Category Archives: battling depression

Dark Thinking

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On a quiet back street in Toonerville there is a haunted house.  Obviously four meddling kids and their talking dog are looking around inside, but they won’t find anything.  It is my dark place.  I am the only one that can go inside and discover what truly is there, for the dark things inside are all a part of the dark side of Mickey.

But Mickey doesn’t have a dark side, you try and argue.  Micky is all goofy giggles and nerdy Dungeons and Dragons jokes.  Mickey is all cartoons and silly stories and he makes us all guffaw.

But I can assure you, everyone has a dark side.  Without darkness, how can anyone recognize the light?

So, I have to go inside the old Ghost House every now and then and take stock of all the furniture, and make note of everyone… and every thing that has been living there.  I go in there now because I am starting to rewrite a very dark story that I really have to get down on paper in novel form.  It isn’t a true story.  Ghost stories never are.  But it is full of true things… old hurts, old fears, panics, and ghosts of Christmases Past.

There was the night I was stalked by a large black dog when I was nine and walking home from choir practice at the Methodist Church.  We are talking Hound of the Baskervilles sort of big damn dog.  I knew every dog that lived in town in those days, but I didn’t know that one. Maybe it wasn’t actually hunting me, but I ran the last two blocks to my house that night faster than I ever knew I could run before.

There was that cool autumn afternoon when he grabbed me and pushed me down behind a pile of tractor tires in the neighbor’s yard.  He forcibly got my pants down… and what he did to me… It has taken more than forty years to be able to talk about what happened.  I wasn’t able to talk about it until after I learned that he had died.

There were the nights spent in the emergency room.  Severe potassium depletion… chest pains that could’ve been heart trouble but weren’t… The morning when my blood pressure was so high I thought I was going to die in front of my second period seventh grade English class.  And the terrible waits in the emergency room when someone I loved was serious about suicide… that was the most terrible of all.

I am not frightened by the grim reaper in the same way that Shaggy and Scooby are.  I have spent time in his company too many times for that.  I do not fear him.  In some ways he brings welcome relief.  And I do believe I can beat him in chess and at least tie him in checkers.

So, yeah, the dark resources are all still there… still in place at the bottom of a deep, dark well. Bad things do wait in the future… but they are in the present and the past also.  I am not a slave to fear and evil has no power over me.  So, I think I can safely write a horror story.  And I admit I am not Steven King.  But I don’t want to be him.  I want to be Mickey.  And that is certainly scary enough for me.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, Depression, feeling sorry for myself, ghost stories, horror writing, humor, novel plans, photo paffoonies

The Dark Blues

There is a point at which every man, woman, or child really should be happy. But for some of us… especially those of us who think too much, depression is always lurking and happiness is only ever suspect as evidence of a possible manic-depressive episode.

There are reasons I should be happier than I am. My family is now vaccinated. But both of my kids still living at home, Henry and the Princess, had reactions to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Henry, probably because he had the virus once already got so sick that he missed a day of work and suffered uncontrolled shaking while he had a high fever. Still, worrisome as that was, they were both better the third day after their shots.

My books are being read and hopefully enjoyed according to the records of sales and readership on Amazon. Yet, for reasons of unexplained glitchiness, three of my books disappeared from my Author’s page on Amazon. A careful check proved they were all still for sale, and other authors are complaining of the same problem. But I am doing a promotion this weekend on one of the three books. So, where I was hoping to place at least twenty copies of the book, I have only managed one. Here’s a link to the book in case you are interested in a free copy. It is available for free until Tuesday midnight.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NKFM163/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i4

On Friday I did the coming-out-of-the-closet party for being a nudist because sunshine and nakedness equals happiness for me. But today Texas is raining again.

My world today through the bedroom window screen.

My favorite hockey team, the St. Louis Blues, have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs again, though they are the last in their division to qualify, and must face the best team in hockey statistically all year in the first round.

So, I must now do what I can to overcome the Dark Blues. Not the hockey team. The depression of heart, mind, and soul. I will get out and exercise when it stops raining. I will eat some ice cream. Life should be good right now. It isn’t. But I intend to work at it.

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Opening Windows on the Past

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This particular Iowa trip has me thinking hard about mortality and the cold harsh wind that blows toward us from the future.  My cousin’s only son lost his battle with depression, and his family finally came to terms with the loss.  But the sadness is past.   The responsibilities of the living is what remains.

I was born while Eisenhower was President.  I was alive and aware when Kennedy was assassinated and when men first walked on the moon.  I was teaching in a classroom when the first teacher in space was killed on the exploding space shuttle.  And I was also in the classroom when the twin towers fell on 9-11.  It is an important part of the responsibilities I have for being alive to keep that past alive too.

 

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My mother’s knickknack shelf.

The reason we collect and care about little extraneous things like porcelain eggs, angels, fine blue china plates, and the California Raisins singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine is because those little, otherwise unimportant things connect us to memories of important times and places and people.   We keep old photographs around, many of them black and white, for the same reasons.

 

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The fiction I write is not contemporary.  It is mostly historical fiction.  It is set in a recent past where the Beatles and the Eagles provided the sound track to our lives.  It does not cross the border into the 21st Century.  The part of my writing that is not about the past is science fiction set in the far future, entirely in the universe of my imagination.  It is my duty to connect the past to the future.

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And I share that duty with everyone who is alive.  My great grandparents and grandparents are now gone from this world.  But their horse-and-buggy memories about life on the farm before electric lights and cars… with humorous outhouse stories thrown in for comic relief… are in me too.  I am steeped in the past in so many ways…  And I must not fail to pass that finely brewed essence on to my children and anyone young who will listen.  It is a grave responsibility.  And it is possible to reach the grave without having fulfilled that important purpose.

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In times of great sadness and loss we must think about how life goes on.  There has to be a will to carry on and deliver the past to the future.  Every story-teller carries that burden, whether in large or small packages.  And there is no guarantee that tomorrow will even arrive.  So here is my duty for the day.  One more window has been opened.

 

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, blog posting, family, healing, humor, insight, inspiration

Down the Gravel Road

Today I took my number-two son to the airport. He is determined to see friends in California over the course of his two-and-a-half days off. So, he is traveling during a pandemic. But he has had Covid already and is probably still pretty much immune.

It left me with some thinking time on the drive home from the airport, though it cut into my actual writing time.

Work has begun on The Boy Who Rose on a Golden Wing. It is a project that will take some time.

That is a story about growing up and overcoming bipolar disorder and depression. It will be for older teens.

And I have an idea that blossomed from this old illustration. I was thinking about it while driving. I want to write a book about a talking dog. It will be targeted more for younger kids. He solves crimes on the Niland farm and in the rural Iowa town where the Niland family lives and goes to church. Of course, though the character is based mostly on Mr. Peabody from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Horatio T. Dogg is also based on my own talking dog, Jade Beyer. In the story Horatio T. Dogg, Super Sleuth, the dog actually only talks to his owner, Bobby Niland. Much in the same way that Jade only talks to me.

Dang! Just what I need. Another story idea that I need to write before I die. I will have to stay alive until I’m 125.

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The World is Gray Today

It is cloudy outside. The sky is a cool, damp gray. No rain. No snow. Just dreary and gray. The world is gray today.

We have now been in a lockdown and wearing masks for an entire year. I have lost a lot of ground. Color-blindness runs in my family on my mother’s side. Great Grandma Hinckley was completely color-blind by the time she was in her 70’s.

I myself have known I had the color-blindness problem since I was in high school and the school nurse gave me a vision test that proved it.

In the dotted circle, I could see the blue-green number 29, but I could also see the red number 5. I was told that I had a slight color-blindness on the red/green scale. Believe me, I had no idea what that meant. Still don’t. I just know I have never seen colors the way other people with normal vision do.

But now, after twelve months of lockdown, I can definitely detect the fact that I have lost some more of my color vision.

Great Grandma saw the world in black and white and gray since she was 70. That, for me, is now less than six years away.

As a cartoonist I use a lot of pen and ink. I also love black-and-white movies. Being partially colorblind, you might think that I would be okay living in a film-noire world. But I am not. It is simply not enough. I have always craved color. I particularly love to create with bright primaries, red, yellow, and blue.

I will sorely miss color when it is gone.

And I have always loved cardinals. Not only because they are bright red songbirds, like the one singing outside in our yard on this gray and slightly blustery day. But because they never fly away when the winter comes. They stay even in the snow and cold. Trouble doesn’t drive them away. I shall not give up when I lose all the colors.

I remember the world being gray when I was a boy back in the 1960’s too. TV was only black-and-white… and gray at our house. I watched the funeral parade for JFK on the black-and-white… and gray TV. And around that time the three astronauts Grissom, Chaffee, and White had a similar funeral parade… also black-and-white-and-mostly-gray.

The Viet Nam conflict on the TV news with Walter Cronkite. The riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968 with the Chicago Seven going on trial. The world was very, very gray.

But then, in the Summer of ’69, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. A giant leap for mankind! And I saw that also in black-and-white-and-mostly-gray.

There was a hope of color in my life after that. And we got a color TV in the later 70s after that. And even with my partially color-blind eyes, I saw color everywhere.

And now again is a good time to anticipate color coming back into my life. I am on the waiting list for vaccination. My eldest son has a steady girlfriend living with him now. And we have a better President who actually seems to care if we live or die. Good things are over the next hill.

But still… the world is, for now… gray today.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, coloring, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, insight, Paffooney, poetry, self pity

The Long Pandemic Winter

I admit the winter storm in Texas was almost too much for me even though we didn’t lose power for a significant amount of time and the plumbing problems we had after the freezing weather left were only the ones we had before the storm began. But this has been a slow-building punishment that effectively grinds the soul to grainy powder.

I admit that I have been thinking about death too much for an entire year. Flu season has never come and gone before without me getting the flu at least once. I have had some three-infection flu seasons in the past. Of course, those were all during my time as a working school teacher. Still, I fully expected to catch COVID and die during this pandemic. And I still haven’t been vaccinated and still can’t say I have survived it yet. But it came to our house when my son got sick with it from work. And I got by without getting infected.

I have not been able to do any substitute teaching or Uber driving, so there has been no extra money coming in because of the pandemic. And expenses have, of course, only increased. I still don’t know how much I will have to pay for the electric bill caused by the winter storm. I was smart enough to lock in the rate with a contract back in December, so I shouldn’t get any $16,000 electric bill. But it easily could cost me more than $500 because the space heaters we were using in most of the house were running and gobbling energy 100% of the time during the entire week. And taxes have been punishing me since the 2017 tax bill since, while most of you got $40 or so back from the government, pensioners are paying an increased amount that is going up every year and the Texas Teacher Retirement System tells me they can’t decipher the tax tables to adjust the withholding amount every year. So, I guessed wrong again this year and may end up paying more than $1000 for that.

So, this winter, this severe-depression season, is weighing on my soul heavily. The four of us in the house are living separate lives in our prison-cell rooms. We are not being very nice to each other. It has grown rather dark in our family where religious differences and money-handling differences were a growing problem even before the tidal waves of disease washed over our world. I feel like my family is disintegrating. As is my mental health.

The only thing I seem to have going for me now are the multitude of coping skills I learned over the last decade as the depression monsters set up house-keeping in our collective attic. I will celebrate where I can. I will draw pictures when arthritis lets me. And I will stop feeling angry or guilty when others take out their frustrations on me.

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Sick of Being Sick

I woke up late this morning with a headache and my eyes crusted shut. Sick again. Not Covid. My temperature is 37 C. I have no symptoms that correspond. I am suffering instead from allergies. And high blood pressure. And diabetes. And arthritis. As well as psoriasis and COPD. Six of them. Six incurable diseases on top of being a cancer survivor since 1983. Soon I may be facing diabetic depression. It is crucial that I constantly take stock of my health conditions. It is how I have stayed alive for 64 years.

Being unhealthy is really hard work.

The dog and I were talking about it during our limping walk this morning. She’s been suffering too since she found and gobbled my wife’s secret chocolate stash. She nearly destroyed her liver, kidneys, and digestive tract by doing that stupid, greedy act of theft. Now she’s on milk-thistle supplements to keep from dying. At ten years of age, she’s the equivalent of a seventy-year-old woman.

“We have to keep walking on our walks together. Our lives depend on the good effects the exercise has on out hearts,” she says.

“Okay. I agree as long as you don’t make me sniff bird poo the way you do.”

So, we finally have an understanding on that one point.

I need to keep laughing too.

I have been adding a lot of comedies to my Disney+ watchlist. My Netflix watchlist too.

I need to write more too. I haven’t really written anything beyond my daily 500 words more than three times in the last two weeks.

I have novel projects ready to start; The Boy Who Rose on a Golden Wing, There’s Music in the Forest, and Kingdoms Under the Earth.

I have projects still to finish; AeroQuest 4 : The Amazing Aero Brothers. and Hidden Kingdom.

I simply need to re-energize my daily writing habit. I need to write more things that make me laugh again. I need to write a lesser number of things that make me cry as well.

These things all represent my reasons to go on living.

So, I am sick and relegated to my bed again today. The sad thing is, that doesn’t vary much from any regular day during the pandemic. It is hard to stay well. I need to eat very carefully, noting the numbers of carbs and not getting too little of the right kinds of proteins. More peanut-butter sandwiches and chili with beans. Soup is good food. I need to stay warm and keep my psoriasis sores as clean as possible. I need to stay near the airflow of my electric fan to keep me breathing well. I have a new heating pad, inherited from my recently deceased father, and I need to apply heat wisely to my lower back for just the right amount of time. And I must keep fighting to stay alive. My eldest son has threatened to kill me if I die on him before he’s ready to lose me. (I never bothered to ask him how that consequence happens.)

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, health, humor, illness, Paffooney

The Lovely Lennon Sisters

Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich lived on the family farm outside of town, a little more than two miles from the tiny farm town of Rowan, Iowa.  I walked it more than once.  It was faster to walk the railroad tracks between the two places.  About a mile and three quarters as the crow flies… three hours as the boy investigates the critters in the weeds, throws rocks at dragonflies, and listens to the birdsong along the way.  But the point is, my maternal grandparents lived close enough to have a profound influence on my young life.  Much of what they loved became what I love.  And every Saturday night, they loved to watch the Lawrence Welk Show.  And that show had highlights that we longed to see again and again… on a show that never really went into reruns.  We lived to see Jo Ann Castle play the old rinky-tink piano, Bobby and Cissy doing a dance routine, and most of all… the lovely Lennon Sisters.

I always wanted to be the things they wished me to be in the song “May You Always”.  I wanted to “walk in sunshine” and “live with laughter”.  They presented a world of possibilities all clean and good and wholesome.  As a young boy who hated girls, I had a secret crush on Janet Lennon who was the youngest, though a decade older than me, and on Peggy Lennon, the one with the exotic Asian eyes.  They sang to me and spoke directly to my heart.

You have to believe in something when you are young.  The world can present you with so many dark and hurtful experiences, that you simply have to have something to hang onto and keep you from being blighted and crippled by the pain.  For me, it often came in the form of a lovely and simple lyric sung by the lovely Lennon Sisters.  When you are faced with hard choices… especially in those dark moments when you think about ending it all because it is all just too much to bear, the things stored in those special pockets of your heart are the only things that can save you.  For me, one of those things will always be the music of the Lennon Sisters… especially when watched on the old black and white TV in the farmhouse where my grandparents lived, and helped to raise me, every Saturday night in the 1960’s.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, battling depression, Celebration, humor, inspiration, nostalgia, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV review

Blueberries of Happiness

I know I am mixing metaphors again. It is supposed to be blueBIRDS of happiness. But not only am I starting this essay with a berry theme, I happen to be allergic to blueberries, thus solidly symbolizing my somewhat complicated relationship to the state of being truly happy.

https://chopra.com/articles/8-surprising-benefits-of-blueberries

You see, blueberries are full of antioxidants that are beneficial in so many ways that I really need that it seems absolutely a bitter irony that they make me sick to my stomach and constrict my lungs. I used to love eating blueberry muffins and blueberry pancakes, as well as fresh, cold ripe berries. They are good for my strained urinary tract and my glaucoma-plagued eyes. They help stave off cancer and help circulation to prevent heart disease. They are good for your blood pressure. But I also learned the hard way that they can stop me from breathing, a habit I really don’t wish to give up.

Mike Murphy and his girlfriend, Blueberry Bates

It is, unfortunately, a universal fact that no human life ever ran on one-hundred percent happiness. It is not possible to be a living, breathing, feeling human bean without knowing a little sadness… a little tragedy… a fair share of sorrow. In fact, I think it must be a rule that the happiest people you know have faced some of the hardest things you can imagine. My Great Uncle Harry was never able to talk about his experiences in Normandy during World War II. But I never knew a man who appreciated a good joke and a laugh more. My Grandpa Aldrich, my mother’s father, was probably the happiest man I ever knew, but his childhood was made difficult because of his mother’s dark secret, and how his father handled the truth about his birth. I too am a generally happy person. Did you know I have been in a psychiatric hospital after midnight admitting someone I love to the suicide-prevention ward? And I have had serious discussions on more than one occasion with more than one other person who was seriously discussing self-harm with me. I think there is probably no one in this life who truly appreciates happiness that hasn’t stared at least once into the dark eyes of despair.

It goes a long way towards explaining why I included a picture of Blueberry Bates in this essay. She’s a character in more than one of my novels, The Bicycle-Wheel Genius, Magical Miss Morgan, and Kingdoms Under the Earth.

Blueberry blames herself for the death of her mother. She was born a cyanotic, or blue, baby at the same time that her mother went into cardiac arrest during childbirth. The tragedy of her birth broke her father’s relationship to reality. He rejected the little boy who had been born to him because the mother, his beloved wife had died in the process. It fell to Blueberry’s two older sisters to take the baby, care for it, and give it a name.

You’ve probably figured out by now that Blueberry was raised as a girl even though she had a penis because her father would never have accepted the son whose birth killed his wife. He secretly blamed himself because the only reason they had a third child was because he so desperately wanted a son. So, he ended up with three daughters, the youngest one with a terrible secret that she really didn’t understand. And Mr. Bates never really came around to accepting that third daughter either. She was raised by her sisters Becky and Carla, and her Aunt Wilma, her father’s unmarried sister. And it took years of therapy and visits to the specialist in Minnesota who became the expert on gender dysphoria to reach the determination that Blueberry was going to be a girl and would transition when she was old enough. You are probably aware that this is a hard thing to deal with, especially when you don’t have any actual parents to help you deal with it.

But Blueberry is one of the happiest characters I have created in my fiction so far. She loves to draw, especially with colored pencil. She loves her boyfriend, Mike Murphy, to whom she revealed the truth, and in spite of Mike’s struggles with it, he eventually came to accept her not only as a girl, but as a girl he was in love with. That was a choice that didn’t sit well with Mike’s best friend, Tim Kellogg. Tim would have to come to terms with either accepting Blue as a girl, or losing his best friend. And that took more than one novel to decide.

Happiness is like that. The higher your kite flies in the April breeze, the harder it crashes to the ground. And if it is not destroyed in the fall, it longs to fly high again.

Happiness is a blueberry. And I like the taste very much. But I am also allergic to blueberries.

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, characters, Depression, happiness, health, humor, Paffooney

The Devil is in the Details

2020

has been one of the worst years of my life. I say one of… because in 1966 I was sexually assaulted, and a tornado attacked Belmond, Iowa with both of my parents there for work… and me not knowing if they were alive or dead for about eighteen hours.

This has been another dragon of a year. The pandemic took away my substitute teaching job, removing permanently the last chance I had to do a thing I loved.

And, of course, my father has had a series of strokes that took away his memories of his wife and family and has left him dying in hospice care

He had another incident yesterday. They called my mother on her one day she was allowed to visit him (due to the pandemic) and told her not to come in. He hadn’t awakened that day, and they didn’t expect him to make it. So, she started calling all of us to let us know the end had come. Except it hadn’t. He did wake up after all. And Mom had to undo the final notices she had already done.

But he lost some ground. Before he could talk, even though his memory was mostly gone. He would talk about crazy things, like working in a Hardware store in Lubbock and needing to retire because his 89th birthday is this month and he was exhausted from working. (He did somehow remember his birthday accurately, though he has never worked in Lubbock, Texas.) Now he can only mumble incoherently. He is emaciated and loses ground daily.

And it is wearing on my mother who is 87 and has not been so alone since they married in 1956. I fear once he is gone, we will lose her too. I have spent long hours on the phone with mother and sisters for most of three months now. There has been tears and heartache over long-distance phone lines. The Trump Pandemic has kept us hundreds of miles apart.

I am reminded that my life has been pretty good compared to that of Jews and Gypsies and political dissenters in Germany and Poland in the 1930s and 40s. And the plague now is probably better than the Black Death in the Middle Ages. But, in the space of a year, we have reached a point where those comparisons are no longer merely exaggerations.

But bankruptcy, illness, and misfortune have not changed who I am. There is still more in life to be lived. At least until there isn’t. And on that day when I play that final game of chess with the Grim Reaper… Who knows? There’s still a chance I might win the game.

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Filed under battling depression, family, feeling sorry for myself, Paffooney