January 31, 2014

Life inside an anxious mind

It’s just a meeting and it’s a week away. It’s not real hard. There’s no reason to be anxious.

What if everybody hates my idea? I know Fred won’t like my idea. He never likes my ideas. He’ll probably say something ugly, which will make me mad. We’ll get into an argument. I hope I don’t lose my cool when we start arguing. He always says something that sticks in my craw. I already know what he’ll say. I might as well get ready for it. What am I going to say back? I better think of something fast.

Barclay looks tired.

I would ask her what’s wrong but I’m not sure I want to know the answer. I know it was something I did or didn’t do. What did I forget to do? What did I do that made her mad? She’s probably mad because I haven’t told her I loved her in a while. I bet she’s mad because I haven’t helped around the house, either. I know she’s upset because I can’t concentrate on the kids when I’m around them lately. She’s going to say something to me if I don’t say something to her first. But if I say something to her first, she’s going to get mad at whatever I say and we’re going to get in a fight. I’m not saying anything.

My son’s basketball coach just yelled at him. I’m not going to let that bother me. It’s part of growing up and learning from adversity.

I can’t believe that idiot yelled at my son. He doesn’t even know anything about basketball. I’ve forgotten more about basketball than he ever knew. I’m going to say something after the game. Not sure what I’m going to say, but I’m going to say something. He’s going to get mad, but I don’t care. If he shoves me, I’m not sure I can turn my cheek. I might shove him back. Then he might come after me. When he does, I’ll either get somebody to help me or I’ll run to the car. I’ll have to go to the city and tell them he can’t be a coach another day. I’m going to get banned from the gym but I don’t care because we aren’t playing for this jackass anymore.

There’s dog hair all over my clean socks again. I’ll let it go this time, even though this dogs sheds faster than a stripper in Vegas.

I can’t let this go. I’m sick of having dog hair all over the house and all over my stuff. Why can’t we just have an outside dog? I swear my wife likes the dog more than she likes me. I’m going to build a kennel outside so the dog can spend more time where she belongs. My wife’s not going to like it. I don’t care anymore. I’m tired of it. We’ll probably get in an argument and she’ll point out I never clean anything anyway. I don’t think I’ll say anything.

We’re doing bench press at Crossfit today. Maybe I’ll get a new personal record.

Oh no. We’re doing bench press at Crossfit today. This is my worst exercise. There are girls here who can lift more than I do. No way I’m going for a personal record. It will be humiliating when I try. What if the bar gets stuck on my chest? I can’t ask for a spot because everyone will see how little weight I use. I’ll never look like those other guys that for some reason take their shirts off all the time, even when they aren’t even changing clothes. Why do they do that? Maybe I’m secretly jealous because there is no way in hell I’m taking my shirt off. I think I’ll just skip Crossfit today.

I’m going to write a blog about what it’s like to live in my head.

No way I can write about what it’s like to live inside my head. People will think I’m a lunatic. Mom will probably call. Is this normal? Other people sure don’t look like they have paralyzing anxiety. They look calm and confident. They look like they aren’t thinking about anything but what they’re doing right now. Must be nice.

Surely somebody can relate. Or maybe they can’t. I can’t write about life inside an anxious mind because it’s too hard to explain. Maybe it doesn’t matter. People already know I’m a bipolar alcoholic with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And that I have the shakes. I don’t even know why I write this blog. Am I embarrassing my family and myself? I think I’ll quit doing it.

What if I ever have to apply for a new job? I’m screwed when that happens. All they have to do is Google my name and they won’t even take my call. They might change their number. I wonder how long until I have to apply for a new job? Maybe I need to get my resume together. Damn. That’s going to take forever because I never wrote down when I started a new job or what I did at my old jobs. Does anybody even have that information? If I get it wrong they’ll think I lied on my resume, and then nobody will hire me. I better sit down and pray right now I never have to get another job. That's going to be a nightmare.

January 26, 2014

Saving Grace

The essay below was written by my 14-year-old daughter. She didn't tell me she'd written it, or that she submitted it to teenink.com, a website that selects and features the work of talented teens. This weekend, her essay was voted the website's #1 memoir. It also received an Editor's Choice award. I'm proud of her courage, her honesty and her willingness to share it.

By Sutton Smith

I don’t know how to do a lot of stuff lately. I don’t know how to write this paper. I don’t know how to cope with the fact that my father tried to kill himself. I don’t know how I’m supposed to somehow act like an adult for a month while my father is away. I just don’t know anymore. And sometimes, it’s okay not to know. It’s okay that you don’t have every bit of your life planned out yet. It’s okay that you don’t know what tomorrow will hold, and it’s okay not to try to figure it out.

As soon I saw my mom sprint to the car and speed off down the road in her bathing suit, I knew something had to be seriously wrong. I had just been sitting down on the dock, enjoying a lake day and talking trash about my father. He was supposed to have been at the lake by then, and I was just having a jolly old time talking about how irresponsible and immature he was to be running late yet again. Once mom left without even a glance in our direction, I knew something was wrong. 

I ran up to the house to confront my grandmother, who happened to be walking down the steps coming to meet me. A completely calm expression was spread on her face, as if she didn’t have a single worry in the world. 

“Mimi, what’s going on?” I questioned her, worried and out of breath. 

“Well, the neighbors went to the house to check on your daddy, since he hasn’t been picking up the phone. They think that he accidentally took too many sleeping pills, so they called 911.” Mimi must’ve seen the pained expression on my face, for she quickly tried to cover up what she’d just said. “But honey, he’s gonna be fine. The ambulance picked him up a few minutes ago. They’re just being safe.”

I brushed past her without another word and ran into my room. I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower to keep Jackson and Manning from hearing my sobs. I dropped down on my knees and pleaded to God with everything I had to save my daddy. I knew it was because of what I had said about him only a few minutes ago that this was happening. I hardly knew what was wrong, other then he “accidentally” took too many pills. I knew about the depression that my dad struggled with. Accidentally taking too many pills sounded like a bunch of bull to me. I still knew that somehow this was punishment to me. He was going to die, and it would be my fault.

I sat on the bathroom floor and tried to pull myself together. I couldn’t let my younger brothers, Jackson and Manning, suspect that anything serious was wrong. I washed my face and tried to calm down. I went up and told them that Dad had been sent to the hospital for “accidentally” taking too much medicine. The thought that he had done it on purpose was gnawing away at me, but I pushed it to the back of my mind. After reassuring Jackson and Manning, all I wanted to do was to go back to Auburn so I could see Dad. But Mimi’s orders were to sit tight until we got a call telling us we could come in.

January 23, 2014

Why I'm on shaky ground

It’s a good thing I am not a brain surgeon. I would get sued every day. I would probably maim or kill my patients.

If I were any kind of doctor, or toy assembler or jewelry repairman, I’d have a major problem on my hands. In fact, my hands are the problem.

It’s weird that I’m able to come on this blog and share everything about my mental illness, but I’ve been shaky about writing this one. Just like my hands.

My hands shake morning, noon and night. They shake when I’m nervous. They shake when I’m not nervous. They shake when I’m at a cocktail party I want to attend like I want my toenails ripped off. They shake when I’m by myself watching football.

When I finish my workout at Crossfit, after I’ve embarrassed myself in other ways, they shake even more. Same with yard work.

It’s become a big joke in my house. My kids love to point out how much I’m shaking. When I carry two dishes to the kitchen, they laugh as the dishes rattle and clank like a china factory in an earthquake.

My kids and my wife are the only people who can get away with mocking me. Anyone else does, and I get self-conscious—as if I need another reason.

I’ve had a tremor as long as I can remember. Kids made fun of me when I was little. I should’ve served those guys a shaky knuckle sandwich, but I took it all in stride and felt humiliated.

January 18, 2014

Rejoicing in our suffering

By Jack Smith

Before I left my home for Houston and treatment, my 14-year-old daughter wrote me a letter. I folded it and placed it in my Bible. I slid it out of my Bible, unfolded it and wept as I read it on the plane. I share it here, just as she wrote it, with her permission:

Dear Daddy,

Tonight is the night before you leave for Houston. I know this is the best thing for you to do right now, but I still don’t want you to go. A whole month seems like forever thinking about it right now, but I’m hoping it will fly by without a second thought.

So many people love you, including our whole family. They’re going to be supportive throughout every step of this whole thing. Memaw, Mimi, Pop, friends, neighbors, Uncle Joel and Uncle Bill, I could go on an on. The point is that all of those people who I just mentioned and more absolutely love you and want you to get better.

I’m so thankful that you’re alive. You were given a second chance at life. Not everybody is. There’s a reason you didn’t have enough pills, and there’s a reason you’re alive reading this letter right now. God is not done with you. Once we make it through this tough little patch, He is going to use you in absolutely amazing ways. Your testimony will inspire people everywhere.

Right now, you just need to do what’s best for you and get better. Houston will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you. You’re going to make unbelievable friendships. You’ll be able to meet and talk to people who have the same situation as you. You will learn how to cope with this disease and have a happy and joyful life.

I’ll be praying for you every single day and thinking about you constantly. I’m so proud of you for doing this. It’s going to change all of our lives for the better. I love you more than words can describe.

Love, Sutton

At the very bottom of her letter, Sutton wrote a verse of Scripture that not only changed my perspective. It changed my life.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Sutton’s letter touched my soul in its deepest and most vulnerable place. Here was a young teenage girl offering her insights into suffering and her understanding that, at least while fighting for my life, I had to be selfish. I had to put myself first and treat myself with kindness and compassion.

January 1, 2014

Tick, tock toward more hopeful New Year

The antebellum house where I grew up was never really quiet. Cars swished by and trucks roared past as they traveled our busy road night and day.

There was the usual hustle and bustle of three boys living together, the sounds of my mother cooking in the kitchen and the quiet tumble of the washer and dryer.

[caption id="attachment_228" align="alignleft" width="300"]My grandfather's clock, with portrait of my father looking on. Our grandfather clock, with portrait of my father looking on.[/caption]

Yet when day turned to night and all had gone to bed, one haunting sound echoed through the heart pine floors and the house's high ceilings. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

There was a chorus of ticks, tocks and chimes because my father loved clocks. They hung on the walls of our living room and dining room, in the den and even in the kitchen.

Dad loved big clocks, small clocks and imperfect clocks that didn't always work right. His favorite was a beautiful grandfather clock built by my grandfather. Granddaddy even cut the timber for his work of art from family land in rural Alabama.

I remember when he delivered it to our home in Eufaula, proudly presenting it to my mother and father. I was fascinated by the chains,  the weights, the glass case and the shiny pendulum.

Dad quickly learned how to pull the chains, which he deftly did every day on all of our clocks throughout the house. He would often whistle as he walked around the house doing what was one of his favorite chores.

When all of the clocks were wound, there was a strange symphony of slow ticks and tocks, gongs and strikes. The chimes were more elaborate on the hour, shorter sequences chimed every quarter-hour.