Tuneful Tuesday: Everything Has Changed

In May, for my job, I attended a concert featuring contemporary Christian bands The Afters and Hawk Nelson. It was a pretty decent show, even though neither of those bands are exactly on my list of favorites. The Afters probably had the more polished sound, but Hawk Nelson brought more energy to their stage show. Plus, I would up downloading a Hawk Nelson song after the concert, so I guess they won the night.

Except they didn’t, really. The opening act of the concert was advertised as Dan Bremnes, but when we arrived we noticed banners up for Justin McRoberts. I was familiar with one of Bremnes’s songs, but I had never heard of McRoberts. Turns out, he’s been around for quite a while, but has stuck mostly to the independent circuit. After a few notes of his first song, though, I was hooked. This dude could sing, and he was a fiery and passionate singer and storyteller as well. He performed with only an acoustic guitar, but for me he stole the show.

Justin McRobertsSince that night (and a few additional downloads of his music), I keep an eye out for mentions of McRoberts. I caught one this weekend on the NoiseTrade.com website. For anyone who is not familiar with it, NoiseTrade offers music for free downloads, with the option of leaving a “tip” for the artist. McRoberts had a song titled “Everything Has Changed” on a sampler from the syndicated radio program Under the Radar titled Escape to the Lake. Under the Radar features music from Christian artists who do not receive the type of radio airplay of, say, The Afters or Hawk Nelson.

I am not having the greatest of weeks so far (Read yesterday’s post for further explanation.). Right now, as I’m typing this, I don’t feel as if there is anything in the world I can actually do right. I feel as if all the progress I thought I had made recently was merely an apparition and that I am going to forever cycle in and out of feeling like there is no hope in even trying. I don’t want to just change small parts of me; I want to change everything.

This song by McRoberts is a mighty realization and coming to terms with who someone is and the changes they have made to become, in their eyes at least, a better person. It’s about freedom, or, more specifically, getting free from yourself. It really is a song about everything changing. I have listened to it five times now just in the course of typing this blog. It is where I want to be. It is who I want to be.

Everything will change. That’s what I need to hold onto right now. Everything will change.

(Unfortunately, I could not find a video for this song, so I am including the link to the NoiseTrade page with the sampler. It is well worth the download.)

http://noisetrade.com/escapetothelake/escape-to-the-lake-2015-22-artist

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Panic/Anxiety Attacks

I still very distinctly remember my first panic/anxiety attack as an adult. I was a student at the local university and was working for a used college textbook warehouse. I was in the shipping department boxing up an order to be sent out. I don’t recall exactly what was going on at the time, but I believe I had some sort of combination of not liking the job, being stressed out by school, and figuring no female would ever take an active interest in me going on. I remember picking up a book, turning to my right, and freezing. I literally couldn’t move for a second or two. It was almost like a weird out-of-body experience.

And then it passed, and I didn’t have anymore … until today.

panicAt least, I think I had one today. To be honest, I don’t know enough about panic/anxiety attacks to say for certain if I’ve ever had one or not. The symptoms of this one were even different. Whereas I froze up the first time, I became very agitated with this one. I don’t remember my breathing being affected the first time around, but it was sort of labored today. And my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest today, which didn’t happen before. Like the first time, there was a combination of circumstances involved, but I don’t really want to go into them all here.

I actually do remember being very young – in the first or second grade – and breaking down crying in the school cafeteria for a few days. I’m still not sure why. Something in there just panicked me, and I would burst into tears. With that in mind, I suppose it would be safe to say I’ve had some anxiety lurking inside me for quite some time now. Whether that is related to my depression is almost impossible to guess, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. It’s there, and it apparently has triggers.

I guess my point of writing this, though, is to find out a little more. Did I actually have a panic/anxiety attack? If I did, how can I do a better job of dealing with it if I have another one? What are the symptoms to look for? And, of course, I always want to hear stories of others who have walked through a fire of some sort. Share your stories here, too.

And don’t be anxious about it. 🙂

(Mental) State Of The Nation

I’ve spent an unusual amount of time on Facebook the past three days. I wish I could say it has been an enjoyable experience, but the only thing I can liken it to is standing by and watching a train wreck. Everyone was just crashing into each other. There was no good end to anything. It just felt like … death.

taylor-swift-pressurizes-apple-to-reverse-apple-music-dealOf course, there is no shortage of things to talk about on social media these days. The Confederate flag. Gay marriage. Taylor Swift and Apple. (Okay, that last one, not so much, but there is some stuff going down there.) Instead of talking, though, most people just snipe at each other. Proponents of homosexual marriage love how the “haters” got it stuck to them. Southerners try to play up the heritage aspect of the Confederate flag. Everyone is convinced they’re correct. No one allows that they might be wrong. It’s an online shouting match.

I have my share of personal beliefs, just like anyone else, and I can certainly understand passion in people regarding the issues of the day. Everyone wants to leave this earth believing they made a difference, and being a part of a social movement is something everyone dreams of. They can say they helped, literally, change the world. Occasionally, passion may trump logic, but it is undeniable that the force of a public tidal wave of opinion is something people not only can be caught up in, but also want to be caught up in.

I am concerned about our nation, though, and it has nothing to do with what flags are flying where or who is marrying whom. I am concerned because there is a growing cloud of darkness over the American psyche today which threatens to plunge our culture into a new age of violence, hate, and depression.

Several years ago, I stopped listening to conservative talk radio. It wasn’t that I necessarily disagreed with the opinions being expressed there; rather, it was the tone of everything. Conservatives had all the right ideas, and liberals wanted to submerge the country in darkness forever. That was pretty much the basis of every discussion I heard. And I got mad at liberals. I would get to work after listening to one of these shows and not want to talk to anyone. That’s when I realized I had gone beyond anger, maybe even beyond hate. I had fallen into some type of abyss, and there was nothing good there at all.

I feel us all sliding into that abyss today, and for those already predisposed to darker moods, there may not be any Peacecamp&downhillestatejuly21st012-1way back. I have been down this weekend, and I feel heavy inside. That heaviness then begins to spread into the doubts and fears and anxieties I wrestle with on a daily basis. My mood begins to be colored in a different way, and soon I begin to let hopelessness creep in. For me, this means a deepening depression. For those disposed to violence, though, or those who possess great anger, where does it lead them? And do the hopeful become bitter? Where are we going?

I was reading an interesting article this weekend about the suicide rate in Belgium. Doctors are permitted to assist with suicides for all different types of reasons in Belgium, including non-terminal conditions such as bipolar disorder, anorexia, and chronic fatigue syndrome. According to the World Health Organization, Belgium ranks 17th internationally on the list of suicides per 100,000 people per year. By contrast, the United States ranks 50th. My theory is this: When a nation expresses a willingness to condone taking one’s own life, its citizens follow suit. Therefore, if a nation projects depression and conflict, it stands to reason its citizens will feel the darkening mood.

Maybe I should get away from social media, television, everything where an opinion might be expressed. Then again, this is America, and those opinions have a right to be heard. I just wish it could be done in a way where sides are not so starkly chosen and battle lines are not so plainly drawn. The thought of us hacking each other to pieces is a depressing one indeed.

Exposed And Unconfident

I did something really stupid this weekend. I mean really, really dumb. Monumentally idiotic. Imbecile-level.

I shaved my beard off.

Now, there is an actual story behind this. My soon-to-be 11-year-old daughter, Emma, has been on me forever about 11535683_10155777623840217_2116900964301603517_nhow my beard scratched her face when I gave her kisses. She had actually started refusing to let me do it. As a sort of truce, I said I would shave it off for her birthday, which is in August. I decided to surprise her, though, by doing it a little bit early.

Well, actually, that’s not my entire reason for doing it when I did. I’m going to be starting college classes soon, and it was very important for me to have the beard when those began. Let me explain.

I’m pretty sure that before this past weekend, I had not been without a beard or at least a goatee for somewhere around the last 10 years. I distinctly remembered despising what I looked like the last time I shaved everything off before that. I had grown a beard in the first place, though, because I hated my face. I mean, I literally hated my face. It’s pasty and doughy looking. It has no real shape. It’s just this white mass of flesh, and my skin isn’t the best in the world either. A beard, as the old saying goes, covers a multitude of dislikes.

Okay, so I made that last saying up, but it really is true. I didn’t realize the level of confidence facial hair gave me. If you’re thinking I’m attempting to make a joke here, I assure you I am not. While most men (and women) are attempting to look younger, I actually wanted to look older. Nothing like a few white hairs in the beard to accomplish that. It not only made me look older, though, but it also made me feel older. The baby face was hidden away, and I finally liked what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t worry as much about what everyone else was seeing because I was so comfortable with what I was seeing.

vitabeardI can’t really put into words how traumatic this shaving experience has been for me. Several times, I have literally wanted to be sick when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror these past few days. I have actually looked up information on the internet about beard-growing supplements (Yes, Virginia, there is something called “Vitabeard.”) and ways to stimulate facial hair growth. Since I started noticed stubble again, I keep rubbing my face just to feel it there.

I am serious when I say this has messed me up a little.

Thankfully, even Emma has said I should grow back the whiskers, so I don’t have to fight with anyone about the decision to do so. As I creep toward rejoining the ranks of beardom, I am realizing I have learned a valuable lesson from all this. If you find something that makes you feel whole and confident and true to yourself, think very carefully before you go messing with it. Even if you do change it, though, and you don’t like it, you can always try to get it back. It may take a little time, but keep your eye on the prize.

Now, if you’ll excuse, I have to go count the hairs on my face. And measure them. Individually.

Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?

Tuneful Tuesday: The Mellow Zone

mushroomI had the opportunity to eat lunch at the Mellow Mushroom in Nashville on Father’s Day. I would highly recommend it. They have some really awesome pizzas there, and the service was great, too. Lots of music stuff inside, which is right up my alley, of course. Just an overall pleasant experience.

It’s been a while since I’ve actually focused much on the music playing inside a restaurant I was eating at. There are usually so many other distractions around, particularly now that every restaurant seems to have at least five different televisions all playing five different things at the same time.

(Pet peeve: Why do restaurants put a television on a sitcom or newscast or something, turn the volume all the way down, and not turn on the closed captions? You’ve reduced the viewing experience to basically watching mimes.)

For some reason, though, on this particular day, I was listening to the songs being played with some degree of attention. As a string of ’90s alternative tunes reeled off, I had a realization: Even though some of those songs came out during really difficult periods of my life, when my depression was at some of its lowest points, I smiled after the first few notes of each of them played. It was like I was running into a bunch of old friends again.

With iPods and digital music, I think we’ve sort of lost the value of hearing a song from long ago played over a distantblur speaker. We can put our whole libraries on something the size of a notepad (or smaller). There are still those moments, though, when the past comes creeping in and taps you on the shoulder, just as it did for me Sunday. Counting Crows’ album Recovering the Satellites was like a depression soundtrack for me, but I sang nearly all the words to “Angels of the Silences” when I heard them. I don’t know what I was doing when Cherry Poppin’ Daddies “Zoot Suit Riot” came out, but I know I was diggin’ it Sunday. And even though I only know two words of Blur’s “Song 2” (“woo” and “hoo”), the energy of it made me sit up and take notice.

There may have been songs that took us to the depths of despair, but, man, aren’t we glad later on they were there? They came through when the happy, poppy stuff didn’t, then they came back years later to share war stories. Sad songs don’t always have to make you cry; sometimes they can make you smile because you’re not in the place you first heard them anymore.

That, my friends, is a pretty mellow trip, indeed.

ALL Murderers Are Mentally Ill

Enough already.

The scenario is always the same. A horrific shooting incident occurs. There is an initial outpouring of grief and sympathy, and people actually appear to get along for a brief period of time. Then the gun control debate begins. And once that topic has been thoroughly exhausted, the discussion of the treatment of mental illness resumes.

Here’s a little secret, for those of you who didn’t know: Anyone who kills anyone else out of anything other than maintaining the law, carrying out military orders, or in self-defense is mentally ill. Period.

Stigma_FII mean, really. Do people in a normal state of mind, not acting in any of the capacities I described above, decide to strangle, stab, or shoot someone with the intent of killing them? Do people just come home from work, set their briefcase by the door, read the newspaper, and then think to themselves, “Hmm, I think I’ll kill someone tonight.”?

Murder is an insane act in itself. I guess mass murder could be defined as more insane, but should there really be a ranking scale on homicide? If I shoot my neighbor one day because his dog dug up my flowers, am I not as bad as someone who walks into a church or a movie theater and opens fire? Was I just “angry,” while the other person was “insane”?

“Mental illness” is and will always be a problem, but so is hate, anger, spite, envy, jealousy, and virtually any other trait which would persuade someone to pick up a weapon of any kind and kill another person. Should we not work on those as well? We live in a world where our leaders, our entertainers, our media representatives attempt to rile us up and pit us against each other. Is it any wonder we feel such animosity toward one another?

In our search for a reason, then, let us cease from tossing the words “mental illness” around as if they are some type of key to unlocking the why behind all of the violence we are faced with. Yes, mental illness is to blame.

What are we going to do about it?

Tempering All Things

dairy queen dq jurassic peanut butter cookie dough smash blizzardI tried out the new Jurassic Smash Blizzard at Dairy Queen tonight. It was actually quite good, and it even came in this little commemorative Jurassic World cup. I suppose by some strange manner of commerce I just fed into the movie’s vast money-making scheme. As if it needed my help at this point.

As much as I enjoyed the Blizzard, though, I still won’t be going to see the movie.

I never quite understood the allure of the Jurassic Park movies. I felt the only one of the first three that really had anything intriguing about it was the first one, and about half of that one was spent watching people get chased around by a species of dinosaur I had never heard of before. The next two movies were basically spent cleaning up the mess from the first movie in one way or another.

That brings us, of course, to the fourth installment, Jurassic World. I find the concept behind this one sort of baffling. The first three movies all showed how creating a park full of prehistoric creatures was probably not the best idea someone could have. So what should we do for the next movie? Why, create a new park full of prehistoric creatures! What could possibly go wrong?

In an odd way, though, this sets up Jurassic World as a movie I might be pleasantly surprised by, mainly because I jurassic-world-chris-pratt1have virtually no expectations for it. I like Chris Pratt, but that’s about it. Conversely, I have experienced some of my biggest disappointments with movies that I have gone into with very high hopes for. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace darn near destroyed me. I had it so built up in my mind, and it was so, so bad. Another Pratt movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, blew me away, though, partially because I went into it thinking it was going to be Marvel’s first big cinematic misstep. Boy, was I wrong.

I’m learning more and more as I go through life that tempering expectations is a very valuable part of the thought process. When I become too optimistic, I am likely to crash. When I become too pessimistic, I often don’t even try to find anything good in the situation in front of me. I’m attempting to find the middle ground between these two right now in two different situations.

As I wrote about here a little while ago, I’ve been playing music with a couple of guys recently. I have no idea where the whole thing is going yet, but I would love it if it turned into a band of some sort, since being in a band is something I’ve always wanted to do. Already, though, I’m finding myself wanting to jump ahead, picturing all these scenarios where everything works out. It’s not that I hope it doesn’t work out, but you may have noticed I’m 41 and still have never really been in a band. That track record doesn’t exactly bode well for the future.

The other situation has to do with my going back to college. So far, everything is working out perfectly for this to happen. In fact, I’m worried it’s sailing along a little too perfectly, so I find myself ratcheting down my expectations so I won’t be crushed if it doesn’t happen. What kind of attitude is that, though? It’s almost like walking down the street on a beautiful, sunny day and waiting for an anvil to drop on your head.

So the trick is to not fly too high or too low. If I were to imagine Jurassic World as the best dinosaurs-chasing-screaming-people-around movie ever made, it’s probably going to let me down because I’ve placed too much expectation on it. If I go in thinking it will totally suck, though, I’m going to sit there and nitpick it until I mess up what could have been a nice viewing experience. Why not just approach it with an open mind then? See what happens, enjoy the ride. Be a student. Play music.

star-wars-episode-7-light-saberStar Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will hit theaters later this year, and I am staying as completely ignorant about it as possible. When the original Star Wars movie debuted, I was such a little kid, I didn’t know anything about anything. I want to go back to that feeling for this one, just let the wonder of it sweep me away. Whether it’s a dinosaur or a spaceship or a school book or a guitar, it seems the less I know sometimes, the better.

Is It Over?

I have been sort of reluctant to write about something going on with me, something I am not exactly used to. I may have touched on it a few times here, but I’ve never been brave enough to bring it fully into the light when it’s happened before. I’m not sure how many of you will believe me when you read it anyway. Tonight, though, I’m taking the chance. So, here goes…

I’ve been feeling really good lately.

My typing those words makes me want to duck and cover. It’s like someone throwing a lit match into a propane grill filled with gas – you know the grill will light up just fine, but you’re also terrified that it will light you up as well. I’m nervous about even speculating that I might feel good, because usually when I mention it, that’s when the wheels fall off and I’m left wondering how I ever thought I could not feel bad in the first place.

At the moment, though, I’m in a good place. I mean, everything’s not perfect, but I don’t figure it ever will be. I can’t even really put my finger on what it feels like to be in my head right now. It’s just … just … clear. The new medication seems to be working, although I’m wrestling with some side effects. My becoming a college student again is progressing along. I’m actually beginning to feel as if I’m good at a couple of things. While this may be totally normal to most of the world, to me, it is not.

can-depression-be-cured-5-638Will it last, though? Or is this part of being (gulp) … cured?

Is there really a cure for depression? I mean, the debate has raged for years as to whether addicts can be cured of their addictions completely or whether they simply learn the means to manage them. Can someone who is depressed ever be not depressed, or do they merely become more and more adept at managing the wolf at the door? As with the addiction question, the answer depends largely on who you ask. Some people believe it can go away; others believe it will always be there.

To be perfectly honest, I have felt the way I do for so long, the prospect of feeling different actually makes me a little apprehensive. I mean, who will I be? Will I be happy in my own head, but unbearable to those around me who knew me before? Will I make wise decisions when I’m not under the cloud anymore, or will the cloud never really go away? I’m happy now. Will I be happy tomorrow?

I suppose in the end, the answers to these questions don’t matter so much. Either way, there will have been a sadness there that will have lightened, and that should be enough. My problem is that I have let this feeling define me for so long, I’m not sure what I would do without it. If right now is any indication, though, I’m pretty sure I can figure it out.

Tuneful Tuesday: Sad No More

What seems like a lifetime ago, I used to have a blog titled Half-Empty: Confessions of a Pessimist (Who’s Trying To Do Better). I still love that title, but the blog itself was sort of a mess. It didn’t really have any theme, and I just sort of wrote about whatever I happened to be thinking about that day. It didn’t really start to take shape until I started writing about depression, but it would have been weird to keep the title and make the blog about something different, so I kind of retired it.

I say “kind of retired it,” though, because it is actually still up online, and it occasionally still gets a view or two. One of the most popular posts I ever wrote there was titled “The Sad and Wonderful Mumford & Sons.” The whole point of it was that while I enjoyed listening to Mumford & Sons, I felt like a lot of their songs sounded the same. Their success, I contended, was both a sad and wonderful thing; wonderful, because their sound definitely was different from what was being played on the radio at the time, and, sad, because there wasn’t much diversity to what they were doing on their first two albums.

Well, Marcus Mumford and Co., I owe you guys a straight-up apology.

With the release in May of Wilder Mind, Mumford & Sons blasted their way back into the public’s musical consciousness with an album filled not with banjos and acoustic guitars but electronic beats and amplifiers turned up to 11. This album doesn’t sound like their other two at all, prompting me to wonder if maybe they got tired of people like me complaining about their lack of creativity. I’ve only listened to the album a couple of times, so I can’t really give it a thumbs up or thumbs down yet, but there’s no denying it is a bold sonic statement by the band.

Even if this album tanks, I can’t express enough how much admiration I have for Mumford & Sons trying something like this. In essence, it is a huge risk. Their last album, Babel, won a Grammy award and inspired a slew of imitators, from secular (Looking at you, Lumineers.) to Christian (Stand up, Rend Collective.). With the success of the single “I Will Wait,” they proved they could get radio airplay without compromising their sound. They could have stayed the course, but they didn’t.

There are so many instances in life where we can stand back and wonder what might have been if we only did something a little out of character for us. What might that different decision have brought us? What if we had spoken up when we remained quiet? What if we had turned right instead of left? Depression can cause crippling effects when it comes to decision making and taking chances. Those of us who have it tend to want to cling to the island pretty tightly sometimes. We rarely crank our guitars to 11 and rock out.

So far, my favorite track from the new album is “The Wolf,” which features those loud guitars I was talking about. Turn it up, be happy, and celebrate the wonderful Mumford & Sons.