Another Mental Health Hero

I’m not usually asked why Batman – as in my favorite superhero – but IF I were the answer would be simple. We relate.

Except for his infinite wealth, good looks and peak physical and mental prowess, we relate.

See, Batman at least has PTSD. Batman and Psychology: A Dark And Stormy Night is a must-read for any Batman fan, especially those, like me, who appreciate the world of psychology.

A guy who dresses up as a bat clearly has issues. 

Let’s rewind though.

My dad loved the cheesy, campy Batman (internet required POW!) series from the 60s. I always enjoyed when the Caped Crusader showed up in episodes of Scooby Doo. My dad also took me to see 1989’s cinematic rebirth of Batman with Michael Keaton (and the ones that followed, with alternating actors, tight leather, nipples and Arnold). The thing that crystallized my worship of the Dark Knight was the seminal and iconic Batman: The Animated Series.

Batman TAS used the same audacious Danny Elfman music from the movies, it offered a pristine and timeless setting, and the voice acting, by Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and more, was enthralling. There’s nothing to dislike about the series, except how it got fused into other animated DC properties in later seasons.

Then, mostly because of the reviled Batman and Robin, the character’s popularity went dormant for nearly a decade. I wasn’t a comic book reader either, and I’d been mostly focused on my radio career during the Dark Knight’s dismal years anyway.

In classic VerbosEric fashion, this is dragging, so let’s move…

Batman Begins happened in 2005, and after I saw it I rushed home and immediately clumsily pecked out a Myspace blog post about it!

The Knight’s Tale, The Patriot and Brokeback Mountain star was cast as the sequel’s Joker, and I hungered for every morsel of proto-Internet gossip I could read leading up to 2008’s The Dark Knight.

After it, and the midnight showing I was at THREE hours early for, I went to work. I needed to be on the air at 6am anyway, so why not get in around 4(!) and pound out a several thousand word primitive Think Piece about the movie I’d just been mesmerized by. It was mostly extolling how remarkable Heath Ledger’s performance was and how it was really a Joker movie more than a Batman one. I’m disappointed I never kept the piece; if for nothing more than to see how my writing has advanced in ten years. Uhh, I think it’s better!

Bruce Wayne’s parents were the impetus behind the creation of Batman. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was the same for my veneration for the character. And in some ways it (the character and what I was about to embark on) it magnified a dark shroud of depression I was about to encounter.

There’d been sensational Batman stories, arcs and graphic novels since Frank Miller’s transformative Year One run.

I caught up on almost all of them, quickly.

Most of them, thanks to Miller’s work, were bleak and grim. I relished that. Too much. Through some unusual literary osmosis, I adopted a lot of the traits I was reading about. After all, I knew I was bipolar at this point. And I knew the depression part of the disorder hit me like one of Batman’s fists. So hey, why not brood like Batman too!

Like I said, I felt like I could relate to Bruce Wayne/Batman. He was smart, successful, and poor (because of his night gig) at relationships and relatively speaking, so was I. It was mostly though, because he was two different people. Arrogant playboy and selfless vigilante for his city. Me, outgoing on air personality, but really an introvert who was borderline misanthropic. Still am, but I just manage it better. Get off the planet, you’re a dick! Just kidding. Some of you are though, for real!

In short, Batman resided in dark places physically and emotionally, and because of my own mental frailty at the time, I allowed the character I glorified to bring me down into the darkness too. You merely adopted the dark…

2005 was a the year I (enlighteningly) got a diagnosis. After all this Batman captivation, I began to think about suicide.

I’m still here though! And if you’ve followed my thoughts or journey, you know I’m presently in a good place. My outlook and mood are bright and hopeful like Superman’s Metropolis, rather than Batman’s dour depressing Gotham.

Your internal mouth is now asking if you there’s another point to this post. Yes! Yes, there is.

Moon Knight!

Usually I vividly recall how, why and even when, my infatuation with a superhero or villain began.

With this character, I think I just saw some cool art and read that he had similarities to Bruce Wayne/Batman and I was superficially and instantly interested. Actually read the comics?! Pffffft. Ridiculous. Slick desktop theme art and Wikipedia were enough for me!

Hold your Moonie hipster angst though. Since I’ve had Marvel Unlimited – a massive back catalog – I’ve done the required and enjoyable Moon Knight reading.

Then, just last week, there was Moon Knight news! Rewind three weeks, a vendor at Toledo’s Fantasticon suggested some MK titles to check out. And I think I found them just over the weekend.

They were written by Jeff Lemire, whose run on Green Arrow I was fond of.

And holy mental health woes Batman! Lemire made mental illness THE zeitgeist of his run with the character.

The first collected edition is called Lunatic. You know, in these discussions, I loathe the use of that word, for stigmatic reasons. A description of Lunatic from the Amazon link you just went past: Marc Spector (a.k.a. Moon Knight/Jake Lockley/Steven Grant) has been fighting criminals and keeping New York City safe for years… or has he? When he wakes up in an insane asylum with no powers and a lifetime’s worth of medical records, his whole identity (indentities) are called into question. Something is wrong, but is that something Marc Spector himself?

That’s DID. Disassociative Identity Disorder, or what it used to be, Multiple Personality Disorder.

It’s kind of a tacky callback to a practice of decades ago, but the end of the comics have Lemire answering Moon Missives. Even the name is alliteratively trite. Once I saw these…

mk2mk 1

I knew I had to put this on your mental health radar. Right besides, Batman and me.

Madness Is Like Gravity…

“Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”

Madness in this case is depression. As I say, the not-so-fun half of my Bipolar II.

The little push was a fun, friend-making, successful week doing some substitute cohosting on 96.3 WDVD in Detroit for a week.

ERIC! THIS SEEMS COUNTERINTUITIVE. HOW CAN SUCH A THING HAVE WROUGHT DEPRESSION?!

Glad you asked. Let me explain the enimga. But first, some of my customary verbosity.

A long time ago when I had something called a J-O-B I often questioned my ability to manage my stress. I doubted whether I had acceptable coping mechanisms in place to deal with seemingly endless emails and something always being needed, or some unfinished work left behind. When you’re immersed in it – especially when it’s something you’re passionate about – it’s hard to have an accurate innate perspective of oneself. Besides, I wanted to justify my voice in the chorus of those questioning a younger generation whose coping abilities are often (wrongly, or rightly) doubted.

In hindsight I believe my professional survival skills were mostly, good enough. Or, a passing grade at least. In reality, I probably HAD bitten off more than I could chew. However, I began to lose track of what defined success. The professional target always seemed to be moving. In this case, getting farther and farther away through no fault of my own. I think for the most part when the hazy cloud of stress would subside, I was proud and thankful for what I achieved, and the relationships I built. I still am.

I’m not the first to say it, but I ALWAYS try to say it when the opportunity presents itself…

This is not curable, but it is treatable. 

I was so wrapped up in the exhilaration of last week’s accomplishments, I didn’t see the inevitable emotional let-down on the horizon.

I went from having a mostly full, and very, very early day where I felt I was part of something high functioning and much grander than myself to…not having that. Outside of the sluggishness of the holidays, I’ve stayed professionally and socially busy enough to fend off any devilish boredom that could’ve wreaked havoc on my mood.

A basin of alcohol over the weekend, and an eBay rampage and I was skidding toward something I’ve managed to avoid amid my unemployment; an extended depressive episode.

My depression was pushed. I had to forcefully punch back!

The remedy? Again, as I always say, do the opposite of the depression is telling you/me to do. No getting buzzed or drunk for a bit. But even more potently than that, get back into the routine I was successfully functioning in prior to 3:26am wake ups. Also, make a coffee date with a dear friend. Ahhhh, now the inertia is rattled! No problem getting to the gym, picking out a new recipe for the evening, slicing through Kroger for the ingredients, catching up on some websites I literally slept through for two of three days, and finishing up with some minor professional tasks.

It’s just a day, but the first blow has been triumphantly landed on a foe that had slayed me too many times.

This was treacherous. Had I not continued to build and refine my mental muscles, it would’ve been simple to slip down a very dark road; one I cannot travel as I try to retain my professional bearings.

 

 

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I Am Going To Have A Good Day

When I’m REALLY in a mental funk. The torrent of negative thoughts shrouds any kind of hope for…well, anything, seemingly.

In March of 2017 I took up a new practice to help combat the depression; the residue of those defeatist thoughts.

This rudimentary technique was at the suggestion of my remarkable therapist. He’s not a sports guy, so I never expected him to be telling me baseball story marked with psychological assistance. And as big a sports fan follower as I am, I was surprised I’d never heard the anecdote of Detroit Tigers star Kirk Gibson vs. his position.

Some of the details of account are a little foggy to me, and this may be more of a tall tale since I can’t confirm the details on Wikipedia, but here goes…

Gibson was struggling to play right field in Tiger Stadium. Something about the sun being a significant impediment. Again, I think. The moral of the story, how it helped me and why I’m blogging this will all makes sense. I promise.

So, I’m told, Gibby goes to a sports psychologist. And that person told Gibson you need to convince yourself you CAN play right field, in the sun, in Tiger Stadium. They (sorry, don’t know if it was a him or her, but I’ll surmise a him) said every morning before you get to the ballpark you need to repeat this OUT LOUD to yourself. Repeatedly! I CAN PLAY RIGHT FIELD IN THE SUN IN TIGER STADIUM. I CAN PLAY RIGHT FIELD IN THE SUN IN TIGER STADIUM. I CAN PLAY RIGHT FIELD IN THE SUN AT TIGER STADIUM.

The out-loud part of this is crucial! For some biochemical, neuroscience reason, negative thoughts need to hear positive words to be beaten down. I have no empirical data to back this up. Only my own experience. I KNOW when negative thoughts arise, they’re going to cause a deluge of mental and emotional trouble. Positive thoughts (thoughts) don’t seem to shove them back where they came from. However, out-loud positive words (words v thoughts) seem to be a helpful remedy. EVEN if you don’t believe they words, they still seem to work! SCIENCE!

This little mental parlor game worked for Kirk Gibson. Or so says my therapist. And who am I to argue. Call it a placebo effect if you’d like. If it works, it works!

This mental demon I was battling in March ’17 had me on the offensive. A lengthy PCP (he’s prodigious with meds) visit and TWO sessions with my counselor in four days. The second one to be one where I turned in homework on how I was going to combat my depression differently this time.

After that first session I committed to beginning my mornings, like literally IN THE shower, where I’m usually most thoughtful and productive anyway, to reciting I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY. I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY. I AM GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY! It sounded ridiculous. At first, I didn’t believe it. But eventually the funk I was in began to dissipate. I was even able to add a layer to I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY to those days when I’m feeling really negative, down or just back into my cynicism of THIS. DOESN’T. WORK. I am going to have a good day today BECAUSE…and then I quickly peer at my day through my mind and see where I KNOW I can find some small victories to rebuild or just build even more confidence so that I can continue to keep the scary harmful thoughts at arm’s distance.

For example, this morning was, I’m going to have a good day today because…I’ve prepped a good show, I’ve beaten this cold back a little bit, and, if all else fails, I can be back and resting the sickness out by 11am. Oh, I also came up with this blog idea!

There’s genuinely something, at least for people like you and I, about HEARING words, rather than listening to thoughts. And I should know this, because my most successful sessions in therapy are when do most of the talking. The mark of a good counselor is one that asks the right questions – of a bright, self aware individual like us – so that we pull the answers to our emotional troubles out of our own mouths.

I also chastise myself for letting those negative thoughts* beat me up because I’ve long subscribed to the aphorism, we need to talk to ourselves, more than we listen to ourselves.

*Though sometimes those negative thoughts are so overwhelming, words won’t do the trick. Maybe stressors have been environmentally amplified, or it’s a weather thing, or meds need changing, just some outside perspective to reshape the prism of my mind is needed.*

I’ve shared this story on the radio shows before, but the reason I decided to day to write this up is because as I was seven feet out of my door, with my cold, car warming up outside, I was walking down the hallway doing my I’M GOING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY TODAY, etc…and these words came out of my mouth.

If repeating words or a belief over and over again can help a Jedi-wannabe navigate a deadly open battle field of troopers (STOP!) trying to protect the emerging Empire, then it can work for us!

 

A Down December

MOM, GRAMMY, I made the Jewish News!

Jewish Federation News HERE.

Speaking (invite me?) at Temple Shomer Emunim on February 11 about my adventures in my own mental health.

I’ll be honest (when am I not) December was a crummy month, filled with some Intermittent depression. I know some numbers will indicate it’s a high month for suicides, due to the holidays, and I suppose people lacking closeness. The idea was contemplated but never ruminated on.

The source of my 💩 was the weather. Yesterday, I couldn’t be outside enough. I truly loathe winter. I don’t buy into the Scandinavian quote about ‘no cold days, just appropriate clothes.’ I’m probably part cold blooded Stegosaurus (dinos are birds, it’s just an analogy cmon!). Also, I wasn’t jealous or sad I didn’t have scores of people to celebrate things with – I was actually home for 8 days in December. Stress and depression free, home, for the first time in a long time.

I was down because YOU were busy. Yep. During my semi-retirement, partial-hibernation I’ve worked to share my time with people and endeavors who I want to make part of my future. But, everyone was busy. Businesses slow, vacation get taken, time off is used, surgeries to use up that deductible, it’s family time, the holidays grind my goals to a halt. I’m not mad at you. You deserve who you care for! I was a bit upset with myself. Knowing this period was coming.

Oh, and I missed my LONG dog walks around downtown. I’m sure the boys missed it too. They often broke up days.

Happy to report there was never a string of days – 2 at most – where the existentialism set in. That’s my indicator of ‘oh shit, the D word.’

The calendar has turned, and it’s been a busy week. Back at it. Connecting with those who I can help. Ultimately that’ll lead to employment and long lasting contentment.

If you need me, you know where to find me.