Clear Vision

The world is a fucking complicated place, and the complexity should not limit our emotional depth. I’m on the brink of another job change, less than three months into my current position. About this time last year, I started having similar feelings about the job I held then, and decided to move on. I need clarity.

I spent a big chunk of 2019 as a stay at home dad, and I loved every moment of it. Getting to see Henry grow and develop was a joy, and I will treasure that experience forever. While sitting with Henry I had a lot of time to think about what my values were, and what I wanted to put energy into. One of the big takeaways was that while I liked the form factor of a 9-5 administrative assistant job with mundane tasks, it was more important to me to have impact in the lives of others again.

It took a while, but I found a position that fit on paper. I’d be taking persons with disabilities into the community each day, teaching them job skills to lead to sustainable employment, and all the while helping integrate them into the community with destigmatization of their challenges. I’ve got a great team around me, and I really enjoy spending time with the people I support. Let’s get into the minutia of what’s going on, and why I want to change.

The goal for billing is to have a six-hour chunk of time where we are performing activities that fulfill their valued outcomes related to work. Things like learning the expectations of the workplace, appropriate social interactions while working, and job skills like scheduling and completing tasks that were assigned. There are days where travel times and “work” only take up two and a half hours. Tack on an hour lunch, and we’ve still got a big chunk of time to fill. We mostly wind up at one of the two shittiest malls in the area to tangentially discuss job related topics (read: walk around the mall and window shop). Another typical day has over two hours of travel time each for pickups and drop-offs. Subtract an hour lunch, and we’re left with just an hour of volunteering in the day.

Both of those scenarios are equally disheartening to me. The time spent on the fluff around what I’m wanting to do saps my enthusiasm. Days that I drive six or seven hours are physically draining. I love to drive, but it’s just too much for me doing that three times a week. Those long drives have helped me focus on what I truly value about the field and narrow down what I want to be happy.

A person-centered approach where everyone is shown the respect and dignity of choice and afforded the right to risk is paramount. I think that failure is the largest impetus of growth, and everyone should be entitled to that. I want to spend my time fostering that atmosphere by providing people with the information and experiences necessary to make informed decisions.

I harken back to conversations I’d have with my best friend about emotional depth. They would suggest that the world is harshly black and white, with clear, correct answers to each issue. I would push back saying the world is filled with a lot of gray, and that you could have more than one feeling, emotion, or perception about something.

I think it’s okay to be disappointed in someone, but also accept that they can make mistakes and need a chance to move on and grow. I think it’s fair to enjoy what I’m doing, but also acknowledge that I am free to seek out an alternative to make me happier overall. I should strive for the same right to risk and failure that I’ve advocated for so fiercely.

I don’t want to wind up where I was last year, with a job that made me miserable because I felt some sort of demanding obligation to carry on. I don’t want to be a goddamned chauffeur for five hours and a job coach for 45 minutes. I don’t want to keep putting off my education in favor of short-term solutions for employment that sap my energy and drive. That much is certain.

I know there’s a stigma associated with people that change jobs frequently, but I don’t think it’s wrong to try to find the best fit possible for my own mental health and wellbeing.

Here’s hoping I don’t burn bridges with my cherished friends that graciously allowed me to use them as professional references along my pursuit.

Oh, and here’s hoping that I don’t have to walk through Aviation Mall for two fucking hours any time in the foreseeable future either.


View more of my favorite 2019 photos at my portfolio.

The Persistent Push

Last week I was getting snippy with the individuals I support, and I was also taking it out on my team. I was terse and more sarcastic than usual, to the point of nitpicking things just to start confrontations. Being mindful of my emotions, I recognized that I was in a shitty mood, and I saw that I was being cynical about my surroundings.

Yoda on Dagobah
Negativity leads to frustration. Frustration leads to hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to depression.

Since I expect so much of myself, when I become aware of my inability to influence the environment, I grow increasingly negative. Regardless of how grandiose my visions are, I fester on my failure to actualize those aspirations, and those bad vibes spiral out of control. It’s this feedback loop of negativity, where I’m frustrated that I can’t do what I want, and I beat myself up to the point of expecting nothing to improve because it hasn’t yet.

Venting to my closest friends about those feelings helped a bit. I was convinced that my awareness of that negativity would help me through it. Unfortunately, I was stuck on how each of the previous days were slogs, and I woke up every morning expecting the worst.

When I was receiving therapy for Persistent Depressive Disorder my therapist introduced me to mindfulness. I have become a proponent of its efficacy and I’m constantly reminded of how powerful that sense of awareness really is. Over the last three days as I realized I was slipping into a negative space, I used my favorite mindfulness technique (essentially the mini-mindfulness exercise at that link) to raise my cognition of myself in the present.

Spaceballs fucking nailed the feeling of now.

The present is awesome. It’s now. It’s not what just was. It’s not what is about to be. It’s now. This awareness allows the opportunity to react to what is actually happening, rather than what I expect to transpire. There’s incredible power in that ability.

It completely diffuses that negative feedback loop. I’ve found that removing my preconceptions brings me into a more positive headspace overall. That positivity defeats my feelings of burnout and depression. When I’m living in the now, I don’t waste my time and energy dwelling on what if’s, could’ve beens, and what-will-be’s.

Each day, each hour, each moment, and each second begins anew. Use that to your advantage and push forward. Persist.

I've been fairly open about my journey with depression. Catch up on the series if you want:
 The Final Push
 The Renewed Push
 I've pushed enough. Let's wrap this shit up.

I’m Going Back to School

When I was in middle school, age 12 or 13, I took one of those aptitude assessments that’s supposed to tell you what you want to do for the rest of your life. I found the actual sheet a few years back — since my mother was a notorious pack rat, and hell she was right, I did enjoy seeing it — and I listed three occupations that I’d like to pursue:

  1. Baseball Player
  2. Detective
  3. Therapist
Keith in Spring Little League
Super young Keith in a baseball uniform.

Baseball has been a lifelong passion of mine, and at the time I was a pretty decent ballplayer. I could hit the snot out of the ball, and I had an accurate, strong arm in the outfield. I couldn’t run for shit, but my bat was good enough to keep me in starting lineups. It’s every kid’s dream to be a star of some type, right? Music, movies, sports…

It certainly wasn’t meant to be, but it didn’t stop me from fantasizing about it.

Detective might seem weird to you, or it might feel right on with what you know about me. I’m logical, thorough when seeking out facts, and I was even mockingly nicknamed “Mr. Technicality” by my immediate family because I kept pushing them for specifics on questions I asked. Vague answers about birds and bees weren’t enough. I needed the details on erect penises, vaginal penetration, sperms, eggs, fertilization, and gestation. I’m sure it was a nightmare for them.

pembleton
Andre Braugher as Frank Pembleton

My favorite show of all time is Homicide: Life on the Street, and my favorite character on the show was Frank Pembleton. I loved his intensity and attention to detail. I strove to emulate that when I’d play cops and robbers with my friends. I’d carry around a little field notebook and record details about what the bad guys were doing. It would get to the point that they wanted to stop playing because I took it so seriously and they were obviously called out on what they were trying to cover up. I continually piss Dorena off when we argue, because I recall specifics in conversations and environmental changes that aren’t significant to most people. It’s a gift and a curse.

Unfortunately, I turned out to be pretty squeamish, so any job dealing with blood and guts was not for me.

The reason I wanted to be a therapist was because I was so incredibly grateful to one for helping me at that age. I was a problem child, and not in that goofy 4-star movie kind of way. I was a kleptomaniac, pyromaniac, and pathological liar. I won’t go into the specifics of what was behind all of that, because that could be a 2,000-word post on its own. Basically, I was given tools to evaluate my feelings in a way most adults don’t have, and it made me turn my life around in a substantial way. I thought it would be cool to aid others akin to the way I was.

The problem is that I was never a good student. I didn’t apply myself at all, and when the time for college came around I settled for an education in web design. It was the only thing outside of playing music that I had any real talent for, and I went for it tepidly. I dropped out of college after four years of half-assed attempts at classes that didn’t interest me.

animal-houseHere I am at 33, twelve years after my last college course was completed, and I’m going back to school. I’m going to become a psychologist.

I’m going to become a psychologist.

I’m repeating that for emphasis, but not for you. It’s for me. I’ve made up my mind, set up my first semester of classes, and I’m working toward that goal. It’s still not real to me yet. The idea that this fucked up kid could become a doctor, let alone earn any college degree is taking its sweet fucking time to sink in.

While battling through my depression, I was helped immeasurably by another mental health professional. For the second time in my life, someone helped me get back on track through therapy, and I’m intoxicated by that potential again. I’ve also got ten months of direct care experience that’s been insanely fulfilling. It’s a really great high when you see in someone’s eyes that they appreciate your help, and that you’re responsible for facilitating a better life for them. I want to do that with as many people as I can.

It doesn’t matter if it takes six, ten, or fifteen years. I will become a psychologist, and I will impact a lot of lives in a meaningful way.

Learning to Love Some Music Again

It can be years — hell, it can be decades — since last hearing a song, but the music and lyrics come back to me, and it floods my mind with memories of when and where I’ve heard it before.

I accredit this to my mother, who always had music playing while I was growing up. In the house, she had an extensive vinyl collection that extended back to the days of her youth, and in the car, she’d have mixtapes she spent hours compiling. She followed my lead on the portable electronics front, going through multiple generations of Walkmans and Discmans alongside me, and fully embraced the streaming movement right before she died. Spotify was pretty close to replacing me as her favorite child.

The weekend she died, my aunt, sister, and I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy to get our mind off it for a couple hours. What a shitty choice.

Within the first ten minutes, you see the main protagonist’s mother die, and how important their bond over the same music was. Then you get tidbits of music Ma sang together with all of us for two more hours, culminating with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (a song that, two years later, I still can’t hear without tearing up).

My therapist told me that everything gets easier with exposure so, with increasing frequency, I’m revisiting music that I’ve shied away from the last couple of years. I get choked up — sometimes cry like a baby — but do my best to sing along. It’s an interesting experience to say the least.

It’s not so much overwriting the emotional response to my musical memories, it’s more like refining the visceral reaction. Motown is creeping back in my life, and I love it.

Yeah, I’m crying. But I’m also smiling. This feels pretty damned good.

 

Why do strangers talk to me?

Last night, I went to Walmart to pick up sinus pills, a box of Mrs. Grass soup, elbow noodles to mix into it, and a peanut-buttery snack because I was feeling miserable. It was shaping up as a perfect in-and-out trip until I got to the registers.

I approached the only express lane open, and waited my turn. I was next in line as the cashier caught a peak of my shirt and flashed a goofy grin.

hatebreed keep calm and destroy everything shirt
My Hatebreed “Destroy Everything” shirt looks like this, but I’m not that scrawny.

It’s a look I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, as people who listen to the same music as me are relatively scarce. Usually people notice the band on my shirt, and they remark how cool it is to see someone else that likes that band, and I get roped into an awkward exchange. He fit the stereotypical “heavier music guy” look, but the hesitant smile had nothing to do with Hatebreed.

“Your shirt reminds me of a quote,” he said, as he scanned my box of soup with a widening smile. “Well, it’s a line by a character named Poffo, a 245-year-old vampire, in the novel Poffo: The Strange-Ass Garbage Story of a Vampire by Some Crazy Fucking Author.”  I don’t recall the specifics, but I’m doing my best here.

My eyes widened because I was so taken aback by the introduction. Give me a fucking break, dude, I’ve got four things for you scan.

I hoped my look of incredulous judgment would embarrass him into silence, but he prattled on. “Poffo is often locked in the basement of her master’s manor because she just doesn’t know how to control her own incomprehensible strength,” he said gleefully, trying to pique my interest.

Instead, I focused on the card reader to dissuade further discussion. Undeterred, he continued, “She’s not necessarily an evil vampire — I mean, she feeds on humans, because, duh, she’s a vampire — but she’s a great person, and she just can’t help it. It’s cool because her sister sneaks small mammals down into the basement to feed her when she’s being punished for decimating her playthings. It’s a fascinating look into the domain of…”

I continued staring at the card reader to follow the scanning process. Here’s the box of elbow noodles and peanut butter bars… Almost there! His words stole focus as the absurdity of what he was saying sank in.

“…constrains her ability to transmogrify into a bat, and the chain around her neck actively combats incantations she would normally invoke to…”

Meanwhile, I haven’t said a single word, and I haven’t looked him in the eye since the first glance as I stood next in line.

“There’s one novel where– Oh, I need your I.D. for the, uh, ‘daytime/night-time sinus tablets’ for some reason.” He looked bewildered as though he didn’t realize there was an alternate use for the medicine.

With great disdain, I grumbled, “Dude, I’m 32. I’m sick. I just want to get home.” There was no fucking way I was going to let this guy know my name or address.

“Oh! You do sound sick,” he replied, as he hit the okay button to let the pills through. He hit the total button, selected credit card as the method of payment, and looked back up at me to continue his story while the receipt pooled in his hand. “Anyway, Poffo befriends an imp that’s able to communicate with the real world, despite being kept afloat in purgatory after a mishap with a woodland–”

“Thanks,” I interjected, reaching for the receipt. I had more than enough. He turned to keep talking to me as I walked away. I heard his voice, but I have no idea what he was saying. As I got to the exit, the door-greeter stood up from his stool and took a step toward me. One corner of his lip curled into a sneering grin as he spoke.

“He’s a piece of work, ain’t he?”

You have no idea, man. No fucking idea.