We Need You.

We need you to be proud.

We need you to replace the word “sufferer” with the word “survivor”. We need you to avoid speaking of yourself as a mental illness sufferer. We need to tell people that you are a mental illness survivor.

We need you to tell the world “I’m a survivor”.

We need you to say to the world, “You’ve heard of cancer survivors? You’ve heard of heart attack survivors? Well, I’m a Mental Illness Survivor and I’m proud of that.”

We need you to remind others that this is an illness, not dissimilar from other illnesses and that, like those, this too can and does kill. We need you to inform those who don’t know that. We need you to be a proud example of someone who has survived. We need you to get a bit puffed-up about the fact that you fight the Piggyback Guy every damn day and that you win. That each next breath is proof of what a badass you are. We need you to do this for those that can’t. Those that are not quite there yet. We need you to give them hope.

We need you to own it.

We need you to speak about your experience openly, honestly, and without shame. When people ask questions, no matter how stupid, we need you to reply with the best answers you can give. We need you to help others who don’t understand what it means to live with a mental illness. To live each day with your brain often, actively, trying to get you to die. We need you to let them know that not everyone is the same and it’s different for everyone but that one thing is the same and that is, if it is left unchecked, it can and does kill.

We need you to get help when you need it.

We need you to tell people it’s OK to need to talk to someone about this. That it’s OK to need to take medication. That sometimes you may need to pick up the phone and call a hotline, or phone a friend who gets it. That, maybe, you might need to spend some time at a hospital or in a care facility. That this is what people who have an illness sometimes have to do. That this is how they get better.

We need you to take care of yourself.

We need you to be kind to yourself. We need you to follow the “life mask rule” (put yours on before assisting others). We need you to take it easy on the hard days and to be a symbol of hope for others on the good ones. We need you to be OK with not being OK and OK with being OK when you are OK. Because being OK takes a bit of extra work for many of us. Be happy that you are.

We need you to be there for the others that aren’t.

We need you to show others they can beat this. That it does not have to kill you. Because, here’s the deal. When folks like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain die because of this illness, many of us who are deep in it ourselves say, “Damn. If they can’t beat it then how can I?”. We need you to be a living shining example of one who has survived. Who continues to survive. Who continues to thrive.

We need you to be an ambassador.

We need you to tell the world that mental health is everyone’s issue. That if they have a brain then mental health matters to them personally. That this is why it is important to support mental health research and mental health organizations and mental health causes. Not just for the survivors they know, but for themselves too. Let people know that everyone — everyone — has some mental health crisis at some point in their lives. Let them know that they may not have an illness but may need a bit of extra support during such times. Let them know that this is OK to and that there is no shame in it and that this is why supporting mental health as a cause benefits everyone.

We need you to know that you matter.

That every single Mental Illness Survivor is proof that we can beat this. That it can and does get better. That there is hope. That there is dignity. That they are deserving of our respect.

I’m a mental illness survivor. And, no matter who or where or how you are, I need you with me on this.

The Piggyback Guy

There’s a three hundred pound guy I know and, no offense to other three hundred pound guys but, the guy is an asshole. He wants a piggyback ride. He won’t leave me alone about it. He’s been following me around for forty years demanding a piggyback ride. He’s angry and brooding and relentless about it. He just wont quit and likely never will.

Most days, these days, he stands a couple of hundred feet away looking pissed off and grumbling under his breath about not getting his ride. It’s OK, I hardly know he’s there. I can ignore him.

But, some days, he’s 20 feet away yelling at me. He’s like, “Hey! Where’s my ride! Give me my ride!” I have to spend a significant amount of my mental and emotional energy to ignore him and get stuff done. But, then, I get afraid that if I ignore him he’ll get closer and so then I run. I try to get some distance between me and him. Sometimes that works. Most of the time, it doesn’t. I just have to remind myself that I have the power and courage and strength to keep him at bay.

Then I wake up the next morning and he’s sitting on my chest. I can’t get up out of bed. He’s literally on top of me and, well, I’m just not strong enough to push him off. He sticks his face an inch from mine and I, helplessly trapped, have to sit there and listen to all of the abuse he throws at me. How I’m a fucked up and worthless human being. That all he wanted was a piggyback ride and I’m a piece of shit for not letting him have one. That now, now, he’s going to sit on top of me and relax more and more and crush me with his full weight and that he’s never getting off and that my friends can’t save me and my loved ones can’t help and the only way out is to figure out how to get through the day with him on my back because I’m going to have to give him a piggyback ride for the rest of my life and that even if I manage to get him off somehow he’s always going to be there so maybe I should just die.

This. This blessed life I have. Seriously, it’s amazing. Words can’t describe how incredibly humbled by it I feel most days. I have a beautiful wife, smart and incredible kids, I want for nothing… Except to have all of that without the three hundred pound asshole hanging around. And still, even though most days are just fine, I have to live each one with him around out there in the distance and I know the only way he’ll ever leave is after I’m dead.

That is the best way I have found to describe depression to someone who doesn’t live with it — who is not surviving with it. Every. Damn. Day.

So now, perhaps, if you don’t know what that feels like and the reality of it you might, maybe, be able to understand why a Anthony Bourdain, someone who lived with such curiosity and passion for life, might choose death. A guy with a groudbreaking TV show and kids and friends and travel and money and and and… His three hundred pound guy got the best of him.

My wife, upon hearing the news this morning, asked, “Why does it seem so many of our artists, creatives, and brilliant people are committing suicide lately?”

I said, “Lately, the world itself feels like a three hundred pound guy demanding piggyback rides.”

Now, I just want to be clear, especially to those who have a three hundred pound guy like mine, or to whom the whole world feels like one — THERE IS HELP. There are doctors and organizations and medications and much much more. You can push that guy so far away you’ll be OK. You can learn to live with his sour sad sack ass looking all lonely and sad and hopeful out in the distance. And, objects at a distance seem so small in perspective.

As for me, after years of doctors, hospitalization, medication, treatment, and the rest, it was this book and zen practices in general (mindfulness, meditation, presence, etc.) that helped me. It’s how I keep my three hundred pound guy far away most days and have for years.

But, those of us who suffer must find our own path. There is no one way, one cure, one answer to fix it. We know more about the planet Neptune than we do about the human brain. For some it takes a single pill for others a lifetime of minute-by-minute work. But, there are many — SO MANY — places to contact and ask for help.

There’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support (1-800-273-8255).

I’m on the board of Mental Health Association of Minnesota which offers something called a Warmline for folks who may not be in immediate crisis but just need someone to talk to who have been there and get it (651-288-0400)

Unsure if you are just a little down or have your own three hundred pound piggyback guy? Take an online assessment and get a good idea.

The point is, you are not alone. You don’t have to put up with that guy. There is a way to get him off your back. Please, do it for us. All of us who love you. All of us who need someone, who’s like us, to give us hope. Today.

On Accepting Defaults

My Dad is moving into a house I rehabbed a few years back. He’s doing so after leaving a several year relationship. The house is unfurnished and has blank walls — a clean slate.

My Dad’s belongings mainly consist of the standard personal items and clothing as one would expect, but the remainder is heavily weighted by books, vinyl records, and audio equipment (he’s a freelance audio/radio engineer). As for furniture, he’s got some old library tables and bookshelves. He bought a bed right away so he’d have something to sleep on but otherwise, that’s about it. He says he’s not going to rush out and get more furniture right away. Instead, he’s going to set up what he has and fill in any missing things intentionally, as he discovers a need.

In walking though the house now scattered with unpacked boxes while listening to his plans, he also talked about how he was going to arrange the the house and the functions of the various rooms. He’s doesn’t plan to entertain guests regularly, if at all, so there’s likely no need for couches. Instead, what some would turn into the living room, and the space that has always been used as such by previous inhabitants, he’s going to turn into his library. Bookcases covering almost every wall, and a large table in the middle. Because it is just him, he does not see the need for a dining room. The room some naturally would use for that function would, for him, be an office. There’s a room off the living room that I have come to call the sunroom. For him, that is to be a project/craft workspace. He said, “I’m going to design the space for how I live my life, not other people’s.”

It got me thinking about defaults. How most homes are build and laid out with a standard concept in mind. If I were to ask ten people to draw the floorplan of a home, I’d likely get the same general picture from each. The front door would lead to a living room then to a dining room then to a kitchen. That would be the central flow with rooms hanging off of that. That’s the default.

Most of us move into a new house and move the couches into where we assume the couches should go and the dining table into what we assume is the place that such activities are supposed to happen. We accept the defaults. But why?

Furthermore, despite the likely fact that 99% of the homes in Western society are designed this way, why do we simply accept this without considering how we personally live and if that designs fits us? Why do we instead fit into the design we’re given? Why would someone who loves to cook and entertain not have the dining room right inside the front door and a large kitchen after that? Would they choose to have a “living room” at all? Writer Umberto Eco has largely converted his entire home into a library, which makes sense for a writer and scholar. Why not others who consider themselves such?

The truth is, this is not just about our living spaces but the many, many, areas of life where we simply accept the defaults we’re given. There are many things we do just because that’s the way they’re done or that’s what others expect or that’s what they called this. We never stop to question and decide if this fits us and how we live.

All of this is just to get myself (and hopefully you, dear reader) thinking about all of these defaults and consider if that is what works for us and how we live and, if we’re able, to consider rejecting those defaults and forging our own path.

Three Shots

I take too many pictures. In general, I’m pretty good about it. My iPhone 5 is only 16GB and has a limited amount of available space so that constraint helps there. But, when I go on vacation and have my good camera with me, with the large storage card, I just fire away because I can.

Once back home, I connect it up to import those shots to iPhoto (yes, I still use iPhoto too). I’m pretty good about cleaning things up right then and there; deleting bad shots or choosing between similar ones. That’s how I know I take too many. I end up deleting well over half.

Even then, out of those, how many do I end up printing to hang on a wall or use in a photo book? Out of any given day, that number is rarely more than three. So, that had me asking myself throughout this last trip out west to see a few of our (under-appreciated and phenomenal) National Parks, why do I bother to take more than three in the first place?

Now, I know part of the answer is the idea that, by taking a lot of photos I can more easily guarantee I’ll find at least three that I really love.

But, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I had the constraint of only being able to take three to begin with. How would that help fuel my creative process? What memories would I choose to capture and which would I just have to be content with my memory of them. How would I choose what three photos would tell the story of the day?

Then I realized I actually had a way to answer some of these questions — answers found in the past photobooks I’ve built and shots I’ve printed… The truth is, many of those photos were taken with the camera that had the most built in constraints — my iPhone 5.

So, I’m going to do what I can to temper my happy shutter finger the next time. I’m going to pretend that I only have three shots available to me. Three shots to tell the story I’m trying to tell and help me remember the three most important moments. I’d like to see what effect that has not only on my photography but also on my presence in the experience.

I’ll be sure to report my results.

And, yes, all three photos in this post were shot with my iPhone 5.

I don’t have the time.

This post will likely cause some consternation in my household (and I swear this is not specifically directed towards my very much overworked and time-constrained wife), but there is a phrase that increasingly rankles my brain; “I don’t have the time”. If there’s one phrase I would like to eradicate from our language it is this.

Why?

We’re all working with the exact same 24 hours in our day. We all have the same time. We all have the time we have. I have the same amount you have. The same amount in a day that everyone and everything else has.

The difference is how we choose to spend that time. There may be some very valid reasons why you choose to spend your 24 hours differently than how I choose mine. And, there are some things we all have to choose in order to simply stay alive. We all need to sleep, at some point, for instance. But, trust me, even those are choices.

You have the time. I have the time. What you may not be doing is making the time. We make the time for the things that are, or at least seem, important. We may choose to spend an hour working instead of that same hour playing because making money at that time seems more important than having fun. But, don’t say you don’t have time to play. You are choosing, perhaps for very good reasons, to work instead.

So, the next time you find yourself complaining about the things you wish you were doing instead of the things you are doing, perhaps consider saying “I’m not making the time” instead. It’s not only closer to the truth but just may change your perspective on your priorities as well.

The Bank and Trust of Us

About forty years ago, when I opened my first savings account, I remember the interest rate of return was 3% to 5%. So, for every dollar you put in and kept in, you’d get three to five cents back every month or so. But, if you maintained a balance over a certain amount, you got even more back. I forget what those numbers were, but let’s just guess it was around a grand. Therefore, there was not only incentive in saving in the first place but, the more you put in the more you got back.

But, you wouldn’t see that return unless your savings sat there for a bit. It had to be there for 30 to 60 days. It took a little time, no matter how much you put in, before you’d begin to see a payoff. After all, the bank is paying you a portion of the profit they were making from the money you put in. They need to make a profit before they can pay you a return. Plus, they need to trust you’re not just going to come in and make some quick money and leave, that you want to be a long time customer.

Relationships work much the same way. The more time and energy we put into them, the better the return on the investment. Like with a bank of old, invest a little bit and you’ll get something back. Invest even more, and you’ll see a little bit more back. But, you won’t see it right away. That return will not begin to pay off until you’ve let your time and energy sit for a while. Others need time to see the value of your effort. They need time to trust that you are not just doing it to get something out of them. That you are in it for the long term.

These days, the rate of return at banks is far lower. These days, a basic savings account provides almost zero incentive to keep your money there. If you’re looking to make money at a decent rate of return, to invest, it makes more sense to put your money elsewhere. The truth is that banks no longer see a basic savings account as an indication that someone wants to do long term business. Now, they also need you to have a credit card, a mortgage, and a couple of CDs. Then they might, might, give you a better deal. Sad, but true.

These days, the rate of return in interpersonal relationships is far lower too. Just a phone call or a letter is not enough. Now, we must follow on Twitter and Facebook, subscribe to the newsletter, read the blog, and exchange a few emails before many see us as serious and trust we don’t just want something from them and forget them as soon as we do. And, frankly, the time and attention we do put in these days is competing for notice among so many other things; the “timeline”, the “stream”, braking news, endless war, security theatre, and politics of the absurd.

So, the upshot of all of this is that we should not be surprised if we feel like we are having to put so much more energy into our relationships these days or that it is taking longer before we begin to see anything equally meaningful in return. It’s a sign of the times we live in.

But, just like our savings, it can still be worth it if we choose wisely, invest strategically, and go in with our expectations set accordingly.

United

There are about seven billion four hundred million people on Earth. Every one of those humans was born and every one of them will die. Every one has a heart that beats and needs air to breathe. That means that our hearts beat in rhythm with tens of of millions of others every second of every day. It means when we inhale, tens of millions of others are inhaling at that exact same time. When we sleep, there are tens of millions of others who are sleeping too. When we eat, we eat in harmony with tens of million others. Pretty much everything we do, the chances are good that there is at least one other person, somewhere on the planet, doing that exact same thing at the exact same time. The statistics alone bear this simple truth out; there is more that unites us than divides us.

It is these big things that unite us: Living, dying, beating, breathing, eating, sleeping. doing. Huge things. Life giving things. Life meaning things. The very things we have labeled “human”.

The differences are small in comparison.

A Little Mantra

I’ve always been hard on eyeglasses. Some of that is not my fault. For instance, if they get knocked off my face accidentally and skid lens first across the concrete. But, some of it is my fault. For instance, the way I’d just place them unprotected on my nightstand at bedtime and then get knocked off reaching for them in the morning. In general, almost every pair I’ve ever owned get scratched up within a few weeks of new.

I recently got a new pair of glasses. I determined that this time, I would take better care of them. So, I created the following little mantra:

When they’re not on your face, they should be in a case.

I have found, in my years, that little mantras provide a waypoint for the direction one wishes to travel. I have a few dozen that run through my mind and keep me on a better path.

I got a hard shell case for them that stays on my nightstand. I got a leash for them that I take when I know I’ll be engaging in higher activity. It seems simple but I already feel so much better about the future of this pair than I’ve felt about any before.

If you have a desire to be better about something, maybe creating a little mantra around it will help.

There’s a book in your blog.

If you haven’t noticed, perhaps because to my memory he has not explicitly stated it, Derek Sivers is writing a book about surviving in the music industry right in plain sight. Every post he’s made to his blog in the past several weeks is a chapter around this topic. I would not be surprised if he packages it up as a book at the end and sells it. I’m not a musician and I’d buy it just to support the idea.

I too have used this method. In fact, all but one of my books either started out as a blog post or are a collection of posts that are available for free, right now, on the web. Many of Seth Godin’s books fit this model too.

I not only have done this as a writer but I support it as a reader. I love the idea of being able to purchase a nicely curated and packaged collection of ideas. I don’t have to dig through a blog’s archive or skim through a category to get to the stuff I want. The author has done if for me and that is work worth paying for.

An Effective Team

“We are a very effective team!”

This is something Bethany and I say to each other at times when we are operating at our best. It’s a line I stole from the rather unfortunate and predictable Tom Cruise/Morgan Freeman vehicle, Oblivion.

It’s true. This comes for the fact that we both know our strengths and are honest about our weaknesses. We respect those in ourselves and each other. We know where those complement and contradict. We know how to wield such knowledge to the maximum benefit. When Bethany and I work toward a common goal, focus, and vision, we are a force.

But, it’s also true in everyday life as well. In general, we work very well together at dividing up and cooperating on the tasks of our complicated and busy lives. When people talk to us and discover how many different things we are juggling at any given moment and wonder how we manage to do it all, it’s because we work very well together.

We’re an effective team.