The Three Hundred and Forty-Sixth Post: The One Where I Embody the Definition of Insanity…

Hello, everyone — I know I have been away for a while. Long suffering readers of this blog (all two of you) will recognize the pattern. Furious activity for days or weeks, followed by months of silence. However, this time there a really good and medically sound reason for it.

I have mentioned in other posts that I suffer from depression. Normally, I would leave it at that, but I want to give a more detailed explanation as to why this is pertinent to the blog. If you feel I am repeating myself and refusing to change anything, I beg you to read further.

On December 26th of 2019, I had an emotional breakdown that was frankly a long time coming. I’m not going into the particulars, because it’s something I am working on (more on that below), but I will say this. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

Normally, when I have a depressive episode, I ride it out and try to soldier through it. I know these episodes will come and go. I can maintain a mental and emotional fortitude long enough to get home to engage in other practices: writing, games, reading, listening to loud music on my headphones, screaming. With 80% of those methods come very close to being healthy, I have been able to keep the drumbeat of suicide to a minimum. I faced this new and very, very intense episode as best I could.

When my wife asked me what was wrong, why I was staying in the bedroom on the day after Christmas…I broke down. Not a dramatic single tears rolling down my cheek and me saying that I need help. I couldn’t summon up the fake smile and say ‘Everything is OK, I just wanted to not be underfoot while you got ready for work.’ It was an ugly, ugly cry with screams and sobs that I am certain disturbed her.

She did her best, to her credit, to try to comfort me, but I was honestly not having any of it. She did the next best thing and asked if it would help to talk to Charles–my brother-in-law who is a pastor. I said yes, because I knew I needed to talk to someone, and my wife had to go to work. She walked me over to the couch and sat me down. She went into the kitchen and I heard her talking to him. Keep in mind–this is the day after Christmas. These are still the holidays. Through my sniffling, I hear her say something and close the phone. She comes back into the room, gently puts her hand on my back and tells me that Charles will be over soon.

A normal drive from my house to where Charles lives is a little over an hour. Charles showed up under forty-five minutes. Wife left to go to work, I mumble an offer of something to drink out of habit which Charles politely declines. I offer a seat in the living room. I tell Charles everything. Every sorted detail of the origin of his particular break-down. My whole history from 1992 on up to today. I hold little back, and I wait for him to say that I’m really fucked up and on my own. My previous experience with family and depression is toxic to say the least.

Charles instead talks to me. He identifies the problem, he shows me different facets of it and calmly and without judging gives me advice. “I want you to read the book of Romans.” Let’s not forget he is a Southern Baptist Minister. I tell him that I’ll start on it today. After a few more words, he excuses himself. I walk to the door, and before he left, he looked right in my eyes and said something that no one in my family has ever said to me when depression hit: you are loved. You are worth it.

To my credit, I don’t cry again that day.

The next few days were filled with ups and downs. There are a couple of people (one of them might be reading this) who were kind enough to sit with me in Messenger and talk me through the lower episodes. The ones where I would sit in the middle of the kitchen and bawl over choices I made decades ago. The ones where the only say I cold comfort myself was to say that if I could hold out for payday, I could kill myself and end this torment. I had a very specific plan for suicide. A plan that hinged on gas prices not being as absurd as they were during the holidays.

Sadly, the holidays had to come to an end I had to get back to work. I again tried to do what I did best, what got me through ten years of customer service and the worst summer of my life: I tried to push on. A stiff upper lip in the finest British Tradition.

Depression shoved back hard. The crying jags and suicide ideation intruded into work. I would retreat to the bathroom often to try to stifle my crying. I took less lunches in the break room and more in my car, retreating to a lonely corner where I could be alone.

me before a crying jag

an honest to goodness picture of me right before a crying jag

The highs were not getting as high, and the lows were crushing. Like metal being heated and then suddenly cooled, I knew I was going to break. I kept telling myself that I could get help later. Once the peak months are done, once the overtime is finished–then I can get some help. I just have to hold out one more day.

Depression makes me a very good liar.

It was the 6th of February when I couldn’t lie to myself any more. I knew that if I did not stop, if I did not make an effort to go get help I was going to die. Telling myself to wait was no longer a matter of saying I could ride through this, telling myself to wait was now saying if you can hold out until payday, you can end it.

To be unflinchingly honest, Dear Reader–I was going to immolate myself. I wanted something sure, something reliable and something easy to get. Even looked it up online how long it would take to burn to death: 30 seconds to 2 minutes. I had spent the better part of over two decades in misery, what’s another two minutes worse case scenario? Did you also know that the brain does not distinguish between physical pain and emotional pain? So, before someone says ‘you just needed to toughen up’, I would ask you to break your own arm and imagine having that pain, that intense pain day after day, year after year for twenty-seven years.

Anyway, I came to the final realization that another crash was going to be it. I could not take that whiplash of emotions again. So, during break, I went into one of the unused offices and made some phone calls to find a counselor. I found one who was in my insurance network, had an opening and would see me…

…next Monday.

Through a fresh set of choking tears, I told the person on the other end that I could not wait until next Monday. Keep in mind, this was a Thursday. These periods were coming and settling in longer. I knew that Saturday was going to be my last day. Even as one part of my mind exulted over the idea of my life coming to an end in a matter of days, the other part said to find help elsewhere. If there ever was a time to be the scrappy one, it was now.

The woman on the other line asked me if I intended to hurt myself, and I said yes. I had a plan, I was going to implement it if I couldn’t get help. She told me, in a very calm voice, that there was a mental health wellness facility that had outpatient services (which is what I was looking for). She asked me to wait and she would talk to them about getting me in immediately. While she talked on the other line, I tried to force down the tears (a family tradition) and got a pencil and paper handy. she came back and told me the address of the hospital, and they would have an outpatient meeting with me if I got there Right. Now.

Armed with the address, I walked back in and asked Terri, my supervisor, if I could see her privately for a moment. She walked me into her office, closed the door and I laid out almost everything. I didn’t tell her that I was two full gas cans and a nine hour drive away from dying, but I did tell her I needed help immediately, and that I was sorry to be throwing everything into disarray.

“Go get help. We’ll be OK.”

With that, I grabbed my things from my desk and walked out the door. Next Thursday, I think I’ll go into a little more detail about my arrival to the hospital.

After that…we’ll see.

Due to technical difficulties…

…I am going to delay a couple of reviews. Work and mental health have been at odds lately, leaving me with little time to watch and review films.

I will get back to it in a few days, and I will make sure that I get caught up. I know that I owe two reviews, and I’ll probably try to get one in tomorrow and get the rest caught up over the weekend.

I’m just really tired and a little overwrought.

Thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter.

Seething Apathy

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 26: Pottersville

What happens when you take the writers of S.N.L. and Mad TV, lock them in a room and tell them that they need to write a movie appropriate for Lifetime Christmas Season?

You get Pottersville.

This is a sweet, sugary romantic comedy that still manages to hit all the romance tropes, but still have some surprises that were definitely spoiled in the trailers (which I never saw).

To be honest, the only reason why I bought this film was for Michael Shannon. That man is wonderful to watch. He approaches this movie with an air reserved for Jimmy Steward. Everything he does is selfless, and puts the town first. The characters are painted with broad, but funny strokes. The love interest is played with quiet interest by Judy Greer, who needs to get more work. The wife / romantic foil is played by the voluptuous and carnivore in bunny’s clothing Christina Hendricks, and the funniest person there is Thomas Lennon as Brock Masterson. Ron Perlman and Ian McShane play supporting characters, but they definitely have an impact and certainly are not wasted.

I, as a rule, try to avoid Christmas films and there are a very few romantic comedies that I like. Pottersville is one. I like the slightly subversive tone the movie adopts early on, even if we saw part of it coming. As I said, the movie hits all the right plot points at the right time. This is a movie that was made for a specific audience, skewering another specific audience. There was no unique statement to be made. Everything gets wrapped up satisfactorily in the final last five minutes.

Is this a movie that you should run out and get immediately? No. There are a lot of better movies in either romance or comedy out there to watch. If you happen to find it during the holiday season, should you grab it and enjoy turning off your brain for a few minutes? Sure. Pop it in with your favorite bottle of wine, cheeses and a warm knit rabbit sweater.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 25: Wreck-It Ralph

I’m not a huge fan of Disney. Even though they are the entertainment juggernaut that will crush all pretenders under their cheerful cartoon heel…I’m not a huge fan of most of their offerings (I am excluding Marvel, LucasFilms in this…for reasons). I’m not a fan of the musicals that are quickly and simply wrapped up in under 90 minutes so as not to strain the little one’s attention span. I also understand that I am far from Disney’s target demographic.

Now, saying this, I said I’m not a huge fan. Yes, I will watch Aladdin for Robin Williams and The Lion King certainly made me respect their story-telling chops even if it’s a re-skinned Hamlet. For the most part, still not a fan.

Now, I love Pixar. Even as much as they skew a little towards the kids, there are some decent storytelling points and they are not afraid to go a tiny bit mature in the story. Sometimes, it’s right out there for everyone to see. I know I wasn’t the only one shrinking into their seats when the main characters in Toy Story 3 were facing the incinerator, and the song “When She Loved Me” still reduces me to tears (admittedly, I was in a very bad place when I experienced that song). Not only are they master story tellers – Brad Bird has a wonderful article about his writing process, and the formula he uses, which I highly recommend – they are technical geniuses. Every film they have made is the gold standard of computer animation. Every film pushes the boundaries a little more.

When I saw that Wreck-It Ralph was coming out, I knew I was going to go see it. It was clearly a Pixar film at first glance. I would brave the children and the screaming to see this.

Then I saw The Castle.

I am not a person to walk out of a movie. Trust me, I have sat through some howlers. I decided that I was going to give this one a chance. After all, I made an investment of time and money…and I had popcorn. So, I settled into my seat.

I was not disappointed. I came for the animation, but I stayed for every gamer in-joke, trope and bit of naughty and/or toilet humor I saw. I was stunned at some of the lines they left in. I found myself chuckling, then asking myself if it was appropriate to laugh at that with children nearby. They were laughing, too – so I relaxed and let myself be entertained.

While the overarching theme of belonging is a very kid-friendly one, there was another theme that stuck with me. It was plainly thrust out there. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed it.

Being glitchy doesn’t have to define you.

Vanellopes main calling card is her glitchiness. In moments of high emotion, she pixelates and breaks down. Eventually, she learns to control this, and even use it to her advantage. As one of my theatre teachers in high school told me many, many, many years ago: “You’ve got to take that flaw and present it as a strength.” Sure – hack advice to give to teens, but sadly some adults need to be reminded of that every now and then.

It’s OK to glitch. It’s OK to have a bad day. Just don’t let that one thing, that one day, that one weakness define what you are, or how you present yourself.

I encourage any and all stodgy sorts like me to buy Wreck-It Ralph. Thanks to digital services, you wont have to lie and say it’s for the kids or grandkids.

And Aerith lives.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 24: Endless

Endless is not a movie about time loops and the definition of insanity. It is a movie about moving on with things. Given my mental state over the past few days, this message was not lost on me.

Complaining about a lack of vegetables and good food starts us off. One brother looks at the past through rose colored lenses, while the older and more grounded one sees the darker side, noting that they were part of U.F.O. cult that was preparing to commit group suicide. After some talking, they decide to go back and visit for one day, staying ovenight and leaving the morning. This stretched out to a second day.

The cult itself isn’t ominous. Dressed plainly and nice – they’re more like family than anything else. Which is one of the points in this movie: family is the people that will always take you in when you’re cold and hungry. No one here holds their defection over their heads. No one shuns them – in one scene that is rather remarkable and a sign of creepiness to come – they try to get the brothers to participate in a tug-of-war with…something in the darkness. When they do, the realize that there might have been something to the beliefs of the community.

The theme of breaking out of being stuck was everywhere. The stage magician working on a new trick, the cute clothes maker showing her new patterns, everyone was trying to do something a little different, but nothing seemed to work. It’s not that they were doing anything other than what they did before, and they knew it. That theme plays out everywhere. The comically frustrated suicide tries to end his life in a different way, only to realize that he’s back at the beginning of his loop.

The brothers manage to break out of the cycle, and make some heart felt confessions in the process. Whereas some films would have the cult cursing that their prey had escaped, or set up machinations so that the brothers were the key only to escape. Instead, the cult leader seems to wish them well in the end. This movie tries very hard to not take the easy way out.

While this is a good film, and certainly one I will watch again (I apologize, but I’ve been distracted as of late). This is a good and deep sci-fi film that should be carefully watched.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 23: The Disaster Artist

Everyone likes an underdog story. We root for the scrapper, the unbendable, the one who plants his roots like a tree by the River of Truth and says ‘no, you move’. We like the Cinderella Story. We like the U.S. beating Russia. We like miracles.

The Disaster Artist is the underdog tale for the movies. It takes us through the creation, filming and screening of what is considered the worst movie ever – The Room. We meet Greg – an actor in L.A. who makes a fateful friend with Tommy in an acting class. Right away, we know that Tommy is not an actor. They read monologues together and try to grab a piece of the dream that fuels a whole town. In the course of the movie, we see that there is something more to Tommy than what is apparent…almost sinister in its aspect. We watch the miracle splinter, we watch it bend, but we never see it break. As people who know what’s going to happen. We want to scream at Greg as he turns down a bit part in the show Malcom in the Middle – offered by Bryan Cranston, but Greg has to shave off the beard he grew, which would throw the movie off schedule. Rather than abandon the movie, and get a better chance at a career, he sticks to his guns. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes.

This movie is absolutely phenomenal. The acting is meticulously performed. James Franco’s performance is pitch perfect. Stick around for a “Wiseau-off” between Franco and the real Tommy Wiseau in an after credits scene. Not only are the perforances spot on, but the recreation of the movie The Room is eerie. Another post credit scene compares the The Disaster Artist’s performances of scenes in The Room. The care that it took to get every little movement, every little intonation down shows the dedication these actors had to the film.

The humor comes from the disconnect that Tommy has to, apparently, the entirety of reality. Seeming oblivious to the flaming chaos he creates, he forges ahead unflinching towards fame…or infamy if you look at it right. We see him try to act, and while he thinks he’s giving an Oscar winning performance, everyone else, and the audience, cringe with every syllable. We don’t know if he’s all-in crazy, or trying to prank the cast, and the audience in the process (rumors of money laundering aside). In a town that chews up the unwary, Tommy Wiseau punches his way down the esophagus and comes back up covered in juices proclaiming victory.

See this movie. See the after credits scenes, and if you ever doubt that your talents and skills will ever make an impact…remember – Only Nixon could go to China, and only Tommy Wiseau could make The Room.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 22: Bob Lazar: Area 51 and the Flying Saucers

I have been very lucky to have seen Travis Walton in person. For those of you who might not know, Travis Walton is a UFO abductee. His story is told in the book and the movie Fire In The Sky, which I will review later on. If you get the chance, go see him. I am telling you that this is a man who has seen it and lived it. You can look in his eyes and see it.

Another famous name in UFO circles is Bob Lazar, the whistleblower who alleges (don’t shoot me, Cigarette-Smoking Man!) that not only did the U.S. government have flying objects, aliens and backwards engineering, but he had proof that could corroborate his story. He explained in detail how the saucers worked, what fueled them and where they hailed from.

As much as I love documentaries, especially U.F.O. documentaries, I found this one to be a little flat. While his story is well known in the community, this one seemed to be more concerned about his home life, what he does now and keeping his name out there for the notoriety. While he puts on a demeanor of ‘here we go again’ at times, other times he comes off as the 35 year old ex-high school quarterback who just won’t shut up about the time he threw five touchdowns in a single game.

I guess I was looking for more…zip? We got a look at his first appearances explaining how he got to what would be called Area 51, and the other facility that housed the ships. We watched him talk about meeting Edward Teller, then have Dr. Teller deny meeting him…and Bob pulling out a torn page from the directory with his name on it. This particular documentary was rather dry. I finished it, but I had to push myself, which I normally don’t do on such things. This was more of an extended history / puff-piece on a well known member of the community.

Seriously: see Travis Walton in person, or watch the movie Fire in the Sky. You’ll be better entertained.