In response to a couple tricksy questions. ;)
Role models. Heroes. There were few topics I disliked more growing up and it has always been one of American society’s favorites. It may a favorite of society in general, what is it but a microcosm of religion’s macrocosm? Celebrity worship, hero worship, the very words we learn to describe such things are evidence enough.
If I failed to explain it, one of my favorite phrases might give you the impression that I have a role model. I frequently tell people that if I can be half the man my dad is, I will have lived a successful life. I admire him, and love him more than I have words for. I can’t honestly write well about the depths of those emotions without tears coming unbidden to my eyes. It’s too intense for me.
But he isn’t my role model.
I don’t want to be my dad. He’s a different person. He’s a retired helicopter maintenance officer who spent 22 years in the military and is skilled in all kinds of mechanical and technical things. That’s not who I am. I live in my head, in words, books, music, dance. We have a lot in common, but I have a firm desire to be Morgan, which is hard enough, without wanting to be Don.
I have my own life to live, my own mistakes to make, experiences to have. I admire his version of a Renaissance Man, but I simply have different values. Power systems, backwoods living, guns, and power tools just don’t excite me. They’re useful, but those are his joys, not mine. He’s an incredible person, but I have to be my own kind of incredible person. I can’t be anyone else. I wouldn’t want to be.
The closest I get, I suppose, is seeing what some people achieved and saying, “I want that.” Someone recently described the light of my romanticism as a candle standing vigil over a grave. My response? If I am a candle, someone set me too close a tapestry and I will burn the world with a fire like that Shakespeare and Neruda. Shakespeare talks about immortality, a lot. In a way, he achieved it. I want that. I don’t want to be emulate Shakespeare, however. I have my own voice, and want to achieve my goals in my own right. I will accept that there are people who influence me. My parents, Shakespeare, Neruda, Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, Neil Gaiman, Rob Thomas, Lifehouse.
I see role models with my long time metaphor of fishing with a bucket. If I want to, as we Americans say, “Be like Mike,” then I am scooping up the part of Michael Jordan I admire, and everything that comes with it. I carry the burden of all it means to be like Mike to me. Personally, it’s enough to carry what it means to be me, most of the time. But I am strong enough for the latter. What I need for self-nourishment is the fish. I make my cast, hook what I admire, catch it with a net and let the water and all the weight remain where it is. I take that tiny piece that fulfills my idea of who I want to be, and make it so.
The distinction between the two is quite fine, I admit, but there definitely is one. Since I was very young I have never wanted to be anyone but myself. A better, more interesting, more educated, more tolerant, loving, kind, accepting, confident, strong version of myself, but myself. I always want to be a better person today than I was yesterday. But a role model? No. I don’t want anyone else’s role. I’m satisfied to play my own.
The other questions are a little harder to discuss. I don’t normally like to talk about my depression in public. It’s even more private to me than sex is, and more embarrassing. I see it as a weakness and while I think it’s important to allow yourself to be open and through that openness, vulnerable, I don’t really like showing weakness. I tend to do so more when I am emotionally distraught, or through poetry, but rarely in conversation.
Chronic depression is the official diagnosis I was given by the psychiatrist I went to during the year I spent working on my Master’s degree, a degree I did not complete. We met periodically and I started seeing a counselor regularly. It was therapeutic, but when she received a job opportunity in another state, I stopped going. I didn’t want to start all over and I am much more comfortable sharing my emotional concerns with a woman than with the gentleman they assigned me to next. The psychiatrist prescribed a drug called citalopram, which, as he warned, caused sleeplessness and stomach aches. I took it from the time he prescribed it until I quit my Master’s program, got a job teaching ESL, and left for Japan.
More than anything else, my depression severely affects my motivation. My final paper for my graduate level study of Le Morte D’Arthur took me ages to write. I would literally spend 15 minutes writing and 45 laying on my bed trying to work up the motivation to do so again. Refusing to recognize my problem severely limited my ability to function and honestly, I believe it one of the contributing reasons my undergraduate studies took five years instead of the three and a half I could have potentially managed. In spite of it all, I don’t really regret the time spent, as there are people extremely important to me that I never would have met or spent time with had life gone that route, and I likely never would have taught dance to the degree I have. The darkest clouds have their silver linings, I suppose, if we want to be cliché.
I briefly put myself back on medication while I was finishing my year in Japan. It had the same side effects and the trip to visit an English-speaking doctor was two hours on the local train each way. When I came home from Japan, I stopped the medication again. I was tired of the discomfort it caused. I did yoga every day for a month straight, and felt much, much better.
While I still have depressive episodes, and indeed, you still do even when medicated because it’s just part of being human, I remain unmedicated to this day. There are times when I consider finding a counselor again, but have yet to make that effort. The discovery of Zen Soup, One Minute Wisdom, studying the field of Positive Psychology, and exercise gave me tools to help deal with it on my own. I don’t practice them enough, but I’ve learned much about myself in the years since I was diagnosed.
Most of the time my depression is barely an issue these days. I can identify it by unbidden, unwanted dark thoughts about the value of life, or my life. Sometimes it comes on unexpectedly strong, as it did when I had what I called a minor breakdown earlier this year. I hold a lot of stress and tension in my body, and had a trigger set off a lot of it all at once. I took a day and a half off work just to deal with it. It’s not my favorite part of who I am, but I can deal with it these days, and no matter how dark my thoughts may get, I’ll never take it out on myself or other people. The river flows ever onward. I will flow with it, feed Rome, my brighter wolf, be grateful and chase the things that make me happy. Creating, writing, playing guitar, songwriting, poetry, learning foreign languages, dancing, self-improvement. . . I will flourish.
The most difficult part for me is that I am not very good at connecting my intellect and my emotions. That continues to be a work and practice for me. When I can achieve that balance, I will be better still. In the meantime, life goes on.
And a thousand words, goodnight.