I’m Featured in A “Today Parents” Article Re Parental Pressure & Mental Illness

Please check out this terrific article for which I was interviewed by Alice Gomstyn, contributor to Babble, ABCNews.com, and Babyzone, etc., that explores the correlation between societal parental pressures (such as seeing all those “perfect” pictures on Pintrest) and mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. I’m always playing the comparison game and things like Pintrest & Facebook, all of the social media on which people post pics of the various activities they’re doing w/ their kids and meals they’ve cooked too often have me feeling like I’m failing my daughter. And I’m not the only one. Also interviewed were Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, and Jennifer Marshall, the woman behind Bi-Polar Mom Life. I’m honored to be included.

You can find the article here.

Thanks for reading!

Depression is Not a Joke: Thoughts on Robin Williams’ Suicide From A Fellow Depressive

I lay in bed, phone in hand, reading about Robin Williams’ severe depression, how the disease beat him down to the point where he found suicide the only option. It didn’t surprise me. I’d known Williams’ suffered from the same condition I’ve battled for 3 decades. He’d been in and out of rehab for drugs and alcohol. He’d spoken previously about the darkness that swarmed his brain just as his breakneck wit overwhelmed the world with laughter, though he never revealed its true depth.

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The great Robin Williams lost his battle with depression on August 11, 2014.

I’ve been there, though not as close…not nearly as close. I’ve imagined the bottle of pills in my hand. I’ve pictured the heft of the gun, the barrel cold against my temple. I’ve felt the fictional sweet kiss of the razor slicing my wrists. But I’ve never done anything about it. Even at my most fatalistic, pre-Elaine, pre-Sienna, I couldn’t put thoughts to action. Too frightened. Too scared of judgment. Post wife and daughter, the thoughts still appear randomly like fleeting wisps in the night. They’ve been there this past week and a half as I’ve suffered through a deep depressive episode triggered by something I’ve yet to figure out. My therapist and I are working on it, trying to pull me out of this feeling that I’m in the blackest ocean abyss, chains constricting my legs like an anaconda, arms flailing upwards against the crushing weight of the sea and the heaviness in my legs. I’ve had days this past week+ when I didn’t want to get out of bed despite my 2-year-old daughter needing her daddy. Sometimes my mom would come and take Sienna for a few hours so I could sleep (my usual means of recovery). Elaine took care of Sienna one evening last week so I could go see Boyhood, a movie filmed over 12 years about a boy and his family as they grow. The movie just exacerbated my mood as I felt time slip away. Just as the finale of Six Feet Under destroyed me with a montage of each character’s lives and deaths go by quicker and quicker making me lose my tentative grasp on time and causing a tearful breakdown in the car in my wife’s presence, so too did Boyhood, though this time from a parent’s perspective. As I watched Mason (Ellar Coltrane) literally age from 6 to 18 in the span of 2 hours and 40 minutes, I again lost that elusive and impossible grip on time, feeling Sienna grow faster and faster and faster. She’s still not yet 2 and a half, but I saw her graduate high school and I heard Mason’s mom’s (Patricia Arquette’s) heartsick words echoing through my head: “I got my degree. I got a good job.I put you through college. What’s next? My funeral?” (paraphrased). I’m almost never affected by film or television or literature, but I was by Boyhood. Knowing the state I was in, I should have gone to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I’ve had panic attacks this past week+ because I haven’t blogged in so long and I’m afraid readers and fellow dad bloggers will abandon me. For some reason I’ve been unable to even scroll through Facebook as if touching the keys would burn my fingertips and seeing the happiness of others will blind me. I’m terrified that if I don’t share other people’s blogs, if I don’t comment, if don’t hit the “like” button, they’ll all leave me. So I’ve shared some things without reading them. I’ve hit “like” a few times. I’ve made a comment or two. I’ve even posted about this, my most recent fight with this damn disease, and caring people have responded, some have send PMs, but I’ve been unable to read them. I post and run. Post and run. I can’t scroll long. It hurts too much. And I don’t know why.

This isn’t my first battle as I’ve said. I was unofficially diagnosed at age 9, 31 years ago. I kept everything inside until 1996 when I had my first nervous breakdown and then went back to bottling it up until my second nervous breakdown in 2010. I’ve been on so many different medications I’ve lost count. I’ve seen 4 different therapists and 4 different psychiatrists with my most recent ones being the best. I can be fine for months and then something can trigger an episode, something seemingly innocuous that leads to irrational thought after irrational thought until my brain might as well be a Sharknado, turning and twisting and biting. Each waking second I feel like I’m up against a Mt. Everest of negativity, 31 years of incongruous thought processes and feelings – wrong thoughts and feelings as my therapist will be quick to point out.

Depression is a fiercely selfish disease. When you’re deep inside its clutches, you can’t see how you’re affecting others. My sister taught me that years ago when she lectured how the world walks on eggshells around me, how no one knows what will set me off. I keep that in mind as best as I can but I still succumb at times. I’m better than I was 18 years ago, 10 years ago, 4 years ago. My episodes don’t last as long. Suicidal ideation is rare and cursory. But the triggers, those bastards, still exist and often I don’t see them coming and need time to work through them. And that’s what I do. I work. Hard. Each and every day. And I’ll never commit suicide. I have a responsibility to those I love. I can’t ever hurt Elaine and Sienna like that.

Robin Williams’ decision to end his life wasn’t fair to his wife or his children, family, friends. But was it wrong? I can’t say that it was. He was tortured. Another tortured genius like Hemingway and Woolf who could no longer battle his demons. Depression, like most mental illnesses is a cancer of the mind. If the pain gets too intense, who am I or who is anyone to tell a person to keep going if there’s no fight left, if each breath, each second is a waking nightmare. If someone has cancer, is in unending pain, sees no light at the tunnel and wants to end it, isn’t it just as selfish of us to ask him/her to keep living and fighting because we want them in OUR lives? I wouldn’t kill myself, but I can’t say Robin Williams is wrong for taking that road. Who knows how deep his depression went? Who knows what he thought in his last moments? This is a man who covered his sickness as best as he could, who made millions laugh as his own brain probably screamed he was a failure. We were robbed of so many more laughs created by Robin Williams, but not by Robin Williams himself. We were robbed by Depression.

I couldn’t sleep last night after reading about Robin Williams. I kept envisioning his last agonized moments. And then I’d wonder if his death would push me over the unable-to-blog hump and I’d chastise myself for it. Then I started thinking about all of the bloggers that would beat me to the punch and/or write with a more poetic touch. And I felt so egotistical. So disgusted with myself. At 3-something in the morning I posted on Facebook about my insomnia, Robin Williams, and my warped warped thoughts and fears. I’ve yet to read any responses, though my mother said I received a ton of support. If I can I write this then I can read those responses. I’m proud of myself for writing. I think. I hope.

If there’s any positive in this tragic loss it’s that Robin Williams was such a high profile figure, such a supposedly kind and humble man in person, such a dynamo on film and stage, that maybe the light will finally shine on mental illness. Maybe more information about mental illness will be available to the masses. Maybe the government and insurance companies will do more for those of us who suffer either aloud or in silence. Maybe they’ll do more to create affordable therapies and medication. Most importantly, maybe we’ll all talk about it more. People will look to Robin Williams and no longer be afraid to speak up. I’ve found that talking about my disease with fellow sufferers has been a huge form of therapy. They get me. And there are millions of us.

It’s time to stop being afraid if you suffer from depression or any mental illness for that matter. It’s time to stop fearing judgment. Step into the light and talk about it. If you’re feeling suicidal, call someone. Call a hotline. Seek help. Because we’re in this together. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

As proven by the unfortunate loss of Robin Williams.

Gratitude List

My therapist assigned me a “Gratitude List” during our last session and keeps pestering me to post it on my blog because I’ve been unable to write due to a prolonged depressive episode. I don’t want to do this, but I will anyway:

1) Elaine (my wife)

2) Sienna (my daughter)

3) Oscar (my best friend)

4) Brian (my other best friend)

5) Chocolate

I wrote these things as the popped into my head and IMMEDIATELY felt horrible that it lacked family members. Then I blamed myself for not combining Elaine and Sienna into “family” and Oscar and Brian into “friends” thereby making room for other people/things. And chocolate? I don’t know why that even made the radar.

So I did my assignment, but my irrational guilt and second-guessing kind of tore it to shreds.

Isn’t depression a wonderful thing?

On the positive side it’s the first time I not only haven’t balked at an assignment, I actually ASKED for one. That’s how sick I am of feeling this way. Maybe now I can do the second part of the assignment which is to blog about this recent episode.

Sienna and “The Breakfast Club” in 2027

Sienna’s 2 year, 4 months old. She’s never step foot in a pre-school classroom. And yet last night I lay awake until 3 am thinking about Sienna’s high school experience because I had the great fortune to attend a 30th anniversary screening of what I consider to be arguably the most honest and accurate portrayals of HS life ever to grace the silver screen - The Breakfast Club - and I can’t wait to share it with my toddler daughter.

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No I’m not gonna sit her down in front of the TV and show her an R-rated film filled with cursing and frank sexual conversations, but in 13 years when she’s entering the heightened social world of HS, you can bet I will because the late John Hughes’ brilliant dialogue and character development, his ability to capture and destroy these 5 HS archetypes was uncanny and stands the test of time.

Each iconic character – Molly Ringwald’s popular, “conceited” Claire; Judd Nelson’s brash, “anarchic” John; Emilio Estevez’s athletic, “strong” Andy; Anthony Michael Hall’s anxious, “nerdy” Brian; and Ally Sheedy’s silent, “screwed-up” Allison – proves to be unhappily lumped into a category by both adults and school life. Each feels better than at least one other club member because that’s how they’re supposed to feel. And each learns that they can break out of their prisons, that their comrades all share disdain for their sometimes bullying, sometimes ignorant parents and authority figures. Each learns they have flaws. Each learns they have strengths. Each learns the other is a real person and not a cardboard cutout.

Even the adults come off flawed as imperfect. Brian and Andy’s respective parents pressure their kids into being things they don’t want to be. Via his stories, John’s household is rife with abuse. Allison’s parents appear as shadows in car and completely ignore their daughter. Claire’s father equates money with love. Paul Gleason’s Principal Vernon tries to come off as all-powerful, but he’s jaded and frightened of where his world is leading. Only John Kapelas’ Carl the janitor feels sure of his position as unknowingly to the Club and Vernon, he’s the eyes and ears of the school, collecting and keeping all its secrets, sometimes for a price, yet being a custodian is not what he wanted to be.

I want Sienna to see this, to know that she doesn’t need to fit into HS cliques to be a person, to see that parents make mistakes and to understand that although I’ll have my own flaws, I’ll never an abusive father, I’ll never apply extreme pressure, I’ll always want to be in her life and help her feel safe in unsafe world. I want her to know that she can be herself, especially in high school, and that those that do succumb to stereotypes might have things going on in their lives that she doesn’t know about.

This applies to me as well. I have so much trouble remembering that I too often take things at face value. I see people with houses, fancy cars, and huge job statuses and immediately think they’re rich and happy. I see Facebook pictures and think people lead perfect lives. It’s just one terrible aspect of depression, your brain creating false worlds based on the smallest details.

So in 12-13 years I plan to sit down with Sienna and show her one of my favorite films. She’ll probably roll her eyes at watching a movie that will by then be over 40 years old, but if I do right by her, if I’m still the parent I strive to be, she’ll be receptive. And then she’ll watch the magic on the screen, fake realities shattered.

And she’ll know.

High school hasn’t changed all that much in 40 years.

Dad’s experienced the insane world that is high school. He’s a person - just like her – but with his own imperfections.

And no matter what, he’ll never forget about Sienna.

What other high school genre films do you feel fit the fold standard of The Breakfast Club?

Depression: It’ll Be Back

Depression is like the terminator, but not the slow and steady Arnold Schwarzenegger version. It’s more like the Robert Patrick design from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, that liquid metal that regroups if blown apart, twists and morphs into various forms in its quest to take you down, and is exceptionally fast, determined, and dangerous. You could be cruising along for weeks thinking that your meds are working (and they are) and then suddenly it’s on you like hot lead, crushing you with sadness. And sometimes you don’t know how it found you or how to take charge and battle it until someone points out the trigger or it’s revealed in therapy. That’s what happened to me over the weekend. I’d had a number of good weeks and then depression was back in all its horrible glory leaving me feeling as if stuffed into a sarcophagus of sadness.

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Still from Terminator 2: Judgment Day

But why?

Let’s flip back the calendar.

Months ago my college friends and I decided to get together in Boulder, Colorado to celebrate our 40th birthdays. Excited at first, I soon became agitated and nervous, unsteady and unsure. I began having panic attacks because without warning I WAS the college me, not the 40-year-old me, the boy who felt ditched for alcohol, whose desires felt secondary to his friends’ need to party all the time. I didn’t drink in college. I was too afraid, terrified that by losing control my since-corrected gynecomastia (male breast enlargement) would be exposed. And yet I wound up in a group of heavy drinkers I met Freshman year. It wasn’t all bad, but because I was depressed and frightened I was unable to seek out others who shared my likes: movie nights, baseball, etc. My friends are good guys but acted like college kids since, well, they WERE college kids. They were selfish, sometimes cruelly so, in regards to considering my feelings, and I felt I gave a hell of a lot more than I received. They all apologized over the years and I think it was genuine. I no longer blame them but apparently the kid in me still does. He remains mistrustful, fearful of getting hurt and worried I’d get drowned out like in school and eventually those feelings burst from my chest in anxious breaths and caused my fingers to tremble. Would my friends listen to my wishes to see the natural wonder of Boulder every once in awhile in lieu of getting wasted? Almost all of them are 40 now, but would they, now that they were together in a big group again for the first time in who knows how many years, want to relive their college years? The rational side of my brain said no, that we’d go to a Colorado Rockies game (which I’d requested to do when we first talked about Boulder), that we’d drive around and explore the picturesque town in addition to the expected drinking, that my voice would be heard, but the hurt college kid in me disagreed.I couldn’t commit to the vacation knowing that should I go, I’d (whether wanting to or not) “test” their sincerity. That wouldn’t be fair to them, nor would the fact that they’d have to be on edge around me in case I had a panic attack. So I pulled out of the Colorado adventure.

The reunion happened this past weekend. And that, Elaine pointed out, was the trigger that allowed my terminator to find me.

And so that pulverizing depression as I subconsciously second guessed myself. as I lay in bed completely unable to care for Sienna. According to Elaine, now that I’d “found my tribe” in the dad blogger community and been fully accepted for who and what I am (though I’m still shaky on that), that weekend was like breaking up with the old me and thus I was in some sort of mourning. I think that’s partly true. I think it hurt me that I feel more accepted by the dad blogger community now then I ever did in college, but I also think I was berating myself for not being fair to my college friends, for not trusting them.

Trust is such a tricky thing when you suffer from depression and have been stung as many times as I have over the years. You so want to give it, but you’re scared to. You want to believe, but your irrational mind won’t let you. You want and need almost tangible confirmation, but that’s impossible to get. Your damaged brain won’t let you take that leap of of faith.

Should I have taken a leap of faith with my college friends? Did I blow a chance to have an amazing time with people I haven’t seen in years, friends that might have mellowed from their partying days?

The fog of depression is starting to lift. I look at Sienna and Elaine and know they’re here for me, that they’re the most important things in my life. I also went to a dads’ night out courtesy of the NYC Dads Group and Baby Bjorn at a swanky hotel for the MLB All-Star game and cheered Derek Jeter on during his final appearance. I talked baseball and laughed and received hugs from friends knowing I was going through a rough time, that I was once more suffering depression. I received tons of messages on FB from dad bloggers across the world giving me virtual hugs. And I’m so thankful for that.

But at the same time I wish I’d had the courage to go to Boulder and place my trust in my college friends and I feel haunted knowing I might never again have the opportunity to find out.

Now back to battling my personal terminator.

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30 members of the NYC Dads Group (including myself and many of my friends) gathered to watch the 2014 MLB All-Star Game

A Tantrum Leads To A Near Wedding Fiasco

We double, triple, quadrupled checked everything. Meticulously packed all items. Card holding crucial check stored in Elaine’s handbag. We packed up Sienna for her overnight stay with my parents making sure all her favorite stuffed animals were accounted for and we were good to go for our 3 and a half hour trip from New York to Pennsylvania for our friends’ wedding. We even got the front door open.

And then like an unforeseen hailstorm – tantrum.

Sienna wanted to wear her Mickey Mouse fleece despite it being 83 degrees outside and was not leaving the apartment until that red and white polka-dotted coat safely encased her torso. We tried reason, but it shockingly failed miserably. So we put her in the fleece because we had to go go go.

Got down to the car, buckled her into her carseat, and set off for my parents. Dropped her off with my dad with lunchtime instructions (like she’d eat anything) and once we plugged in our hotel’s address into Google Maps, it was time for smooth sailing pending little traffic.

Elaine and I relaxed a bit knowing we were Sienna-free for a bit more than a day. We sang along to 80s ballads. We talked about weddings and reminisced about our own. We planned to get to the hotel with hours to spare so we could unwind from the drive and shower before the cocktail hour and reception. It wasn’t until we reached the mouth of the Holland Tunnel that Elaine shouted something that made my guts fall into my shoes:

“We forgot your suit! My dress! We have nothing to wear!!”

That’s what a toddler tantrum can do. It can unravel all of your painstaking plans and careful choreography. Our formal wear stood in the closet next to the front door laughing at us fools now an hour away from home. Sienna was probably obliviously happy in the park, playing with in the sprinklers with Pop-Pop, her fleece long out of mind.

“What should we do? There’s no way not to go through the tunnel!”

“It makes no sense to go back,” Elaine said. “It’d take us 2 hours to get back here. They’ll forgive us when they hear the story.”

“We can’t go in wearing jeans and t-shirts!” I countered.

The Holland Tunnel opens right next to the Newport Mall on the New Jersey side. It was almost serendipitous. We screeched into the mall parking lot and raced to Macy’s. Time for emergency shopping!

Elaine and I raced to the women’s petite section and she desperately pulled everything in her size off the rack.

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Elaine makes a face of desperation as we emergency shop

The second dress she tried on was perfect. She grabbed some gold stud earrings off a kiosk and then it was my turn. I needed slacks, a sport jacket, a tie, a shirt and a belt. Luckily we’d packed our shoes in the suitcase. We ran to the mens’ section but both of us were lost, so we asked for assistance. We told the nice woman who helped us that we were on our way to Pennsylvania and just now realized we’d forgotten our formal wear.

“What?” She said. “You know, I’m angry at you! How could you do that?”

“We have a 2-year-old. She threw a tantrum.”

“Stop right there. I forgive you. Mine’s 4. Let’s go find you an outfit.”

Elaine and the saleswoman worked together to pick out my clothes and it was perfection. The suit fit perfectly and matched Elaine’s dress. She then told us to hold onto the tags so we could return everything which didn’t feel right to me.

“You didn’t hear it from me,” the saleswoman said, “But people do it all the time. Besides, in your case it’s a toddler-related emergency. Don’t worry about it.”

We bought the clothes, drove the rest of the way to the hotel, checked in, got dressed and made it right at the end of the cocktail hour. But we had to stop and take a picture, of course. I mean, how many times does something crazy like this happen? And we did look good for being dressed almost completely off the rack. My wife looked especially hot.

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Off the rack, baby!

 

I don’t know how many times we told the story, but it got huge laughs including from the bride and groom.

“You see how much we love you?” We joked. “This is what we do for you!”

It was a beautiful reception, two cultures (Indian and Chinese) coming together to form a brand new one just as Elaine (Latina) and I (Jewish) had 8 years prior. We ate and danced all while making sure not to mess up our clothes.

The following day we made a pitstop at Indian Echo Caverns which was just 20 minutes from the hotel and got to marvel at some of nature’s beauty. As I looked at the glistening stalactites and stalagmites, crystal-embedded limestone and underground lakes, I forgave my daughter for her last-second tantrum and imagined taking her to and sharing with her such a wondrous place as Echo Caverns. There’s something about appreciating each moment with your child, about not wanting them to reach the next phase in life, but there’s also something about wanting them to reach that point where they excitedly look at the green, blue, red, white rock formations just beneath a parking lot. I can’t wait to see the awe in her eyes when she sees something like this:

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An underground lake at Indian Echo Caverns

But that’s still 1-2 years away.

What amazes me most is how I handled the situation. No I wasn’t happy, but for some reason anxiety did not grasp my chest and leave me incapacitated. In the past I would have been reduced to jelly. I probably wouldn’t have been able to drive and it’s quite possible we never would have been there to witness our friends’ nuptials because my parents would have had to drive out to Jersey City to take my shaking, stuttering self home. But this time laughed at the ludicrousness of our predicament. This time I emergency-shopped. I problem-solved. And when we reached Queens on the way home, we dropped in at Macy’s and returned just about everything. The dress stays. Elaine’s just way too gorgeous in it.

So I forgive Sienna for being 2 and throwing a tantrum and forcing us to forget to bring our formal wear to a wedding 3 and a half hours away. I can’t be angry with her, especially since we avoided a potential fiasco and I proved to myself that I am indeed improving in the mental health department. I might not be exactly where I want to be, but I can’t refute facts.

Besides, she gave us a great story to tell.

 

The Fault In My Stars

I watched The Fault in Our Stars last night and then couldn’t fall asleep until the morning’s wee hours. Not because the movie got to me. I’m always able to distance myself from film, television and literature and found, well, faults in the cinematic adaptation of John Green’s terrific novel. While the movie opens with a voiceover of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley in yet another wonderful performance) telling us cancer is real and unpolished, not like what we see in theaters, the movie ironically lacks that authenticity and instead feels glossy and melodramatic despite great acting. I blame the score and part of the script, but I digress.

Yet my mind spun all night. I’m not a hypochondriac, but I’m the type of person who feels an ache and immediately thinks cancer, like I’m just waiting for that bombshell. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a parent of a dying child, but I couldn’t. I’m unable to do hypotheticals. I’m unable to invent feelings. I feel what I feel when I feel it even if it’s irrational or circumspect or all out wrong. It’s something my therapist and I argue about on a consistent basis. She asks me to imagine being happy, but I don’t know how to do that. So I couldn’t conjure up what a parent of a child with cancer might endure just as I’m unable to picture myself losing an arm in a shark attack. But I could put words to it: devastation, heartbreak, fear, loss, agony, self-pity, rage.

And that made me think of Oren Miller, the founder of the Facebook Dad Bloggers site, the man known as a Blogger and a Father, and the person who by welcoming me into the group as a writer and friend somehow changed the course of my life. Oren went into the hospital for back pain, what he thought was a muscle strain. It’s something we all experience at one time or another. Some weird pain that won’t go away. Some don’t worry. Others like me automatically think cancer! I don’t know what Oren thought when he went to the hospital for his mysterious pain, but I’m sure he didn’t envision a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer and a prognosis of maybe a year left to be with his wife and two kids and friends and pets and trees and beauty and sadness and the world that he’s known all his life. How can you predict that even if you’re like me and expect the worst?

In what can only be described as gorgeous, Oren laid bare his soul about the horrors he’s facing, the positive attitude he’s taking (or trying to take), the epiphany he had 4 years prior about being so worried and annoyed and uncomfortable that he didn’t realize he was having the time of his life. Read his words. Are they beautiful? Heart-wrenching? There’s no doubt they are and the dad blogger community came out in droves to support him. Brent Almond of Designer Daddy started a fundraiser with the meager goal of raising $5,000 which was blown away in a matter of hours. Weeks later more than $30,000 is there for the Millers and a new goal of $35,000 has been set. I have no doubt it will be surpassed. More than 40 dads blogged about Oren, his leadership, his friendship, his fight. I did so myself. John Kinnear of Ask Your Dad Blog wrote about Oren and the fundraiser for Lifetime Moms. Carter Gaddis of Dadscribe covered us dads rallying around Oren for Today.com. Even the Chicago Tribune profiled our rally and Oren’s fight. Men left and right shed tears as words poured from our hearts onto the screen.

But still…

I can’t imagine what Oren’s going through. What is it like to be 40ish, have a beautiful wife, 2 amazing children, a dream house and be told that cancer’s eating you alive so quickly that you might have one year left on this planet? Is there something wrong with me that I’m unable to feel what my good friend Oren is feeling? Does it mean I can’t empathize?

This is what kept me up last night. I lay in bed in darkness, at times feeling Elaine’s body heat when she rolled close to me or I close to her, trying to imagine those words: “You have a year to live.” Trying to imagine the ravaging mental and physical pain. Trying to feel. How would I react if got such news? Would I shatter like stained glass dropped from a rooftop? Would I put on a brave face and walk into battle, head held high. Would I sit alone in a room, shunning my loved ones as my father’s late friend did when he learned he had cancer? I don’t have a clue. I don’t have answers. And I feel like an awful person because of it.

I love Oren. I’ve met him once in person, but I love him because his friendship opened up a world of possibilities to me. And I’m scared for him, for his family, for myself. I want to run down to Baltimore and be with him. I want to cry, but no tears come because I can’t imagine what Oren’s life is now like.

I tossed and turned trying to envision myself hearing that Sienna might die from cancer, that I’m suddenly thrown into a world of chaos, machines, life support, chemo, pain, pain, excruciating pain. I can say the words, but I can’t feel them. Does it make me a bad person that I can’t answer the hypotheticals? That I can’t see beyond my own damn eyes? That my brain, my selfishly depressed mind, can’t see past my own irrationally fractured stars?

And that I can’t even imagine hypothetical happiness outside of empty words and phrases?

My therapist would say that I’ve only reinforced my negativity throughout this post with words like “can’t” but I’m not sure how else to ask these questions and demonstrate what I am, who I am…currently.

The Fault in Our Stars wanted to show cancer unblemished by Hollywood. The book succeeded, in my opinion. The movie failed.

Oren Miller isn’t living a movie or a book. He’s living his life. His real life. His real life with stage 4 lung cancer that’s spread to his brain. He’s fighting a real battle.

And as much as I want to, I can’t visualize it or feel what it’s like.

What does that say about me?

A Groundbreakering Dad Blogger Needs Our Help

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Oren Miller, Dad Blogger extraordinaire, needs our help

I started blogging about raising Sienna while battling depression and anxiety just over a year ago. In that time my relationships with my parents and sister have improved. My depression and anxiety have lessened somewhat, though they still make appearances. I’ve spoken in front of 200+ people at the 2014 Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans about my depression and received a shocking standing ovation. I’ve seen my work published on The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and WhatToExpect.com amongst others. I’ve even been published in a book: Dads Behaving Dadly: 67 Truths, Tears and Triumphs of Modern Fatherhood. And the fact is, none of this would have happened had Oren Miller aka A Blogger and a Father and the founder of the Facebook Dad Bloggers group, not graciously invited me in and urged me on.

It was a fight for me to put myself out there, but it’s nothing like the fight Oren’s facing right now as he was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. So us dad bloggers have rallied around one of our leaders, one of our own. One dad blogger set up a fundraising site on GiveForward with the goal of raising $5,000. Within days it has surpassed $20,000. But $20,000 can only go so far towards medical bills and taking care of Oren and his family. We need more. I’ve given as much as I can and I hope others will be willing to do the same.

Too many of us, including myself, are bystanders when it comes to things like this. We see fundraising pages and we click on by…until we’re suddenly in the position of NEEDING a fundraising page. I won’t do that with Oren because magic happens when you stop being a bystander. If I give, as I did, and then I write this post which causes someone else to give and/or share the post, we could create a snowball effect and the amount we can raise for Oren or someone else in a similar situation can snowball.

Oren hates being in this situation. It’s not easy for him to ask for help. It’s not easy for any of us to do so. But it’s time. He needs our help. A good friend of mine, a person who changed my life in significant and astounding ways, needs our help. Join in the snowball. Help make it grow to the point where it could fill the Grand Canyon.

Oren Miller needs our help.

 

7 Ways That Professional Athletes Are Like Toddlers

You wouldn’t think it to look at them considering their sometimes enormous size (sometimes 7 feet tall and/or 350 pound multimillionaires that exhibit insane coordination and athleticism), but our favorite professional baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer players have a ton in common with wee toddlers. How so? Let us count the ways?

1) They all want the damn ball. Almost immediately following his rookie season, former football player, Keyshawn Johnson, stirred quite the controversy when he published an autobiography titled Just Give Me The Damn Ball  in which he called one teammate a “mascot” and complained that his then team, the New York Jets, didn’t throw the ball his way enough. Many sportswriters ripped Johnson for having the gall to make such a demand, especially with just one season under his belt, and the controversy lingered long enough for beloved New York Jet Hall of Famer, Joe Namath, to weigh in by saying Johnson was acting “downright ignorant” (Gerald Eskenazi, New York Times, 1997). Johnson is far from the only professional athletes to believe he or she is the difference maker. Plenty of other ballplayers complain about playing time or get accused of hogging the ball (particularly in basketball). Now toddlers aren’t ignorant, but they sure are ball hogs, and should a bunch of them have a ball you can almost guarantee there will be arguments about not sharing as well as tears and wails. At least they’re too young to write books.

Just-Give-Me-the-Damn-Ball-9780446521451

2) They break rules they know they’re not supposed to break. Professional athletes break rules all the time, everything from skipping practice to blatantly injuring another player to taking performance enhancing drugs. Former basketball player Allan Iverson had an infamous press conference in which he constantly used the phrase “We’re talking about practice!” when it leaked to the media that he kept missing mandatory Philadelphia 76er practice. Iverson called himself a “franchise player” meaning, in his mind, that he was above it all including the rules. He kept testing his then coach, Hall-of-Famer, Larry Brown, on the subject. He tested the media. He tested the Philadelphia faithful. Toddlers consistently test their boundaries with parents. They know well enough not to climb on bookcases, but they do it anyway…again and again and again. Athletes receive punishments for rule breaking such as suspensions and fines. Toddlers receive time outs or trips to the “penalty box” just like hockey players commit slashing penalties.

 3) They refuse to accept blame or admit mistakes. How many times have you seen a football player cause an obvious penalty and then get up and act as if the referee were blind or had it in for him? “Me??” “I didn’t do anything!” How many times have you asked your toddler if they smeared Chapstick all over the television only to hear an unabashed “No!” For years cyclist Lance Armstrong denied using steroids despite piles and piles of evidence against him. He even destroyed people’s lives in order to protect his image. One-time superstar baseball player, Alex Rodriguez, followed the same suit and is now banned from the game for one year. Their refusal to accept blame caused them to become social pariahs despite their eventual weak confessions. Meanwhile toddlers break things; hit, kick or bite other kids; and destroy precious items and blame it on either siblings or imaginary creatures. Both professional athletics and toddlerhood are rife with the blame game and constant “I didn’t do its.” While all we can do is sit back and hope our ballplayer heroes stay clean, it’s our job as parents to teach our toddlers that admitting mistakes is ok and accepting blame is a part of life. Americans greatly appreciate apologies. If only our sports heroes understood that.

4) They have a sense of entitlement. As demonstrated above with Keyshawn Johnson and Allan Iverson, many professional athletes are egocentric and believe the world revolves around them. Not only do they feel they’re above us fans, some often feel they’re better than their teammates. I’m sure it’s a combination of the media and fan attention as well as the millions of dollars showered upon them, but athletes act like they rule the world. They also feel above the law as evidenced by hundreds of professional athletes getting arrested for DUIs or worse. Luckily toddlers aren’t going to commit crimes with the exceptions of occasionally unwittingly shoplifting  a candy bar (it’s up to us parents to give it back) or stealing another kid’s property, but they sure are egomaniacal. How dare Mommy or Daddy go to work? How dare we say no to their demands to use a serrated knife by themselves? Unlike athletes who should know better, toddlers are pure id and it’s our job as parents to teach them right from wrong, instruct them on the importance of sharing, and explain why it’s important to keep those candy bars on the rack.

5) They speak of themselves in the 3rd person. Speaking of egocentrism, how often have you heard an athlete say something ridiculous like,”Kobe Bryant needs to figure out what’s best for Kobe Bryant?” It seems like almost every athlete has forgotten “I” and instead goes right for the 3rd person. Toddlers too skip “I” in favor of things like, “Sienna’s toothbrush!” or “Sienna’s hair!” but toddlers can be excused for such self-absorption since we’re repeatedly using our kids’ names in front of them so that they learn who they are and can distinguish themselves from others. Athletes have no such excuse, though you can blame the media which perpetuates this annoyance by asking stupid questions like, “How does Peyton Manning feel about playing for the Denver Broncos?” At least there’s a good reason for toddlers to speak in the 3rd person.

6) Many of them have rituals. Whether it’s Hall-of-Fame baseball player Wade Boggs’ infamous eating of chicken before every game or basketball star, LeBron James’, throwing pre-game chalk-throwing, most athletes attend to some sort of ritual to assure good luck and performance. Baseball infielders go “around the horn” after a strikeout meaning the players toss the ball to each other provided no one’s on base. Basketball players slap each others’ hands after a foul shot. There are so many rituals in sports that it’s impossible to count them all. Some are superstitions. Some are just imbedded in the game’s culture. Toddlers also have rituals, particularly at bedtime. My daughter’s night-night liturgy includes milk; a pink firefly that sprays blue stars across the ceiling; an often unintelligible conversation with a Hedwig puppet (Harry Potter’s owl); Daddy and daughter singing “Rainbow Connection”; Kermit the Frog wishing her goodnight, telling her all her stuffed animal friends will watch over her during the night, and asking for a kiss and a hug; and finally a kiss goodnight and reinforcement of love from Mommy, Daddy or both. The night-night ceremony helps our daughter feel safe. Rituals help athletes feel focused. So long as something crazy like human sacrifice isn’t involved, it’s all good.

LeBron-returns-to-chalk-toss.

 

7. They like to make up funny dances. I still need to capture some of the hilarious moves my daughter makes to things like “Billie Jean” and the Alf theme music, but football players are known for wonky post-touchdown dances and thankfully you can find Jimmy Fallon’s “Evolution of End Zone Dances” on YouTube. Enjoy!

I’m sure I’m just at the tip of the iceberg. What other ways are professional athletes like toddlers?

My Debut at Huffington Post!!!!

Here’s my debut in HUFFINGTON POST about having to take away Sienna’s security scarf for a little while! I made it! I finally made it! Thank you Lance Somerfeld, Chris Bernholdt, Beau Coffron, Mike Reynolds, Aaron Gouveia, Carter Gaddis, Brent Almond, Eric Boyette and everyone else who cheered me on, gave advice, wrote to HuffPo on my behalf, introduced me to the editors, and helped me reach this level! I am stunned! Here it is!