Category Archives: Family

Purified by Fire: Summer Challenges in the Middle East

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Well, I’ve completed three months here, so I’m officially one-fourth of the way from finishing my deployment.

Things are up and down all the time. It’s fun when my friends and I get a chance to leave the compound (We have to have a “battle buddy” when we leave), but other times it’s depressing to be stuck inside the tall barbed-wire walls.

When I first got here, I heard a few variations on how people end up on this compound in the Middle East. Things like: You either end up as a hunk (meaning all there is to do is work out); a chunk (becoming a couch potato); or a drunk (there is access to “tea”).

I heard one officer explain it this way: After a year, you either weigh 300 pounds or you can lift 300 pounds (meaning there are only two things to do on the compound: work out or eat snacks every night in front of the TV).

With my fragile personality and my mental issues, I tried working out at the gym which is pretty modern; it has everything that one would find back in the States. It gets old, however. So then I started taking walks around the compound which takes about 30-35 minutes – except I would do it right after work when the temperature was/is 110-115 F (43-46 C).

Why would I choose to walk in the heat of the day? I was silly and pretended that the hot sun was burning off my fat. With an average summer humidity of only 10%, it really wasn’t that bad.

That was back in June and July. Then I got a membership to the “tea room” where I ended up spending up to $200 per month on “tea” that I would binge on during the weekends. I never expected that I would become a “tea addict” in a country where it’s officially unavailable. I never did this in the States. Why was I doing it here?

Simple. 1) I was bored. 2) My family wasn’t here.

I’m having to ration my psych meds because I don’t know if they would clear customs if/when my wife ships them to me. Maybe that’s why I turned to “tea.” But that only helps on the weekends. During the week, I’m all alone to face my demons at work and to deal with life in Auschwitz (as my combat veteran friend refers to the compound).

The Army chaplain on the compound means well, but, no offense, he’s an Evangelical Protestant who graduated from Liberty University (the home of Jerry Falwell). Needless to say, he appears pretty phony and insincere.

The Catholic “Mass” happens every week, but since it’s so hard to get ordained priests to come to this location, most of the time lay leaders give their versions of homilies and distribute the consecrated hosts. The majority of the parishioners are Filipino laborers, so I have trouble making friends with them; I feel out of place and have trouble finding things in common with them.

I have a Catholic Bible app and a Rosary app on my phone, but with no one to hold me accountable, it’s hard to maintain any kind of spiritual life. Since the Qur’an is legal here, my friend who’s on the path to conversion loaned me a copy. I have read parts of it and find it comforting.

(By the way, some trivia: Mary is the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an by name, and she’s mentioned more in the Qur’an than in the New Testament.)

I finally confided in a friend at work (the one who is converting to Islam) about my depression, and she told me I’ve got to get hold of myself, give up “tea,” and start exercising again.

I agreed with her. I’m at that crossroads where either path could determine the course of my future. I choose the good path. No more “tea” for me. I honestly do not like exercising, but my friend encouraged me to at least walk around a sand “track” that is outside the gym, after dark of course so it’s not scorching hot. I think I will give that a try.

My youngest son just started middle school, so both of my sons sit together on the bus and go to the same school again. I try to Skype with them whenever I can, but with our schedules and the time difference, it’s hard.

My point, I guess, is that God is always with you and will use unlikely tools and people to help you in any situation, whether you’re in your own country, in a country where your religion is forbidden, or in a country where every religion is forbidden.

Hang in there. It will get better. I’m living proof.

~t


The Heartache of Being Half a World Away From My Family

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Photo by Topaz

Military families know all about this: It’s hard being away from family for long periods of time.

Although I’m not military, I work for the government which requires me to be deployed to remote areas for anywhere from six to twelve months.

My main heartache comes from missing my two sons, ages 13 and 11. I get a lot of benefits for volunteering for deployment, but it’s still really difficult to miss one of my son’s birthdays, to miss their summer vacation when they go with my wife to the beach or water park, and other occasions.

It’s just plain difficult not being able to see them while they’re still young.

A previous supervisor (who I hated) told me once that I should stop working volunteer overtime and go home to my kids because “they’re only young once.”

There is so much truth in that. Earlier this year I missed my oldest son’s birthday. Ever since he turned 3, he has always wanted to celebrate his birthday at a restaurant called Rainforest Cafe. We have continued that tradition up to now, except for the first time in 11 years, I wasn’t there at the festive table in the middle of mechanical jungle animals that come alive ever so often.

And later this year, my youngest, my little baby, will turn 12. 12 years old! I can’t believe it. I won’t be there for that as well.

I won’t see their first day of school; my youngest will start middle school this upcoming school year.

And, most of all, I will be breaking a promise I made to them before I left for the Middle East: I won’t be able to take them to grandma’s house for Christmas. It’s the highlight of their year.

I won’t be there to watch the final installment of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars Episode IX. This has been a family tradition ever since my mom took my sister and me to the therater to see the original (Episode IV) back in 1977.

I know it sounds weird, but I was looking forward to coming full circle and seeing Episode IX with my mom and my sons, especially my oldest who has become a Star Wars fanatic.

But none of that will happen, either.

Being in the middle of the desert, stuck on a fortified military compound (I’m still able to see the local sights; it’s just hard to get clearance, and it’s a challenge to actually get off the compound) has given me lots of time to think.

I spend my free time exercising: going to the base gym or walking laps around the compound in 110-115 F (43-46 C) heat. On weekends I’ll grab a “battle buddy” and we’ll go into the local city for shopping, going out to eat, and just enjoying the freedom to move around that the compound doesn’t offer.

Before I was deployed, my psychiatrist took me off everything except Xanax and Quetiapine. They don’t help much when I’m feeling down, though. For the most part they make me feel tired and groggy. That’s why I’m trying to exercise daily: to make up for my lack of effective medication. I’m getting by.

All I can say is thank God for Netflix. I don’t know what I’d do without it in the evenings.

My wife’s birthday was recently, and I was able to get her present in the mail weeks ago so that it would arrive on time. It was fun imagining her opening the box and seeing the gift that I bought for her over here.

This may be my last deployment. As a civilian, I have the luxury of volunteering. The money is pretty good, but at my age (and at my kids’ age), is it really worth it? I mean, it’s true. They’re only young once, and I’m missing out on some great times in their lives.

I guess the true test will be to ask myself 10 years from now: Was it worth earning a few extra thousand dollars while missing precious time in my children’s youth? Was it really worth breaking my promise by staying overseas instead of spending my family’s favorite holiday away from them?

I’ve read many studies where senior citizens on their deathbeds list things that they regret. Usually at the top of every list is regretting not spending more time with family. I think we can really learn from this.

My wife has a friend whose husband spends years at a time in Eastern Europe working for a contractor because he’s raking in tens of thousands of extra dollars per year. However, he has two daughters that he never sees.

They have gotten to the point where they’ve become numb to it; they prefer him staying there and sending all that money home. The girls seem like they’ve lost connection with their father. To me, that’s very sad. But that’s them. It’s their choice.

Speaking of Netflix, I really like a series called Black Mirror. There’s a melancholy song that is recurring throughout the series. It sort of sums up my mood. It even makes me feel better after listening to it, like I’m not the only one going through hard times. Click here to listen: Irma Thomas – Anyone Who Knows What Love Is

Stay cool.

~t


Advice to My Son, the Future Soccer Pro

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I’m back in the Middle East for my job. Before I left home, I wrote a “book” for my youngest son who is really into soccer (football). It’s a book where each page is one piece of advice on how to become a pro and how to do your best to achieve your goals.

It all started when he told me that he wanted to be a pro football player someday. The kid has talent. He’s the best player on his team, and it’s in a league where he is playing against 15 year olds. My son is only 11 by the way.

Did I mention that he is obsessed with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus?

I started giving him little nuggets of advice because I want him to go pro. What parent doesn’t want their child to be a professional athlete? I realized I was giving him so much advice that I decided I would write it all down to remember. Then I realized that if I had enough nuggets of dad-wisdom, I could print it out and bind it for him. I even made a cover for the “book.” It’s the image above of Cristiano as a badass.

Some of my advice in the book:

Don’t let anyone get in your head. Once you do, it’s all over.

Being a pro is 90% mental and 10% physical.

Always ask yourself: What would (Cristiano) Ronaldo do?

Live to fight another day. Is your game off? Live to fight another day. Your team lost? Live to fight another day. Don’t lose hope or give up.

I used the Notes app on my iPhone to record my little nuggets. While I’m watching my son in a game or practicing, a line of inspirational advice will come to me. I type it in my Notes and save it, sharing it with my son at a later time.

Someday, after I think of enough quotes, I’d like to find a publisher and put it out there in the world to inspire other kids. If I have to self-publish, then so be it.

What’s cool is that my advice can be applied to anyone in any situation like Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

It has really boosted my self-esteem and self-confidence. I go back and read the book full of my very own quotes (I don’t steal or rip off anyone else), and I feel proud of myself. I feel like a successful father helping his son achieve his dream.

I told my son that while I’m on the other side of the world for six months, I want him to read my book of quotes before every game. I told him it would be like daddy is right there with him, urging him on proudly.

~t

 


Sunday Musings: Hurting My Children

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  • I leave for the Middle East in four days. I will be gone for most of next year.
  • I was in a road rage incident with my two sons yesterday. My 12 year old was begging me to stop, but I didn’t listen to him. I didn’t stop until I rammed into the car that had made me angry. The police came, and I was in trouble. Luckily it won’t affect my business trip.
  • This is not how I wanted my kids to remember me. My oldest isn’t even talking to me.
  • Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. I went to Mass to beg God’s forgiveness. The four Advent candles were lit in front of the altar, reminding me that God’s forgiveness is complete.
  • I tried to make sense of the readings. Hebrews 10:5-10 says Jesus overcame the power of evil that separates us from God. He became our bridge back to God when we fall into evil.
  • I got up and left before communion. I couldn’t stand it anymore. On my way out, I prayed in front of the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She was looking down at me as I asked her to pray for my forgiveness. I touched her cloak before I got up and left.
  • I can’t forgive myself.

~t


Another Celebrity Suicide…

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Dear media: Stop giving out the suicide prevention hotline!

I saw the news this past week on my favorite music blog, MetalSucks, that yet another celebrity had succumbed to suicide. Her name is Jill Janus, and she was the singer for a metal band called Huntress. She was only 43.

I don’t expect many of you to know who she was. Heavy metal has so many subgenres that there are literally thousands of bands out there that are listened to by fans of this type of music.

Haters: Topaz, you’re just another hypocritical Catholic. Heavy metal is of the devil.

Topaz: Thank you for your free advice.

I’m writing this post because I’m saddened by another celebrity person taking their own life.

I’m saddened that the metal blog (where I first read the news) ended their article by saying something like, “Please, please. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call this toll-free hotline: XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

I’m saddened by the comment section where quite a few people said things like Why didn’t she reach out for help? Why wasn’t she on medication? Why wasn’t she in therapy?

I’m saddened and angered by the ignorance of those “normal” people that just don’t get it.

They’ll never understand.

Because they’re not like “us.”

They don’t have the disease that is mental illness. Jill suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and dissociative identity disorder, according to a 2015 interview.

Am I against suicide hotlines? Sort of. They don’t work for me. I’ve used them several times.

Am I against medication and therapy? Of course not. I’m partaking in both.

What angers me is that people don’t realize that there are many instances where mentally ill people CANNOT reach out for help because they are too enshrouded in darkness. Their minds are telling them that there is no other option but death.

This is why I have attempted suicide more than once. Two of those times I passed the point of no return (only to miraculously end up alive).

With Jill, I don’t believe that she was always in that dark state where she couldn’t think clearly. I’m sure there were times when she was partying and having a great time, enjoying life.

So, since there will always be suicides because the disease of mental health is too overpowering at times, is there any hope for “us”?

Yes. I believe that we sufferers should seek treatment such as medication and therapy when we ARE in a right state of mind; don’t wait until it’s too late. If you suffer from any of these damn diseases (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.), go to a doctor before you slip and fall headfirst into the deep, dark pit.

Had Jill been on a regimen of medication and therapy, then I think she would still be alive today. Instead, the world has lost another talented individual, and her friends and family have lost someone very special.

In conclusion, don’t give out the suicide hotline to those who are not “normal.” Instead, grab them by the fricking hair, kicking and screaming, and drag them to the doctor! Check up on them several times a day! Watch them take their medication! Drive them to therapy!

Because a phone number isn’t gonna do a damn thing for someone who is already too far gone.

~t


Regret Is Eating Me Alive

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Galveston Island, TX

I felt the need to write. I have started several novels over the years, one chronicling my suicide attempts and hospitalizations. I just can’t seem to make myself sit down and write them. That’s the problem.

So I have this blog. I sit myself down right now to write, but I don’t really have anything encouraging to say. Ha. That is usually followed by what turns out to be an encouraging post.

I started this blog in hopes of offering positivity to those who suffer mental illness among other things. The Catholic part comes from my faith tradition, which I am trying like mad to hold onto. (Most days I’m a religious hypocrite.)

I wanted my very own ministry (‘apostolate’ in Catholic terms), but it turned out that I’m just as broken, sinful, and run-down as the people whom I wanted to encourage.

So, here I am talking about how miserable I am. I suppose I could give a lesson on what not to do.

As a father and husband, I use my own dad as an example of what not to do. See, he was a real prick during my childhood. The problem is, I’m turning into him, whether I like it or not.

OK, here’s what not to do. This week we took a family vacation to Houston, about a three-hour car trip. See, I have a decent job, but we’re not exactly rollin’ in dough. So we went to Houston because there are fun things there for our kids like NASA, the beach, The USS Texas battleship, etc., etc.

Our friends go to Hawaii. Spain. The Bahamas. We go to friggin’ Houston. But I digress.

I got angry several times and my wife and I fought. I’m sure it hurt out two children.

Now we’re back home. This evening I drove my two sons to their friend’s house for a sleepover. They had their little bags packed with all of their pool gear, swim wear, and change of clothes. On the drive there, I yelled at my youngest son for something really stupid. This was just before we arrived at their friend’s house. I didn’t apologize. I’m sure I hurt my son and put a damper on things.

Here it is, Friday night. My favorite day of the week. And I feel like crap. I’m fighting severe depression even though I took my meds for the evening. I feel guilt weighing me down like barbells on my shoulders.

On top of that, I’ve been stealing from my own mom. I use her credit card at will. She is retired by the way. She tells me to stop, but I don’t. My sister gets involved and texts me angrily. I take offense and delete her number. I even unfriend her from Facebook.

My life sucks now.

And now I sit here on this Friday night, pouring out my guilt and screw-ups on this blog. I could be partying (yeah, right) or enjoying a good movie. My wife is in her room, not to be bothered (ugh).

I decided to look through the Bible for passages about regret. I pored over lots of passages. One I found shows the nature of God (Genesis 6:6):

And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.

This shows that God experiences regret. I think of myself in this Genesis passage, and then I think that God has every right to strike me down and send me to hell where I belong.

Then I read this passage from 2 Corinthians 7:10:

For Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

How do we get to the point of having Godly grief? I sure wish I knew. At least this is a compass setting for me. It’s something I can pray for, because I have no clue how to achieve it.

Tonight I cut up my mom’s credit card information. It’s a start, right? We have to start somewhere.

Baby steps. Hey, whatever it takes, my friend. Baby steps are alright.

Whatever is holding you down at this time, take baby steps to improve your situation. That’s what I’m doing.

Overeating? Eat a little less. Bad father? Give your kid a hug. Bad husband? Clean the kitchen. Missing too much work (like I am)? Take it one day at a time. I will be there Monday. 

You get the idea.

Now, I’m going to go salvage the rest of my Friday night.

~t


In Hell: My Dark Times

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It really sucks to be down in the dumps.

For the past several months, I haven’t had the desire to do anything; staying in bed all the time was the only thing that I wanted.

I am thawing though. The rock bottom was hit again, nearly putting me back in the hospital. One thing that my psychiatrist told me was that mental health inpatient facilities were “prisons where they can monitor those who are suicidal.”

He told me the same thing would be to stay home and get rid of any guns, sharp objects, and pills. I took his advice and decided that inpatient wasn’t a good choice.

Anyway, I was on lithium and one other drug that made me so jittery and paranoid that I couldn’t leave the house. Even after I quit using them, the effects were still in my system.

I was a recluse, afraid to do any activities with my family or to even go out of the house. Just the mere thought of going to the store frightened me. All of this was after I quit using those two medications by the way.

I even had to be put on light duty at work in a non-teaching capacity. That stressed out my supervisors because they didn’t know what to do with me. There was no way I could teach classes with my paranoia and feelings of claustrophobia.

I missed Mass several times and have only started going back. One time I went to church and, once I sat down in the pew, I had to get up and leave.

The bright side is that I’m scheduled to be back in the classroom next week. This is a major step for me. I feel that I’m ready, and I’m mentally preparing myself. My current meds are acting fairly well.

This has truly been a dark night of the soul for me. My only link to God was when I would lay in bed begging him to heal me.

Since then, I have started going to Mass again, reading the Bible, and reading devotionals. I am slowly but surely climbing out of my pit, and it’s so hard.

But I’m doing it.