Megaphone

It is not until I’m seated in a reclined position that I realize how heavy the mental burdens of the day have been. Then I can see how unwieldy they really are. 

I’m wondering out loud a lot to my fifth grade definition of God. “Why all this pain? Why all this broken and bent and tragic? What are we doing? What are You doing? Do you love us, still? Did you ever at all? 

Basically, it boils down to : this life is really hard. A real slog at times. 

God doesn’t like to be asked direct questions, it seems. He likes to whisper in the wind and speak in a mourning dove’s song. I’mma be honest, I get pretty tired of discerning meaning from the breeze on a blade of grass (that’s a joke). 

How about some megaphone responses? Maybe he does that too in the face of tragedy, but I’m talking some straightforward, not cryptic, unmistakable commentary. I mean all of this light-heartedly (for now), but it would be nice to see some road signs marked, “Tyler, go here.” 

I’m in a life-lull for the moment and a big, clear push is welcome. 

 

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Fly Away – a meditation

“One bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.”


I want you to notice how soft that line is; how light and divine. It’s like the sentence is angled into a crescendo somehow; like the end of the sentence is taking flight above the clouds.

Sing it over and over in your head. Get lost in the idea of flying away. Pick up and leave every heavy thing behind. I don’t have to name the heavy things. We all know what they are. We recite them again and again until the area between our brow wrinkles.

But letting go of every heavy thing sounds nice, doesn’t it? All those recitations suddenly forgotten completely. And instead, that line above replaces them. The morning is bright, the race is run, I’ll let go of everything and just fly. 

No need to overcomplicate things; just flight and a new perspective from on high. 

 

Are you free?

Are you free?

My first answer is: “more than most of the world.” I can travel as I please and communicate easily and keep my contacts close. But on second thought, I don’t know if that’s entirely true. In America, we seem bound to our screens and our commercialisms and our need to be well thought of.

Do I feel like I am enslaved? You have to know there is a problem before you can solve it and maybe asking the question in reverse can force an answer. Personally, I do feel enslaved and as I look around, I see everyone else is also.

Even leaders who proclaim a message of freedom, they’re enslaved right along with the rest of us. Folks who preach Jesus still enter their cells at the end of the day. People who propose confidence secretly rely on internet message boards. Popular artists need followers in white-walled museums.

I am enslaved to lust (that’s one sin that will throw a hush over a crowded fellowship mall) and the idea of a stable relationship. I dwell on these ideas; ruminate and bargain with God that I might have a taste of the sweet dessert of marriage. I feel that I am not complete unless I have that kind of partnership and I cope with the void by filling my head with lust at times.

I am imprisoned by appearing successful. It is not even being successful it’s appearing successful. I want my community members (reaching all across the country via social media) to think I’m very busy; making money and contributing. This slavery is not as pernicious as some others in my life, but I wonder what freedom could do to alleviate my ‘keeping up appearances.’

I am held captive by depression and mental illness. There are times when I do not get to choose when I am deeply sad, instead that state of mind chooses me. Now, there are things within my control (what I eat, how much sun I get, how much quality time I spend) but there is also a great force working against me no matter how well I’m caring for myself.


All my peers, (and unfortunately my heroes as well) are enslaved. They turn minor inconveniences into unscalable mountains. They work relentlessly and lose their family. They compare and self medicate and rage and cheat and lie.

I have grown weary of those who propose quick solutions to the problem of these shackles; snake oil salesman who flash a remedy but act in hypocrisy. I see their quick temper with their children while they act pious on Sunday morning. I see their struggle with alcohol while they preach sobriety. I see their unconfidence masked as boisterous clamouring.

All this to say, I know that the people of this world are human; friend and stranger alike. I have no problem embracing their humanity, but it is when they masquerade as free and stable and confident that I take exception.


So in a world where I see slavery, what does it mean to try for freedom despite?

Do I need a:

  • Retreat to recenter myself and learn new coping techniques
  • Life coach to point me in an ambitious direction
  • Therapist to uncover childhood trauma that I could then overcome
  • New church small group filled with people in my same season of life
  • Deeper connection with my friends built on accountability
  • Social club to connect with like minded people and explore a hobby

The answer is probably yes, in part, to all of those things.


I have had deep struggles with God and before I talk about faith issues, I want to approach the topic with realness and rawness, because I do not want to sound cheesy.

An idea has been presented to me countless times as I have grown up in non-denominational churches: Don’t rely on anything in this world for freedom, rely on God.

I recently have been thinking a great deal about perfection and how Jesus is the only idea that has ever been presented to me in that way. To me, a perfect person seems like good inspiration in the quest for freedom.Even if I have to think of him as a metaphor at times.

What if I could take my messed up life – filled with depression and comparison and lust and shame, work on those things through therapy, ect. and take on God’s perfection and freedom for myself.

I don’t think freedom comes without work. We have to remember where our security and stability comes from when someone else degrades us or humiliates us. However, moments of pain are small matters compared to retaining personal freedom.

I also want to be prepared when it’s my own mind that’s doing the attacking; attempting to tear down and damage me.


Is my salvation secure? Can a person who struggles with lust lose their salvation? What does it mean that I’m not attending church regularly anymore?

These are all questions that swirl around my mind. The church at large has said a lot of things on similar issues, basically scaring congregations into believing it’s Jesus plus something else (like three devoted quiet times a day or consistent church attendance) that’s required for us to be saved.

But it’s just Jesus that paves the way for our salvation. Just his perfection that grants us freedom and what I’m trying to say in this piece is that we can partake in that perfection and in that freedom; not relying on our own work.

It’s not, “Is my faith good enough?” it’s “Jesus lived a perfect life and that’s what God sees when he looks at you.”

It’s not, “One too many fuck ups and you’re out of the club,” it’s “Jesus died for all past, present and future sin.”

It’s not, “I’m not a confident person so, I must not know God,” it’s “Rely on God solely for matters of worth because all other things are fleeting.”

What do you want to be free from?

And what has the power to set you free?

Confidence lacking

Confidence is something I’ve lacked my whole life. People have told me I need to gain confidence; everyone from my mom to my pastor. I would love to feel comfortable in my own skin, in my beliefs, in my doubts, in my struggle with depression and mental illness. But I’m not – not really anyway and on top of that, I’m not sure how to work on it.

Maybe if there was a special pill I could take in the morning (along with the litany of other pills I already take … what’s one more?). That sounds nice and easy.

There are not many areas where I can hold on to confidence and feel secure in myself. I am an average musician, with an average voice. I am a poet who has never been published. I am an author with a book collecting dust. I have never experienced success in the workplace. I have a disorder that makes all manner of those things difficult. I care about my friends more deeply than they care about me. I suck at romantic relationships, to use a word that doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of this piece. You get the idea.

But I am kind. And I am honest. The world does not need more confidence in my opinion before it needs more kindness. I’m not saying confidence is not important, it clearly is. However, it comes down to: what I want to practice in my life. I want to practice kindness before everything else.

I want to practice honesty too; telling it how it is with no white-washing or bullshitting. And maybe, I’m realizing, confidence can come from those places instead of some vacuum that I don’t understand or some elixir that doesn’t exist. It can be born out of those top-tier things, like love for your fellow man.

I might have to be ok with a confidence meter that is perpetually half-full. I don’t know how to work on increasing it. I do know how to be more kind. There are always ideas in my head for that. I am naturally very honest and it could be that my apparent lack of confidence is really just a proclivity for telling the truth. The average man or woman probably feels the slights and nervousness that I feel, but doesn’t voice them. Along with their doubts and failings and unsuccesses.

Maybe it is not I who should be more confident, maybe it is you who needs to be more honest.

I am fascinated by confronting myself and telling the truth about every situation. ‘Know thy self’ seems like an idea worth pursuing and who knows, confidence could come with it some day.

The truest sentence

I feel alone more than a lot.
My friends love me and I’m lucky for that.
They don’t know how alone I am though, they can’t even comprehend it.
They walk around with all these connections and loved ones and spouses.
They wouldn’t know how to define the word.
Some people say ‘depression’ cause they want to be part of the club.
Some people can’t stop ruminating about killing themself.

Like, I have a bad day and I make plans to end my life.
But what surprises me, is that I make plans on the good days now too.
Like dying sounds kinda peaceful and nice and I sigh a contented sigh when I think about it.
I never asked for this life.
I didn’t go around begging for it.
But here it is.
This big, crazy mess of sad and tired and confused and alone.

There’s some good in there too.
And despite my most concentrated efforts and furrowed brows and clenched fists, I keep right on living.
Sometimes I wonder if the ones who really want to live, like have big gusto and whatnot, die young and their time gets added on to the end of my life.
Is that how God works?
Whatever you want real bad, he gives you the opposite to test you?
Kinda seems like it.

When I was 6 years old, I thought life was just about Jesus.
That was it.
No other things.
Just me and Jesus talking about how much we loved each other in our sunday school shoes.
I didn’t know there were any other things you could believe (my little kindergarten self shrugs his shoulders).
I told people I would die for Jesus.
I was very sure of myself back then.

Sometimes I think God really loves me.
Sometimes I think I’m growing from my suffering.
I like to look at the world through that lense, but sometimes I’m bad at it, ya know?

Randomly, I’ll think of God as one of us.
Ya know, a fallible human that’s just real big and powerful who’s trying all these different experiments and he keeps messing them up and he feels really bad that he’s messing up so he just gets stressed out and cries a lot.
This makes me have compassion on this human-God I’ve imagined.
But, if I’m honest, I don’t think God is really like that.

God is this real complex idea/being/creator/force/power/grace that we have boiled down to something really simple so faith doesn’t scare us so bad.
“I can’t believe in a God who would do that!,” we all say at one point.
But I bet he’s so much more than a figure head in the sky or an old man that our mom told us about when we got scared in elementary school.
I bet he’s the connecting tissue to every living thing.
I bet he whispers to us when we look at a big tree and say, “That is so beautiful.”

My friend said she knows God is real because “there are small bugs that light up hot summer nights with magic, and they’re slow enough to be held in our hands.”
She said that she knows God is real because, “The trees turn a soft pink and deep red twice a year with no other colorful purpose than to be enjoyed.”
She said that, “there are one million types of laughs and my friends bring out my heartiest.” And lastly she said because, “My friend went into the darkest depth of a mental hospital and knew in his core that his job was to love people there.”

That last line was about me.
The funny thing is, my friend who wrote those lines four years ago, doesn’t believe in God anymore.
I think she sometimes believes that there could be a God, but she definitely doesn’t believe that he is good.
And haven’t we all been where my friend is right now?
Haven’t we all said, “There’s no way that goodness is at the center of all of this chaos.”
I’ve been there, in her position, earlier today even and I bet I will be there again tomorrow any some point.

Maybe if you think of God as a metaphor for goodness, it’s like taking a step.
And hugging a stranger who’s crying is like taking another.
And sweeping a child up into your arms is like jogging a bit.
And talking a friend out of suicide is like quickening your pace.
And telling a friend your painful story is like running.
And then you’re hugging and sweeping and talking and telling and loving and kissing and helping and singing and hoping and praying
and then you start thinking.

I want to be about goodness.
I want it in my life.
I want to help and I want to grow and get better.
I want to be about goodness.
I don’t really care what you call it.

A short essay on worth

I was speaking with someone today about the purpose of college. We talked about selecting a major only to change our minds halfway through our sophomore year and the hassle of transferring credits. We talked about campus culture and campus groups and making lasting friendships. We wondered aloud if classes outside our major were a money making scam. We talked about a lot of the different factors that make up these little ecosystems and we landed on one idea:

College’s primary function is as a stepping stone in finding a job.

The idea is to build skills that make us better candidates to qualify for a purposeful job that affords us financial security and stability.

When I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go to college. The idea of helping starving people in Africa sounded more impactful to me. Maybe I told people I wanted to help the poor out of some misguided sense of importance or a hero complex. I’m sure that was in there somewhere, but more than that, I wanted to “make a difference.”. I wanted my life to matter in the grand scheme of things and my vision was fogged to how the world actually worked, so I still felt like I could shake things up (a bit of sarcasm there).

I decided not to sell all my personal belongings and move continents and instead attended university, like so many of my peers. Classes came easy to me and the subject didn’t seem to matter. Geology, world literature, art history, creative writing, all were met with top grades on my part. I truly enjoyed learning and working hard to master the subject at hand.

Four years passed. High honors were earned. My degree showed up in the mail and that chapter of my life ended. So began the journey of diving off the high dive into the “real world.”

At this very same time, I moved back to connecticut (leaving my solid community in Ohio), my parents divorced, and I experienced my first true manic episode and subsequent hospitalization. Because of the episode, I was forced to leave a job that I had just started (and really enjoyed) teaching P.E. at a private school and tutoring high school students in english.

Seven years have passed since I graduated college at BGSU and to spare a lengthy description of all the downfalls, I’ll just say it like this:

I have never experienced success in work.

There have been jobs that didn’t challenge me at all. Jobs that could have been done by robots. Jobs that I didn’t understand. Jobs I wasn’t passionate about and jobs I’ve had to leave because of mental health woes.

It gives me great insecurity to watch my peers secure work with relative ease, leaving me behind in the proverbial dust. There are countless ways that I feel behind; relationally, financially, in job stability and so on.

During a conversation I had with my father, I broke down, thinking of all these failures: am I ever going to amount to anything?

This is a question we all encounter and there are many like it. Do I have what it takes? Do people respect me? Do I matter?

When I look from 10,000 feet up, I can see that we all matter equally; each affecting the next and accumulating great spheres of influence in a butterfly affect sort of way. But much of the time, I’m not accompanied by that sort of perspective, and instead focus on what is five feet in front of me and right now, I don’t like that five feet so much.

I feel very sleepy a lot of the time because of the medicine I take. Depression is something that comes to me often and suicidal thoughts come more than I would care to admit. (It is rather odd when a psychiatrist asks you if you think about harming yourself and you have to come up with a manner of speaking your truth that doesn’t involuntarily land you back in the hospital.)

What I am saying is, there are a lot of factors that have worked against me finding stable employment and I wish I could end this short essay with something that turns the negativity on its head. Something that you could put on a bumper sticker or a cleverly edited social media photo with lense flares and handwritten script. The point of this thought is that: sometimes your truth is enough with no spin; not every sentiment needs to be wrapped in a little bow. Not every story has a silver lining.

I ask myself, ‘will I ever amount to anything’ many times a day. From my perspective right now, I’m still not sure. Perhaps you can relate.

Mental Illness Happy Hour: Volume 4

4

Just watched A Beautiful Mind. It’s a really solid piece of art for sure. It struck a chord with me. People who know my life and what I’ve been through, know that I can relate to the sentiment crafted by director, Ron Howard; a story of mental health and struggle and hospitalization.

Some parts were difficult to watch; like heartbreakingly, gut-wrenchingly difficult. Scenes that depict being strapped to a bed with leather buckles are hard for me because I’ve lived those scenes. I’ve writhed in agony while hospital attendants mocked me and laughed at my humiliation.

I was made to feel subhuman during almost all of my hospital stays. I, like Russell Crowe’s character, have felt completely trapped and paranoid in hospital situations. I don’t really understand PTSD as well as I do my own disorder, but seeing those scenes triggered a deep seated revulsion.

Those are some gut reactions.

I’m also thinking a lot about Jennifer Connelly’s character, who plays Crowe’s wife. In the movie, she is tasked with loving a man who fabricates whole realities, has make-believe best-friends, can’t always be trusted around their daughter and is schizophrenic. She confesses that she wants to leave her husband during the rigors of him finding help. She cries out several times to God and breaks things in her house; clearly hating the hand that she has been dealt.

I have a lot of insecurities around my own relational ambitions. I have to wonder, at times, if my wife, one day, won’t feel similar to Connelly’s character. That dealing with my madness is an impossible task.

I give my insecurities so much power every day. I tell myself that I’m not good looking enough. That I’m not in shape enough. That I’m not Christian enough. That I’m not stable enough. That I’m too crazy to receive love from a woman. It’s messed me up pretty bad. I’ve sabotaged a lot of relationships because I don’t know how to love myself well.

But I believe there is redemption for me. The middle of A Beautiful Mind is gruelling, but in the end there is redemption. There’s god-damned-Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning-redemption. And more than that, there’s beautiful-loving-wife-right-by-his-side-redemption. That makes me believe that good is out there. I think we can stand anything in this life as long as there is a fair amount of redemption sprinkled in; when we can see a purpose to our struggle. That at some point, we are raised up out of our suffering.

I’ve taken a lot of losses on the score sheet the last 6 years, but I’ve gotten up out of my bed every day. Right now, that seems like a lot.