Seriously…read the thing…

In my last post, I referenced an article on Cracked.com, which I think is an important read for anyone who has a depressed person in their life.  It was in the middle of a different point I was making, and I wouldn’t blame anybody if they just skipped right over it and didn’t click on it…but I really do think it’s got some good information a lot of people would benefit from, and I want to draw as much attention to it as possible.   It should be noted that there is a ***POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING*** attached here–especially if you read the article in its full context.  (Also, I’ll be cussing a lot in this post…)  Additionally, I want to be clear that this post is in NO WAY a cry for help on my part.  I am fortunate enough to have people I don’t need to be funny around–I’m posting this for those who don’t.

Anyway…  This is the article.  And I’m going to post a few excerpts from it below, along with my reasons for posting that particular excerpt.  Because you might not know why this article is important to some people in your life, but I’d like to share with you why it was important to ME.  Please note that the bolded, italicized segments are NOT my words–they were written by David Wong, and I do not mean to put any words in his mouth with any of my follow-up comments.  Please read his words in full in the original article, and give him appropriate credit.

Here are the parts that jumped out at me…

1. You ever have that funny friend, the class-clown type, who one day just stopped being funny around you? Did it make you think they were depressed? Because it’s far more likely that, in reality, that was the first time they were comfortable enough around you to drop the act.

The ones who kill themselves, well, they’re funny right up to the end.

That’s the very start of the article. And if you didn’t say, “Oh…shit…” when you read that, it’s possible that you haven’t been paying enough attention to the funny people in your life. Or that, for whatever reason, those people just don’t trust you enough to drop the façade.  If the funny guy/girl that you know in your life comes to you one day and they’re NOT funny–they love you.  They fucking LOVE you and you need to listen to them.  And if they DON’T come to you with the shields down, maybe think about if you need to find a way to let them know they can.  “The ones who kill themselves, well, they’re funny right up to the end.”

2. …and suicidal thoughts are so common among our readers and writers that our message board has a hidden section where moderators can coordinate responses to suicide threats.

This just really impressed the hell out of me about Cracked.  I don’t have a lot to add to it…but I was glad to learn that.

3. And while I don’t know what percentage of funny people suffer from depression, from a rough survey of the ones I know and work with, I’d say it’s approximately “all of them.”

I would stretch this to include most entertainers.  Most of the serious musicians I know are in some way suffering from depression, anxiety, or other similar conditions as well. Same with the comedians I’ve met and have known.  I know more than one painter who’s deeply disturbed too.  I don’t know what it is, but it seems like to be really creative, there’s almost GOT to be something dark and unsettling in there somewhere.  Even children’s entertainers I’ve met have real dark-sides…  It seems like the art of whatever the entertainer is doing also serves as therapy.  Comics write jokes about their personal failings and weaknesses as a way of pointing and laughing at them to take their power away.  Musicians write dark music because that’s how they think the world around them is supposed to sound.  And sometimes they also write really insanely optimistic, brilliantly cheery shit…because even the darkest day needs a little hope and fun now and again.  Besides…if the audience doesn’t have fun, they might never listen (or watch, or whatever) closely enough to see the ACTUAL point.

4. You soon learned that being funny builds a perfect, impenetrable wall around you — a buffer that keeps anyone from getting too close and realizing how much you suck. The more you hate yourself, the stronger you need to make the barrier and the further you have to push people away. In other words, the better you have to be at comedy.

Yep.  Once you figure out that you can make people laugh and get a response, that’s what you crave.  It’s what you NEED.  It’s an addiction.  Even as a musician–I don’t typically make jokes from the stage, but the applause after a song is like goddamn heroin.  (Not that I’ve ever done heroin, mind you.)  Something people might not know about me is that I’m uncomfortable with public praise–like if a boss or a respected figure stands up in front of a group and says, “Let me tell you about how Derek accomplished this or sacrificed his time for that, or so on…”  That’s awful.  That actually can trigger a major depressive episode for me, because when I hear someone say my name and describe someone I don’t think I am, it makes me look inward and loathe what I find…  But APPLAUSE?  For the thing I actually DO think I’m good at???  I’m a fucking junkie for that.

5. In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you — a clown that can go out and represent you, outside the barrier. The clown is always joking, always “on,” always drawing all of the attention in order to prevent anyone from poking away at the barrier and finding the real person behind it. The clown is the life of the party, the classroom joker, the guy up on stage — as different from the “real” you as possible. Again, the goal is to create distance.

You do it because if people hate the clown, who cares? That’s not the real you. So you’re protected.

But the side effect is that if people love the clown … well, you know the truth. You know how different it’d be if they met the real you.

I read this segment and had to stop reading because I couldn’t see the screen through the tears anymore.  I’m being absolutely serious when I say this…  I had NO idea that other people did that, too.  I’m still processing that and what that realization is going to mean for me moving forward…

6. But I guess my larger point is that if you know somebody who might be at risk but you’ve been denying it because they’re always smiling and joking around, for the love of God, wake the fuck up.

I don’t have a lot to add to this either.  If you’ve got a name in mind, put in some serious thought about going out of your way to let them know they can be real with you and you’re not going to hate them for it.  I’m serious.  Call them as soon as you can.

7. Be there when they need you, and keep being there even when they stop being funny.

I have frequently stated that it’s hard to be friends with a depressed person.  But being friends with them is one of the best things you’re ever going to do for anybody.  When I’m in a bad state, I turn into someone I don’t want to be around, and I can’t fucking STOP him from doing and saying things that are meant to ruin my relationships.  I have a handful of friends who understand this.  I have one friend in particular who has told me repeatedly that he’s aware of this fact, and is just not going to take anything I say personally.  And he’s pretty good at sticking to that.  I have crossed the line into pissing him off before…but he hasn’t abandoned me–even in the middle of it.  And there are times when he really SHOULD have–one of those times very recent (even I wanted to punch me).  I have a (non-literal) voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, no one likes me, and I don’t deserve good things.  When that voice starts winning, it also starts coming out of my mouth in a way that is intentionally meant to torpedo every good thing I don’t want to lose–and I don’t know how to shut that voice up.  I very literally hear myself sometimes and I’m thinking, “Shut up!  SHUT THE FUCK UP! Why are you saying this? You’re hurting someone you care about and why won’t you just shut the fuck up???” And that’s not funny…and it’s not entertaining…  And I will never cease to be stunned by those who stick around to hear the apology.

Be that friend to somebody.  I’m alive because someone has been that friend to me.  (God sends us those people–there’s a good chance that if you don’t NEED one of those people, then you need to BE one.)  Don’t underestimate how important it is to just stay in the conversation until you see the breaking point in your friend’s eyes and hear them say, “Oh fuck…I’m sorry…”  Because they are.  Because they’d rather keep you entertained, but you MATTERED enough to them that they let you see the part of themselves that they’re desperate to stop from talking.

In short, be ready to not laugh sometimes. It might save a life.

On Everything

Earlier today I attended a visitation for a friend of the family who died after having been diagnosed with cancer only a few weeks ago. Life is short and sometimes it ends abruptly.

I will miss Barb. She was a good person. She helped get my family organized and focused 20 years ago (come October) when my mom died. I was 14 then. Sometimes that feels like a lifetime ago and sometimes it feels like yesterday. When it feels like yesterday, the very first thing I remember is standing by the pool at my dad’s club after the funeral and Barb saying kind, encouraging things to me. In what was the worst thing I’d ever experienced by that time in my life, the first memory I recall is one of kindness. I emailed her husband before she died and told him that. I hope he shared it–I regret that I never told her to her face what that meant.

At the visitation, my uncle mentioned Mom dying to me–he doesn’t usually do that. He noted as well that it was 20 years ago, and I heard a catch in his voice that I’ve never heard before. I guess sometimes it feels like yesterday for him too. Life is short and sometimes it ends abruptly. And when it’s TOO short, you carry that with you forever.

It strikes me that when you go to a memorial, you spend time talking about everything except the body in the room. That has always bothered me. I wanted to tell everyone that Barb made it okay that it’s been 20 years since my mom died. And that 20 years from now, it would be okay that Barb has died too because someone WILL say something kind to you that you’ll hold onto forever. Instead I explained to everyone I spoke to that “no, I don’t SELL insurance, I’m a claims support rep. I follow up on claims and schedule appraisals and blahblahblah…” and listened to much of the same. That ALWAYS bothers me.

And it bothers me that I can’t talk about Ferguson all day long. That I can’t note with every breath that there is a BIG and important distinction between the looters and the protesters. That there are people in the middle of the tear gas performing great works of kindness and generosity that people with deep emotional scars will remember 20 years from now that will make at least SOME of the lingering pain feel okay. That humanity is ALWAYS capable of unbelievable good in the face of unconscionable evil. That love is stronger than hate…

Instead I talk about how sad it is that Robin Williams killed himself. And it is. And that’s important. And you should really read this article because it’s got desperately important information in it that might help you save someone’s life. And that IS important. Because life is short and sometimes it ends abruptly. And YOU might be the one that keeps someone’s head out of the noose if you just show kindness when they’re at their worst.

This week has been devastating. Defeating. Awful. It has also had small, glorious moments that I will recall 20 years from now when I’m telling someone where I was when Ferguson burned. I was home, sad for a community I care deeply for…and it was so nice how my friend Brian got in touch just to say he knew I was close to there and was I doing okay?

There is always kindness. YOU always have the capacity for kindness. Please do whatever you can to show it to people. Because Life is short and sometimes it ends abruptly.

On Ferguson…

I had someone ask me in person why I haven’t blogged on Ferguson.  That’s a bummer on a few levels…  In all honesty, it boils down to not wanting to say the wrong thing, not wanting to make snap decisions, and not wanting to accidentally misuse this blog in a way that could prove hurtful to a community that I deeply care about.  One that I could easily bike to, in nice weather.  One in which I served as a minister for several years…where I have friends…where family members of mine went to church…where we held the post-funeral dinners for several members of my family.  I would hate for anything I say as an opinion to misrepresent the City of Ferguson, or to pass judgment on it unfairly.

That same friend reminded me that “you’ve already been tweeting like an asshole–so why not write it?”

I…forget that people read my tweets.  I hope none of them have accomplished any of the things I just said I was trying to avoid.  I hope this post doesn’t either (although I hope that one particular paragraph lights a fire under some folks who are presently showing themselves to be lukewarm, but I digress).  I’m organizing a jumble of thoughts on the subject, and this post is probably very inadequate.  I’m all mixed up and I’ve barely slept for several days…I apologize in advance if I write anything unfortunate or unfair as a result.

So this is my blog with my thoughts on Ferguson.  I have DEEP ties to the City of Ferguson.  I am shocked.  I am hurt.  I am in mourning for a devastated family and a panicked, wounded city.  I am afraid of what people have the ability to do when they are mad or scared enough.  I hope that sanity and compassion will win out in the end.  I am embarrassed that so far there have been those on both sides of the divide who have chosen to wreak havoc.  I am saddened that I was not shocked to learn of the same.  I am quick to anger and fear–and I am slow to remember “In your anger, do not sin.”  I do not like that about myself and am making efforts to change.

I’ve purposely not told this story before today…  I feel like maybe I should.  A few weeks ago, I was at a QuikTrip (not the one that was torched in the looting this past week).  While there, I noticed an obviously-asking-for-money, homeless, African-American man.  I also noticed a police officer sitting in a cruiser, watching him. I walked over to the man and spoke to him, asking where he was staying.  He told me where–and as chance has it, he was staying off Chambers in Ferguson for the night, anyway.  I told him I didn’t have any cash (true), but I would like to stand there with him until the police officer moved along–I’m a white middle class man, and if an officer saw me standing there with a perceived friend, he might not hassle a man who just needed some change and was doing nothing illegal.  He agreed and we made some polite small-talk, the whole while looking like we’d known each other for years.  After a while, I asked the man if I could pray for him.  He agreed, and I put my arm around his shoulder and prayed for him.  He wept and hugged me.  The policeman had moved along by that time.  I wrote down the man’s name (which I won’t share here for his anonymity) so I would remember to pray for him again after that night.

It’s three or four weeks later.  I don’t know the exact truth of what happened to Michael Brown.  But I keep wondering how the situation would’ve been different if a white man had been standing by him.  Maybe the cop would’ve moved along?  And do I really distrust the police that much?  I sure did when I was at the QuikTrip…  It saddens and disgusts me to feel like I have to think that way.  No black man should NEED a white man just to get by.  …but what if white people stand by Ferguson?  …what if I stand by Ferguson?

My overall opinion of the situation has switched several times over the past couple of days.  I want answers.  I think this area deserves answers.  I think this area deserves the truth–even if it’s a bad truth–so that we can heal.  And mostly now, I think I’m just tired and sad…and I am devastated to have poured my heart into the City of Ferguson from a religious perspective for several years only to feel like in the past few days the devil HIMSELF has dug his heels in deep. 

On Monday morning, I wrote on Facebook: “I was a minister in Ferguson for several years. I used to constantly and publicly pray, “Lord, please bring change to this city in a way that when people hear the word Ferguson they think ‘That’s where the Christians are!'” It doesn’t look that way today. But it still COULD. Go do your job today, church. And today that doesn’t include sermon writing.” I stand by that.  I am embarrassed and furious that a couple of the churches I would have expected to step up have instead stayed silent.  The Gospel dies with you if you do nothing with it, church.  (You will note that I named no names.)

In closing…  Be kind.  Be accountable.  Be authentic.  Love your neighbor.  Love your enemies.  Love your God with all your heart.  Reach out and draw near.  Pray for peace in Ferguson.  Pray for peace in St. Louis.  Pray continually–in words and in actions.

I’m going to stop writing now…  But my prayers will not cease.  Let’s build toward a better tomorrow…because today sure sucks.

Furtner Notes on Being an Insomniac

***Potential Trigger Warning.***

I’m going to write about something that should, ultimately, be a private thing that others don’t really need to know about. Something that most of you will never be in the room for, never know happened, and in fact that you’ll probably sleep right through. I’m going to address how I sleep at night. Or rather WHY I don’t in the times that I don’t. I want to talk to you all about my insomnia.

Some of you are already blowing me off. I can feel that when you do it. It’s a bitter-cold wind.

I’ve written about it before. But at that time, I wrote the following sentence…  “I do think I know what causes it.  I am not comfortable sharing it with everyone on the Internet.”  Okay…well, Internet…  It’s two years later.  We’re all a little older and a little wiser and I’ve already shared the heart of the problem with you in pretty full detail before…but you just didn’t know I did.

So here we go…  I’ve been getting a lot (that means SEVERAL–so if you’re one of them, I’m not singling you out) of probably well-meaning people who’ve been pissing me off pretty bad lately with suggestions of, “…since you’re up anyway.”  Why don’t you get an overnight job, since you’re up anyway?  Why don’t you do some household chores, since you’re up anyway?  I wish I had that problem–it must be great to have all that time to read and watch TV since you’re up anyway!

No.  Stop.  No.  I know you think you’re either being funny, or maybe some of you are naïve enough to think you’re being practical.  But when you say that to me, you are being deeply hurtful and it takes all of my willpower to remind myself that you don’t know better and don’t deserve the onslaught of vicious insults brewing in my heart.  I have my moments when I don’t hold it in, and I’m sorry about that…I should use those moments to educate instead of vilifying.  This post is an attempt to correct some of that…

If we’re going to make this work, you need to understand the following concept.  Please pay attention to the following sentence.  My insomnia is deeply tied to my depression.  There are nights–weeks, even–that I sleep just fine and I’m basically healthy and happy.  Then there are nights when I don’t sleep…  And to those who’ve mocked it in the past, I wanted to take a moment to let you know what “up anyway” looks like for me.

I feel it about midday.  “This is going to be a bad one.”  I’ve already been moody.  I’ve already started thinking about dead friends and family members that I miss.  I’ve already thought about mean things pretty girls have said to me (I know…shut up).  I’ve already thought about my failures and how I’m not anywhere near the person I thought I would be by now.  I’ve already felt ashamed for running from what I was so sure was God’s calling for my vocation when I was in college.  And by lunchtime, I know how the night is going to go.

I try to ignore it.  Try listening to more upbeat music or hanging out with a couple of friends, or posting something on the Internet hoping the “Likes” will pile up quick enough to convince my brain that, “See? It’s wasn’t a colossal waste of time and money putting out all of that music over the past couple decades!”  But it doesn’t work.  By dinner I’m either conspicuously quiet or I’m so overbearingly loud that people retreat either irritated or hurt by some stupid thing I said to them because it’s already building…

Then I get into bed.  And that’s when it get’s really awful.  I’m not usually up until all hours watching TV or reading, or whatever else you imagine.  I’m lying in bed, under the covers, lights off, TV off, phone on silent, etc.  The only thing in the room making any noise is my desktop fan that I keep going to drown out the house-settling noises that might otherwise creep me out because I saw too many horror movies in my early teen years.  And roughly the following monologue happens in my brain for several, uninterrupted, quiet hours…

“You’re a failure.  You’re pathetic.  You’re alone and you’re going to die alone.  No one loves you, and those of us in the cerebral cortex have discussed it and are pretty sure we understand why.  Here’s a list of everyone you know who died young.  Here’s the sub-list of “suicides” and the details of your specific relationships with each of them–the database search for “correlations?” is still cross-referencing.  I bet if you fall asleep, some more people you love will die while you’re blissfully dreaming.  You’re going bald, by the way.  And you’re fat.  Here’s a list of people who’ve probably noticed both.  Your dreams were a joke–no one wants to hear your stupid fucking songs.  You aren’t worthy of the good things you get and you’re a terrible person for taking them for-granted.  You’re one paycheck away from being poor–ONE.  You’re so unbelievably shallow that you’re up at four thinking about all this when people you know and love are dealing with MUCH more serious, real, problems–and THEY are sleeping like babies!  This is what you deserve.  Good luck facing the sun in a couple hours, asshole!”

…and meanwhile, Jesus is somewhere off to the side trying to softly whisper that those are all lies or at best half-truths and I shouldn’t believe them.  That He’s there.  That I’m not alone.  That I will get through this and I WILL sleep again.  And the only truth I know is that I HAVE to stay awake until I can hear him, otherwise thinking this way IS going to kill me some day…  But why is he WHISPERING when I desperately need him to SCREAM???

…and that’s what “up anyway” is for me.

So…yeah…maybe I won’t take that overnight shift at Kinkos, if that’s cool with everybody.

As I said two years ago…sweet dreams.