The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
The title says it all. I may be back, or I may not.
This is a photo I took of three items on the top of my bookcase in my bedroom. I had just moved the bookcase to my room, and I wanted to choose three things that are significant to me right now.
So, I chose a plastic statue of the Virgin Mary, a brass camel, and a rock painted with the Texas flag. Why did I choose these?
The Mary statue represents my desire to get closer to Christ through His mother, Mary. The small plastic figure was blessed by a priest in a nearby church.
The camel represents the past year and a half of my being in Saudi Arabia for my job. It was a very fun yet challenging time. I grew a lot from the experience. It helped me in good ways as well as in bad ways. I am still dealing with the bad effects.
The painted rock represents my mental anguish and my mental battle during these rough times with the Covid-19 isolation. My wife started a hobby of painting rocks, so I decided to paint one.
I chose the Texas state flag because that’s where my family and I have been living for the past 12 years. My children were born in Japan, but they’re basically Texans. I also love the flag because Texas has a rich history. You can read about it here.
Anyway, the real reason I am writing this post is because I was reminded of something last night. A promise that I made to myself when I first started this blog.
See, I was under the illusion that my blog would be a beacon of light in this dark world of ours, that my writings and examples from my life would impact others and turn people from a life of suffering to one of Christian joy and freedom.
But through the years and after countless blog posts, I couldn’t see where I even came close to any of that. In my mind, my blog turned from a righteous ministry/apostolate to a series of whiny posts about my depression and anxiety, offering little to nothing in the way of hope and faith to my readers.
Until last night.
I remember making the vow that I would keep trying to use my platform to reach at least one person a year. To me, that was enough for me to keep it all going. If I could touch the life of just one person in the course of 12 months, then it would all be worth it.
Well, I received a comment from a reader that brightened my whole evening. She said that she was a long-time reader of my blog. A long-time reader! Wow. I was touched. It meant so much to me that someone would take the time to write an encouraging comment on my blog.
I feel that I need to end this post with something positive since at least one person is reading and (hopefully) being encouraged by my words.
So, I’ll end with a quote that my cousin wrote on Facebook recently. Usually I don’t read her posts because they don’t interest me, but this one caught my eye.
Because I’ve recently been treated very unfairly at work by people who don’t like me. I’ve been an emotional wreck to be quite honest. This Bible passage really spoke to me. It is from Romans 12.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The older I get the more I realize that even if things do get better, it’s always temporary. The good days feel like a tease and a cruel joke because when the bad comes, it’s like it laser. It targets all those things to make sure I feel the maximum amount of pain.
People always give laughable examples of what could be my thing to fight for, but what is and isn’t worth it are very personal things to a soul. I need something to cling to that makes ME feel like I have a purpose.
For the last several years I had several things. They meant everything to me. One by one they all were taken. I don’t have it in me to start over again. Every few years I cycle through this. Just because it might be good again a few years from now doesn’t make it worth the suffering now.
Each and every time it gets harder. Each and every time I am more alone in the fight. And with the direction the world is heading now, I see only darkness and hopelessness for us all. I am amazed that so many people can just keep going on like things are fine. -Brona Storm
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.
I’m gonna take a holiday,
Be somewhere far away,
I won’t be back for a while,
For a long long time.
— Hanoi Rocks, “Oriental Beat”
Topaz has been doing better. Back in July, his supervisor (who is also his friend), challenged him to remember this single word: believe. Topaz made a poster with that single word for his office wall at work.
In autumn of this year, Topaz volunteered and was selected at his job for a very long business trip to the Middle East. He can’t be any more specific than this. This has shown that Topaz has been growing and overcoming his mental health issues (with the help of medication of course).
Topaz isn’t healed, nor has he “arrived.” He is simply trying harder and doing better than he has in years. He praises God for this. Through His help, Topaz has become more self-reliant and confident in his abilities.
Will this very long assignment halfway around the world change him more? Perhaps. We will just have to check in later and find out.
Today happens to be the third Sunday in Advent. Topaz was especially struck by this reading. It is Philippians 4:4-7:
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Topaz has a long, exciting journey ahead of him. He will keep you updated (he doesn’t post very often though).
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.
Sheila and I had planned a happy hour after work last Friday. We were both really looking forward to it after a long week of being “in the trenches” (teaching).
We went to a place that Sheila recommended. Since she is a vegan, the restaurant was a vegan Mexican place. I didn’t know anything like that existed. It was in the artsy part of the city.
The decor was made up of the Virgin of Guadalupe statues, banners, and renditions of local artists’ interpretation of the Virgin. The place was a total dive, but that’s what gave it its charm. I told Sheila that I didn’t know if we should pray or eat: the centerpiece of our table was a religious candle of the Virgin, the kind that you find in barrio shops for a dollar.
It turns out that this place didn’t serve alcohol; they hadn’t applied for a liquor license yet (they were under new ownership). Disappointed, we left in search of a microbrewery in the same vicinity. After sitting down, Sheila complained that they only served beer. Duh. It’s a microbrewery, I almost said.
So then we went next door to a trendy coffee shop/bar where everybody was pretty and handsome; definitely there to be seen on a Friday evening. As we perused the menu (they had spirits!), Sheila suddenly grabbed me and headed for the door.
“That woman [the waitress] was laughing at me. I have to get out of here.”
I was aware of the waitress the whole time, and she was not laughing at or doing anything to offend Sheila.
So we sat outside on the patio, trying to decide what to do and where to go. Sheila had become totally silent. After several minutes, she said, “Let’s head back to our cars.”
Walking to our cars, Sheila’s eyes began to tear up. She wiped them with the back of her sleeve. “Why am I cursed?” she sobbed, looking up at me, her nice blue eyes now red with tears. “I’m not supposed to be happy,” she said, her voice choking up with more emotion.
I didn’t know what to do. From experience, I’ve learned to be a good listener. In Sheila’s state of mind, she wouldn’t have heeded any advice I offered her. “I’m going home,” she said, dejected.
All I could think of was to say, “Call me if you need anything.” I got in my car, and we were off, going separate ways, back to our miserable lives all alone.
How I wished that I could have persuaded Sheila to join me back at the vegan place. We could have brought a bottle of wine (BYOB was okay there) and enjoyed ourselves.
Instead, I left Sheila for the evening.
I know what it’s like to have paranoia and to think lowly of myself. I still do. But medication and therapy have helped me tremendously. I still have my moments, however. But Sheila is unwilling to seek any sort of treatment.
I’ll continue being her friend. Hell, I’m the only friend she has besides her two cats. I’ll continue not because I’m trying to “save” her, but because she’s my friend.
I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty.
— Pope Francis
I made a new friend at work. I’ll say her name is Sheila. It’s a wonder that we found each other. You see, Sheila suffers from depression and suicidal ideation just like I do. We didn’t know this when we started chatting daily and visiting each other’s classrooms.
Sheila seemed meek and shy. I could tell right away that she was introverted almost to the point of misanthropy.
After talking casually for several weeks, she started confiding in me. “I have a drinking problem.” “I suffer from depression.”
I also started opening up with her. It turns out that we both have spent time in psych wards for suicide attempts and depression.
Sheila and I are at the point to where we share everything with each other — because we have each other’s trust.
Today we were on the topic of suicide. We were discussing how different methods wouldn’t totally work. A bullet to the head might turn one into a vegetable instead of being fatal. How swallowing Drano could only burn your insides and not kill you. How pills don’t work (because we have both tried them).
Then our conversation took an eerie turn. Could we go to the Netherlands and take the euthanasia drug? Surely not. They wouldn’t give it out for healthy people’s suicides. What about Oregon? Nope. same thing.
Then Sheila said something that — well, I should have been shocked or red flags should have gone up, but they didn’t.
Sheila said, “As soon as my two cats die, I’m checking out.” Then she made a cutting motion across her throat with her index finger.
All I said was, “How?”
“I’ve been researching about hiring someone to kill me. Either that or jumping off a bridge into traffic.”
The thing is, I did nothing to persuade her from those plans. I didn’t step in like a friend should. I didn’t report her to 911.
Instead I empathized with her and told her I felt the same way. I even asked her if she would someday fly to Amsterdam with me so we could take the euthanasia pill together.
I know that I failed as a Christian. I know that I still have a shot at persuading her to live though.
But what about my agreeing with her? That certainly isn’t the Christian thing to do.
Oh, and Sheila is an alcoholic. She drinks wine at work out of her coffee tumbler. On Fridays we go out for lunch and we both slam beers.
I have the time of my life with Sheila — in a totally platonic way. But at the same time I am starting to believe that God put me in Sheila’s life to help her. And helping her I’m not.
Could you pray for me? Could you also pray for Sheila? Her parents have passed away, she doesn’t communicate with her siblings, and she has no real friends except for me. She has no one to live for.
Right now we are partners in misery yet we both are the only ones who can make each other laugh. It’s a tough situation because I love our friendship.
But at this point I guess I don’t love her enough to reach out to her as a Christian. The scary thing is, I don’t want it to ruin the fun we have.
The suicidal downward spiral feels like a water park slide: looping down and around until we go crashing into the water, all the while laughing and giggling like two kids under the summer sun.
Except we’re under storm clouds and I’m doing nothing about it. I want to feel ashamed of myself but for some reason I don’t. You have every right to judge me, but at this time I just ask for your prayers. That I can be a man of God and help this poor woman.