Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How often do you want to kill yourself?

It's a terrible question, isn't it? It's such a painful thing to ask, mostly because you are absolutely terrified of what the answer might be. If you're a good person, you're terrified because you know the answer could break your heart. If you're a not-so-good person, you're terrified because the answer may lead to a very long, very sad conversation. But, you're probably wondering why anyone in the world would ask this of someone. Well, anyone that has ever sought out treatment for depression will be able to tell you that this question has been directed at them nearly every time they see a doctor.

Having been prescribed three different anti-depressants in my lifetime, I have had to answer this question, or some form of it, no less than a few dozen times. Every time I've been to the doctor's office about my depression, I've been given a survey with roughly eight questions on it. They want to know how often X has happened in the last two weeks. X is usually things like losing interest in things you normally enjoy, a loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and other things that depressed people usually experience. You answer on a scale from zero to three, with zero being “never” and three being “every day.” The first seven questions are essentially a “how ya doin?” The eighth question is more of a “exactly how worried should we be?”

I've seen it phrased a few different ways, but it's always something like “how often do you have suicidal thoughts?” I've been tempted in the past to mark it as a “3,” then when the doctor asks me about it I'd tell him that I'm more worried about my loss of enthusiasm for Oreos.

“Suicidal thoughts come and go, but I've never said no to cookies and milk before. Something is wrong, doc.”

I've never done this, because I've found most doctors don't take potential suicide to be a laughing matter. I come from a perspective of everything being a laughing matter, which includes my unending emotional distress. “Unending” is an exaggeration, but considering the headline I'm using, dramatic is the name of the game around here.

Here's what brought on this morbid line of thinking.

Today has been uneventful, and lonely. If suicidal thoughts were a cocktail, those two would be the main ingredients. It was in my somber wallowing that I received a phone call from an unknown number.

As a single freelance writer working at the same desk, in the same room, as the one I used to update my AOL Instant Messenger profile on in 8th grade, an unknown number has limitless potential. It could be an employer. I've been sending out applications, maybe someone has finally noticed this “talent” I apparently have. Maybe it's just someone who's phone number I lost, and now they're calling to catch me up on all the interesting things going on in their lives, breaking up the monotony of my day and validating that someone felt like talking to me today.

I answer the phone using the least desperate voice I could manage, being certain that the person on the other end is sure to either have a job for me, or at the very least they want to talk to me.

“Hello?” the sad person said with audible desperation.
“Hi, this is Something Something from Clinic Thing, I'm calling on behalf of Dr. Person and we just wanted to know what was going on with your prescription.”


What is “going on with my prescription” is I have stopped using it. After my last breakup, I was feeling pretty terrible and got prescribed with Prozac. Now I'm fresh out of another breakup, and I've stopped taking it after convincing myself that it wasn't working. Stupid, maybe, especially since I did so without telling my doctor. This is probably the sentence I'm supposed to have some clever justification for my decision, but, no, it was stupid. Moving on.

I don't mention my real reason for going off of the medication, instead I brush by a couple secondary excuses, namely the fact that I've recently moved away from that clinic and that it would be impractical for me to make appointments there to re-up my prescription.

She then asks me if it was okay if I took a quick survey. At the time, I was thinking this was going to be a survey asking about the quality of the care at the clinic, or how I was treated by the staff there, things of that nature. I said yes, thinking all I had to do was give them a verbal thumbs up for the next 90 seconds and then be done with it.

If that were the case, I wouldn't be writing this.

It turned out to be that strangely routine series of eight questions that I am now answering over the telephone. The woman on the other end sounds sweet, with a heavy Minnesotan accent that has probably delivered more bad news than I've ever received in my life.

By question #2, I'm already thinking about #8. I go through the motions of telling her that I haven't had any trouble eating or sleeping, but that I am occasionally feeling abnormally down. Par for the course.

Question #6:
“How often in the last two weeks have you felt like a failure, or that you've let everyone down?”
(scale of 0-3, remember)
“Well, I just moved back in with my parents. So that's gotta be at least a two, right?”

She let out a nervous laugh. She was probably already looking down at question #8 like I was in my head. After saying something about how “it's really tough out there for you guys,” I realized that she was probably looking at a document that told her I was 24 years old, and therefore I get a pass on being a fuck-up for at least another three years.

Finally, we get to the doozy, #8. The periods in the upcoming dialogue represent stiff jolts of discomfort shooting up Mrs. Minnesota's spine.

“How often. In the last two weeks. Have. You felt like. You'd. Be. Better. Off. Dead?”

I gave her my honest answer, “one,” representing several days in the last two weeks where I had these feelings.

I followed that answer with a laugh-like snort, and by saying “I'm so sorry, this has to be absolutely terrible for you. I can't believe they make you ask people that.”

I think my levity took her off guard, and she responded with an apology for having to do this on the phone. She told me that the survey showed “mild” depression, which I guess is an improvement over the “extra spicy” depression I had last time I took the test.

She advised that I go to a doctor that is closer to me so that I could talk about renewing my prescription with somebody, and I lied right into my iPhone and told her that I would.

I hung up the phone standing on the brick patio in my parent's back yard. I put the phone in my pocket I started to cry-laugh. I laughed the loud, howling, crazy laugh that you don't let out for funny jokes or people getting hit in the balls. It was the kind of laugh that is just for you. If anyone else heard it they would have you committed, and rightfully so. I don't know what it was about the whole conversation that I found so profoundly mortifying and hilarious at the same time.

Here I've been moping around all day, examining the decisions I've made that have put me back at a place that feels a lot like square one, and I get a phone call asking me to describe exactly how depressed I am. That's like a soldier getting sent on another tour in Iraq (or where ever we're killing people now), and when he gets there, the president calls asking him to detail how much he hates getting shot at.

There are so many ways that my depression is like being deployed for military service. So many.

This one got a little long, so I appreciate all three of you that stuck around till the end to see that I have indeed not killed myself yet. If I ever do, I'll make sure to blog about it after to let you know how it goes.

And just in case this post isn't long enough, I would like to leave you with an obnoxiously long quote from a Stephen King novel I've been reading, The Stand. This is one characters description of a main protagonist in the story, Larry Underwood.

“Men who find themselves late are never sure. They are all the things the civics books tell us the good citizen should be; partisans but never zealots, respectors of the facts which attend each situation but never benders of those facts, uncomfortable in positions of leadership but rarely unable to turn down a responsibility once it has been offered... or thrust upon them. They make the best leaders in a democracy because they are unlikely to fall in love with power. Quite the opposite. And when things go wrong... a man like Larry blames himself.”

Well, Internet, things have gone wrong. And, yes, I blame myself.

This account hit close to home, as anyone that knows me will tell you that I am rather uncomfortably stuck in the “finding myself” phase that you always hear snoody people coming back from studying abroad talk about. And even though I have no plans on being a leader in a democracy, certainly not this one anyway, I take a small amount of solace knowing that Stephen King thinks I'm going to turn out okay.

In the meantime I will be writing about video games for almost no money, and writing about my depression for none at all. All while drinking my dad's beer. Whether I like it or not, this is where I'm going to have to find myself.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Freelance: a hero's tale

In my search for employment, I have found unemployment. Shit-loads of it. There's so much unemployment in my basement room that it's starting to clog the vents. Wait... no, that's not unemployment, that's cat hair. It's the same stuff that everyone points out to me whenever I wear dark shirts in public. I like to think of it as a full body loneliness badge. Except you don't know you're wearing it until you're already in the restaurant and everyone already knows that where ever you just came from, you were almost certainly by yourself. When I see other people in public covered in cat hair there is always a fidgety exchange of averting eye contact. Hang on, what was I talking about? Oh yea, I'm jobless. How do I always end up talking about my cat?

I had steady employment for about five months, but then Netflix put three seasons of Batman: Beyond on instant queue and I decided I had better things to do. I'm finding it difficult to walk down the street to apply at a Jimmy John's. Am I a terrible person for feeling above that? There are honest, talented people that put on an apron and a Jimmy John's visor every day with a smile on their face, and those people deserve just as much respect as anyone that works hard at their job. That being said, I'm better than these people.

I went to college and got my degree so that I could be better than them. That's what we were told. Get that piece of paper and get a job that you can at least tolerate while you build some experience towards the next, more fulfilling job. Well, I haven't found that tolerable job, and I'm well aware that my less than optimistic outlook on the world has played a role in my situation.

Shut up, Adam.

I'm not here to talk about what's holding me back. I would like more to discuss what I'm doing to move forward. And the minor revelation I've had recently is that perhaps my work is best suited for the freelance market at the moment. In the last week, I've had the pleasure of creating content for three different clients, all of which have given prompt feedback and accepted my work. Compare that to the nail biting process of seeking a job by sending my resume, cover letter, application, references, driver's license, passport, social security number, firstborn child, everlasting soul, whatever the fuck a Curriculum Vitae is, and I think I've found a path with a bit less money and endlessly more satisfaction in its nature.

I haven't given up on the prospect of having the more typical, perhaps more manageable lifestyle of a 9-5 job. I'm sure there's a few more of those in my future, and I welcome the challenge. But at the moment I am enthused by the idea of someone sending me something to do, and letting the quality of the product speak for itself. No hoops to jump through. No pretending to be someone I'm not. No shameful, sweaty sessions trying to tie my hand-me-down tie before an interview.

Perhaps I'm just fond of the romance of being a freelance writer. I was nearly brought to tears when I read Stephen Kings account of how he told his wife that the movie rights to Carrie had just been sold, and they were going to be able to move their two children out of their shitty little one-bedroom apartment. I'm quite a ways from such a breakthrough, and if I'm lucky enough to have one of those moments in my life, it will be preceded by a healthy amount of misery and physical violence towards the desk where my computer sits.

Right now I'm Skype chatting with someone who wants me to write video game reviews for them. Let me repeat that. I am actively communicating with an employer who wants to pay me to create something for him. The thing I am going to create will be based on something I am passionate about, and it will end up being something I'm proud of as a result. Somehow, this is one of the first times that has been a reality since I joined this jaded thing all my teachers have called “the real world.” I put myself in this position by allowing my work to stand on it's own, and someone liked it. So simple. So brilliant. And it allows me to do what may be my favorite thing to do: sit in a basement room with my cat and do nothing in particular. In the weirdest way, that is when I am at my most creative and productive.

The job hunt continues, but I've found a way to use my skills, improve those skills, and be compensated along the way. And since I started doing this, the phrase “2-3 years experience” doesn't seem like the brick wall that it once was. I'll gain experience, but I'm going to do it my way, and it's going to be an experience.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I'm not dead yet

Today is my 24th name day, and I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be a man by now. Just this week I learned how to change my oil, so that was probably a step towards manhood. But, other than that, I haven’t been making much progress towards proving to the world that I’m anything more than a cat-loving “comedian” that has been wearing the same forest green, bulldog-print pajama pants for the last four years. And, if I’m being honest, I haven’t proven that to myself yet either.

Don’t worry; this won’t be another blog post where you’re wondering if it’s equal parts confessional and suicide note. The severe depression and sulkiness has since worn off, and I’ve moved on to a calm, manageable state of big dreams and small self-esteem. The latter is currently being balanced out by the number of people wishing me a happy birthday on Facebook. I’m up to almost 30 notifications, if I get any less than 50 today this will become a suicide note, due to the fact that it would matter to less than 50 people. If I get more than 100, my ego will cause my head to grow to such a size that it will become so swollen and heavy that it breaks my neck, paralyzing me from the collarbone down. So don’t overdo it. My life is in your hands, Dude.

Birthdays have never been that big of a deal in my family. And although I can say that I had a generally typical, happy childhood, I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever had a birthday party. I attended a few, they seemed great. Everyone gathers around and insists that you be the center of attention, it’s every middle child’s fantasy.

I can only complain about my childhood so much, and if never having a birthday party is my biggest gripe about my upbringing, then I have very little to be upset about. It goes without saying that there are people that have come from much less forgiving backgrounds that have accomplished more than me by a huge margin.

People, perhaps for good reason, have never seemed to feel bad for me. I remember a time in middle school when my brothers were driving me to school and we were listening to music. I can’t remember exactly what song we were listening to, but the lyrics had some reference to having a hard time getting through high school because of the way they were treated. I expressed to my brothers that I could sympathize with the sentiment and they looked at me like I had just told them they were both adopted.

“You have no idea what they’re talking about,” I recall one of them saying. They were probably right, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. I’ve always found myself more easily identifying with the outsider, or the flawed hero. Which isn’t to say that I’m either of those things, I’m not. The problem is that I look like the total opposite of those things, so when a joke about how sad I am comes out on stage, people don’t buy it because they don’t think that the guy that looks like the quarterback of their high school football team can have any idea what self-loathing can feel like. What I look like on the outside has never really matched the person I feel like I am.

I know this is huge, earthshaking news I’m delivering to you. Tomorrow the front page of the New York Times will read “Minneapolis comic looks good, feels shitty.”

This has become a ramble, and I don’t feel sorry about that. This is what happens when I write before I even leave my bed in the morning. Outside of getting up to microwave leftover Chipotle, the most productive thing I’ve done today is watch my cat flip into fast forward mode when he discovered his new catnip toy. It’s my birthday, and this is how I’m choosing to spend it.

The night brings promise of laughter and merriment, with another comedy show at Stub and Herb’s. Doing comedy here in Minneapolis has changed me in ways that go beyond what people see on stage. You comics are a brilliant, amazing bunch of idiots and assholes that I love endlessly. So, thank you for allowing me to come along with you on this weird adventure that is comedy. I am inspired and humbled by you every time you make me laugh. Here’s to the many years to come of laughing with and at you.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I'm so 20-something

I just realized that before my post yesterday, I hadn’t done anything with this blog in over six months. A lot has gone on since then, not the least of which was my impulsive move to Minneapolis in pursuit of comedy adventures.

It’s not unusual for blogs to get cold after a young writer like myself either runs out of ideas or ambition. I’d like to think that I am an exception to many of the things that plague my generation at large, but that just wouldn’t be honest. I am working a job that has nothing to do with the degree that I have, I am no good with money and I complain about the incredible piece of technology that is my cell phone. But, worst of all, I am a moper.

It’s been something I’ve had to fight my entire life. I just have this negative attitude towards everything that does not seem to mesh well with my attempt at overall nice-guyness. I don’t know what you optimists have been doing this entire time that makes you think that everything is going to work out all the time, but clearly while you were doing that I was preoccupied with reality. I have never been able to see the bright side of anything.

I believe that this is many ways due to my background as an athlete. I’ve discussed on this blog before about how I’ve grown since my days as a concussion seeking, muscle bound football player. There was a time in my life that my dream was to go play professional football. I’ve gotten to the point now that any more than 10 minutes of pregame football commentary and I start having overwhelming suicidal thoughts caused by the shame of knowing that at one point I probably sounded like these chimpanzees. But that’s beside the point.

When you play a sport, and take it seriously, as we were all required to at the college level, you have to watch a lot of film of yourself playing. Everything you do in practice and in games is recorded and analyzed by the coaching staff. So, every time I would make a mistake, which was nearly every play, I would have to watch it over and over again in a room full of my peers and a disappointed coach. Every time I stepped six inches to the left when I should have stepped right, that misstep was rewound, and replayed dozens of times with the coach repeating the same criticism in a different way every few seconds.

Part of a coach’s job is to be hard on their players, I totally understand that. And there are some people that are cut out for this kind of redundant scrutiny, and right now they are probably calling me a baby as they admire how great their biceps look in their sleeveless t-shirt. But I just wasn’t meant to put up with that any longer.

So now, when I make a mistake, whether it’s at work or on stage or anywhere else, my mind goes back to that film room, replaying that mistake until I’m so overcome with anxiety and shame that I lose all perspective of how insignificant that mistake is. The other day, I got lost trying to get somewhere in my car. I ended up having to turn into a parking lot to get turned around. I ended up driving the wrong way down one of the parking lot lanes and having a frantic hand gesture fight with a woman in a Kia Soul.

I was flustered, and starting to sweat, and found myself repeating the phrase “you’re dumber than a parking lot” out loud in my car. This, or something just like it, happens at least a few times a week. It’s this harsh negativity that weighs me down in everything I try to accomplish.

“This joke sucks, don’t even bother finishing it.”
“That open mic sucks, don’t even bother going to it.”
“The expiration date on this sour cream is three days ago… fuck it.”

You may be wondering how that last thought could fit in that same stream of consciousness, but believe me, it does. The only time I consistently feel optimistic in life is when I’m convincing myself I’m not going to get some horrible virus from food I shouldn’t eat.

I, like many so other people, am seeking to become a better version of myself. And convincing myself that I’m less competent than whatever inanimate object I’m frustrated with at the time is not helping me achieve that. My shortcomings are not going to be made up for by spending all my time thinking about the problems themselves. At some point, I’m going to have to get out of the film room, and start finding solutions.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sick. Sulking. And sober... mostly.

I don’t know what I intend this to be, but I know that what I’ve been doing lately to fight off this feeling I have in my stomach hasn’t worked. That sinking, horrible feeling when you start to think “things really might not be okay.”

Is this sounding like a suicide note yet? Good. Most everything I write starts that way. Perhaps it’s because the only time I ever get the urge to write is when I’m feeling like this and suddenly want to feel like I’m having some slow motion cathartic moment in a David Foster Wallace novel. I am writing this on my laptop. My big, expensive desktop has been put on timeout in another room. After one too many games of “DOTA 2” that ended with an embarrassing score, and the temptation to jam a fork in my eye, I shut down my computer and instantly started unplugging everything on the back of the machine. I was not mad. I have thrown more than my fair share of video game induced temper tantrums in my lifetime. This was different. This was something I knew I had to do, and this time it has to stick. Because at this point in my life, the very best title I’ve achieved is an open mic comedian and a writer who doesn’t write.

So, the computer has been moved to the other side of the hallway, I forced myself to do it knowing full well that I won’t have the inspiration to climb under my desk to reconnect all those cords again anytime soon. I’ve only just started on this weird little power trip, and my first move was to use my laziness as a weapon against my own laziness. I think there is a quote from the Buddha that would apply here, but I’m not sure if this shitty old laptop has the processing power to handle looking something up on Wikipedia, so I’ll leave the fat guy out of this for now.
Video games used to be something I really enjoyed doing, lately they’ve felt a bit more like a crippling vice, and an overall soul suck of a hobby. And it’s only been just recently how much I’ve allowed them to have a genuinely negative effect on my personal life and psyche. While I don’t expect this hiatus to last any profound amount of time, there is just absolutely no way I will be able to become an adult any time soon if I continue to live the way that I do. Video games are certainly not the sole culprit in my distraction and laziness, but if my unproductive habits were Batman villains, video games would be The Joker. That metaphor sucks. 

I’ve come down with a gross, mucusy cold now. Probably because my diet is terrible, I don’t exercise, and I’d say I wash my hands about 30% of the time that I should. Nearly all of my problems are created by me, and yet I find myself too often unable or unwilling to find solutions from the same source. 

So what is all this for? Am I just pettily bitching in angst in hopes that the internet will feel bad for me? Well, yes. I’m the middle child, everyone should always be looking at me, I’m special. But really I just want to be able to go to sleep tonight with the mild satisfaction of having actually created something. This is no proclamation or belated new years resolution. This will not pay off my student debt, clean the litter box, or make my face stop leaking. But tomorrow I will wake up. I will write. And if I cannot write, I will read. God damn it, I will be interesting.