Where Demons Wander…and Angels Cry

The end of the road

Do you find fault with a diabetic whose pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or a cancer patient whose biology allows their cells to replicate themselves without end?

There is something wrong with me…

By the numbers, only 1 in 10 of you will understand. Which means 90% of you could not, cannot, and will never, understand what I’m about to tell you.

I don’t hear voices, or see things…wait…maybe I do…I better explain.

We all have that little voice in our heads.

Is it the ego, the conscience, the soul, our inner being?

I don’t know, but I do know that everyone’s little voice talks to them differently. I have friends, coworkers, and loved ones, that seem to have the mental fortitude of a howitzer. It doesn’t matter what happens to them, they always adapt, overcome, and persevere.

I think their inner voice is probably encouraging, positive and constantly reassuring them that they will WIN.

I envy them more than anything else in the world. I could care less about money or fame, but to have a little voice that says good things to me would make life a cake walk for me.

Here and now is where I’ll lose 90% of you because I said your life, your psyche, your ego, your little voice would make life easy.

Certainly, your life is not easy, I’m not saying that at all, but let me tell you a little about mine.

I won’t bore you with the sad details of my life, everyone has them, but I would like to tell you how my mind reacts to turbulence.

I also won’t blame anyone else for how my mind works, it is what it is.

Some folks in my early life may have contributed to the way in which my little voice speaks to me, but it is my mind, I own it, I control it…sometimes…most of the time.

I’m approaching 50 now…so I’ve had plenty of time alone with it. It’s somewhat normal most of the time, but it has betrayed me dangerously about ten times throughout my life. It tried to kill me.

Moving on, when my mind decides to go to the dark side, my little voice kicks me when I’m down. It pounds me into the ground. It grabs the back of my head and grinds my face into the dirt, and rocks.

It tells me over, and over, and over again, what a loser I am, and how I’m nothing but a fuck up, and a waste of flesh and bone. I’m not delusional, I don’t see things, I don’t hear things, it’s just that little fucking voice that sometimes helps me, and sometimes hurts me…bad.

Call this a self-esteem issue if you need to, but the little voice is what ultimately either feeds the esteem or starves it.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when it’s going to turn on me. Sometimes I can feel it coming, but most times not. It just sneaks up and entangles me in its tentacles when something is going poorly in my life, my marriage, my career, my family, etc.

Things go from bad to worse, and fast. When I was in my adolescence, I hurt myself…with a razor. They called it a cry for help. Maybe it was.

When I was in my late teens I put a shotgun in my mouth and sat with swollen bloodshot eyes, tears streaming down my cheeks for hours on Easter Sunday while all of my friends were with their families.

When I was in my twenties, recently divorced and alone, I spent Christmas Eve (my sons first birthday) with a shotgun in my mouth again. Fewer tears this time.

When I was in my thirties, things were pretty good, a few bad times but for the most part good. I had a wife I loved and still do (she’s part of the 90%). We had more children, life was in motion, and my career was otherwise okay.

When my forties came, so did regret. Regret that I had chosen a career that was not at all what I really and truly desired to do. I was working for a complete ass who thrived on threatening people with their jobs. I was highly skilled in my profession, but not at all valued as an employee. The great recession was in its deepest depths and there was nowhere else to go for work. I was stuck, I was stagnant, and I was frustrated.

Lots of folks were.

I had a wife and four kids to support.

One of those kids was my son, the one whose first birthday I had celebrated years before on Christmas Eve.

I’ve got hours and hours of video footage showing him having a grand time at our house as he was growing up, and playing with his sisters. I guess he was having too good of a time, riding mini bikes, driving my truck on gravel roads when he was ten, blowing up action figures in the sand box with fireworks (the good kind), building rockin’ forts in the woods, canoe trips, camping trips and swimming in the best river holes I could find.

It came to an end.

My ex-wife had somehow, poisoned his adolescent mind into thinking that his visits with us were terrible and that my present wife was some kind of monster. He stopped coming and wrote me off, wrote us off, all of us…completely.

It felt to me like he had died.

It felt to me like I was the biggest failure in the world.

It felt to me like everything I had done to maintain and nurture the relationship was for nothing.

In comes my old friend…the little voice.

It reassured me that I was, in fact, a lousy father, a lousy human, a weak and helpless man.

If you think suicide is for the weak, try to put the cold steel muzzle of a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger.

I assure you that it takes more strength than most folks can muster.

It was a brave, courageous, and honorable act when a Samurai pushed his sword through his own liver.

It was a brave, courageous, and honorable act when the Kamikaze blew himself up on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Still think it’s weak?

Loop a rope around your neck and “try” step off a chair.

Walk into the ocean and “try” to fill your lungs with seawater.

Walk out to the mid-span of a bridge, step over the rail and “try” to jump your death below.

Even Navy Seals succumb to depression.

This time, the voice pushed me deep, very deep.

When I was a younger man and found myself in a suicidal moment I was always able to think my way out of it by telling myself that “things might get better”, “I’ve got a lot of life in front of me”, “I can get through this.”

Something was different this time though, I was fed up with suicidal thoughts and depression. I was worn out from fighting depression, I was not interested in continuing this cycle for the rest of my days. I just wanted it over.

I didn’t cry this time.

I just planned my death.

I planned on taking a long walk…a one-way walk into the woods.

I didn’t want anyone to have to clean up the mess…I didn’t want my wife or kids to find me with half my brain matter splattered all over the walls.

I was really scared this time…because I was no longer afraid…to pull the trigger.

I had transitioned from second guessing the suicidal thoughts of my youth, to a grown man who just wanted to make the suicidal thoughts stop.

This was 7 years ago.

So why am I still here?

Compassion.

Not the compassion of others towards me, but a compassion for others. Said differently, I’ve always survived the suicidal thoughts by getting deep into my mind and trying to envision what my actions would mean for others, the people I love and who love me.

When I was young I tried to see my mother and brothers at my funeral. I tried to hear my mother and brother telling others that I had killed myself.

As an older man, and a father, I try to see my wife and kids at my wake, I try to see my daughters crying at my funeral and at the cemetery as they lower me into the ground. I try to hear my daughters asking “Why did you do this daddy?”

I try to see my closest daughter following in my footsteps because I wasn’t there to help her through it.

I had to get help this time…because I was dangerously close. Too close, way too close.

So I talked to my family physician, I lied to him.

I told him that I felt a little blue. I told him that I just wasn’t feeling myself. He gave me a medication, an antidepressant that I had spent a lifetime avoiding. But not this time.

This time I had to have it, like some kind of drug addict. I was eager to try something, anything.

Short story getting very long, that med didn’t work so great, so I tried another, and it did work…a little, but the side effects weren’t acceptable, so I tried another, and another.

Four, maybe five, medications later, we got it right. I wouldn’t say that I feel like a million bucks these days, but I would say that the little voice has changed his tune…a lot!

Now when life gets a little squirrelly he tells me “don’t worry”, “you’ll get through it”, “it will pass”, “it will be okay”, “stick it out”.

In an effort to shorten this story and to not make it some kind of melancholic autobiography I have omitted several episodes and a lot of back stories. I hope you’re grateful for that, and I also hope you can see that just like diabetics, cancer patients, and all of the other people on the face of this earth that fight some kind of disease, meds can help.

Most importantly, I hope you can recognize the voice of your demons and know that when you hear them talking to you, it’s time to get help.

You can live with a little voice saying negative things, you cannot live with the little voice (demons) that tell you the world would be better without you in it.

When they start telling you that everyone would be better off without you, seek help NOW.

Obviously, my recommendation to lie to your physician breaks from all conventional wisdom, but if you need to get help and your not ready to commence the full on attack of your depression, start small.

Get your foot in the door.

If the first antidepressant sort of works, it’ll will be easier to tell your doctor that you need to tweak things a bit, and from there the whole conversation will get easier.

I promise.

It may take a few tries, but a few tries is a whole lot better than one click, and a bang, for all the people that love and care about you.

The world seems to be getting more and more in touch with how serious and how treatable mental illness/health is. Use it to your advantage, to your family’s advantage.

Forget the stigma.

My brother has fought with depression too and he is adamant that he won’t be on meds for the rest of his life. As for me…I don’t care. If I was a diabetic I would surely take insulin for the rest my life. What’s the difference?

Both are a matter of flawed chemistry right?

Once you’re on meds, DO NOT stop them abruptly. Two of the worst episodes that I ever had were caused by running out of meds and being too proud to ask for more. One time I slept outside in our camper for two weeks through the holidays without acknowledging my family, and another more recent bout where I went into “planning mode” again while riding around in my truck with a .45 at arm’s length for a week.

I know better now.

Depression seems to be a hot topic on the blogs these days, and I hope it stays that way because every story recruits more of that 90% into realizing that depression can easily be a terminal illness.

You don’t have to check into a psychiatric ward, you can just lie to your doctor like I did (if it makes it easier than telling the whole explicit truth) and most importantly don’t ever, ever, forget the crying faces, and whimpering sobs of those who love you.

Use those images only when you need to…to survive.

Cut off the demons…and embrace your angels.

I wish you my very best…you can survive your suicide…by never allowing it to happen.

-CS Jackson

 

The Princess who turned to Stone

I’m not good at remembering specific dates by recall, I guess my mind just doesn’t work that way. I’m not sure why, it just doesn’t.

Now that is not to say I have a bad memory, I do not, I just organize it differently. I tend to mark time not by a clock, or a calendar, but by what I see, feel, and smell at the time.

This is the story of a princess who turned to stone.

She came into this world on September 28th, in 1954. The name given to her by her mother was Daniela Anna Elizabeth Reith, her family resided in Wurzburg, Germany.

Later she assumed the surname of Cline by marriage, after which she was known as Daniele Cline by all but her family.

She was brought to this country at the age of 12. She spoke no english. She was one of five siblings. Finances were challenging for her family in their early days so they moved a few times before settling into a newly built suburban home in Manassas, Va in the late sixties.

She struggled a bit as she assimilated to this new life, as expected, but soon found herself right in the groove of American teen life in the 70’s. She was a very attractive, and vivacious young woman, it wasn’t long before she attracted the attention of a suitor. He was to be her first husband and she bore a son to him at eighteen years old.

From there, her adult life began, and with it, trials and tribulations too.

By the time she was 40 she had 5 beautiful children (Christopher, Frank, Erica, Natasha, and Alex).

She had a somewhat tumultuous life, the typical ups, and downs, but a little more than her rightful share. Financial obstacles, divorce, etc… but the constant over the years was the love for her children. She did whatever she could to make sure they had what they needed. She raised them all to adulthood, and they turned into fine citizens who contribute to society the way well-raised kids do.

Unfortunately, before they all reached adulthood her kidneys failed at age 45.

She was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Scleroderma, this Greek nomenclature literally means “hard skin”. It was first described around 400 BC.

About 300,000 people in the USA have it at any given time and there are about 30K new cases every year.

It causes the body to build too much collagen and then the body attacks itself with inflammation, it gradually turns soft flesh into a mass of hard fibrous tissue.

Daniela was 45 when she started dialysis as a result of her kidney failure. The average life expectancy on dialysis is about 10 years, she went 17.

Several days per week for 17 years she watched the blood being pumped out, and then back into her body, through thick clear plastic tubes. In that time, the surgeons exhausted every available location on her body for a port, she was on her last.

Imagine being in the middle of life, when you get to the age that you really start homing in on how to manage it wisely, and then your body fails you.

That said, she had the beauty, and poise of a princess, but now something was going to break it down, slowly, persistently, and without mercy.

She loved to cook, and was a great cook too, this was likely her first big challenge because early in the disease her fingers began to stiffen, then curl inward, like she was trying to grip an invisible glass.

After that her forearms, then her feet, her calves, her face, her upper arms, her upper legs.

Then the monster began to tighten its grip on her, slowly, steadily, and insidiously. It was like her body was being wrenched tighter and tighter into a hard mass of flesh. It lost it’s elasticity and then just turned hard.

The face and body of a princess was being taken away from her year, after year, after year…for seventeen of them.

She never once complained, never once thought the world owed her something, never once thought she was being treated unfairly.

About 15 years into it she had begun to need help with daily activities, her hands were for the most part useless, she began to have serious circulatory issues to the point of amputations, she lost a toe here, and a toe there.

Still no complaints.

The doctor’s appointments became so numerous that family and friends had to take on the duty of getting her to and from.

Things got worse and worse. The monster just would not let up and wouldn’t be content until it took her life from her.

Now she met the obstacle of a lifetime, the disease had stiffened her limbs to the point that they barely functioned, but it went farther… to her lungs.

With a mean spirited vengeance, the disease wasn’t satisfied that it had already crippled her, now it had to suffocate her… slowly.

It grabbed a hold of her chest and squeezed, and squeezed, and squeezed, like a constrictor on a fawn deer. It started slow but just kept increasing a little every day.

She could feel it ratchet its grip tighter and tighter.

Over the course of a few weeks, it became necessary to aid her breathing with oxygen. She focused intently as she sipped it. It felt to her like every drink could be her last.

She would startle when she felt like she missed a breath, fearful that she wouldn’t get another.

She was afraid…she cried.

It was time to assemble the family, to celebrate her life while she was still here.

We did, and it was perfect.

All of her kids came, with the grand kids too, it was a wonderful day. A good day to tell stories of years gone by, and a good day to watch her suffering eyes fix upon her family, to take it all in, like it was the last time…it was for some.

When most everyone had left, it got worse, it got oppressive, like a giant was stepping on her chest trying to squeeze the life from her… the princess.

A couple of days later she found herself admitted to the hospital, then after a horrible breathing attack, intubated. She had felt like she was breathing through a straw for weeks, but now she truly was.

The family was called and we all gathered around her, speaking to her from our souls, reassuring her that she was on her way to a great and magical place, where all of the souls that had gone before her would be waiting to greet her.

She nodded in response to our questions…she could hear us.

It took everything we had to be strong, we wept together, we laughed together, we hugged, and we reassured one another.

When the tube was removed, her blood oxygen levels fell, and fell some more, and continued to fall. We all watched every blip on that monitor as we felt life slipping farther from us.

Her body could no longer do it on its own and she did not want to be on life support.

We all had our hands on her as she left this earth, it was breath taking, it was immense, it was a relief from her suffering.

The princess had gone, she was taken by a monster named Scleroderma.

It had turned her to stone…to the extent that her lungs could no longer expand.

It stole her last breath.

As I left the hospital the heavens opened above me. A comfortably warm southern breeze kissed my skin. I could feel the presence of something much larger than myself, the sun beamed through the holes in the clouds with a purpose, a message.

On any other day it would have been a beautiful sight, but on that day, it was a magical sight.

It was June the 21st around 7:00 pm, she had passed around 6:00.

I wish I would remember that date and time, but I know that I won’t, the whole week was blurry.

The next morning when the sun rose yet again, I stirred my coffee and peered out the kitchen window to notice that the lilies were in full blossom.

They had opened while she lay dying. They had unfurled their petals as the tension was leaving her embattled body.

I know life goes on, sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it, but nature always reassures me when I’m in doubt.

I promised her that I would see her on the other side, if in fact they let me in, but until then, I will remember the princess Daniela every year, on the day the lilies bloom, in a soft June breeze.

Now, I watch my wife…lost, not knowing what to do, there are no doctors to call, no appointments with nurses, no coordination of oxygen deliveries and dialysis appointments.

So here and now, I tell her to look at the lilies, and know that their petals open for her sister Daniela.

To Daniela, I wrote this so no one would forget your name, or your story.

With everlasting love,

Your sisters, your brother, your children, your grand children, your mother, and me.

May your sweet soul rest in peace…

I know this may have been a graphic description of this disease, but I told it like it was so people wouldn’t forget “Scleroderma” If you have a moment and a few spare dollars please donate to one of the Scleroderma organizations, this disease is more common than ALS and you never hear about it.

And if you can’t donate that’s okay, but please talk about it, and often enough that it gets some sound recognition and perhaps the right person or group of people will be able to help with research efforts if they hear about it.

Thank you for reading this far.

 

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The Loyalty demanded of Mercy

I once had a pair of Kings…but now they are gone.

I did something this morning that many, if not most of you could ever understand.

That’s okay because in my life of 46 years I know that I’ve always been a little different, a little awkward, a little eccentric, a little impulsive, and just a little “off”, by most standards.

Not good, not bad, just different.

I do not know why, and I no longer care, I just embrace it.

Not to say that I do not care what people think of me, I do, especially my children.

I certainly don’t care if you think I’m cool, or rich, or poor, or grumpy, or strange. But it is very important to me that people do not think that I am shallow, superficial, selfish, careless, or greedy.

With that out of the way, the rest of what I write here may make you angry, or sad, or confused, and perhaps even make you unfriend me. However, I hope that after I’ve let you into my mind, my rationale, my logic, and my motivation, that you will see that this was a painful, but necessary thing that I had to do today.

Moving on…

Once when I was young my father shot the family dog. It was the end of Amos’s life and it needed to be done, but my siblings and I could not understand how one could kill the family dog in a such a brutal, and calloused way. I never did understand the ol’ mans logic. Was it cheap and easy? Is that what it was? Who knew what went through that old codger’s mind.

Many, many, many, years later…today…I understood.

The pair of kings that I mentioned above were a pair of brothers (orange tabby cats).These cats ruled our side of the mountain for the past 15 years, they were big (18-20 lbs), burly and beautiful. They were tough. They had the loudest purr you ever heard and were very friendly, but not to cats that didn’t belong, and some small dogs too.

They lived outside until they reached about a decade in age, from then on they had house privileges during inclement weather, and as they approached a dozen years in age they pretty much just went in and out as they pleased. We never had a litter box, ever.

We lost the first one to cancer a few years back. It was ugly, it took hold in the roof of his mouth and eventually interfered with his ability to eat so I liquefied venison and put it on a saucer plate so he could lap it up with his tongue.

Unfortunately, but expected, the day came that we had to take the one way trip to the vet’s office.

There were tears, the kids stepped out of the room, the injection was made and he died in my lap. The passage of his time in our family filled my mind. After all, he had been around throughout my children’s lives. He could be seen in countless photos, their baby years, their toddler years, and even their teen years.

Believe it or not, this was the first animal out of a lifetime of pets that I ever had euthanized by a vet. For one reason or another, accidents, sudden illness, or otherwise, I just never had to make that choice.

Life goes on.

A few years later…now, I notice the last brother has a swollen abdomen, I know what it is, I think I know what is, so I take him to the vet for a positive ID of cancer. It was. So I used the money that I had to keep him comfortable as long as I could until I knew the time was here. We had another week to spend time with him, to burn the memories of his image into our minds.

In “my” mind, when an animal with the voracious appetite of a cat can no longer eat or drink, the time has come. In “my” mind, it is pure torture for a cat to not be able to eat, or drink.

What happened next, caught me by surprise, as well as my wife, and I spent most of the day reflecting upon why I did it, because I really didn’t spend much time thinking about it before hand, I just did it.

On my way out the door this morning I told my wife and kids to say their good-byes. I had told them last night that today would likely be the day.

I told the girls to put Tiger in the truck, I grabbed my briefcase, and left. I spoke softly to him, and said my good-byes in my own way.

I drove gently to the bottom of the mountain where our farm is, and then to the end of the lane. I softly took him from the seat of the truck, set him down on beautiful green spring grass, got him comfortable, stroked his emaciated spine with my left hand, he was purring, and with my right hand pulled the trigger of my .22

It was over in an instant.

I stroked his body until his writhing muscles went limp.

Then I rolled him up in a nice towel and placed him in a box.

My last king was gone.

Then I cried…hard.

With wet, swollen, and bloodshot eyes, I drove 1 hour and 15 minutes to a meeting with a contractor. I spent that 1:15 reflecting upon what I had done and why.

My wife Charleen also sent me a message telling me that my daughter had seen the .22 in the truck and that she was mad at me.

So in a way, I’m writing this to my daughters so they don’t spend years wondering what was going through this old codger’s mind when he shot the family cat.

Here is what I’ve gleaned from my actions today. When we had the first brother euthanized by the vet I felt like I was paying someone to do what I should’ve done, my responsibility, my duty, my onus.

The money was not a consideration, but the act of mercy on an old friend was.

I love animals, and I’m a small scale farmer.

That said, I take my responsibility of owning animals very seriously and feel that I owe them the best life that I can give them from beginning to end. Every single time I have to put an animal down, I do it with reverence, and a silent prayer of sorts thanking them for what they’ve given me. There is never a struggle.

In this case, he was a pet, a friend, and I felt it was my obligation, not someone else’s, to end his suffering.

I assure you that it was not callous, cheap, or easy…it was compassionate, caring, heart wrenching. In fact it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It was personal. It was painful.

It was the duty of a loyal friend, and I am a loyal friend.

To my daughter’s…should I ever be in the last stage of my life and need your help to get me to the other side, if it’s legal, and you’ll suffer no consequences, please show me the love that I showed your cat today.

I will close my eyes, and love you forever.

Your father.

A Pair of Kings

The Shepherd’s Heart

39Tonight, a warm southern breeze slinks it’s way through the ridges, and hollows.

And here I lie on a bed of the finest hay that once waved easily to the blue skies above the Shenandoah Valley.

On this moonlit night though, it insulates me from the winter ground, and smells of fresh cut grass from the summer past. 

I find myself reflecting upon a mind that is sometimes troubled, but most times peaceful.

At what may be midlife, I wonder why the answers never seem to be as clear as the stars and moon above my head.

What am I supposed to be, supposed to do, supposed to feel?

I work a job that I’ve learned since I was nineteen, but now it feels as though it was never supposed to be.

I only find comfort, find solace, find peace, while surrounded by hills, hollows, grass, and the animals I raise.

I was born into a family of farmers, who shaped me, made me, and molded me. But now I find myself far from that place, and lost in region that runs at a frenzied pace.

My peers strive to climb the corporate ladder but I just can’t find the desire.

“I” just want to lie here on the side of a blue mountain in the moon shadows of four loyal, and giant, dogs while trying to figure out how to make it my life.

I’m running out of life you know, and so are you.

After all, nobody gets out of this one alive.

I cannot die knowing that I didn’t live the life that I should have lived…that I was supposed to live.

Perhaps I’ll find a way to make this work, to make it “my” work.

My mind wanders, my mind wavers, my mind gets lost in a sea of thoughts. But it only seems to be at peace when I am here.

Surrounded by goats, and dogs, and ridges, and hollows.

So there is my answer, my calling, my passion.

It’s taken nearly a half a century to find this answer. Why was the path so long, and why so arduous?

Can I do this?

I don’t know.

But if I die while trying… it will be a good death, and a good life that was worth living.

An honest life, like the farmer’s that made me.

I’ll live it for me, not another man’s profits.

And these are the inner pieces of me…

-CS Jackson