Bloodkill and Bobcat Man

bobcat

“Dad. Dad! I saved your life!”

My eyes blinked away suddenly, and I quickly became aware of my surroundings, out of a sudden sleep. I was in my room, in my bed. It was dark still, cold with the window open, and I could hear birds outside, so I assumed it was early morning. My eyes flashed to the clock and I saw it was 5 am. I shifted my attention suddenly to my five year old, A, standing at my bedside.

“I saved your life, dad,” he repeated himself, waiting for me to acknowledge him.

“What do you mean you saved my life?” I asked. I was surprised he hadn’t awakened me. On nights when my sons are here, I’m hyper-aware of every sound. A squeak of the bed, a car horn, a scratching on the wall, the sound of their door opening… I usually shoot awake before they can get out of bed. But he had snuck into the room without me noticing. His brother must still be in the next room sleeping.

“Well, it’s simple.”  He raised his voice a little bit, full of a quiet morning energy. He had been burning to share this information with me, and I guessed it was all based on a dream he had had. “I heard some bad guys outside of the house, so I waked up and became a super hero to save your life. I growed a cape and a mask and I flied out the bathroom window and I fighted all the bad guys away with my fists!” He punched the air as he pressed his body down into a fighting crouch, springing up to uppercut an imaginary villain.

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I sat up a bit in bed, turning to face him. I reached a hand out in the grey dark room and rubbed a finger against his cheek in an ‘i-love-you’ line. “Oh, you turned into a super hero, and then you saved my life? Thank you, son. What was your super hero name?”

He furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes, giving his fiercest ‘tough guy’ look, and then lowered his voice to a harsh whisper, speaking like Batman does in the old animated series we watch together sometimes.

“Oh, that’s easy. My name was Bloodkill.” He emphasized the first part, then drew out the last syllable a bit, making it sound more dramatic. He shot away from my hand, doing some uncoordinated gymnastics, moving about the side of my bed with a few crouches, kicks, and punches to the air again. Oh to have that kind of energy at 5 am.

Wait, strike that. I don’t want that kind of energy at 5 am.

“Bloodkill?” I yawned, stifling a smile.

“Yes. And Bloodkill hunts!” He still had his Batman voice.

I turned on my side, laying down, my head propped up on my elbow now, and yawned again.

“Listen, buddy, thank you for saving my life. But it is way to be someone named Bloodkill. Can you think of a nicer super hero name for the early morning time?”

A stood now, flummoxed momentarily. “Well,” he negotiated, “I can be Bloodkill later, how about I can be the Killer Shark Man!”

I smiled. “Something a little nicer maybe.”

“Well, I can’t be a zombie or a vampire then. Maybe I can think of something.”

“How about a different animal man?” I asked. “You know, like Batman or Catwoman, but a different animal that hasn’t been used before.”

He put a finger against his lip, thinking briefly. “I’ll be Bobcat Man!”

I smiled. “Perfect. What is Bobcat Man’s powers?”

“Well,” now A was climbing up into the bed with me, finally looking for his morning cuddles. He spoke quickly as he climbed. “Bloodkill could fly from his cape and he had sharp claws on his gloves and some weapons on his belt. But Bobcat Man is kind of the same except different. He has his own claws and he is so fast in the air and on the ground, and he can turn little or big but not too big. And, well, he can still have a cape.”

He laid against me now, his little body fitting perfectly, his head on my chest, his arms around me, his legs stretched all the way down to my knees.

“That’s perfect,” I smiled. “Thanks again for saving my life. But how come you are up so early, buddy?”

“Well, I wanted to tell you all that, but maybe we can cuddle and go back to sleep now.”

Soon he was softly snoring against me. The room was still dark and the birds still chirping, and I was smiling silently about Bloodkill and Bobcat Man having adventures in his brain.

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the price of faith in Utah

inversion

“Salt Lake City is a complicated place,” I told the crowd. “It is a land of harsh contradictions.”

“Contradictions like what?” one of them asked.

“Well, this past week the government made two notable new law changes. On one hand, it is no longer illegal for teachers to mention being gay in public schools. On the other hand, we now have the lowest legal driving alcohol limits in the country, lowering the protocols from .08 to .05.

“Last year, a major street in the city was renamed Harvey Milk Boulevard, after a gay icon. Around the same time, the governor announced that pornography in the state is a national health crisis, and health funding dollars would be placed toward combatting it, loosely reinforcing the local cultural belief that viewing pornography is akin to sex addiction and requires treatment.

“We elected a lesbian mayor who is a single mother of an adopted African American child, and her office is just down the road from the leading authorities of the Mormon Church, a group of over a dozen elderly white straight men.

“Our incredible landscapes of mountains and incredible views are capped for half the year with poison as air pollution rises to the highest in the country during those times.

“It is an absolute land of contradiction, balanced by the strange coexistence of right and left, red and blue, Democrat and Conservative.”

I remained quiet for a minute while the crowd digested that information, chewing on the substance of it.

“So let’s take a minute to look at how that impacts the LGBT community itself. Salt Lake City has an enormous LGBT population, one of the highest in the country per capita. We have been rated as the gayest city in America before, and Utah boasts the highest percentages of gay parents in the country. Does anyone know why that is?”

Members of the crowd shook their head, confused.

“It’s because gay men and women marry someone of the opposite sex, have children, and then come out later in life. So we have people who come out of the closet with 2 or 5 or 8 kids already in place. I bet we have the highest percentages of mixed orientation marriages as well, and the majority result in divorce.

“On the flip side of those facts, we recognize that Utah leads the nation with suicide being the leading cause of death among teens, and much of that is due to a combination of religious shame about being gay or trans, and the pressure to conform. We also have tremendously high rates of LGBT teen homelessness.

“Other related facts, Utah has tremendously high rates of depression and anti-depressant usage, particularly among women, and tremendously high rates of pornography addiction among men, combined with extremely high divorce rates.”

I let all of that sink in for a few moments. Several in the crowd looked distressed, some were scribbling notes, others had their heads bowed as they contemplated.

“So what do we do with all of this information?” one person asked.

I cleared my throat. “Well, earlier we talked about the presence of shame. The idea of measuring our own worth at impossible standards, and experiencing depression and anxiety and a general sense of feeling broken when life doesn’t turn out the way we were promised. When you are taught your entire life that following a particular path leads to a particular result, and life doesn’t turn out that way, it leads to cognitive dissonance, divorce, pain, and sometimes even suicide.”

We pursued that topic for a few minutes, relating our own stories and experiences to these statistics and topics. Several in the room grew emotional, sad, frustrated, angry, even despondent. Some of them were struggling now with depression, or knew others that were; some knew others who had taken their lives, and some had made attempts on their own lives.

One man pressed his hand into the air, a burning question on his mind. “What I don’t understand is, if there are these statistics available, then why don’t they make changes?” By ‘they’, I assumed he meant the local government and, perhaps, the leaders of the Mormon Church.

I took in a deep breath. “It is difficult to convince others to see things our way. We have an entire society built on the basis of ‘faith’, or believing without seeing. Belief in God and all of the things he teaches through church institutions. And Utah has much higher percentages of this than many places. So when you measure moral beliefs against documented evidence, it doesn’t stack up or merit. It’s the same argument that leads some cities to push for the teaching of creation instead of evolution, because creation matches their beliefs and evolution, despite its scientific evidences, does not.

“For example, there are hundreds of studies that show that teaching sex education in school and providing contraception and birth control significantly risks teen pregnancies. Yet we have many states, Utah included, that teach abstinence only, and the teen pregnancy rates go up in number. The evidence of the scientific studies is ignored or set aside by the ‘faith’-based majorities.

“This same political cognitive dissonance applies to mass beliefs on Planned Parenthood and abortions, gun control laws, gay marriage, transgender bathroom issues, equal pay for women, ‘illegal’ immigration, the connection between Muslim religions and terrorism and a thousand other controversial topics. Evidence is ignored in favor of moral belief structures.

“But in many cases, the results, for many, in places like Utah, is often shame, depression, broken marriages, and, in the most tragic of cases, suicide. We live in a state where men in their fifties and sixties come out of the closet for the first time, where STD rates go up due to lack of sex education, and where believing women in church-funded colleges are blamed for the sexual assaults they recently suffered at the hands of believing men.”

The room stayed silent for a bit. And then one last question.

“Well, what do we do with this information now?”

I nodded, solemn, and clasped my hands. “That’s up to each of us, individually, to decide.”

Mormon coffee talk

Coffee.jpg

“I mean, seriously, what a douchebag move, am I right? Why else do people go to weddings if not to get drunk? I mean, unless you are getting married yourself or you are like the mother or father of the bride, then you just go there to get drunk or to get laid or, I don’t know, to meet people and get drunk with them. It’s free alcohol. Everyone expects it. You drink and you flirt. And this guy, he refuses not only to drink with me, but then he doesn’t even want to talk to me because I’m a little bit tipsy. Who is he to judge me?”

This woman must be the most unhappy person I have ever heard speak, I thought as I tried to tune her out. She has been going on like this ever since I sat down. She won’t stop! She’s being so loud!

And then there is that stupid Mormon girl, the one bridesmaid who won’t wear the dress that the bride actually chose because she feels it is too immodest. The dresses were cute! They were pink and like sleeveless but this bitch feels like exposing her shoulders will give the boys around her unclean thoughts or whatever and she isn’t even that cute. So she has to go and ruin the wedding because she wants to wear like a sweater over her shoulders and she is the only one in the line who looks different than the rest, and she is like taking attention away from the bride which is basically the worst sin you can commit on someone’s wedding day, don’t you think?”

Stop talking stop talking stop talking. I sipped my coffee, trying to focus on the stack of paperwork I had brought to the coffeeshop with me. There was nowhere else to sit, and this woman was talking so loud. I thought about turning to her and asking her to be quiet. The friend she was with wasn’t even talking back, just making mm-hmm and oh-no and oh-yeah statements. Just breathe. You’re cool. Just focus on your work. I managed to turn her out for a few minutes before she got louder.

“So then I get back to work on Monday after and I’m still hungover and I’m still pissed, but then, bam, guess what, my manager puts me in charge of that work project we have been working on. Like I’m finally in charge of the stuff that no one wants to be in charge over. Probably because I’m the only one who gives a shit. And no on there in the whole company even cares about the little rules anyway, and how do you think they are going to feel when I start making them follow the rules. Like everyone takes drinks to their desks and they aren’t supposed to. How do you think they are going to feel when I start walking by their desks and taking their drinks away, one by one, and just tossing them right in the garbage. I mean, they are going to be livid. I can just see the one guy next to me like ‘hey, I just spent four dollars on that energy drink, don’t throw it away’ and I’ll be like ‘well, guess who’s in charge now, bitch!'”

Okay, I have to admit this is kind of entertaining, I thought. It is unlike me to get so annoyed with someone so easily, she was just so loud. I kind of like eavesdropping on people sometimes. Instead of working on my notes, I instead got out my computer and started writing down what she was complaining about. This woman is a character.

“I just, this isn’t where I thought I would be in my life right now, right? I thought I would meet some guy. Instead it is just me and my dumb dog. I say dumb but I love him, you know that. In fact, he is probably the love of my life. I am done with men, at least for a minute. Did I tell you about that last guy I tried dating, the one from the singles’ ward? I mean, I’m not active or anything but I still want a good Mormon guy. I should have known something was completely wrong with him based on the fact that he’s 30 and not married. I know I’m almost 30, but it’s different for girls. Guys can have whoever they want. I just haven’t had the right person come along yet. So anyway one day he lectures me because he sees wine in my fridge and we haven’t even kissed or anything and it’s like our third date and he wants me to be a good Mormon girl and I’m feeling embarrassed and tell him it’s not mine that I just keep it there for friends who come over and I’m lying of course and he goes ‘yeah, but you should avoid the very appearance of evil’. I’m all embarrassed but then a few days later I find out that he has a porn addiction problem. He tells me that he doesn’t want to get too serious with me before he tells me the truth. And I’m like ‘what a hypocrite’ and I ended things right there. ‘The very appearance of evil’ indeed. I mean, I deserve someone amazing, not just some guy. You deserve someone amazing too. I mean, everyone does, even gay Corey.”

Gay Corey? Who is gay Corey? The two women laugh hysterically for a moment, some inside joke between then, and then I hear a loud slurp as the woman finishes her iced latte, sucking the last bits of liquid from between chunks of ice. She stands up and walks by me, giving me a slight sneer-slash-smile before dumping her drink in the garbage. From behind me I hear her summon her friend.

“Come on, let’s go.”

Her friend says ‘oh, okay’ and quickly gathers her things before rushing out. My fingers are moving on the keyboard, and all I can think is, wait, what just happened? 

 

the unintentional hypocrite

door

before i went on my first date with a man, i did marriage counseling for dozens and dozens of couples

before i knew what i wanted to do with my life, i successfully completed six years of college with a 3.8 grade point average

before i considered myself authentic, i wrote hundreds of pages of journal entries and poems exploring my soul

before i knew how to tell my story, i published a book

before i had my first real kiss, i had a successful marriage to a woman, and everyone thought we were the perfect couple

before i knew what being mentally healthy was, i was the director of a community mental health center

before i understood my own spirituality, i completed a two year dedicated missionary service and baptized several into the faith i was born into

before i understood how to take care of myself, i was taking care of two sons who required my everything

before i lived well, i merely lived

 

 

Among the Unhealthy

Healthy

There’s something that happens when you become emotionally well. Suddenly, the emotionally unwell become toxic.

As a therapist, when I work with clients who are unwell (in unhealthy relationships, anxious, depressed, at difficult jobs, etc), my first goal is to help them realize that they have the ability to be well, and then to help them draw upon their personal strengths to reinforce healthy living, no matter what is happening around them. Certain things are out of their power and certain things are directly in their power. I help them learn the areas of their life where they are able to take control and impact positive change for themselves.

I often compare emotional health to physical health–when we don’t pay attention to our physical habits, we can slowly and consistently become unhealthy. We put on three pounds, then five, then ten. At some point, we have to make changes, and it is a lot easier to lose five pounds then it is to lose forty, and easier to lose forty than it is to lose one hundred. The greater the weight, the longer and more consistent the change in response must be. Healthy habits must return, through nutrition and exercise, and the health will slowly and consistently return.

First clients have to learn what is in their control and what isn’t. Massive credit card debt can’t immediately be eliminated, but budgeting and earning and planning can easily happen. An unfaithful husband may not stop cheating, but the spouse can choose how to handle the emotions, the relationship, the communication, and the long-term plans of the marriage. Recovery from chemotherapy can’t be rushed or altered, but healthy habits and relationships and mental states can be fostered to help with the healing.

We all know what it feels like to be depressed, to feel like life is out of control, to feel like the world is crashing in. Humans have an amazing capacity to heal and change and survive. But at some point we have to choose what to do with it. We can wallow and give in and give up, or we can rise above and tackle and heal. People who are unwell often make the mistake of thinking they are alone, that their pain is more excessive than the pain of others, and that no one can understand them.

Which brings us to the topic of this blog, the healthy person who has taken time to heal and move forward who then dwells among the unhealthy, or those who decide not to make changes and work on themselves. We all have friends who have financial difficulties or health problems or work problems or relationship problems or faith problems, and they expend a lot of energy complaining about those problems, frustrated that their lives aren’t easy. They want an easy fix, a lottery win or a romantic interest with a lot of money or a weight loss pill, that will suddenly come along and make life simple, yet they refuse consistently to budget or to communicate with their spouse or to reach out for therapy or to exercise and eat right. The idea of getting healthy becomes threatening, and so they keep making unhealthy choices and complaining about their lives.

When describing healthy relationships to clients, I hold up two fingers. “A healthy relationship is when two individuals who are healthy and happy in their own skin decide to be together.” I then point those fingers inward toward each other, demonstrating balance and compromise. “If one of the individuals is happy and healthy and the other is not, there is an imbalance in the relationship, one that becomes unsustainable. It is customary for someone to be stressed or sick or sad or to have family problems, that is different than someone who falls into unhealthy patterns and consistently refuses to work on getting out of them, and then that person begins to blame the stable person for their inability to bear the extra weight of the relationship.” This model can apply to any close relationship, from best friends to spouses to parent/child to boss/coworker.

At the end of the day, the model is pretty simple: every person out there is responsible for their own happiness. And it is easy for the healthy person to want to help the unhealthy person, but only so long as the unhealthy person is also helping themselves; we can never bear the burden of another person long-term.

Another simple recognition: I am a better father, boyfriend, son, friend, worker, therapist, etc when I am happy and comfortable in my own skin. It takes a lot of work, but I’m at the stage in life where it becomes easier to maintain–it’s easier to lose one pound than it is twenty. But I had to do a lot of work to get here.

Sam is never responsible for his boss’s cruelty and harsh expectations; Sam is responsible for staying at the job and being frustrated by it daily.

Alice is never responsible for her husband’s name-calling and violent words; Alice is responsible for choosing to stay with him, for being depressed every day and not speaking up for herself.

Betty is never responsible for the diabetes she was born with; Betty is responsible for her food choices and her refusal to stop eating unhealthy sugary things because she feels she deserves them, even when they constantly make her sick.

Doug is never responsible for his church making policies that state homosexuality is a sin; Doug is responsible for choosing to attend the church each week and feeling broken inside and guilty about who he is.

Jack is never responsible for his wife’s health struggles and her mood swings; Jack is responsible for never talking to her about his feelings, never asking for help from professionals, and just remaining silent and unhappy in the marriage day after day.

A blog like this can be dangerous to write. Depression is real. Trauma is real. Pain is real. And there are many things in life out of our control. But we, each of us, have the ability to become healthy, through hard work and consistent effort. And once we have done it, once we have become healthy, we can certainly understand how it felt to be unhealthy. We can empathize and honor.

But there is nothing quite so exhausting as investing long-term in the person who won’t help themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss you, Miss you

Hey Kurt,

It’s coming up on a year now and it still regularly strikes me how unfair it is that you are gone. I take comfort in the fact that you left peacefully and quickly and while you were at your happiest, but that only works some of the time. Other times, its strikes me as completely unfair and unjust and horrible. For those of us that love you, the world just won’t quite be the same again (especially your family and fiancée).

I see you places, just remember you being in those places. Grabbing coffee at the corner shop where I’d grab my black hot coffee and you’d get something iced and delicious and we would talk about business plans and dating lives and the antics of our children. Situated next to each other on the elliptical machines at the local gym, each of us with a book placed on the machine in front of us but neither of us really reading as we shared out-of-breath anecdotes and rolled our eyes with disgust at whatever hot guy would walk by posing for himself in the mirror. At the local dance club where you would sometimes have one too many and get all giggly as you danced and made out with your fiancée, so long as the song was right, a Britney or a Rihanna, or else you would stop dancing in protest at the bad song playing and remove yourself from the floor. I see you all over this city, and I miss your backyard barbecues, your stories about growing flowers and hikes through the mountains, and your raucous laughter at irreverent stories. I can still hear the way you would mutter ‘oh Lord’ after a juicy bit of gossip.

And it’s totally selfish (“You’re allowed to be selfish. You should be selfish”, you would say in response to that), but I want you around to celebrate accomplishments with. I want to call you up and tell you how well my business is doing and how I’m finally out of debt–you had such a beautiful way of seeing me as full of potential and strength and you spent so many hours in conversation inspiring to push myself harder and to not mope or despair. I want to tell you about my recent travel and hear you ask for details while you make fun of me for doing what I did instead of what you thought I should do. I want to tell you about the writing projects I’m working on, things that have been in development for years that are finally seeing the light of day, and hear you shout in triumph because you believed in me and knew I could do it.

I miss the way you didn’t pull any punches, and how you could see right through me with no pretense or nonsense. I miss the way you inspired me to only see the best version of myself, and I miss how you would lose patience with me a bit when I fell back on old patterns. I miss your computer brain and how I would have to remind you to think with your heart sometimes as see the world in more than black-and-white and how I would have to convince you that sometimes kindness and listening and understanding were the best approaches, and I miss how you would call me up afterward and say ‘Okay, you were right’ and I would say ‘Of course I was right’ and you’d say ‘Don’t get cocky, bastard’ and we’d have a good laugh and make plans to hang out again soon.

I miss how I mattered to you every day, no matter where I was or what I was going through. I miss how we could go silent for a few days and then pick right back up where we left off.

I vividly remember that Sunday afternoon, nearly a year ago, when I got off work and headed home and started cooking lunch when I got a random text message from a friend informing me that you had died in a car accident minutes before. I remember rushing to the hospital in a daze, unable to cry, and joining with your friends in the hallway and going into all-business mode as we found out what happened. And I remember how it didn’t dawn on me that it was all real until I pulled out my phone and sent you a text message habitually and then I realized that you couldn’t answer and weren’t coming back. I remember sinking to the floor behind a garbage can in a sterile hallway and letting the tears come for the first time. I remember standing in the hospital room of your fiancée as he struggled through injuries and a concussion to realize what had happened, a horrible blend of clarity and confusion, numbness and tears.

Even as I type this today, though, Kurt, I’ve got a dumb smile on my face because of what you taught me and how you changed me. I hate that you are gone, and I love the difference you made in my life. Someday I hope to publish something and put the words ‘To Kurt’ in the front of the book, and everyone who reads it will have no idea who you are but I’ll know. And I think somewhere, you’ll know too.

I remember us laughing one day about how kids in grade school can’t say love, instead they’ll say like once for casual interest and like twice for genuine affection. “I like you” and “I like you-like you” meant very different things, and we laughed about the psychology of what that means for adults who play the same kinds of games.

Well, sir, I miss a lot of people. But I miss you-miss you.

Thanks for everything, and know you are on my mind, regularly, and not just mine. You are missed-missed by a lot of people.

with much love,

Chad

KEC1