't remember Princess Ariel ever giving him crap about it.

No crap given

I wonder if they ever talked about it and then decided against it. It would've never worked with their lifestyle, even with the help of their companion Ookla the Mok.

Not available for child care

In any case, I saw an old friend a while ago and he brought up the subject of kids. He said he and his wife were planning to start working on having one.

I asked him if he felt ready to be a dad.

“My wife says I'm ready,” he replied.

“Yeah,” I said. “But you know you have a choice, right?”

He fidgeted with his cocktail and changed the subject. I didn't press him for any more information. I'm not sure if he had ever thought about kids in terms of having a choice or not.

And choice is the point. We may not have much in this life, but we usually have some sort of choice.

I'm not telling people not to have kids, or to have kids, or what methods of family planning to practice.

I honestly don't care what other people do. That's part of my charm.

But, I think part of being an evolved human is realizing we do have choices.

And part of living consciously is examining choices and making the best possible decision, even if no one else understands them.

We don't have to do the things that other people have done before us. Life isn't one size fits all. Sometimes we have to make alterations as we go.

And sometimes we double down on Netflix.

I'm here for you

 

 

Anxiety Is A Liar!

Everything is the worst thing ever.

That's how it feels to have an anxiety disorder.

Worrying that someone is going to break up with me produces the same chemical reaction in my body as having a tiger chase me.

Fearing that I'll lose my job or that I've upset my boss feels like I'm on an airplane and it's going down, man. It's going to crash!

Anxiety is the sound of my blood pounding in my ears.

It's not being able to get a breath because I feel like a camel is sitting on my chest.

It's dry mouth and a head that feels too light.

At least at this point in my life, I know that many thoughts that scare me aren't founded in reality. They're a sort of negative speculation and often they're wrong.

At the beginning of one previous relationship, I had a difficult time accepting that an amazing young woman, now my ex, could be interested in me.

She once took what I thought was too long to reply to a text message and I worried she was done, that she wasn't interested in me anymore.

My compulsive negative thinking was extremely persistent and caused a lot of anxiety that I had to find a way to work with.

The worst thing to do would've been to keep texting her, trying to get her attention, or trying to figure out why she wasn't answering me.

That's really unattractive.

So, the first thing I did was let things be.

That's right. There was nothing I could do about whether she sent me a text message. I decided to focus instead on managing my thoughts and feelings.

I asked myself, “Do you know that's she's not interested in you anymore?”

“No. I don't,” I replied.

“Do you even know what she's doing today?”

“No. I don't know what she's doing today. She could be working, or taking a nap, or maybe the battery in her phone died and she hasn't even gotten my message yet. There are countless things that could be preventing her from getting back to me that have nothing to do with me.”

Then, I went for walk with my dog.

I find walking to be really helpful in dealing with anxiety. Moving forward is symbolic as well as therapeutic. It's a change of scenery and a new perspective.

I spend much of my life indoors. Going outside for a walk interrupts my patterns and habits. Sometimes, being outside also makes it easier to be in the present moment and to ground myself in the physical world.

I looked at the trees as I moved past them. A breeze rustled through the leaves and touched my skin. I could smell the scents of summer, the cut grass, the barbecues. I watched the skyline as an orange sun started to sink behind the houses.

And I watched my dog poop in someone's front yard.

Yeah.

Of course I picked it up. I had the plastic baggies with me. And I wonder if my dog ever thinks it's funny when we walk down the street and I'm carrying a bag of his poop.

Yes. I do.

Anyway, it wasn't long into my walk before I started to feel a lot better.

And then something almost magical happened.

I got a text message from the woman I was dating inviting me to spend time with her the next evening. The text came at almost the exact moment I'd forgotten about waiting for it.

She wasn't tired of me, or done with me, or upset with me.

There was nothing wrong at all.

I had made everything up in my head.

I don't even remember what she told me she was doing that prevented her from getting back to me.

What I do remember is my anxiety grabbing a tiny piece of information, a text message yet to be answered, and encouraging me to worry over things that simply weren't true.

Anxiety is a liar.

 

*A version of this essay was originally printed in Complete Wellbeing Magazine.