Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Spending Chinese New Year with General Lee (or…..A few days behind “enemy” lines)

Sometime around the end of 2005, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works for CONCACAF; (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) with whom I went to Mexico City for a few days in late March of 2005 (over Easter weekend) to see the US – Mexico World Cup Qualifier at the Azteca Stadium, which has hosted two World Cup Finals.

In our conversation, I had been telling Steve how, as much as I had enjoyed my job, after having been working in the same capacity for such a while (7 years), but not working in either of my degrees (Bachelor’s – Communication Studies; Master’s – Sport Management) I was getting incredibly burned out. I just needed a change; SOMETHING different, even if it wasn’t necessarily IN my field.

One thing that Steve asked me in our conversation was, “Where did you go on vacation this year?” Where did I go on vacation this year? Hmmmm; that’s a good question, I thought. I asked him, “Aside from when we went to Mexico City?” And he said yeah; if you call the Mexico City trip a “vacation.” In my terms it was to a degree, however in Steve’s, he was an invited guest of the Mexican Soccer Federation (which means I was too!); but you can’t escape the responsibilities that come with the position of CONCACAF Press Officer when you are going to the federations “marquee” World Cup Qualifier.

I mentioned to Steve that I had been to El Salvador earlier in the year; as well as Ocean City, Maryland with the teenagers from church. However, those are not truly vacations; especially not El Salvador. I don’t know about you, but anytime that you travel outside of the country, you have to be VERY careful, in particular a third-world country. No matter, how things have gone in the past (fortunately very safely), in the sue crazy world in which we live, anything can happen. It essentially is not a “successful” or “good” trip, until we return and everyone leaves the parking lot of the church safely.

So what it really came down to was, “No, I didn’t have a vacation this year.” When I think about it and I forget who said it – but one of my friends did – a vacation is a time where if you could stay in all day and sleep and you wouldn’t have to worry about anything happening to anyone. So in all realities, El Salvador and Ocean City were not vacations. And that’s when the bright light bulb above me came to light.

No wonder I was so burned out. I never really have had much of a chance to do “my thing.” In reality, most of the last 10 years I really haven’t had as much of a chance to do “my thing.” It’s more about making sure everyone is comfortable, that they are all behaving, that no one is having a bad time, etc etc. These are all blessings that I’m glad to have, however at the same time – when you can almost be on call for a lot of a day – whether it’s during the day when some parents or kids may be at home; later in the evening when activities are taking place, or online later at night when the kids are online and want to talk – I really don’t have much, if any time for myself.

Most parents would say, “welcome to my world.” And yeah, that’s true. And when I do take on the responsibility of wanting to be a parent, I will know what to expect, however at this point in time, I think the “burned out” feeling I have is because I don’t have much time for myself.

That brings me, as the secondary title mentions, “behind enemy lines.” Following a nice conversation with my friend Cindy regarding the above conversation with Steve (and how I was feeling), she suggested that I take a little trip for myself – shut off the phone; don’t call people; in fact, she even said for me to keep the laptop at home. However, the thing is, it’s so much easier to type out my thoughts, rather then write them out and then have to retype them. As a result, the laptop is here.

Where is here, you ask? Behind enemy lines. Afghanistan? Iraq? Not exactly – God bless the soldiers who are serving our nation in those countries, but until the internal strife is over, there is no way in heck you’ll find me anywhere close (unless you consider China or Japan; maybe South Korea, as close).

The enemy lines were those that were painted some 150 years ago where the land that I type from as we speak, was the headquarters for Confederate leader, General Robert E. Lee. Yes, you have to love corporate America! “The Quality Inn at General Lee’s Headquarters” – located right on the battlefield of Gettysburg is where I decided to stay.

It’s almost surreal if you ask me. The drive here was nice, calm, reasurring. It’s almost weird, because some of my friends tell me that I don’t know how to relax. That I’m always doing something. And I wonder if that anxiety is partly because of the depression or if it’s partly because I’ve always been happily doing things with others and for others; but never really had a chance recently to do as much for myself. This trip is part of that.

The trip down included 80s music as if Madonna was going out of style! Kareoke style! Of course I took the trip myself. Some people may see that as odd; that it’s “no fun.” However, since I’m so used to accommodating others, as selfish as this sounds – I didn’t want to do what someone else wanted to do………..at all. I only wanted to do what I wanted to do. This is a trip that I’ve wanted to take for some time, and to have that opportunity to be selfish; if I was going to do it, I was going to be selfish 100%.

Gettysburg, as I’ve found, is a quaint town (population about 7500), that no one would really care about, had the most important battle in the history of our country, not had taken place here. However, the three day battle that turned the Confederate tide, gave advantage to the Union, and eventually led to the downfall of South – took place right here in this town.

Driving around after checking in, I found markers of different kinds to demonstrate the location of certain armies. Canons, other wartime items, and much more. I will be posting pictures somewhere, so that you can get more of a visual. It’s so obvious that something huge happened here – and it’s such a blessing that the historical society has done everything to make sure that anyone who passes through this town remembers just that.

I am wondering what the next few days will hold. I am going to actually do something that I rarely do tomorrow – wake up early – and get the free continental breakfast, and then head off to the visitor’s center so that I can find out more about this wonderful town and the history of the civil war battle that took place here.

It’s such a blessing to have Gettysburg in my backyard. Obviously not technically, but when you think of how large the US is, and this most important battlefield is just under three hours from me? How amazing is that? Then again, it’s probably just as amazing as the fact that this is the first time in the 31 years that I’ve been alive, that I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to make the trek to visit this site.

To close this particular “chapter,” I’d just like to say, when you do have a lot going on in your life, take some time for yourself. Go to the movies with friends (where you can be yourself). Better yet, go for a run – bring your mp3 player if you wish; or go without and just “be one” with nature. It’s such a great feeling. One of those, “not a care in the world” feelings – and at the same time, the “rush” you feel from the runner’s high that you’ll eventually feel – it’s a priceless feeling that can’t be described in mere words.

If you have some disposable income, then take a few days to yourself and go away. I think I personally have found my place of “respite” here in Gettysburg. It’s such a nice place – very calm and just away from it all. A place where – how great is this – the battlefield is so close to where I’m staying, that I’m thinking of taking a little running tour through the battleground either tomorrow or early Monday. Not far; just a few miles. But a few miles should be good enough………….for now.

Regardless, the important thing is to not let everything that the world throws your way – your job, your family, etc etc – overwhelm you. Take some time for yourself and do “your thing.” Have a chance to develop yourself – your wants, your likes, your hobbies, etc. No one else can do that for you. And as much as you try to think that you’ll be happy if everyone else in your life is – trust me, you’re not. I’ve tried that for years and after a while of “sacrificing” my personal wants and needs, it almost made me miserable.

So just like I have my “Gettysburg,” go venturing and find what works for you. Find what activity or location helps you to “recharge the batteries” and enjoy your days much more.

(and for all our Chinese readers, HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!!! Have a “Chinatown Chinese Year!)

Friday, January 20, 2006

The love of my life............

In working with the public and being someone who is around people a lot; I've found through conversation and consolation, that most relationships - whether it's a boyfriend-girlfriend union, or that of a marriage - have failed because it's not a 50/50 give and take.

Yes there are times when maybe it's 60/40; 70/30 and MAYBE even 80/20. However what it all comes down to, is the fact that if both parties are not genuinely giving to the respective relationship - it isn't going to last.

However, this 50/50 give and take is not exclusive to "human" relationships - and I've found that out through my "relationship" with running (and exercise).

Once I started overcoming depression - the anti-depressant and talk-therapy, as well as the awesome support from family and friends bringing me back to that 'stability' and overall 'balance' that I seeked, I read that exercise released nature's own SSRI's; which are otherwise known as " Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors" (and you can see why we call them "SSRI's").

SSRI's are today the most frequently prescibed anti-depressants. Additional information can be read about what SSRI's are http://counsellingresource.com/medications/medication-types/ssri.html . Regardless, when you exercise, SSRI's are released into your body; and in a very plain explanation - that's where "runner's high" and that "confidence" that you feel following any sort of exercise comes from. In all seriousness, following a good run or workout; any attractive women in the room - beware - you just may get asked out.

Regardless, throughout the spring, summer and fall of 2005, the seratonin was at an all-time high for me. It was at an all-time supply; was free whenever I wanted it, healthy; and it legally made me feel priceless! And no side-effects to mention..............not one! All I had to do to "get it" was put on my shorts, a t-shirt and my running shoes. No dealing, nothing illegal at all. And best of all, it was FREE! Just a small investment of time and moving the legs was needed to acquire it.

The seratonin and "runner's high" was at an all-time high leading up to the Steamtown Marathon in October of 2005. Things were amazing; my overall demeanor, just an overall positive nature - EVERYTHING. My perspective on life and things that happened to me was excellent.

Soon after Steamtown, I took a week off from running - and trust me, if you haven't run a marathon - you need probably at least that much time off overall to get a small percentage of that vital recovery that is necessary to get your body "back to normal."

The only problem with the recovery; is the seratonin that you get so used to, is not there. Well it is; but not nearly at the level that it once was. So as a result by Tuesday the week after the race (two days following Steamtown), I knew that I needed to "do something" to get that rush - so I walked. Not everyday, but at least two-three times the week following the marathon, I took my beaten, battered and bruisd legs - not to mention tired - did I mention tired??? legs and went for short 1-2 mile walks. The feeling, although not a huge rush, would come back.

Leading into the Philadelphia Marathon, which took place six week following Steamtown; I tended to run less and rest more. Ask any distance-runner; heck ask any athletic trainer worth their marbles, and they'll tell you that it will take your legs a long while to come to a 100% recovery. Thing is, I had six weeks and hell or highwater, I was running Philly.

Philadelphia was the first publically visible marathon that I ran for the cause of mental health awareness/to remove the stigma of mental illness. Steamtown I also ran for the cause, but because of the short time between getting the press release out and actually running the marathon, no media attention was given the cause (in Steamtown).

Regardless, when you're getting ready to tell the world about an illness that some people in today's society erroneously believe is not real, things can get a bit antsy. Sometimes the stigma that exists with mental illness can get you feeling embarrassed. Well, it did me at times, but the benefit or blessing, was the knowledge that I was doing this for the greater good.

When I was suffering from depression, but not knowing that how I felt had a name, I pleaded with God to either "take me or make me feel better." I didn't care which. I knew that if He took me, my time on earth was up, and that the pain and anguish that I was feeling at the time, I would be relieved of. If He made me get better (which I am thankful that He did), I knew that He had a higher plan for me. Sometime better, bigger and more amazing than before I was depressed. And I honestly can say that running for the cause of mental health awareness and helping to remove the stigma behind mental illness - I feel in my heart of hearts - that it is that cause that now is my passion.

It's funny, because now I talk about my depression like I would talk about today's weather. It's something that you can't escape, and something that is a part of me. If I'm going to run to remove the stigma, I have to constantly talk about it - thus helping to remove the stigma. Maybe people who are "on the fence" about if mental illness is real, will talk to me and see how I felt and hopefully come to a better understanding that they are real!

However, I have seen that the more that I put into running and exercise in general; the better that I feel. When I do't exercise, I feel like a part of me is gone - like I'm not complete. Sound overly romantic? Well, it's true. Put away the roses though; save that money for t-shirts, shorts and a good pair of running shoes.

And that's the simple beauty of running and having a legitimate "relationship" with her. Want to give her respect; then invest 100% into your relationship. She will show you that same 100% respect with the way that she makes you feel after you are with her - priceless. It's not what she says, but what she does to you. That natural feeling of "runner's high," that confidence, that feeling that you can accomplish ANYTHING, that's what she gives you. And what does she expect from you in return....respect. A respect that only a constant effort can show her.

Yes, I have found that love, that love of a lifetime - and the funny thing is, I dont' have to take her to dinner, don't have to buy her roses, nothing. She gives me the love that I need, as long as I continuously give and prove to her mine.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Getting the word out.............

I never realized that a lot of my educational background and professional experiences would come to be such a great asset in my crusade to get the word out about mental illness and to try to remove the stigma. It's almost like it happened "intentially" - not the depression, but my experiences, both educational and life experiences - that have assisted in generating more press for the cause and helping to let people know that they are not alone!

My B.A. is in Communication Studies (and if you ask any of my friends; once I get talking, it's very hard to shut me up!); and my M. Ed. (Master's in Education) is in Sport Management. My life experiences have been those working game-days and events such as both Manchester United tours (which included other teams such as Celtic, Barcelona and many more!), two Women's World Cups, two CONCACAF Gold Cups, numerous individual international matches, and seven years experience on game-day staff of the MetroStars of Major League Soccer.

Most of these experiences have included working with the media. Most importantly, it has included how to develop positive press through having good working relationships with the media covering whatever event I was working (and obviously wanted covered).

Regardless, I never realized that just watching people write press releases (and knowing how to write them); looking for "spins" to certain stories that may be more newsworthy; contacting other public relations people and knowing the proper protocol; it's amazing how much I know (when in reality I guess I didn't give myself enough credit).

Funny how God works though. I have numerous years experience working public relations events and know the "routine" - however it has been primarily as a result of my passion of soccer. Almost like God Himself wanted me to have a vested interest in learning the trade and He knew soccer was the vehicle by which it could be done.

This also happened in working FOR Him at my church; where I learned how to work with the public and such. When I really come to think about it; it's not just interesting, but fascinating. Even more fascinating is the ability to use the knowledge gained in soccer and at the church to help improve the lives of other people by properly getting the word out - and maintaining good ties - with the media.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Presence and Presents...........

"My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation." (Helen Keller).

Since I was away on Christmas, I am going to use today - the day after Christmas - otherwise known as "Boxing Day" in the UK, Australia and even Canada - as a way of sharing how the presence of my friends and family in my life, is the greatest present that I could ever ask for.

When you really think about it - the presents that a family or friend gives you - how often do you wind up taking the gift, enjoying it for a little while and then after a few months (or maybe even weeks) putting it away? Or, in some cases, how often have you taken that gift and either given it to someone else or returned it for "something else."

I'm not saying that returning a gift is a life-threatening event; but what I am saying is that I think all this gift giving makes us lose sight of our family and friends for what they are really "worth" - the best presents that anyone could ask for.

The great thing about family and friends, is that the present of their presence is intangible. It comes without price, because it is just that......priceless. Putting a price "tag" on how much a friend is "worth" to you, limits the respect of the friendship.

Yes, I've heard it numerous times before - we can choose our friends, but we can't choose our family. Yes, that is true. However, if you dislike your family (or certain family members) is it because of something they did wrong to you? When I say wrong I'm talking life-threatening. Did they beat you? Did they shoot you (at you) with a gun? Did they yell and yell at you over and over and over again to the point of bringing you down and making you feel stupid? If so, I can understand you not appreciating your family as much. If they haven't, then if I may quote my friend Jen........."Build your bridge and get over it!"

They are family, damnit! Maybe it's time to look in the mirror and appreciate who they are and not who they are not. I'm sure that if you do have a "grudge" with a family member, you can either appreciate the beauty of actually having a mother, father, brother, sister (whatever family member it may be that you have a "problem" with) or - you can pretend that you are four years old and act like a four year old. (btw, this is with no disrespect to four year olds, it's just that when you are four - this is sometimes how you act. But it's acceptable because you don't know any better!)

As far as your friends are concerned, well do you invest enough time with them? And are they people who will build you up and not tear you down? Because there are no excuses with friends - there are no "blood bonds" with friends like you have with family. So if your friends are selfish, bring you down or disrespect you........then you owe it to yourself to find new friends. If not, then why do you think you're probably feeling down all the time. And if you're not - then I almost hate to say it, but it's probably because of a drug or alcohol.

Yeah, if you noticed I did say "invest" time. Because friendships are just that - investments. I want to get the most "return" on my time that I'm with someone. I want to feel respected, appreciated, and listened to. It's an easy topic. And one thing you'll find - at least if you're my friend, is that the more that you "invest" into a friendship with me (mutual respect, appreciation, communication), the more that I will want to "hang out" with you. And hopefully you'll feel the same.

I have friends like that right now. Plus I have friends who at time I would say I "spend" time with. But as long as the time together is more "investment" - I have little problem with it.

Problem I have is with people who disrespect me. I'll be honest with you guys; in the past people would walk over me and such. I almost wonder if it was because of the depression - partly because or maybe even because I felt that since I never spoke about the depression, a part of me was missing. Well you know what? It isn't anymore.

I used to have a friend who didn't show me the same respect as I did them. When I would call or e-mail there seemed to ALWAYS be an excuse as to why they didn't call/e-mail back. I really used to appreciate this person because they seemed very sweet - seemed being the operative word - to the point where I even did some things to show them that I listened and cared before they went on a trip.

Well, let's just say that following numerous e-mails and phone calls over a 4-5 week period of time (after they got back); I've stopped caring about the person because of their serious lack of respect. If I saw the person, I wouldn't give them the time of day. Crude/rude? Yeah; but you know what - you have to stand up for yourself. No one else will.

But guys one thing I will say, is NEVER disrespect your friends - at least not the ones that you want to keep. I will openly say that if my friends "take me for granted" here and there - well, when they call, they may not receive a call back when they want to hear from me, but when I want to call them. That can take days. Because respect is earned yes, but at the same time, you need to stand up for yourself.

So when you really think about your friends, not just your friends, but the people in your life who make you happiest to be around - those are your friends. Not people who ALWAYS want to be with you because you make them happy and get little if anything back; but people who appreciate you, show you that appreciation and respect. Those are true friends. And those true friends you have to appreciate the present of their presence.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No person is a failure who has friends.......

The other night at my church, we showed a movie that I think EVERYONE should watch at least once/year - "It's a wonderful life." This movie features George Bailey, a young man who inherits his dad's business (after his passing) who put aside his own dreams of going to college and advancing in life through that avenue, to continue the legacy put forth by his dad of putting people before profits.

The movie takes us through a brief glimpse of the life of George Bailey. It shows how he lost his hearing in one of his ears while swimming in icy cold waters to rescue his younger brother who was drowning. It also takes us to a pharmacy where George used to work - where he saved the life of a young boy who would have been poisoned by the pharmacist, who through a moment of madness, put poison in the pills that were supposed to go to a child.

It continues through his early 20s when he dances and falls in love with a girl who would be his future wife, and with whom he would raise four children.

George has a very successful life. His priorities are straight; he has a beautiful wife and beautiful kids. He has a family who loves and cares for him. He's making a difference in the lives of others through his business - and he's doing pretty well for himself financially. Until one day, the tides turn.....

George's business partner, who happens to be his Uncle, misplaces $8,000. Now remember, this was 1947 - and people were earning "about" $1,200/year. So to make a comparison to today, where the average American earns about $36,000/year, George Bailey's losses would be about $175,000 - $200,000. Not exactly what I'd consider "chump change."

At this point in time, George goes into a major depression. His Uncle, who has no idea what happened with this money, is under George's direction, so George is essentially to "blame."

George goes into a tizzy when he hears what has happened. He flips out on his Uncle, holding him by the collar of his shirt and even pushing him down into his chair.

His behavior gets worse when he gets home and winds up yelling at his daughter who is practicing on the piano for her recital. He also yells at his wife and other children - for no fault of their own. Before he leaves the house, he goes into another tantrum and pushes over a table with some items on them, that crash into the ground and break.

George leaves the house in a huff, and heads to his companies chief competitors place of business, asking for an $8,000 loan. George even volunteers to put his life insurance, valued at $15,000, on "collateral" until he can pay back the loan; which is when Mr. Potter, the owner of the other business tells George, "You're worth more dead, than alive." A pure comment of disgust from Mr. Potter, a man who always put profit over people.

At this point in time, George appears to become even more depressed. His life seems like it is worth nothing at this point in time - and he begins to contemplate suicide by jumping off a bridge and into the icy river below. Charlie crashes his car into a tree (he is drunk at this point in time) and walks over to the bridge where he looks to selfishly end his own life.

Before he has the chance, Clarence, an angel sent down from Heaven (almost like a guardian angel of sorts) to keep George from killing himself; jumps into the river first, forcing George to instantaneously go from suicidal to savior "mode." Remember George once jumped into icy waters to save the life of his younger brother, Harry Bailey, many years ago.

George reprimands Clarence for trying to kill himself. Clarence in turn reprimands George, telling him that he (Clarence) jumped in to save George. Complicated? Not as much as it may sound.

Soon after Clarence and George discuss the current "challenges" facing George; Mr. Bailey tells Clarence what all of us at one point in time or another have probably selfishly said; "I wish I were never born." With those simple words, Clarence gives George the opportunity to see something that pretty much all of us, will never have the chance to see - how the world around us would be different if our presence in this world was non-existent.

George takes him to "Martini's" - or what was Martini's when Charlie was alive. The new place - which is called by a name that I can't think of right now - is owned/managed by Martini's second-in-command (in George's "real world"). This guy, who is the nicest guy in George's "real world" - is a real JERK. I'm talking jerk with a capital "J." He is crude and rude to Clarence and George and eventually throw them out of the bar - for no legitimate reason.

Before they leave, one of George's former employers - the pharmacist who in a moment of madness tried to put poison in one of the medications for a customer of his - walks in. He is disheveled; hair going in 87 different directions. George approaches him to find out that the pharmacist has no idea who he is and finds out that the pharmacist wound up going to jail because he did poison (and kill) the boy many years ago - since George wasn't around to stop him.

George continues and sees that his town, "Bedford Falls," is now called "Pottersville" - after Mr. Potter, the ruthless businessman who put profit before people. Since George wasn't there to take over his dad's business, Mr. Potter took it over and pushed all of the poor out of town, and replaced many homes with businesses.

George's "home" - that where he, his wife and children resided in - is not even close to being livable. It's a dilapidated home that was never fixed up, because George was never alive to fix it up.

Soon after, George goes to an area where he (the "alive" George Bailey) built many affordable homes for the "less than rich" of Bedford Falls. When he gets there - he sees a cemetery. Why? Because George was never alive to build the homes. However, something more startling catches George's eye when he gets there.

It is the tombstone that reads "Harry Bailey 1911-1919." Since George wasn't around to jump in the water and save his younger brother Harry, Harry died that day when he fell into the icy waters while sledding.

In fact, Harry - who in the "real world" was a World War II hero; flying many tours of duty over Europe, and saving 100s of lives aboard an aircraft carrier, when he shot down a German fighter plane that was tumbling toward the aircraft carrier. Well unfortunately all those lives (the 100s aboard the aircraft carrier) were lost - because Harry was never there to shoot the plane. All because George was never born - and obviously not able to save Harry.

Mr. Bailey then goes looking for his wife, who according to Clarence was an "old maid." George finds her after she leaves the library where she worked, pleading with her to remember him. Mary (the wife) runs away scared because George was never alive to dance with her; to fall in love with her; to marry her, or to have children with her. Mary runs into a local establishment, filled with people screaming for the police's help. George, frazzled and pretty much "freaked out" at this time - starts running and running through the snowstorm.

He keeps running until he returns to the very spot where he was thinking of committing suicide - the bridge that overlooked the icy waters below. It is at this moment when George realized the effects that he had on other people - how although $8,000 was significant, it was definitely not the end of the world. His life and the love that he had for his fellow human, was MUCH more valuable than that.

George, after praying and asking for Clarence's help - "returns" to the "real world" - that where George Bailey DOES exist. He runs back to his home, where a money collector and some police await him with a warrant for his arrest.

Mr. Bailey however, doesn't even bat an eye when he sees them. He runs upstairs to see the biggest blessing in his life - his children; hugs them all, and apologizes for his misbehavior. In the meantime his wife, who was worried sick about him, returns - and George hugs her and holds onto her with more love ever before seen. He finally realizes the treasure that he has in his wife and his children.

But that is when the giving person that George is - always trying to help his fellow man - comes back to help him. Hearing that George was in a bind, slowly, but surely - numerous friends, neighbors and acquaintances of him and his family come inside, putting money into a big basket that one of the neighbors brought in to collect funds. Before you know it, there are 100s of people inside the Bailey household; all bringing whatever available money they have - to help bring George out of his dilemma.

Finally, George recoups all of the misplaced $8,000 and the title of the story, "It's a wonderful life" is so obvious. Clarence, the angel leaves him a book - a tangible sign that what happened was real - with the inscription, "George, no man is a failure who has friends."

And when you really think about it; that statement is oh so true. It is in your friends that you find treasure. No good friend is worth any amount of money - as that friendship is priceless, and to put a pricetag on that friendship, is to essentially limit the beauty that is the "amistad."

That is the beauty of life; not the tangible - but the intangible. The friendships that you are blessed to have and the family that you are blessed to have. You cannot put a pricetag on those. Both are priceless gifts from God, which are to be treated as such.

If you find yourself without those true friends, then maybe you are with the "wrong group" of people. Find like-minded people who will treat you with respect and pick you up when you are down - not push you down even further. Those people are a dime a dozen, and only God knows there are too many people like that here.

A final intangible is your health. My grandma ALWAYS says at this time of year, "Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!" And in true form, my dad (grandma's son) proves that the proverbial "fruit doesn't fall too far from the tree" when he always tells me that "Your health is your wealth."

With regard to Grandma's "New Year's" wishes; it certainly is a lot easier to have a happy new year when it involves having your own health, and that of your loved ones. And with regard to dad's "health is wealth" - well, nothing could be more true. Think about people who die prematurely because of cancer, AIDS, other diseases; even suicide as a result of diagnosed or undiagnosed depression. If you have an incurable illness, no matter if you are Bill Gates - the richest person in the world - or John Doe - the poorest person in your town - no amount of money will cure that illness.

You can't simply say, "Doctor, here's three million dollars - take away my cancer!!" It's not as easy as that. Same goes with AIDS - although progress is being made. And mental health - well, when you think you have seriously gone "out of your mind" and are scared to say anything at all (because in all honesty, no one wants to be perceived as being "crazy") - that can lead to suicide.

The beauty of depression - if there is a beauty - is that it is also called, "the fearful gift." Fearful because when you are feeling clinically depressed - you're scared sh-tless (pardon my french). In particular when you are clinically depressed (you have the symptoms), but you don't know what the symptoms are, because you don't know that how you feel "has a name."

The gift? That's the beauty of the realization of how easy life becomes to enjoy because of the hardships that you (and your family in many cases) have overcome. Life kicks ass! Life Rocks! Life is God's most precious gift and should be treated as such.

In retrospect, that's what George Bailey did - he saw (thanks to his angel, Clarence) what was really important in life. George saw the difference that he had made in others lives - and how his entire life, through what he had done both directly and indirectly, had allowed others to either live, or improve their lives because of his kindness. You, the person reading this - have had that same effect. Maybe you didn't save your brother from icy waters (or maybe you did!); but at the same time, what you say/do to and for others can definitely influence their outlook on life.

I'll go into further detail about how "It's a wonderful life" can parallel any of our lives in my next "blog" - but for now, wanted to give you this to digest, and the following quotes to end on:
"The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship." (Francis Bacon); "My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation." (Helen Keller).

It is in particular with this second quote that we'll pick up on soon........

W.E.D. - the magic of dreams come true.......

Tonight I had the opportunity to watch a "documentary" if you will, of one of my favorite parks - Disneyland. This is the original park that stemmed from the creative mind of one of my heroes/idols, Mr. Walter Elias Disney.

Walt's ingenuity to provide a park where families could come together - a void that up until 1955 (the year Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California) was not filled.

However, Mr. Disney took on a HUGE risk with this park. If you didn't know, Walt made his name in the movies - not as an actor, but as a cartoonist. He started during World War I, when he drew cartoons for the troops - to keep their spirits up. His talent and creative genious continued when about 10 years after the end of World War I, his first "movie" - which was actually a small pre-show to a feature length movie, came to theatres.

That movie was "Steamboat Willie," which was a short and silent black-and-white film featuring my favorite mouse and Disney character, Mickey.

Regardless, Mr. Disney's passion for making these short films continued and continued, as he labored on and along with "hired hands" wound up making a number of these short films and eventually hitting the "big time" with his own feature length films. The Disney Movies would eventually earn Walt numerous awards, Oscars, etc.

Now, following that brief "detour" - let's get back to our main reason for today's "blog." Mr. Disney saw that his movies brought joy to people of all ages, young and old - and saw that his passion for seeing people happy would continue to where he purchased several acres of land in Anaheim and eventually developed it in 1955 into the park that today we know and love.

However, before all the happiness and joy of the grand success that the Disneyland Park has had; came A LOT of frustration. Walt and his partner, and brother Roy - went bankrupt SEVEN different times during their years leading the Walt Disney Company. SEVEN times. Not once; not twice; not three times - but SEVEN.

It really takes me to thinking about the old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, then try, try again." Well, in Walt and Roy's case, it's more like, "If at first, or second, or third........or even seventh attempt; try, try, try, try, try, try, try again." And try they did. And succeed they did.

When you really think about it; had Walt Disney been most people - no one would even know who Walt Disney or Disneyland/Disneyworld is/was. Would anyone even care? Because in all seriousness, one must admire the belief in oneself that Walt and Roy had in themselves. Most people - I even wonder if I would be one to quit after failing so many times - would probably have thrown in the towel. But not these individuals.

Their belief in themselves was solid and could not be shaken. They had a goal in mind; an end result, and were not going to give up on that dream, until it did come true; until it was reality; until their vision was what everyone could see and physically touch.

I believe that all of us have a bit of Walt and Roy's belief in ourselves in all of us. It may not be to create a theme park for all families to enjoy; but it may be something else - something just as important, if not moreso - something just as special; if not to others - than to you. Because that's what passion is all about - believing in accomplishing a goal/dream so much that you will do anything to accomplish it.

Napolean Bonaparte, who like me, supposedly suffered from epilepsy AND suffered from depression, has a quote that I admire greatly. It goes, " 'Impossible' is a word found only in the dictionary/vocabulary of fools." His passion to achieve, to conquer, to essentially believe in himself, was astounding.

Robert Kennedy (aka "Bobby") is quoted with what I consider to be my favorite quote. It reads, "Some people see things as they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream things that never were and ask, 'Why not?' " LOVE that quote!!! Why? Because it epitomizes 'thinking outside of the box.' Don't see what's only tangible and right in front of you; but look at what you aspire to do to improve this world. Yes, look at what has been done that has worked, but also look at what has been done that did not. Find out why it didn't work and try it a different way. Even better; think about a way that has never been attempted and MAKE it work. Be unique in your thoughts and actions; "dance to the beat of a different drummer." Make people WANT to be around you.

Trust me my friends; I know from my own experience that no one likes to be around someone who is grumpy. Someone who is nagging; someone who is needy; someone who isn't happy. Heck, I used to be like that, and not many people wanted to be around me. You wonder why, eh?

Now, as I grew older - advancing from my college years into my mid-20s and further into my late 20s - I "bloomed." Yes, I am/was what is considered a "late bloomer." Take a look at pictures of me when I graduated from college and the next couple of years after that - and you'd see a 5'9" guy weighing about 200-210 pounds; and A LOT of it was "gut." Harder to feel good about yourself when you are overweight and don't have as much going for you.

Now as I advanced - and even pre-depression (maybe about 25-26 years of age); I finally took the bull by the horns and started to lose weight. I ran a little bit; but not like I do now. Marathons were still only for people who had a screw loose or who were a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

However, I did lose weight and I did start to feel better about myself (self-esteemwise). I lost about 40-50 pounds (yes, that's right - and no, I wont show you the before pictures! *winks*) and started to feel better about my physical health. Ironically enough; it wasn't until after I overcame my battle with my mental health, that I started to really "live" and realize that we must not just dream - but live to accomplish those dreams.

Our life here is short my friends. In all reality, we are only on earth a VERY VERY VERY VERY short period of time. Is it long enough? I guess it depends on who you ask. Apparently God thinks so, so I'm not going to disagree with Him. He put me into this world and I don't want Him taking me out THAT early!!! (not that He would).

The thing is, we do only live once; and once is enough if you live your life right. Believe in yourself; believe that God put you here for a purpose - and you will find that purpose in your heart. Find what moves you; what makes you want to get up in the morning. Persue that passion.

I know for me, that passion has become to God-willingly give hope to people who may be suffering/may have suffered from depression. When I really come to think about it; it's almost a miracle for me to be here right now as I type this. I can't even tell you how many times I didn't want to live simply because the minutes seemed like hours; the hours like days, the days, like months. It took little to set me over the edge; to yell, to scream; to be disgruntled. Life sucked.

The thing for me is this - to be a person who could not even gather the power to get out of bed in the morning. Literally just setting one foot on the ground took hours - if I was lucky. I saw no reason to get up because what was I going to accomplish? Nothing.

Well to go from that person who sat in bed and wouldn't get up; crying for no apparent reason - to a person who in all reality just two years later completed a marathon of 26.2 miles. It seriously brings tears to my eyes. It's literally surreal, but at times I can't believe that it has happened.

And now, and you guys may call me crazy and I will once again say that I am crazy (crazy in love with living!) - to have run two marathons within six weeks and a half-marathon (on top of the two marathons) within an eight week period - I can't even tell you how I feel. Because to do so, would limit the value of the feelings. It's honestly a miracle I tell you.

But the beauty of this miracle is this; the reason that I am still here is because of the support that I had when I was at hell's doors. That's what depression feels like guys; a slow crawl through hell. For 100 days that's how I felt, and the reason that I'm typing this is because I NEVER want you, the person who obviously cares enough about me to read this - to have to feel that way............EVER!

Regardless, it is the support that I received. Support from family and friends - not a lot of them, because I gotta be honest; I was ashamed to admit that I had depression. It's not exactly something that you add in a pick-up line to "impress" someone of the opposite sex. "Hi, my name's Jim and I have depression." I don't think that would work. However, you know what does? Overcoming depression - and you can overcome it. It's a matter of wanting to. You have to have faith in yourself and that God will not give you more than you can take. He will pick you up and carry you when you need to be - He does that through the people who show you support during these toughest times. Your parents, grandparents, siblings, good friends. He also does through the doctors and counselers who you meet with who are trained and care about seeing you get better. God is in all of those people.

If you don't get support - because unfortunately not everyone is supportive; there are groups that will show you support. My local hospital has a depression/mental illness support group that meets two Wednesday's/month. There are other "drop-in" support groups where people can talk about their boughts with depression or other mental illnesses. Find a good doctor; because I was lucky - mine was an angel. I couldn't ask for a better doctor. Same goes for my counseler. She may not have told me what I wanted to hear; but she told me what I needed to hear - and I'm forever indebted to them for that care.

If you live alone or don't get as much support as you think you need - get a dog. In particular a Golden Retriever. I can't even tell you how much my brother's dog - who while he lived here, essentially was "my" dog; since the dog slept on my bed (yes I did say ON my bed). Pets, but in my case I'm particularly fond of dogs - show you something that every person going through a challenging time in your life needs...........and that is unconditional love. I will tell you what; my "buddy" as I call him, would lick my face, or just sit there smiling at me - or he would just get animated and want to play - it's almost like he had a sixth sense of sorts. A depression sense that when I needed MORE unconditional love, he'd give it to me. It's no coincidence my friends.

And that's where I'll leave you for now, because my next blog goes into just that - how no man is a failure who has friends............

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How what you say/do affects others..... (Part II)

Obviously for just as much as what one says or does for/to another - what another says/does to us can also affect us. Now at the same time, we have to allow it to affect us in a positive or negative way. Let me explain.

If someone says something nasty or mean to us - we don't have to allow what they said to hurt us. But often times - in fact most times - I think we do. If you care enough what others think of you - the words, "you suck" or "(place expletive here)" can certainly hurt any of us. I can't think of anyone who would like to be demeaned by anyone - let alone someone that you care about.

The thing with this - and another "option" that I give to you today is that of not allowing what others think of us (in a negative way) to bother you. Of course I can certainly understand how certain derogatory terms could bring someone's self-esteem down. However, you know yourself better than ANYONE else - so if you allow the person's words to "hurt" you - you essentially admit that what they said is true.

If I may quote Billy Joel in the song, "Second Wind" - 'I wouldn't be telling you if I hadn't been there myself.'

Yeah, I've definitely been there myself. I can recall telling people in June 2001 (after I was first diagnosed with depression - people who even noticed a negative change in me leading up to my diagnosis) that I was suffering from depression - hoping to have some support from them - only to have that "hope" fall flat in my face. Words like "that's weird" - or "you're weird" came from their mouths. True friends, eh? I don't think so.

However, today 2005 I have forgiven those people for lack of a better word.......ignorance. I am definitely not as close with them as I had once been - but I do still speak with them. I had hoped that the stigma that surrounds depression and other mental illnesses wouldn't influence them in their "care" for me - but unfortunately it did. And yes, I did let those words hurt - because they hurt - and they hurt bad.

If we just four years to 2005 - the situation has changed. I almost feel as if I can't/wont allow what a person thinks of me influence what I feel about myself - unless what they say is justified in my heart of hearts. But for the most part, I wont allow what others think "matter" to me - especially not in a negative sense.

You know that when you do come out and talk about a past that people would have never guessed you of having (in my specific case, that of suffering from depression) - I have come to accept that not everyone is going to be as supportive of that past. Some people may continue to believe erroneously that mental illnesses are not real, while some may just continue to think that they are "weird." However it is those people - who have a negative influence on mental illnesses and people in general - who create that "stigma" that I personally am trying to remove.

It certainly is easy to mock or make fun of things that you don't understand. Just like certain people don't understand what it's like to suffer from depression. But you know what? I do. Some people are simply "glib" to it - have no idea, but THINK they know when they really dont. Although I wish I didn't know what it was like - I do and now it's a responsibility that has fallen upon me to tell others - if for no other reason, to give them "hope."

But at the same time, for every person who doesn't believe that a "chemical imbalance" is real - or that "mental illnesses" are real, there are probably numerous people who either know or believe that they do.

I personally had the priviledge of talking with some of them this past Saturday - and what they said helped to "fuel the fame of passion" that I have for my cause; because they told me how my "coming public" helped them to help others. And ironically enough, this "positive fuel" came on a day when I REALLY needed it.

I was feeling incredibly bummed, tired - you name it. Not depressed as in "depression" again, but just "blah." Had to be up early on a Saturday and also essentially "work" that day a full day, so I wasn't overly enthused, but you know what? You get up, get there, drink a cup (or in my case a pot) of coffee, put a smile on your face and "just do it."

Well the even went smoothly; and then I waited for the parents of the students who helped me that day to arrive. One by one they came in to pick up their son or daughter, when one parent started a conversation with me. I spoke with that particular parent who eventually played the "role" of a parent with me very well, when he said that he read the article in the newspaper and that he was happy and proud that someone who was so involved in the community to "come out" and talk about something that must have been so difficult to go through. I spoke a lot about how "difficult" it was and how supportive the community has been since the article has come out, when ANOTHER parent spoke to me. Her comments echoed those of what I am hopeful that www.runoverdepression.com and me talking about depression will do - and that is to help the greater good.

This particular mom worked with a group of students at a local High School who were either emotionally or mentally challenged. She saw the article and wound up talking with the group about how they as well could learn from the story and through exercise and helping others, also feel better themselves.

I just had the biggest smile on my face - and almost started to cry - just being so happy to see that the outlying effects of the coverage in the newspaper were really having some positive effects. That's really the biggest reason that I wanted to let people know that I had suffered from depression - to save lives. I know that had it not been for God and the people that He put in my life when I needed Him and them most (and continues to today) - well, I wouldn't be here today to put these thoughts on paper. So as a result, I see every training run; every distance-running competition; every day here on earth - as a day that I give back to Him through those around me.

I've always been told to "see God in everyone." I've also been told that "when we do good things for others, we are doing them for God, since He is in all of us." So I wont deny that what I'm doing is somewhat selfish - it's my way of saying, "God, Thank You." I can't thank Him enough for giving me another lease on life (let alone the FIRST one!); so as a result, I want to make a positive difference in as many lives as I possibly can. If that means through mission work; so be it. If that means through educating others on the injustices and the lives of our brothers and sisters in the 3rd and 4th world - so be it. And if that means talking about an experience that almost killed me - and doing it through a sport that I NEVER thought I would love..................so be it. Everything in this life happens for a reason. EVERYTHING. Once we understand that, comprehend that, and respect that - everything that happens to us and how we react to it - will just fall into place.

The interesting thing about everything happens for a reason - is that not everything that happens to us is what we would perceive as being "something good."

Yes, bad things do happen to us; to our family, to our friends, to other people in other places. But it is how we react to what happens to us or those we care about most that matters.

For example, I know of a family who lost a loved one in a car accident some time ago. He actually was a friend of mine who I cared for a lot. Really good person, great heart. It has been over six years since he passed; and I know that his family continues to struggle with it - even 2,000 days later.

The thing is, the family allows the spirit of this fine individual to live on in giving out a scholarship every year to a worthy senior at a local high school who personifies who my friend who perished was. It is through this generosity that his spirit lives on.

I myself even have something to say about this fine individual - God rest his soul. I can recall being around him - his "laid back; dance to the beat of a different drummer" attitude. I absolutely loved it - I still do.

Immediately after his passing - and for a while afterwards - I prayed that I would appreciate and love life that way. It just seemed so much fun! Well, I often times wonder if it was through my depression and the knowledge that I would overcome and lead a similar "dance to the beat of a different drummer" attitude (after overcoming depression), that I now have. I often times wonder if part of my friend lives on through me. I would like to think so - because I would be deeply grateful if that was the case.

That's the thing about our influence on others. Ask most of my friends - and they will probably say that the thing that they think of most when asked what makes me "unique" - and it would probably be my laughter. If you don't think so, ask any of the 2004 SHS girls soccer team, or the other coaches, who went to see Shrek 2 with me. Or you can ask anyone who went to the 2004 trip to West Virginia with me to describe my "reactions" to watching Robin Williams live on Broadway or even Will Ferrell. You can ask my parents or any friends who have been "in the surrounding area" when I've watched episodes of ALF (season 1 and 2 are out on DVD, baby!! *winks*)

I honestly believe that laughter is truly the best medicine. Sometimes it may seem impossible to laugh; but I'll tell you what - find that show that tickles your funny bone unlike any other - watch it and just continue to watch it until you start to laugh. Harder and harder. Before you know it, whatever it was that was bothering you will be forgotten.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How what you say/do affects others..... (Part I)

Is it affects or effects? I can't exactly recall. (take a look at the title of this particular blog and you'll know what I'm talking about)

Either way, today I wasn't going to write - just been sorta bummed recently. With the post-marathon/half-marathon schedule behind me, I need that "something" to look forward to. That marathon or another distance run of some sort. I've become so engulfed in promoting the cause of mental health awareness/removing the stigma of mental illness that I see each distance run (and training run for the distance run competition) as an opportunity to do something that not just betters myself, but more importantly humankind.

Having battled and overcome depression, I see it now as a responsibility to talk about it. I know there are nay-sayers out there. I have heard them, I have seen them, I have read about them. But they don't know how I felt - nor how other people who have suffered or do suffer from depression feel/felt like. To quote Peter Parker's uncle, "With great power, comes great responsibility."

I have heard it said that "Knowledge is power." Well if that is the case, then the knowledge that I have - not that I necessarily wanted that knowledge - but the knowledge that I have of suffering from depression - well it is now a "power" that I've been given. Because hopefully you, the person reading this, has no idea what it's like to have the symptoms of depression. Hopefully you never do. But as a person who rode the gates of hell for 100 days; I can't sit here and let people think that depression isn't real. As a result, it is my responsibility to tell you - the person who cares enough to read this entry - what it is like.

Essentially all of this - my "coming public" with having overcome depression - all stems from a very popular naysayer and a person whose ACTING talents and abilities I respect dearly - that of Tom Cruise. However, to sit at home and listen to Mr. Cruise talk on the "Today Show" about psychiatry not being real - how depression/mental illnesses can be cured by fruit - well, I don't know about you guys, but I actually tried St. John's Wort (it is supposed to work) and even fruits - but I wasn't feeling any better - that's for certain. So in reality, the only fruits that I can see as working - are those that they give you at talk-therapy sessions and/or ones that are "laced" with anti-depressants.

So because of that knowledge and the knowledge of reading that people who were suffering and overcoming mental illness stopped taking them based on Mr. Cruise's comments - well, I guess it was the fact that the "human dignity" of a person was being taken away that caused me to well............"act." See, when you tell someone that how they feel isn't real - you remove their human dignity. It's almost like telling someone who is about to jump off a bridge to well.......jump. Not cool.

I have a shirt that Reese Butler, an acquaintance of mine who started up www.hopeline.com in memory of his wife Kristin Brooks - who died as a result of post-partum depression - that reads something along the lines of "Hope" - Don't take it away; it may be all that someone has left.

When I was depressed (between March 2001 - June 2001) but didn't know it - I can't even put it into words how I felt. I may just quote Abraham Lincoln, whose melancholy (what "depression" was called at his time when he suffered from depression - oh yes, one of the most popular and successful president's in the history of this great nation - he suffered greatly from depression) caused him to say, "I am the most miserable man living." I can honestly say that's how I felt. In fact, miserable would make me seem to "happy."

However, come that day in June when I took the online anonymous exam at www.depression-screening.org and found out that I had "symptoms of major depression and should contact a professional immediately;" I felt a HUGE weight fall off my shoulders. It was one of those, pardon my French, "HOLY SHUGAR! IT HAS A NAME!!!!!!!!!!! I CAN GET BETTER!" moments. Maybe you have never had one of those - well, if you had, I'm glad to see that you're reading this and feeling up to reading it - and if you have never had one of those moments, well let's pray that you never do - that's when I got my "hope" back and hopes up.

To be able to e-mail my doctor and tell her how I was feeling; to get medicated, schedule an appointment with a talk therapist; to be able to research something that no I couldn't see - but I knew it "had a name" - that was getting my hope back. That was like God Himself not just gently taking me from the bridge where I was about to jump, but bringing me into his loving arms. Yeah; it's easy to say, "he's crazy" or "she's nuts" because they act a certain way. But look at it this way, instead of making fun - find out the facts. In fact, I hear there's a good website out there (www.runoverdepression.com) where you can find out more about mental illnesses. *winks*

The funny thing is well you know what? I am crazy. I am crazy for life. I've never felt so much love for anything as I do right now for the simple fact that I am still here on earth. The dark days are over; and if they do come back (there is a chance they will if you've suffered from depression once); I'll know what it is and know how to "control" it.

Winston Churchill called his depression the "black dog" - because even though the dog could sink it's fanks into you; it could still be cajoled and controlled, and after all - it was only.......... a dog.

Which leads me to my last comment for this post - I'll get to more later. Sir Winston Churchill; essentially the leader who kept the allies in the war until almost 1942 (remember the US didn't get involved until December 7, 1941 - the war was already raging in Europe for 2 1/2 years at that point) - the gentleman and great leader who would look around his beloved England and see rubbish, rubble, death and destruction from a very powerful Nazi German side - told himself and his people that they would overcome, they would labour on, and they would win the battle if they stuck in there. Had it not been for Churchill, England would have been conquered by Nazi Germany and Hitler's command of Europe would have almost been guaranteed. My point in all this? Churchill as well harbored thoughts of suicide and he too battled depressed.

So next time you think depression isn't real; the next time that you think people who are overcoming depression can't add to society - realize this - if it weren't for Churchill and Lincoln; two of the greatest leaders in the history of humankind - the freedoms that I have, you have and everyone else in the 1st world has - probably wouldn't exist. Ridiculous you say? Try fact.

No one appreciates another chance at life as much as someone who has gone through hell. My friend Brian has a quote in his AIM account reading, "~Iron has to go through Fire to become Steel. If you're going through hell, keep going." I went through hell; Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Churchill all went through hell; we all kept going - you can too.