On Mental Illness

It is very hard to describe what mental illness is like to someone who has not gone through it. It is a subtle change that takes place not in the world, but in your head. The changes it brings come slowly, and the mind is quick to mask most of these from the person, so that one generally does not notice it until it is manifest. Even the subtlety of the attack, and the way the brain works to co-op the victim, very much like a virus stricken computer suddenly working hard to help the erstwhile hacker, makes the process all the more unbelievable. You simply cannot imagine you are acting crazy right up until the moment you do. And then you can’t figure out how in the hell you got there.

It’s very much like waking up, and going about your day, only to find at the end, when you go to take a shit, that somehow in the course of your day you took off the white underwear you very carefully chose in the morning, and replaced them with a green pair you have never seen before, and then proceeded to put them on the outside of your pants. The worst thing is not realizing you just spent the last part of your day walking around the block, talking to your neighbors, eating at the local restaurant, all with green underwear on the outside of your pants. No the worst part is not knowing where you got the underwear from in the first place. Like there is some secret store you go to buy green underwear, but only when you are so crazy that you cannot remember.

I am lucky in that I have only a very mild form of depression. Pretty much the worse that happens to me is I suddenly find myself almost entirely rudderless, and with only the littlest bit of ego to manage most adult tasks. I can function, after a fashion, but I have very little initiative to do anything but go home, and crawl into bed. For instance, I can sit on a corner waiting for a bus, but I cannot raise my hand and waive down a taxi. The thought of doing something new, like riding in a taxi, is almost paralyzing, even though it would get me home sooner, and I had the cash in my hand. I can even realize that I am depressed, and need to get myself to a safe spot soon, before it gets worse (like all mental illnesses, it can get worse), but I cannot manage to do anything that is out of routine or unsafe. Mind you, the very next day I can wake up and take twenty taxis, without batting an eye, so the effect is not permanent. I’m lucky in that also know now pretty much when I’m depressed, and have a good handle on my limitations. I am also able to work when depressed because I have learned how to not shut down completely when there is work to do. It’s always in the denouement after late night work that is the hardest.

I can leave a client’s office, after a long day’s work, and walk out to the bus stop to wait for the bus, very much like I did last night, and then at some point while waiting for the bus, suddenly and completely shut down. I was planing on going to a restaurant to celebrate a friends birthday, and sometime after I got off my normal bus, and waited for a new one to take me to the restaurant, I lost it. I could not wait for the bus to come (it never did), and while pacing for it, I grew more and more agitated until I got to the point that I started having a very strong desire to yell at any car that passed, and it was all I could do not to scream at the the occasional pedestrian. Even I know, while in the grips of depression, that this is not normal. So I watched 20 taxis pass, all of them empty, and waited for my normal “safe” bus to come, and take me home. Almost 2 hours after I left the office I stumbled through my front door, and crawled into bed.

On the way into work this morning, I saw several taxis. All of them seemed perfectly safe. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to call a friend and apologize for missing his birthday. Fortunately for me, he is a good friend and will understand.

Gun-lovers. It’s time for a new defense

As I write this there is a lot of talk of the assault weapons ban making a come-back, and this had my gun owning friends worried. Worse still, I find their worry is translated into the same arguments used before, back when Republicans had a majority in both houses of Congress, and the Presidency. Well for gun owners, times are tough, and the world has moved on to a new reality. In an effort of “cross the aisle” support, I thought I would offer my advice to my gun owning friends, to help them through what looks to be a painful transition.

The Football Metaphor (with apologies to those lads who know football as footy)

Think of yourself as a fan of a major professional football team. Not just any team, but a dynasty team; one with multiple Superbowl trophies under it’s belt, and many fine pro-ball players sporting Superbowl bling on their fingers. Now imagine that your team just got beat in the Spuerbowl, for the first time in 8 years. Ouch! Sure it hurts to loose, and sure the feeling of loss is rather novel, but that does not mean your team is completely destroyed. You still have a lot of fine players on the roster, and you still have the same old excellent coaching staff. But even with all those things on your side, sometimes you still loose. Try to remember that the other teams want to win just and much, and that there is always next year. As we all know, crying in our beer is cathartic, but it doesn’t really help. What we need is to rethink our game, and start up with some new training.

First of all, it’s time for a new defense.  Running a tight defense, trying to keep the opposing team from making big running plays, works well if you have the best offense. And lets face it, Republicans have always run a good offsense. As long as you can outscore the other team, your defense really only has to contain the opposing team, not stop them. This works well, as long as you have the best offense on the field. If you can force the other teams to make bad passes, while keeping their running game to a minimum, then your offense can come in an outscore the other guys.

And for the past 8-10 years, that has pretty much been the goal of gun owners. Minimize the weaker opponents, and concentrate on allowing your party to win. And for all that time, it worked really well. You had a good offense (Republicans got elected often, and to majorities), and you could easily contain any movement from your opponents with your tight defense.

That was then, this is now. Now you are facing a whole new team. Last year in the off-season (is there an off-season in politics?) the other side got themselves a new quaterback. And guess what? He has got a real arm on him. Say what you want, Obama can throw spectacular passes. And he has enough fast talking guys on his team to get under them.

In effect,  another team now has the better offense.

So its time to open up your defense. Right now its better if you can limit the other team to a small running game, and defend more against the passing game. Because if you don’t, they are going to pass the ball right through your defense, and you are going to loose again this season. You’ve got to control the ball by rethinking what you are going to defend, otherwise, your in for another loss. Your offense is not going to out-pass this guy,  so your defense has got to take up the slack.

What does this mean in the real word? Well, for starters, you’re going to loose on the assault weapons ban. Really. I know it hurts, and I know you think this means the camel’s nose is under the tent, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Democrats have the votes, AND the momentum. So you might as well know it going to happen, and deal with it. If you try to hold tight, it you try to defend this issue like it is the end of the world, you are going to loose. It’s an ugly truth, but it is still the truth.

But that is not the end of your game, its just the first few yards. What you want to defend against are large bans on guns, not selective bans on certian types of guns. No matter what you do, some of these are going to pass. It’s better to let them go, and defend against the bigger plays, than to try a goal-line defense on the 50, and watch helplessly while the other side passes the ball deep. Because sure as shootin, that is what is going to happen if you kepe to the old defense.

So here’s your stratgy for 2009, and for all the years until you get a stronger offense: Defend against the deep game, and worry less about the short game. Take the sort game on the chin, in excange for containment on the long game.

That, and start shopping for a better quarterback.

Road Trip to Yosemite

This weekend we loaded up the Prius, and drove up to visit my parents in Yosemite. The occasion was to celebrate the birthday of my step-father, who is now 80, and still going strong.

Along the way we saw quite a few wildflowers growing along I-5 in an area referred to as “the Grapevine.” These two shots were taken just south of Gorman, which is just short of the 4400 ft elevation pass.

The splotching looking colors are widflowers. You can see the orange California Poppies in the second photo quite clearly.

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Don’s birthday was great fun. Mom and friends put together a big party. Lots of people, lots of wine. Of note was one man (who’s name was Greg, iirc) who was a physician, and who is now a writer that converts physicanese into a language that lay-people can understand. He told me of helping a family who’s 8-year-old son had just died from a very rare blood disease. I guess he spent a lot of time with the family, helping them come to grips with a something that to them must be right out of a horror movie.

We got there early, which means we got to help set up. A good friend of my parents, Bayla, who happens to be an award winning belly-dancer, baked this rather cool cake.

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The cake is of a mountain with snow on top. Emblazoned around the sides are the words, “Don Pitts, The Man, The Myth, The Legend.” With his prominent slogan from years of cross-country skiing “Ski or Die”.

The next morning we went to the Ahwahnee Hotel for their amazing brunch (thanks Mom). Afterwards we went for a short hike to Yosemite Falls, to get Trevor out and moving a bit before we drove back home. Thus the obligatory Yosemite snapshot of upper Yosemite falls below.

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