Several weeks ago David Brooks asked readers to write in and share their mental health experience during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. I felt called to share my experiences immediately. Wifey tells me all the time my willingness to share from a vulnerable position helps many people. When it became clear the pandemic was going to affect our daily lives… forever, I felt very comfortable with what was being asked of me as an individual and of our population. That is to say I don’t think anyone’s freedoms have been impeded on or terribly eroded. It is political as fuck but we get what we vote for. We are as a nation trying to stay healthy and it is being politicized in order to divide us and scare us. What a shame, both parties are guilty of this.
Before Tiger Woods’ fall from grace, there wasn’t a member of the PGA tour that wasn’t afraid of facing Tiger on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone knew that if they were going to walk around with Tiger wearing that red shirt for 4 1/2 to 5 hours there was very little chance that they were going to defeat him. Tiger had built a process and a routine for his professional life that was simply unstoppable. My own experience has shown me a large part of the fall of Tiger Woods had to do with the proffesional success he experienced very early in life. Very rarely is one able to build strong foundations in both professional and personal capacities at such an early age. Since the fall, Tiger has managed to build a new foundational process for his personal life, while at the same time tweaking his professional process. Tiger’s victory at last year‘s Master’s Golf Tournament signifies for me, with a strong foundation, a “come back” from any depth is not only possible, but with a stiff wind of resilience at one’s back, very probable. I admire Tiger Woods very much for how he handles things. He is a human with a big engine and it has taken some time to learn how to operate this engine in a healthy way.
All that being said, I come back to the comforting feeling I experienced when it became apparent my own foundation and daily routine would be disrupted in a way that could have threatened my 15 year recovery journey. One of the first and most drastic changes to my mental health routine was the elimination of in person daily 12 step meetings. I’m an early riser, always have been. First thing I do every morning is go to either a 6 o’clock or 7:15 early morning 12 step meeting. Since these were not going to be happening, I knew I needed to fill the vacuum with something productive, most likely service oriented. I understand from years of experience that when something is removed from my life, good or bad I need to have something else ready to take its place, otherwise the chances are I won’t like what nature fills the vacuum with. Nature abhors a vacuum in as much if we don’t plan for such events these spaces can be filled with a darkness that we may not understand or know how to handle. I have also learned that these types of darkness are implicit to my childhood and usually loaded with an enormous amount of F.E.A.R…. FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL!!!
One of the main principles I have learned through my recovery journey is that service work keeps you sober. My wife and I have supported a local homeless shelter for the last 10+ years. When the “shelter in place” order came down in Illinois, most of the groups that had volunteered to make hot breakfast at the homeless shelter canceled on their obligations… Fear?
It struck me instantly, this was going to be my new morning routine. I have not kept count but I’m sure I have made pancakes eggs bacon biscuits gravy in other morning delectables for over 80 mornings. At the beginning of the month I get a list of the dates that don’t have hot breakfast for the guests. I take whatever dates are open, there are usually more than 20 mornings with no hot breakfast. When I wake up in the morning during this pandemic experience, my mental health has and will continue to be safe and sound knowing I have a purpose. It feels to me like a lot of people think they have lost their purpose… don’t confuse purpose with job… that’s what “they” want you to think of yourself. To whatever degree possible I want to help people know they are not forgotten or alone. Everyone deserves a hot breakfast and I’ve made some really great new friends as a result of dropping off breakfast every morning. Bruce, one of the guests, meets me most mornings at the back door to execute our “no contact” food handoff. I also had the opportunity to “12 step” another resident who had recently suffered a heroin relapse. One of the staff called and asked if I would come to visit with this person. This person and I both felt loved when we were able to get together, sit down, and talk about the struggles we have been experiencing. One addict to another. Addicts share a commonality in despair. It allows us to laugh at each other even when we know we’re only one step away from deaths’ door. The honor, respect, and love I feel for another human that never gives up their own journey to conquer addiction is indescribable and immense. RIDE OR DIE!! Folks that are addicted to drugs, live every day of their lives with an internal pandemic that sadly remains unseen, even by those closest to us. With everything being different, I feel strangely at peace. I’ve already been through the process of knowing I can’t control things. I’ve already had to change everything in my life the way people are being required to do now. I have executed this process a few other times as well. Most recently to save my marriage and learn to live with a bipolar diagnosis. It’s not that hard (it is at the beginning) and at the end of the day I feel much better with a new version of myself. I spend time now thinking about the first couple years of my sobriety from alcohol. Those early days were much more confusing and overwhelming than what I experienced in my journey today. It takes trial and error to figure out a new version of ourselves. It’s gonna take a couple years for people to figure out what the new version of themselves is going to manifest in our post pandemic world. Let’s be patient with ourselves, it is much easier to be patient with each other if we know ourselves first. I know myself and I’m still tweaking and taking inventory of my mental health all the time. Progress not perfection.
Two years ago this month I received my bipolar and PTSD diagnosis. I can report learning to deal with these health issues is very similar to addiction recovery. The first two years are definitely rocky with a lot of slip ups. We’re working through some slip ups of mine as a family… I need to learn to be a much better listener. During the past 3 months I have learned that being a good listener is very important to a mental health trajectory that is “up and to the right.” I’ve gotten really good at my DBT practice of radical acceptance, I can always get better. I also find good comfort in my container garden. This year I planted a majority “Scarlet Begonia’s” to go with the green potato vine I love so much. I usually plant a scheme of mono chromatic all white impatiens with green and purple potato vine for some poppy contrast. It was the same one my mother used the year my sister was married. I enjoy the elegance of simplicity… my mind is anything but and enjoys the respite. The Grateful Dead song “Scarlet Begonias” has some lyrics that have helped me remember to have an open mind and heart…
“Well, I ain’t always right
but I’ve never been wrong
Seldom turns out the way it does in a song,
Once in awhile you get shown the light,
In the strangest of places if you look at it right!”
I am glad I planted the Begonia’s this year, planting these tiny reminders on my back deck where I drink morning coffee has been a great source of comfort in addition to being a superb reminder of God’s grace in my life.
This is a period of time when the best and worst in people is coming out at a higher flow rate than what this observer considers normal. I’ve determined for myself the only way I can respond to this is with love, kindness, and compassion. If I look close enough I can see past all the differences created to divide us and draw on the similarities I know connect us all. This is the foundation for my compassion and a big part of what keeps me moving “up and to the right” with my mental health journey. You asked!!!!
A couple years before I received my BPPTSD diagnosis, I got the above tattoo to serve as a reminder to slow down. The tattoo ended up meaning more than I could have imagined. I am prone to the ups and downs of the volatile line… chaos is my natural state. God’s plan is the perfectly straight line. Something in the middle is what I am shooting for… a nice smooth wavy line is ok with me.