Friday, September 30, 2016

Peyton, I Would Still Die For You

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. -Mark Twain

Next Saturday, it will be two years since Peyton,  my 13 year old son, came home from school, went to his room and hung himself.  He clung to life for five days, but his injuries were too severe and he passed away on October 13, 2014. Not a day goes by that I do not miss him, mourn him, cry for him, and wish that God would have taken me instead of him.

I had just gotten in my truck to leave work.  My day had been sh*tty, and I just wanted to get home.  I was sitting in the truck, trying to catch my breath from a sprint through the driving rain, when my phone rang.  I saw it was Jacki, Peyton's mother, and thought seriously about letting it go to voicemail.  I didn't want to deal with any more drama at that moment, but something made me answer.

All she said was, "David, you need to speak to this police officer,"  In the second it took for her to hand the phone over, my mind raced through several scenarios from "there has been an accident" to "Peyton's temper has finally gotten the best of him."

The officer took the phone "Sir, this is Officer So and So (I remember so many details of that day, but names still elude me) of the Georgetown Police Department.  Peyton James has hung himself."  With those five words, my world turned upside down forever.

I sat in my truck, in that empty parking lot, momentarily stunned, listening to the rain pound on the roof  before I completely lost it.  I screamed, yelled, beat on the steering wheel and the roof of the cab with all my might.  I bargained with God and offered my life for Peyton's. Through tears and snot I kept screaming, "Dear God take me," but he didn't.  Never had I felt so convicted about something as I did at that moment.

When we arrived at the hospital, the doctor took us aside and told us about Peyton's injuries.  Because of the trauma to the organs from the CPR and the lack of oxygen, there was the possibility of organ damage.  When the doctor said that, there was never any doubt that if Peyton needed a kidney, a liver, heel, even a heart, I would be first in line to donate.

Over the next five days, I sat by Peyton's side as he drifted further and further away.  I held his hand and once again, bargained with God to take my life and spare Peyton's.  In a time of helplessness, when everything else was beyond my ability to aide my son, it was all I could do.  I hoped that every time I closed my eyes, I would open them to nothingness, or to a bright light that was drawing me closer.  I even went to the chapel in the hospital to offer myself.  Unfortunately, God was not in a mood to bargain, and my pleadings went unanswered until it was too late and Peyton was gone.

I know I am not the first parent to offer myself as they sat at their child's bedside, nor was it the first for me.  From the time Peyton was a baby with his first of many ear infections, to his first stitches, to knocking out a tooth, I wanted to take away his pain and anguish.  I would have gladly carried that pain with me to alleviate him, but now it was for keeps, but I was still willing and wanting to change places. I think that is part of being a parent.  We all go out of our way to take care of and protect our kids. We want what is best for our kids and sacrifice for ourselves.

Now it has been almost two years.  Peyton would have been a sophomore in high school.  He would be old enough to get his learner's permit and beg me to let him drive.  He would have been coming up with a theatrical way to ask girls to homecoming.  He would have been arguing with me about everything from grades to curfew.  Instead, his ashes sit on my dresser and gather dust.  His room is slowly being converted to an office.  His step-brother is buying a suit for homecoming, and his sister is already planning her fifth birthday. All of the things Peyton could have been and done are nothing but assumption and speculation.

As for me, my life goes on slowly and methodically.  I think about all of the aggravation and headaches Peyton would be causing, all the unreasonable demands he would be making, the money he would ask for, and the future he would be planning.  I still want that for him.  If God has a way to change the past, I would still let him take me so that Peyton could live his life.  Just so you know, Peyton, I would still die for you.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Living With Depression

That's the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key. -Elizabeth Wurtzel

When I was a 15, I had just finished my sophomore year of high school, and it was summer break. Back in those days, we usually got out of school before Memorial Day, and didn't go back until after Labor day.  That meant three wonderful months of swimming, riding bikes, hanging out, watching MTV actually play music videos, and all around tomfoolery.  But for me, it was the first time I ever truly knew what depression was, and it became something I had to deal with the rest of my life.

I remember sitting around with my friends the day school got out.  We were sitting on the hill (ok, a mound of dirt covered with grass, but in Houston, it was a hill) outside the community pool, and every one was talking about their summer plans.  They were all enthused about what lay ahead over the next three months, but I wasn't.  I was about to start working as a life guard, a dream job for a kid at that time, but I was unhappy, I didn't know why.  I also noticed that I would tend to binge eat. Because I had a job, I had money, so I would ride my bike to the store and buy boxes of Little Debbie's snack cakes, or candy or chips and consume them at once.  Because I was always active, it never really bothered me, and over time, I learned to turn it toward healthier foods, and this was the start of a life long practice that went with my depression.

I never told anyone what was going on.  To be honest, I was embarrassed and ashamed.  It seemed as all my other friends had their act together, and I was some kind of reject.  I hid my problems behind sarcasm.  I tried to take as many people with me as possible by being a smartass.  Looking back, I know that I was trying to make others feel as bad as I did.  I figured if I felt like shit, then others should too.  It was a paradox.  I wanted friends, and I wanted people to like me, but at the same time, I would push others away in an effort to keep them from finding out that there was something wrong with me thinking if they knew, they wouldn't want to hang out with damaged goods.  I figured I would hurt them before they hurt me.  This was a pattern that would occur time and time again throughout my life.

This continued through college and into adulthood, but now, I would also throw alcohol into the mix to start numbing my feelings.  It wasn’t until I was an adult in my late 30’s that I even dared to speak up about it and seek treatment.  Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that depression is not like other illnesses.  I began to feel better, so I stopped taking my meds and going to therapy.  That mistake cost me my marriage, my house, and my son.  Now I speak openly and unashamed, not only for myself, but for others, so that they know it is ok to not be ok.

So what is it like to live with a mental illness?  For me, I live with depression and anxiety.  The biggest challenge I face every day is getting out of bed. When the alarm goes off in the morning (although I am usually awake and full of dread long before that), I have to decide if I am going to face my demons, or give in and call in sick.  My anxiety has already told me that If I go in, something will happen that will put me in an unfavorable position.  My depression tells me that it doesn’t matter what I do in class, the kids won’t care, they’ll fail, and it will be my fault.  I take my medication that is supposed to help, and I have no doubt that it does help, because the illness hasn't taken over yet.  I go through my morning routine, pour my coffee, and get in my truck for the drive to work.  Some days I hope that someone will rear end me or t-bone me and put me in the hospital for a few days. Others I wish my daughter was sick. Any legitimate  excuse to stay home because  I refuse to let the illness win and make me stay home.  I will not give in to it, and I will not let it dictate my life.

At work, the same student behavior that I used to find humorous or just ignore, now pisses me off. "This is stupid" or "I don't want to do this," hit me like hot needles under my nails.  I want to scream "You have opportunities my son never will!  Shut up and take advantage of those chances instead of bitching about it," but instead, I just a take a deep breath, look at the clock, bite my tongue, and count the minutes left in the class.

I hear snippets of conversations in the halls about parties, drugs, and alcohol, and wonder, "Are they trying to tame the monster as me?"  If they are, they're going about it the wrong way, as so many of their generation does, but because the monster has become "He who shall not be named," so in the "not my child" era they use what is available to numb the pain instead of what is proper.

Emails scare the hell out of me as well.  If I get an email entitled "Meeting" or "Conference" or anything similar, I have a small panic attack because I think I have done or said something wrong, or some parent wants their kid out of my class because my illness might be contagious.  To make matters worse, the state of Texas has adopted a new teacher appraisal system that has good teachers nervous, so it has ramped up my anxiety 100% and has me believing my future at my job is in danger.  Even though I have been told I am a good teacher, I still an't help but think that I am on the verge of unemployment.

When I'm at home, there are times I'll binge watch Netflix, play Xbox, or lose myself in a book rather than face life because all around me are reminders of Peyton, who he was, and who he never will be.  One of my worst habits to to grab a bag of chips or cookies and eat the pain away.  I want to hold my daughter close and never let go, but she is too much like her brother, and can't sit still.  At bedtime, I rely on Ambien to sleep, otherwise the anxiety of what has or might happen keeps poking at my brain until the wee hours of the morning.

I have to make myself take part in activities, to go places, to do things.  The things I used to love to do hardly interest me.  I battle daily to be as normal as I can, but it isn’t easy.  I know it puts a strain on my family, and that in itself tears me apart.  I keep people at an arm’s length because in my mind, I feel like I don’t deserve for people to love me or care for me.  I know that I am wrong to think that way, but that is the way the illness works, and that is why I fight it with medication and therapy.

Every day is a continuous battle for me, and I hate that.  Yes, there are good days, but they are far outnumbered by the bad.  I take my meds, but sometimes wonder if it is even worth it.  Maybe I should have the doctor increase the dose, but would that turn me into an emotionless zombie?  My job frustrates me to no end because of my inability to remember things, and because I feel as though the subject I used to love has now become nothing more than a test, so I think about what I could do besides teaching, or could I teach a subject that actually has relevance.  I also know it affects my family, and they suffer, which deepens my depression even more.

I want to "snap out of it" or just "choose to be happy", both sage bits of advice people have given me, but I can't.  I have an illness that tries to control my life.  I fight it the best I can, but it isn't easy. Some days I wish it was cancer or  gangrene so it could be cut out of me, but it isn't.  It is in my brain, and I need that.  I never asked to be perpetually miserable, to cry without warning, to hide the tears welling up in my eyes, or to go home exhausted everyday without the energy to play with my daughter.  So bear with me.  I'm trying. I really am.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Sh*tty Pair of Sunglasses

trig·ger (triɡər) noun an event or circumstance that is the cause of a particular action, process, or situation.

I hate triggers.  They are cruel, heartless, and generally unintentional reminders of an unfortunate past that all too often sneak up on us when we least expect them. Triggers are ruthless little bastards that seemingly come out of nowhere to ruin our day and turn people into quivering masses of jelly and tears.  The amazing part of a trigger is that you never know when it will affect you.  It could be something that you have seen over and over again on a daily basis, but on that one particular day, it hits you from out of the blue.

A trigger can be in the form of a song that reminds you of a love long lost, it can be a scent in the air that takes you back to a time when your life was not what you had hoped for, or a sensation that leaves you hollow and empty.  For people like me that have lost a loved one to suicide, they can be especially harsh, a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the face that drops you to your knees and leaves you on the floor of the coaches locker room screaming into a towel to muffle your anguish.

My trigger was a sh*tty pair of convenience store sunglasses.  Peyton had found them at a track meet about six months before his death.  They were mirrored, Aviator ripoffs that some kid had left behind at the long jump pit.  I told him to wear them around in case some one recognized them and wanted them back.  He strolled around the whole day with those ridiculous glasses on, and at the end of the day, asked me to put them in my backpack for safe keeping.  Since that day, those glasses stayed in my bag.  Through the rest of that season it was because I thought I may need them in case I forgot my own sunglasses.  Last year, it was because I convinced myself I might need them, but in reality, it was because I couldn't bear the idea of getting rid of them, even after I found a pair of Ray Bans after a meet in Houston.  Once the season was over, I hung my back pack on a hook in my locker and left it there over the summer, untouched until last week.

The month of August has been a cornucopia of weather changes here in the Houston area.  We ended almost two months of little to no rain with several days of torrential down pours followed by an almost daily chance of isolated thunderstorms, some possibly severe.  That meant that the bright blue cloudless sky I saw out of my window at the end of 5th period might be replaced by a downpour of Biblical proportions by the end of 6th, or vice versa.

It was on a day when all looked bleak weather wise that the nature gods took perverse pleasure on the populace.  After a morning of rain and gray clouds, the sun came out to heat the Earth and raise not only the temperature, but the humidity, to equatorial levels as well.  I had ventured out of the coaches office that day to drop off papers for copies.  Having noticed the bright sunlight, I went to the locker room see if my old Ray Bans were still in my track backpack.  When I opened up the side pocket, a spray can of sun screen, several pens and pencils, the Ray Bans, and the sh*tty pair of sunglasses fell onto the floor.  After a wave of profanity, I bent to pick up the flotsam from the floor. I shoveled most of it back into the side pocket, the Ray Bans were hooked into my collar, and the last thing left were the sh*tty sunglasses.  Rather than put them back, I knelt there staring at them.  I started to think about how they came to be in my possession, and then the wave hit me.  Suddenly, I was flat on my ass on the floor.  I tried to hold in the tears, but they came anyway.  I scooted across the floor and grabbed a towel from the basket, buried my face, and cried.  We're not talking just a few tears, this time, the water works opened and I let them flow.  I didn't care, I just needed to let out what had been building for a while.  Eventually, I composed myself, picked myself up off the ground, washed my face, and headed back to my day.This is not the first trigger I have dealt with since Peyton's death, but this one floored me.

I have been dealing with triggers since Peyton's death in October of 2014.  Whether it was walking past his room, looking at pictures on my phone, going places we had been together, his birthday, the anniversary of his death, seeing his friends growing up, or his sister Emmy ask when she will see him again.  I know I am not alone in my grief.  There are so many people out there that can no longer live a normal life as they had before the suicide of their loved one.  It is little things like triggers that get in their way, that stop them in the middle of a store, oblivious to everyone and everything around them, and leave them dumbfounded.  No one asks for this life, but unfortunately, there are far too many living it.

One of the worst for many survivors of suicide is the terminology in today's society.  You refer to people that are different as crazy or insane without taking into account that 90% of people that complete suicide are dealing with some sort of mental illness.  You make statements such as "I should just kill myself," or "if I were her, I would commit suicide."  You make gestures such as shooting yourself in the head (the number one method of suicide) or hanging yourself (number two) When we hear or see you spout such ignorance, we want to scream at you, grab you by the lapels and shake you, and pummel some sense into you.  I know you may be thinking "How was I to know that you lost some one?"  With an excess of 40,000 suicides in the US each year, and with each death affecting on average six people intimately, there is a good chance that some one in your life, be it a friend, relative, or acquaintance, has been affected.

Just last night, a friend of mine posted to face book about a t-shirt she had seen that depicted a San Francisco Giants fan standing on a chair with a noose around his neck, a Los Angeles Dodgers fan sitting down, eating popcorn and seemingly enjoying it, and the caption reading "Suicide Watch".  I had seen similar shirts before on Amazon, and heard the anguished and angry responses of people who has suffered loss, and now I have to hear them again.  Seeing this image was a trigger for some, and caused them grief.  For others, there was outrage that some one would find this funny.

As I stated earlier, triggers are ruthless little bastards.  They have the power to bring a person to their knees.  Some are unavoidable because of their personal nature, but others can be avoided.  References to suicide and killing one's self as a joke, should become taboo in our society.  You would never tell some one they should contract leukemia or heart disease, so why suicide?