I discovered this on Tumblr, and wanted to share it with you since many of us need that little boost to get us through the day. I’ve posted this before, and because it’s so important you will probably see it again over the months. I like to bring it out in May during Mental Health Awareness Month and during my Mental Health Monday series. For this iteration, I’ve added one item in each category from my own Coping Skills Toolbox! I hope they are helpful. Good luck with your today!
Last week I briefly mentioned that a friend of mine passed away suddenly. Nick, and his fiance, Morgan were my teammates on our annual Gishwhes scavenger hunt. I had known Nick for just over three years.
Nick was a fun, caring, kind person; one of the kindest I’ve had the privilege to know and his family is devastated by his loss.
Morgan’s sister set up this Go Fund Me to help them and give their family a little peace of mind until any benefits from Nick become available. They are in the process of moving to a new state, a new home, and new schools for the kids. And, of course, they will be doing all of this while they are grieving and healing. To say this is a stressful time would be an understatement.
If you can share this Go Fund Me, I would thank you, and if you can afford to donate, every little bit helps and is appreciated, please do.
Let’s Make a Coping Skills Tool Box is a wonderful resource that I’ve found that gives suggestions on what you might add to your own coping skills tool box. Have a look, and if you think of anything else that you find useful, please add it in the comments.
Really excited for this for a lot of reasons, two being my vicarious love of motorcycles; they’re one of the things I would love to do if I weren’t me! Second reason is my huge respect for Norman and his eye for art. I went out yesterday taking photographs and I unintentionally had him in my mind as inspiration.
After seeing his interview about his book, I really have a new eye on some of my scene setting – that’s not the right phrase but I can’t think of the word; I just know the feeling came from his interview on Capture alongside Al Wertheimer.
I took two yesterday in particular that I’m really proud of, just trying to figure out how to post them here.
Today is the first anniversary of my friend’s death. I posted this last year the week after her funeral:
Last Wednesday was a beautiful day. There was a bright blue sky with just enough fluffy white clouds, the sun shining like spring and very warm for January. I walked into the church and for that one second, it was a typical Wednesday Mass at Nine AM.
Except it wasn’t.
The usher said, ‘good morning,’ and handed me the program: Celebration of Christian Burial. I’d been to many of these in the last year or so from attending the regular morning masses, but this one was different. On this one, I saw my friend’s name and with a long breath I took one step from the hum of the gathering space into the solemnity of the church itself and stopped short.
There, in Shirley’s seat was her red scarf and red wool hat. I’d seen her wear it at least a dozen times in the time I’ve known her and it took a moment to realize that it wasn’t her sitting in her usual seat. Someone had set up the display on a table and with the scarf and hat they included a rose and a rosary and adjacent to it was a floor candle just in front of ‘her’ pew.
I was quickly admonished for not doing so immediately, but I was expected to sit in my usual seat, which happened to be directly behind hers. The last thing I wanted was the first thing I felt at the start of my church visits: people watching me. I wasn’t family, but at the daily 9am Mass, Shirley and I always sat together and walked out together with two other women and I uncomfortably felt as though we were being watched.
‘My’ seat had been there since Easter 2012 when I began to attend the daily Mass. I either sat immediately behind Shirley or two seats behind her, depending on who got there first. Eventually, the other two ladies who alternated with me for that seat joined me in the one pew.
It was kind of funny. No one in the Mass really knew me, but they all knew that I was part of this foursome, an odd group if ever there was one.
I picked my seat originally because of Shirley.
The first time I entered the church, I did it almost the same way I did last Wednesday: haltingly, unsure, would anyone look at me? Gee, I hoped not. But after so many steps, there is that point of no going back, even for the anxious.
I walked in on that first spring morning, and tried to look around without looking around, and immediately took notice of Shirley’s jacket. It was a black jacket and so the muted multi-colored embroidery of leaves and flowers and stems stood out against the dark wooden pew. She was wearing a pale straw cap, not quite a pill box but not quite a cabby’s cap either. I would find that she always wore a hat, and when she didn’t, she felt that she should have been. If not a hat, then a scarf for over her head. The blue paisley one went with her pale blue raincoat. She was always put together and I envied her scarves and necklaces, gifts from her daughter.
But more than that, she was lovely. Warm and welcoming and really joyful with so much faith that it seemed easy to share and as much faith that I gained on my own, I accepted the faith offered to me by my friends, Lorraine, Arlene and especially Shirley, my first church friend.
I sat behind her that first time, and said nothing.
When she stood, I stood.
When she bowed her head, I bowed my head.
When the priest said, “Peace be with you,” and she reached her hand out to me, I clasped her hand and repeated the words rotely. Her hands were warm and it was that touch, the memory of that light handshake in the morning that got me through the rest of the day.
Every morning she would already be there. I began to recognize her car, parked in the same space in front of the church. I’d walk in, expecting to see her, and was never disappointed. I’d walk slowly down the center aisle, hoping no one would notice me, and slide in behind her, slowly moving more and more to the left so that when she turned her head she might see me.
I watched her lips move quietly, near silent as her fingers worked one bead and then the next as she said the rosary. When she finished, she dropped them gently into a little change purse-shaped pouch, snapped it closed and slipped it into her handbag, almost immediately taking out her glasses to read the Missalette, which would come later in the Mass.
After a time, when she turned to put the rosary away, she would look at me and smile, and say ‘good morning’ to me. I would respond in kind. I never said good morning before that, but church brought out the good morning in me, and each Mass was a good morning. It kept me going when I needed to keep going.
I began to ask Shirley questions about things around the church. Why were some lights in the large cross certain colors while others were not? Why is that cloth red today when it was green yesterday? I don’t remember most of the questions; there were several, and Shirley always answered them. We chatted every day. We walked out together, often all the way to her car and I’d wait until her door was closed and the engine started.
She talked about her family often – her daughter in California, her son in Florida. My family is from Long Island, and she mentioned that her brother also lived there, not far from where I had grown up. I found out that her other daughter was murdered – a victim of domestic violence. When she told me about her, I told her about my friend Brittany who had just been murdered in 2011. The first anniversary was coming up, and was actually part of the reasons I had begun visiting the church in the first place.
She was always happy to see me, and when I missed a day, she hugged me and told me that she missed seeing me. She made a point of turning around, smiling and saying hello. More often than anything else, we talked about the weather and Father Jerry’s humor in the morning, the four of us often laughing quietly and quite possibly rolling our eyes at times.
I’ve always sat behind her. How will I know where to sit now?
As part of my salute to fandom week, I’m switching up Thursday’s Weekly Recommendation to post today. I am so excited to be able to promote this (and I’ll be reposting it a couple of more times this week and next until they reach their goal.)
This is a kickstarter to raise the funds needed for Verdigris to be performed March 13 though April 19, 2015 at Theatre West in Los Angeles, CA.
Verdigris was written by Jim Beaver and previously performed by Theatre West in 1985 with Maureen Stapleton in the leading role. It was the winner of the Los Angeles Dramalogue Critics Award for Playwriting and a finalist for Actors Theatre of Louisville Great American Play Contest.
Jim is well known from his roles in Deadwood and Supernatural. He is also a film historian and his memoir, Life’s That Way about his wife, Cecily’s cancer diagnosis and their daughter’s autism diagnosis shows the heartbreak and the faith and love that this man has for his family. He’s a good soul who’s all heart. (Full disclosure if it wasn’t apparent: I’m a fan.)
Theatre West – for information and to support their other projects
To support Verdigris through their Kickstarter (there are only 16 days to go, and the minimum pledge is $1 – let’s help them out!)
If you want to connect with Jim on Facebook, he speaks his mind and offers insight on whatever’s on it. Follow here.
[Repost from May 3, 2013.]
I’ve been reading a lot recently about whether or not it’s valid for a person to use fictional narrative in describing the events of their life. For example, when I go to Chuck E. Cheese with my kids and I get a wary feeling, I’m reminded of Sam (from Supernatural) at that kids’ play place where he’s terrified of clowns. I don’t pretend to be Sam, and I’m not terrified of clowns, but I empathize with him and I get the feelings he felt, and yet they’re still my feelings. What I’m feeling is valid, and in trying to make sense of the strangeness in my mind, I equate it to Sam Winchester.
This is normal.
Not only is this normal, it is what writers want you to take away from a piece of writing, whether it’s a book, television series or a movie. Writers write, and readers don’t read. They feel. They long for. They want. They want to be.
If all you get from every piece of fiction you encounter is purely as an escape, I feel sorry for you. You’re missing a lot of the point. Yes, fiction can be an escape, but it is more than a simple escape from your life. I’m not suggesting that you will get the personal feelings from every piece of fiction, but something should speak to you in a very personal way, and for some of us, we need, absolutely need to talk about it, to put it into terms that our friends will understand when we’re too emotionally withdrawn or fragile to talk about the real life issue. We can, however, use our shared fictional experience to relate it to people to understand our mental or emotional space.
How many of us watched Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, and say to ourselves, “Look at that beautiful, self-assured Black woman holding her own on that man’s ship”? How many of us wanted to be Uhura? I’m not African-American, but I wanted to be Uhura. No offense, but I didn’t want to be Yeoman Rand. We saw her in the context of secretary, and there’s nothing wrong with being a secretary, but Uhura was a Lieutenant. She was the officer in charge of communications. She was gorgeous and yet she wasn’t reduced to her looks. As a Black person, as a woman, she was equal to the rest of the crew. No one singled her out as different, and she was a role model.
In many of those role models we find ourselves, and sometimes our self comes to us in the strangest of places, where we’d least expect it.
Some writers will beat you over the head: 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight. You don’t think because the writers have told you the story. If you like that sort of thing, great; have at it.
But some writers are much more subtle. Stephen King, Bernard Cornwell, Russell T. Davies, Ben Edlund. It’s a little easier I think to be subtle in the writing of a television series like Doctor Who and Supernatural (the two I currently watch regularly). Easier because there are more than words to the story. We get a fuller picture because of artist intent, the actors’ facial expressions, hand gestures, if their words match their faces.
Because of that overall and more complete picture we truly see the ‘magic of television’, and we can relate the narrative much more to our own lives.
There are superficial ties. When I say the word, ‘well’ in a conversation, in my head I hear David Tennant saying, ‘welllll, four things and a lizard.’ I usually don’t say this out loud.
From last week’s The Great Escapist, It is one thing to say that Castiel is lying in the middle of the road and Dean nearly runs him over. It is quite another to have Dean slam on the brakes, the Impala screeching to a halt, the car barely stopping before he jumps out and the look on Dean’s face says it all, but before the emotion can take over, Castiel asks for help, but not in a begging ‘please help me, I need you,’ but in a humorous way, the way Dean relates to, the subtle, dry, humorless-humor that Misha Collins displays so brilliantly. On his face, you see:
Thank G-d you didn’t run me over, Jimmy’s vessel would not have taken well to that.
Thank G-d it’s you and not Crowley or Naomi.
Relief to see his friends.
Relief and pushed down joy that it is Dean, that they are reunited, that maybe they can talk about what needs to be talked about, but not yet, oh hey, by the way, I’m fucking bleeding.
Fuck, this hurts, would one of you pick me up and by one of you I mean Sam, like NOW.
When I get in the backseat, I better not get blood on the upholstery.
That’s what Castiel is feeling.
But what am I feeling?
Why am I worried? Why am I elated at this brief tease of a reunion? Why am I jumping up and down and fist-pumping? Why do I want to both smack Castiel and hold him close?
The main reason is that I care. But why do I care?
Because I live a life, and I can relate to these things. I can feel the emotion of a loved one being hurt, being the victim of violence, returning to a loved one, missing someone so much that seeing them for the first time is painful and ecstatic and wonderful and scary at the same time as you wait for their reaction, frightened at the sight of blood, so many emotions and feelings that I only have because I have something in my real, non-fiction life that makes this scene important to me.
I’ve talked recently about my friend being murdered and another friend being shot (during the same violent act) and so many things revolve around this anniversary that is coming up next Tuesday. My senses are a bit heightened, especially in this storyline: to the blood, the victim (in this case Castiel) being the victim of a gunshot wound, the reunion after the act, the relief that he is okay. I could even stretch it to a domestic violence relation with the angel involvement, calling Ion his brother before pushing the angel blade bullet into his eye and the abuse that Castiel has taken at the hands of Naomi for millennia, family in the very strict, blood sense of the word.
If I didn’t feel these things as they relate to my real life friends and their pain, I wouldn’t be human. Superficially, the writer wouldn’t have done his job either. The writer wants me to feel. Why else would he write? Most of them (us) don’t do it for the money (although some would be nice). We write for the human experience, the need to make people feel things, and to make them feel things that they haven’t necessarily experienced but can still relate to.
I’ve never been shot (and I hope to never be), but I can imagine the pain; I can imagine the wet, dripping, sticky stuff on my hands as I try to keep it together. I’ve had to keep it together before. I can extrapolate what I read in a book or see on the screen to my own life and feel the empathy. Or the pain. Or the longing.
Another thing that writers do is create parallels.
Why do I care about the abusive nature of John Winchester? Well, in my case I wish Dean could have had a father like I had. I had a great Dad. Not everyone does, and this shows some people who have not so great Dads that they are not alone, and if Dean can get through it, so can you, but Dean doesn’t do it alone. And being able to ask for help or lean on a trusted friend is a good message to send to folks in a similar situation.
In Houses of the Holy, when Sam talked about his faith and the look on his face when the light came from behind the angel statue, I knew exactly that feeling from my last year of attending Mass at the Catholic church. I believed what he was saying because I’d said those very same words; I had that very same look on my face. I wasn’t appropriating Sam’s character or minimizing my own faith journey; I related. And I cried over it. Real tears.
When Bobby says, ‘family don’t end with blood, boy’, I feel that, not because I had such a crappy family; I didn’t and I don’t, but I’m close with people I never expected to be, people not of my blood, but if asked, I would share my blood with them.
And no, creepy, stalker people, I don’t mean some kind of Satanic blood ritual; I mean a transfusion or bone marrow or whatever my non-blood family needed.
Because they are my family.
When Eric Kripke or Russell T. Davies makes reference to the Judeo-Christian Bible, whether it’s through the literal (Kripke) or the abstract (Davies), we know what they’re talking about. We have a base for knowledge. We all have some kind of religion, yes, even atheists. There are many things that atheists believe with the equal zeal as a religious person believes, and that’s why many of these narratives speak to all of us on a basic level.
Look at Doctor Who. One single entity, yes a man, but with two hearts, not of the Earth, but loving the Earth and her people so much that he can’t stay away. He’s worshipped like a G-d, and when he’s not recognized as one like in the episode where we first meet The Master, ‘you don’t know who I am? My, the end of the universe is a bit humbling,’ he even begins to believe he is a G-d. It was almost his downfall in Water of Mars. Just look at this week’s Supernatural when that same thing happened with Sam, talking to G-d’s scribe, Metatron: “How do you not know who we are?! We’re the friggin’ Winchesters!”
The visual of the trinity, so prevalent in Christian mythos: The Doctor, Rose, Captain Jack, and with every companion, The Doctor and Donna, The Doctor and Martha, there is always the shadow of Rose. Infinite combinations of threes: Doctor, Jack, Martha. Doctor, Amy, Rory. Even now, we have the Doctor, Clara and the Tardis. Pay attention this season, clever people.
In Supernatural, we have Dean, Sam, Dad. Bobby, Dean, Sam. Dean, Lisa, Ben. Dean, Sam, Castiel. There are almost always two henchmen with Crowley and Naomi.
Lucifer fell, leaving three Archangels: Michael, Rafael, Gabriel.
Metatron hiding on the Earth, not human, but living as a human, not only before the modern age of religion, but before Christ himself. And isn’t that what G-d did with Jesus? He put Him on the Earth to live as a man, to understand man, to have compassion and empathy for man, and then to die as a Man and to come back as a G-d, not on his own, but with the worship of G-d through Him. You come to the Father through Me.
Sam and Dean are with Metatron, who wrote all of the tablets. Technically they don’t need Kevin; Metatron can help them with the rest, but Kevin is family. He’s not blood. They can justify abandoning him as choices that he made as Prophet or there is a big picture here, but that is not acceptable to Dean. Kevin is family, family don’t end in blood, family doesn’t get left behind. Dean is the patriarch and he’s the glue that holds them together, that keeps the family together.
These are all narratives that we, on some level can relate to.
We’re supposed to relate to them.
If I didn’t relate to the characters and situations and make parallels to my life and use those examples to grow as a person, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reader or a watcher of fictional television. The writer wants me to draw those parallels.
It’s easy to mock what you don’t understand, and so when I see someone mocking me (or others) for taking the stories too seriously or that we should just get a life, I’m disheartened. I understand the subtext of the fiction because I do have a life. I feel badly for those people who engage in the fandom or just watch the series and don’t see the bigger picture; the picture that relates to my real life.
For Dean and the Doctor, I see so many things that they overcome and I feel as though I can overcome my own obstacles. I have depression. I talk about it a lot. I use coping mechanisms. But in addition to that, my depression takes up about 80% (or more) of my constant, so when I read something, I relate it to my depression. When I watch something, I relate it to my depression. My life revolves around my depression and it can rule me or I can rule it, and in Dean and the Doctor I see new ways to cope and control because in them, I see myself. Good G-d, Donna! Donna was a perfect role model for me; I loved her, and I am so sorry she’s not with the Doctor anymore. I just couldn’t relate to Amy as much as I loved her. But I still watch.
I still watch because there is always something that someone else can teach me.
That is what the fictional narrative is.
Pick a show. Any show that you have some kind of familiarity with, and watch an hour or two. Write down the character that you most identify with. Write the character that rubs you the wrong way, and then write down why. I bet it’s because they remind you of someone. Write down a flaw that a character has that you also have. How do they cope? How can you cope? Do you get any ideas from the show? I sit with a little notebook and I don’t take notes as much as I take ideas.
It’s not delusional, or getting lost in the story; it’s being human and fulfilling my part of the narrative contract with the writer.
So, when I write meta (or anything really) that comes from the heart and I relate it to Supernatural, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Daydverse or any number of things that have been filtered through my head and heart for the last four decades, they almost always refer to parallels in my life and revolve around my depression, anxiety, sense of self-worth, friends, lovers, family, kids, education, hobbies, travel, stress, life trauma, coping, advising, experiences, and my life intersecting with the fiction that I’m attracted to is my narrative and I intend to claim it every chance I get.
[Note: I’m reposting this from January. Recently, I was discussing this and the breakdown occurred one year ago last week. I’m also going to be posting some mental health issues and coping as the week goes on, and I thought I would include this again.]
It’s been more than three months, and it still makes my heart beat faster and my pulse quicken; it is not an eventually-formed-fond memory like driving in Wales became and I’m not sure that it ever will be. It is anxiety driven, terror induced shakes.
I don’t know what led to my being so upset. It was probably a perfect storm of events that lined up in a row just so, and I was too busy putting off my anxiety to notice that it was creeping back up on me. It took more than three weeks after to finally reach a semblance of normal anxiety, and then it crept back up into a bad place again. It did slowly come back down, but it was not easy, and it is especially never easy when I’m hyperaware of what is going on inside my head and my emotions and my emotional state, and my best friend is busy, and I can’t afford therapy sooner than every three to four weeks. This could easily turn into an essay on the health care system and money, but I will stick with the breakdown; my collapse; my I-really-don’t-know-what-to-call-it other than badbadbadbad.
There was the misunderstanding between my best friend and myself that we didn’t even realize until a week later. We were answering questions not asked and it was a complete disaster on both our ends.
There was the misunderstanding about my travel plans and a delay that wasn’t a delay that set off a series of hysterical tears.
There were people making plans around me for me and I couldn’t express my disagreement without sounding like a bratty child until finally I broke.
And boy did I break.
I always listen.
I never argue.
My mantra is usually, “Okay, what do you need?” or something similar.
I accept. I do what I should. I do what’s expected. I’m reasonable.
I talk myself out of things constantly to do what works for everyone else.
It wasn’t until I began shouting at the phone, “YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO ME! THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU! I CAN’T! I CAN’T DO IT TONIGHT! I will do it tomorrow. I can do it tomorrow,” and it was clear there was something more than me being difficult. I was crying and doing that hiccupping thing that you do when you’re five and can’t stop crying, and there was a kind of stunned silence on the other end as the scope of what I was feeling was expressed so overwhelmingly.
Another arrangement was made.
I didn’t like the new arrangement. It put too many people out, but I would accept it. What else could I do? It was a sensible solution and I could handle it I told myself.
Anyway, it didn’t matter; I would handle it. I would be as reasonable as the solution.
By the time I arrived I was alternating between being numb and being upset, and nearly always on the verge of tears. There was another new plan, but I didn’t care. I was too numb to care at this point. I knew I would be taken care of and I didn’t care about anything else.
I was on edge and every look, every whisper, every motion out of eyeshot made me startle. I was afraid to speak. I didn’t know whether to apologize or hide in the bathroom or shout at the world. I stayed quiet, fearful that so many of my friends were angry with me. It was so hard; I felt as though I were being watched and judged, and for the most part that probably wasn’t true, but it was not an easy feeling trying to deal with my own emotional breakdown – and what else could this be? – and worrying about what others were thinking and knowing how I’d failed at getting along and just doing what I was supposed to.
I had held it together all week, and on this last day, I couldn’t hold it together, not even for just a few more hours. I wished I could just suck it up and do the one thing I was asked to do.
And I truly couldn’t do it. It was such a simple thing. I’d been doing it for twenty-five years, and I couldn’t make myself do it now. This was the one thing, the final straw, and it was too much, and even I didn’t know that until something inside took over my voice earlier in the evening. I didn’t think I’d ever fallen apart like this, certainly not with so many hearing and knowing and assuming things, and I was embarrassed as much as anything else.
The one person I was afraid to see smiled at me. It was the kind, tired look of it’s-going-to-be-alright-I-promise, and for a second I thought they were mad at me, but it didn’t matter. We’d be okay; if not today then another day, but that look was the first quasi-hug of comfort until they crossed the room and hugged me tightly with that comforting feeling of never letting go. How I didn’t begin to cry, I honestly don’t know. I was hugged tightly and I buried my face in their shoulder and neck and I held on as if my life depended on it, and in that moment it did.
There were more hugs and hand holds, and shoulders squeezed and smiles to keep me going until the next time which would be who knows when, but it was okay.
I would be okay.
There was a solution, and people were taking care of me and that was what I needed.
I love my friends. Without them, I am nothing. We are all a reflection of one another. We reflect and complement and we fit like puzzle pieces on an enormous board and when they’re not around or available, it takes a toll. I get more paranoid, I get more sensitive, I feel like no one likes me anymore, that I can’t ask for what I need, and the more I stretch out, the further away they are, and I can’t touch them and then I’m falling.
I’ve always likened depression and anxiety to alcoholism. It never truly goes away, no matter how many drugs, how many therapy sessions – it is always there somewhere, and we cope. And sometimes, we have relapses, and we need a reminder of why it’s important to be aware of our mental state, our mental health, and we check in with our sponsor, the one person who’s been there and who we trust to guide us out of the darkness, who always has what we need.
At the same time that we are being led out of the darkness, sometimes we are called upon to be someone else’s sponsor and lead someone else to their light. It doesn’t mean that we’re perfect or that we’re ‘cured’, but it means that we are all on our journeys and when we intersect, we need to look both ways and help each other cross the road.
We have that hand in the dark to hold, the whisper in our ear, and ultimately it will be all right.