Tag Archives: crucifix

Picture-Perfect Catholic Couples

I’m sitting here in front of the computer feeling dejected. How did this happen? Probably being confined to bed rest for the past four days hasn’t helped.

But what about the nice family dinner we had tonight? There we go. It’s balanced out now.

No, wait. the picture-perfect Catholic families who I unfriended on Facebook. It’s their fault, attending every parish function in their Sunday finest; praying the Rosary out loud on the living room floor every. Single. Night.

Happily.

Unified.

Yuck.

What I wouldn’t give to have a Catholic wife. One that wouldn’t dismiss images of the crucifix with the wave of a hand: I just don’t understand that, she utters, passing my bloody and pathetic God on the cross. How gross. They should ban those things.

The kids were “christened” in a Shinto shrine. They cannot go through catechism classes at my parish because it’s “too weird.”

Picture-perfect Catholic families: Count your blessings.

Picture-perfect single Catholics: Don’t you dare marry anyone other than a faithful Catholic.

Lukewarm pew-warmers who show up for cultural reasons: Get your heads out of your rectal cavities and get with the program. There’s more. Lots more.

Don’t end up like Topaz: carrying a full-grown paralyzed woman on my back while trying to survive The Hunger Games. (You’re comparing your wife to a paralyzed deadweight? That’s not very Catholic.)

Shut up and go back inside your glass house.

Oh, back to my introduction.

What about the Xanax I took to make me feel alive like living? That went straight out the window as soon as you caught hell for giving the kids an after-dinner snack. I hate it when she stares me down.

I put up with seven years of people staring me down in that giant Pachinko hall they call Tokyo.

Husbands, don’t yell at your wife and kids to hurry up in the morning as you’re all getting ready for church. Wives, don’t nag at your husbands for taking too long to get ready for church in the morning.

Just be thankful that you share the same faith. The same religion.

And count your lucky stars that you’re not trying to live out that God-awful “Coexist” bumper sticker.

~t


Everything is Meaningless

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I’m sitting here in my home office surrounded by a Catholic calendar, a crucifix, and various prayer cards featuring great saints through the ages. Knights of Columbus plaques line my walls.

My two beautiful, healthy sons are asleep in their bunkbeds. My loving wife has just gone to bed.

But I don’t feel anything.

I am empty, confused, angry, suicidal, dejected.

You can have all the Bibles, crosses, religious stuff, and everything else: the “NOTW” stickers that I see on the backs of so many cars, et cetera, but it is all meaningless.

Just like the wise teacher states again and again in Ecclesiastes.

Today I had to go outside to the far edge of my campus where I work because I had to get out of the building. I was on the verge of killing a student who had pissed me off with his smart-ass tendencies. (Sorry for the potty mouth — but it’s a big, bad world.)

I had to get away. There is a nature park on the grounds of my college campus. I sat there on a large rock and cursed at God the whole time. Cursed at him for the hand that I was dealt in life.

It takes EVERY OUNCE of my strenth and sanity EVERY DAY to “keep my head above water” in regard to my mental illness. Most other people hover above the water, floating around, singing and humming, enjoying life, enjoying work, enjoying being alive.

Not me. I curse God for giving me this depression/suicidal ideation/insecurity/anxiety/bipolar tendencies.

If you’re a nice church-going individual, I don’t expect you to be reading this far. Just take heart, you say. Have faith.

Ha.

If only it were that simple.

Last month, one of my favorite comedians of all time, Robin Williams, committed suicide due to depression. The nation mourned and paid tribute. Countless articles about depression and suicidal thoughts appeared on all sorts of blogs and news sites such as CNN, Huff Post, and Yahoo.

That’s all fine and great. But what about now? After the storm has blown over, people will just go back to forgetting about us. The articles will be fewer and fewer.

But know this: If you’re in the same boat as I am, I will never forget you. If you are reading this, whether you’re Catholic, atheist, whatever, I am with you in the crappy hand that life dealt to you before you were even born. I am at the poker table with you, crying and blubbering over the worthless hands of 2s and 3s that we’re holding.

Suicide hasn’t appealed to me as strongly in the past two years as it did today. A nice flowing river runs directly behind the nature park at school. I’ve read that drowning is an excruciating death. How bad could it be, though? Inhale a few breaths of water, keep my head underwater, and voila: freedom.

You’re a Catholic blogger, Topaz. Be more positive, some of you have told me.

It’s a cold, hard, motherf****r of a world, and right now, I’m being crapped on by laughing vultures.

same ol’, same ol’.

Hey, normal Christian/Catholic person out there, be glad that you’re “normal” (I’m not supposed to use the world “normal” because it’s relative. But I couldn’t give a s%@& right now.).

If you have time, pray for the poor bastards like us who have to talk ourselves out of suicide and dark depression before our feet even hit the floor after waking up every morning.

Remember us.

I’m out.

~t

(random photo by Topaz)


The Thorn in My Side

Credit: Carl Heinrich Bloch

Things have been pretty difficult for me lately. I made the mistake of going off my medication because it was making me too groggy to perform my job. At first I felt like, “Wow. I’m doing all right! I’m glad I got rid of those blasted pills.” However, weeks later, my mood began spiraling downward: I no longer desired to interact with colleagues and students (which is unacceptable since I am a teacher), and the time I was spending with my wife and kids was starting to suffer.

In a panic, I resumed the normal dosage after being off the meds for so long — a big mistake. Needless to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.

As a way to cope with all this, I felt the need to share some things with you.

I believe that God put it on my heart to begin this blog. Before I post anything, I pray about it and let the draft sit for a few hours just to make sure that it meets my/God’s standards. I have messed up a few times, though. For instance, I thought by posting censored images of pornography that I would, in essence, be smacking people in the head with a wooden staff, waking them up to how degrading and inhumane porn is to the women who are displayed — and to women in general.

I also thought that by throwing in a few cuss words here and there, it would make me “relatable” to non-religious people who read my posts. I have since come to my senses; I should “not conform to this world.” (Romans 12:2) Rather, by trying to be a good example of a Catholic and upholding God’s standards, I can “be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” (Ibid.)

Anyway, I believe that God allowed the thorn of mental illness to be stuck in my side, and, by surviving two suicide attempts, He has allowed me to live in order that I may share my experiences with the world.

Maybe it’s a result of quitting my meds cold turkey, or maybe it’s because they weren’t working properly, but since I started blogging, my heart has felt like it is ready to burst with fountains of tears. It’s a feeling that I’m used to experiencing, but not on a constant, day-to-day basis.

There are so many people whom I am meeting in the blogosphere and beyond, individuals whom I wish more than anything I could hug and comfort. I have sobbed from reading their blog posts, and I have cried during our correspondence. How I wish I had God’s healing power as the apostles had in the Book of Acts. I wouldn’t attempt to be like Jesus and perform public miracles or anything. Instead, I would visit these poor people with broken hearts and broken spirits and heal them in private, avoiding any limelight or fame. These feelings of yours are not healthy, some might be thinking. But only God knows the answer to that.

When I was in graduate school, and before I became a Catholic, I led a small Bible study through a non-denominational campus ministry. It was a small group that I shepherded: only about four other members. They have gone on to become professional artists, engineers, and physicists, but back then, we were just a ragtag band of emotional outcasts who needed each other. I include myself because, although I was chosen as the leader by the pastor, I was “one of them.”

One time, a member who went on to become a physicist heard through the grapevine that I was thinking about quitting leadership. “You can’t quit,” he told me, tears welling up in his eyes. “You are a true leader in ways that you cannot imagine.” I didn’t know what he meant, although the encouragement was nice to hear. However, due to such low self-esteem, I never considered myself a leader.

Another time, a member who is now supporting himself as a very talented artist in California told me as we were driving, “You know why we follow you? Because you feel. You really feel.” Again, I appreciated this, but I didn’t (couldn’t) fully comprehend it.

It was after years of seeking God and praying to find Him that I discovered that my ability to feel and suffer with those who were hurting was perhaps connected to my being diagnosed with mental illness. I’m not saying that only those struggling with mental illness can most effectively help others. However, it helped me to begin learning about this stranger who was myself.

I used to pray daily that God would take away my illness and make me normal. When I was hospitalized, though, I learned from one of many counselors that there is no such thing as a “normal” standard by which to measure others, including those with mental health issues.

My favorite time to pray is at night. I go into the walk-in closet with my Bible and saint cards and gaze at the crucifix above the doorway. After learning that St. Dymphna was the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness, I bought her saint card because it had a special prayer on the back. I soon discovered that God was communicating with me through the words in the prayer (the bold words in italics are mine):

…Give those whom I recommend the patience to bear with their affliction and resignation to do Your divine will. Give them the consolation they need and especially the cure they so much desire, if it be Your will. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen. (Prayer to St. Dymphna)

If it be Your will. These five words pierced me like a silver-tipped arrow. God will cure me or leave me like this according to His will. But why would God leave me in this condition? Doesn’t He help those He loves? Does that mean God doesn’t care about me? Quite the contrary. St. Paul struggled with a mysterious thorn in his side and pleaded with God to remove it. However, God’s response was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

For some reason, God is allowing my illness, my “thorn in my side,” to remain. Perhaps He will remove it at some point. Perhaps it will be there for the rest of my earthly life. I do know that St. Paul was able to accomplish great things for God and His Church because he was forced to rely on God and His strength, and what an awesome strength it is to have!

On a related note, if you’re suffering or hurting in any way, don’t keep it bottled up inside. Tell someone. Tell me. Call a help line. Do something. Please.

And be assured that even Jesus needed comforting during dark times in His life. (Luke 22: 41-44)

~t


This Isn’t the Way

The computer screen became blurry as my mind began to shut down.  I could barely keep my head from falling onto my folded arms in front of my keyboard.  I had just finished cutting and pasting an old piece of flash fiction to my blog, and it was time to call it a day.  Never mind the fact that it was only 9:30 in the morning.

Luckily I didn’t have class.  I grabbed my bag and set off across campus, stumbling like a drunk, until I reached my car.  Behind the wheel, I felt a little better.  At least I could focus on getting home instead of having to sleep off last night’s dosage of my prescription meds inside my stifling hot car.

I knew I would come home to an empty house since my sons were on summer break, and my wife always took them to the park each morning before it got too hot.  Good.  At least I can crash.  Had my wife been home, I would’ve had to explain why I was home early yet again.  It was my fault that my wife was in a constant state of worry.  I had missed so much work over the past several years that I couldn’t blame her.

I woke to the sound of kids laughing and yelling in the next room.  I stared at my alarm clock, trying to register the numbers and which ones the hands were pointing to.  1:30.  Wow.  I had been out for nearly three hours.

As I lay there looking at the ceiling, my mind became clearer.  I turned my head to the left so that I could see the miniature wooden crucifix, all alone on the vast white wall.  “Help me, Lord…”  As usual, my prayer tapered off soon after it began.

For me, prayer sometimes means merely gazing at the crucifix, connecting my soul to God in the most primal way.  It’s funny because that’s usually when He answers me in the clearest voice.  Like just then.

Seek first my kingdom and my righteousness, and everything else will be given to you.

It clicked.

I jumped out of bed, grabbed my iPad, and quickly began to delete the flash fiction piece that I had posted.  Dude, what are you doing?!  This is what people want to read.  This is how to get more followers and comments!

Smiling at these thoughts, and finally able to see through the smoke screen, I finished my task.  I felt relieved.  The same sort of relief after I got rid of all my social media accounts.

It wasn’t the way.

I wasn’t on WordPress, paying for my own domain name, to seek out and capture more followers than other blogs.  I mean, it would be nice to have lots of people read my stuff and like it, but that wasn’t the point.

God had decided that my blog was to be a tool for Him to reach those who needed help, Christian and non-Christian alike.  Who was I to post depressing flash fiction stories with morbid endings that would hopefully appeal to the masses?  For one, that kind of negativity would end up making me worse; and second, where would God be in all of it?

Before I started blogging, I asked God to keep me from straying off the path.  I had a divine mission statement so to speak, and I knew that I could easily get sidetracked.

I lay back down, setting my iPad next to me.  Intending to rest and perhaps fall back asleep, I closed my eyes.  Instantly they opened and I gazed at the crucifix again.

The Lord still had more to tell me.

The word choice entered my mind like a bolt of lightning.

Choice.

That was it:  I wasn’t making the right choices during the course of my daily life.  There I was, moping around in bed in the middle of the week when I should have been at work.  Why was I there?  Because last night, I make the choice to take the full dosage of my medication knowing that it could affect me the following day.  And why was I taking medication in the first place?  Because of my mental illness.  Okay, but could I have made better choices to perhaps be in a situation where I didn’t have to rely so much on meds?

Yeah, I guess so…

It was all falling into place.  I get scared when the Holy Spirit grants me enlightenment because it’s like being assigned by the dean to spearhead  a committee:  I am handed a responsibility, and there is no backing out.  If I decide not to do it or do it half-heartedly, then it’s all on me; I have no one to blame but myself.

But being called higher by God is such a wonderful thing.  Like growing pains, it can be rough, but it’s natural.  Why wouldn’t I want to be called higher?

Psalm 19:8 says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.”  I know from my experience that I am happiest when I am close to God.  For me, giving up things like extreme metal music was hard at first, but then I realized that it was hindering me in my relationship with God.

I’m not saying that everyone in the world needs to give up extreme metal or that you will get struck down by lightning if you listen to it.  Since I was already on shaky ground, I felt that I had to give it up, and it was the right thing to do.

Anyway, I am very grateful for those of you who are reading my blog posts and following me.  That is why we blog in the first place.  But I may begin to alienate some of you as I “toe the line” and get back to the original purpose of this blog.

When I started, I told myself that if only one person followed my blog and was impacted by it, then it would all be worth it.  The trick is for me to keep that mindset.

~topaz


St. Jude, Pray for Me

“It’s 10:00. Time to get off the computer,” my wife calls to me as she heads to the spare bedroom. It’s become her own bedroom recently. Not because we’ve been fighting. Actually, I’m not really sure why.

Ayako comes from a land far across the sea. It’s a land where I used to live. Seven years of my life, to be exact. One reason we moved back to the States after our two sons were born in Japan was because I was slowly going insane. I couldn’t handle life in such a tiny, crowded land anymore. I was fed up with everyone gawking at me like a caged zoo animal. Japan didn’t make me crazy, though. I already was.

“Yes, dear,” I reply, the sarcasm dripping from my lips like the cheap, sugary syrup we buy at Walmart. Asako knows that I can’t sleep at night, that I have nightmares; nightmares that cause me to awaken in the middle of the night, body and hair drenched in sweat, screaming in terror at the demons inside my mind. That’s one of the reasons she took over the spare bedroom and made it into her own little studio apartment.

I slam the magnetic cover of the iPad and toss it down beside me on the sofa. Well, now I have no excuse not to spend time with God before bed. That’s what I wanted, right? I barely succeed in convincing myself.

I grab my Bible and a small stack of holy cards, all of which were blessed by my parish priest, and head to my private chapel. It’s not as elegant as it sounds. It’s actually my, our, walk-in closet. I keep my plastic bottle of holy water on the top shelf, out of sight of my wife, and my gorgeous redwood crucifix with the silver corpus hangs above the doorway.

Ayako doesn’t mind. In fact, I always let her know that I’m going in to pray (meditate, as I call it) so that she knows not to bother me. Even though she’s lived in the U.S. for five years now, Ayako can’t quite grasp the concept of spontaneous prayer. I use meditate because she can at least use it as a reference point to her Buddhist upbringing.

I close the closet/chapel door and fall to my knees. Looking up at the crucifix, I quickly turn away, not worthy to gaze at the sterling silver body of Christ.

I’m such a failure. I’m such a screw-up.

I don’t attempt to utter anything to God. This is a time that I need the Holy Spirit to commune with my soul. In complete silence, I gaze down at the tan carpet, St. Jude staring at me from the pile of holy cards. He is the one I want, need, to talk to. Yes, Jesus can help me instead, but I feel a closeness to certain saints, especially Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Like me.

Eventually, as my legs become numb after sitting in Japanese seiza position for too long, I stretch out my legs and recite the prayer on the back of the card to St. Jude. I speak each word carefully, each syllable coming from deep within the well of my soul.

I had given up black metal and death metal the day before. My Internet cyber-buddies and our metal club were still around, but I was long gone, a cyber-ghost in the virtual clubhouse of my former Order. Music by bands such as Watain, Djevel, Cannibal Corpse, and Serial Butcher was still pounding through my buddies’ elaborate computer speakers. I didn’t hear any of it, though. The Holy Spirit was the only thing coursing through my mind and soul at the moment.

You did it.

I gave up Satanic music. No, I’m not talking about the Rolling Stones or Metallica; if you Google “satanic black metal bands,” you’ll see that I’m not just another religious right-wing nutjob. There really is Satanic music out there. And it appeals especially to lone introverts. Like me.

Satan didn’t unleash the wolves of Hell after me; he is much too sly for that. Instead, Satan gouged a hole in my heart, one reserved for loved ones who pass away too quickly or for sweethearts who leave too suddenly.

I never even met these people, I try to tell myself. In time I’ll get over it. That’s what Ayako tells me, too.

Feeling a little better, I look up the list of Apostles in the New Testament to see St. Jude’s name. It gives me comfort.

I go to the kitchen and pop two Xanax. I’m sure that the demons will visit me at some point tonight. The Xanax will help.

But Satan is smart: He will send the demons in the early hours of the morning, after the Xanax wears off.

~topaz