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.

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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!

 

Washington State QB Kills Self

With sports, we often use wild, and warlike metaphors and analogies. Sadly, that’s not the case here.

Tyler Hilinski blew his head off. Also, not likely an exaggeration, considering a rifle was found next to him.

In wake of the situation, the words are morbidly familiar…

‘He was so…(INSERT WORDS THAT WOULDN’T ALARM ANYONE OF DANGER)’

I guess I can’t expect, in this situation, 18 to 22 year olds to intuitively ask themselves if their teammate was really as happy as he emanated, or if like myself and many others, it was a protective mask hiding their true macabre state of mind and emotions.

It’s not even a fear of mine, it’s more like a future I need to ensure doesn’t ever occur. Too often I think about my dad no longer around, no dogs of my own to care for, and I fall prey to my depressed, then suicidal thoughts.

This is my top precept for why someone like me should not be allowed to legally own a gun. Ask it on the background check: HAVE YOU EVER VISITED WITH A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, or something similar to that. Sure, I could track one down – and there’s other ways to make the attempt – but in the time I did, hopefully my suicidal ‘courage’ would’ve evaporated. Essentially, second, and wiser thoughts.

I’m extremely candid with my mental health struggles, so I’m hoping if my behavior ever seems more dour than usual, someone will take the words and sentiments of Brady Quinn very seriously, after this terrifyingly public murder-suicide by his teammate.

How are you?

Hindsight is always perfect vision. Perhaps now, Hilinski’s teammates, coaches, teachers, friends and family can look back and likely vividly see signs that could have portended such deadly thoughts and actions were on the horizon.

Please know, I’m not blaming them, though maybe some deserve it. Their punishment will be their conscience. Wins, not even education, are worth life.

It’s impossible to know everything. Even about those close to us. We’ve all heard, read and seen stories about next door neighbors, relatives, or coworkers that end with I had no idea (insert one of the previously mentioned) had seven terabytes of snake porn on his computer or really, they did WHAT. Eh, you get the idea.

The story that gave rise to my ceaseless  eyebrow raising cynicism of others is the Kobe Bryant rape case. I was 24. Not far away from the age of those Washington State kids, thus my forgiveness and sympathy. NO WAY I thought Kobe, already an NBA champion and icon, someone from nearby my hometown, with a gorgeous wife could have driven the lane past a NO from a woman. Got that wrong. Nobody thought OJ Simpson could be capable of murderously slicing up two human beings either, right?

See, we don’t and can’t know everything. There are clues though. Often in plain sight. Just pause. It could save a life.

You watched the Brady Quinn video above?

When we ask someone how they’re doing, do we really mean it? No, not really. It’s just a friendly colloquial greeting.

But I plead with you, maybe even for my own future’s sake, if your instinct about someone says something is off, heed the words of Quinn. Not howareyou, try, for real, HOW ARE YOU?

I have a friend, who knows he is, because of what he’s shared with me, I MEAN IT WHEN I ASK IT. 

Another geographically distant friend of mine who knows I spill my mental health guts for everyone to digest, and maybe learn a little too, just recently messaged me about her concern for a coworker. Behavior had changed and some suicide jokes were cracked. Other coworkers of theirs took note as well. By acting, these people may have saved this man’s life, and now can work together, with his family, to show him that he’s not a burden on any them.

I close my TED Talk with, within that hopelessness and helplessness, there is hope and help. There are mind-numbing times when even I don’t recognize that. The cloud of depression has altered my reality and my bent my rational. That’s when I…we need YOU to step in, and ask, how are you.

 

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.