The weights kept piling up from 2001 until 2011. It started with depression. Depression gave way to fear and confusion. The abundance of failures caused a self-imposed isolation. Isolation led to addiction. Addiction led to insomnia. Insomnia led to mania and psychosis. Mania and psychosis led to frequent hospitalizations. Hospitalizations led to more and more medications. More medications led to agonizing side effects and deeper depression.
Now that it is all on paper I can finally see and understand why the Holidays have always been a hard time for me. When I think back to when I was a kid I had always loved the holidays. From the age of 9 I was the first person on the block with lights up. I would go on a long hike in the woods with a saw and burlap to cut down evergreen limbs so I could bring them back home and wire together a wreath in my garage. I would place a candle in every window and of course I would set up that old toy train set in the basement. You know, the one that worked all of about 3 times the whole month of December but amazingly it was always when you brought someone down to see it. I would spend the rest of the month down there trying out new track combinations, searching tirelessly through boxes of ornaments looking for that little tin container of liquid smoke so that I could really impress the family this year. I just wanted it to look real and just like my home town. I had a list of what I wanted to get everyone I knew before the first of December.
This is actually the first time I have sat down to ask myself. What happened? Why did I start hating the one time of year that I had felt completely free as a child? I am pretty sure it had a lot to do with the mass commercialization of everything. From toys to fashion everything took a turn in the late 1990’s. Toys and clothes were more expensive but were terrible quality. There was a lack of pride when it came to creating a product; and even less self-respect from the marketers that sold it. It was a time of glorifying numbers, shiny clothes, shiny cars, cheap music, and an overall loss of moral or value. Sure, I fell right into it when this all started. I was at the club with my new car and my 2 penny $100 shirt. But this faded after a few months and then I was not only mad at society. I was furious with myself. How could I get fooled? I do not need all of these extravagant things. They meant nothing. I knew I was miserable. However, I thought if I accumulated enough stuff I could essentially buy back my happiness. This was not the case at all. I would spend the next 10 years running away from everything that upset me rather than facing it head on. It was a slow torturous form of self-destruction.
All I could think of was when I had run off to Los Angeles in the winter of 2008 and I did not know a soul. I was on the beach on a breezy 40 degree day having a cigarette when a girl around my age came up to me and asked me for a light. We got to talking and when she heard that I was new in town and had nowhere to go for Christmas she immediately asked me to come and spend it with her family. I seriously almost cried on the spot. I could not remember the last time someone had reached out to me and offered me something, especially expecting nothing in return. I will never be able to explain how dark a time this was, but how emotional I got. The feeling will stick with me forever.
In 2012 I finally decided to do something about how I felt. There were people out there that had it much worse than me and I needed to start using this time of year to help someone else. I went online and looked up where there were Toys for Tots drop boxes, because let’s be honest, organizations like that are the real Santa Claus. I emailed and called the local food bank to see what foods they needed and where they were collecting. I made it my mission to give whatever I could within my means to try and make a difference in someone’s life that may have nothing. Someone that, without your gift or your food donation may not eat or receive anything while trying to keep warm with others they may not even know in a homeless shelter or hospital. All I can say is that I have been doing these things continuously since 2012 and every year has gotten better. My life feels like it has purpose. My relationships with friends and family have grown stronger. I feel better about myself and more in touch with reality. We need to break away from our attachment to all of this stuff that the TV keeps throwing at us. Just think about that thing you got last year that broke by New Years. Or what about the thing that you still have in the box? Please, give it up.
I hope that you have a great holiday season, and if you want a guaranteed method of improving your life, or everyone’s life for that matter, give a little bit to someone that needs it and you will start to feel the joy of the season with them. Peace & Love.
Joseph S. Fusaro
Our friend Joe Fusaro is launching a new book. In this video Jay previews some of his work.
Note: 12% of the profits will be going to the mental health organization This Is My Brave (@thisismybrave).
Summary on Amazon: https://www.createspace.com/5815951
Welcome to The Frenzy! (thank you Black Friday and Cyber Monday and everything else).
I spent yesterday in the city nearest me. Wandering around the city by myself is one of my favourite things to do. Driving there I noticed how excited I was about this little adventure, this ritual that I've grown to value. As the taller buildings came into view, I could sense the buzz, the bustling crowd, the sounds, the sights. Was that a sparkling Christmas tree I spotted across the river? And on cue an old Christmas song comes on the radio. Sigh and Bliss! I just love the contagious, positive atmosphere around the holidays!
The new lights were just up, it was seasonably cold and crisp and the air had that tantalising scent of outdoor food stalls. Route planned, (extra) hot chocolate in hand, camera on shoulder, I got busy people-watching.
Well, sort of.
A few minutes in I noticed that my fellow humans were, well, swarming (versus 'buzzing'). Intent on buying loads of 'stuff', they were completely oblivious to my existence. Literally. I did not (and do not) enjoy being blindly bumped into - with surprising force in some cases - or shoved out of the way. After one particularly solid jostle I was reminded once again how lucky I am not to be small in stature or feeble in health.
As I looked around, I noticed the stress was etched, carved onto these faces. The deep frowns, the clenched jaws. And then I realized it: I was frowning too. I'd caught the stress bug (it's highly contagious, you know).
While I'd like to say I was a paragon of Zen, that would be a lie. However, I did manage to keep my irritation in check by grounding myself, and reminding myself that I didn't have to join in on the frenzy - I didn't have to give the stress "free rent" in my head and body.
How did I ground myself in the middle of a virtual tidal-wave of anxious frenzy? I used these techniques: I chose to refocus my attention back onto the lovely smells (oh, yum), slowed back to my own normal walking pace, and located feelings of compassion I had for these stressed shoppers who were banging into each other (AND me!).
It wasn't personal. They didn't mean it. They weren't even present. But I was, so I could choose my mood. Being present allows us to do that.
So I did. I chose my mood. And pretty quickly I was back to people watching, smiling and enjoying my hot chocolate.
The holiday season and Christmas is a terribly trying time for a lot of us. Grief is triggered at this time, maybe more than at any other. The holidays are bulging with childhood memories, and not all of them will be good. For some people they will bring painful, difficult memories.
It's not all toys and laughter, we know that.
We are all under pressure to provide, celebrate, give and be happy during the holidays. And while all of these things feel and are good, scheduled joy doesn't feel as great as spontaneous joy.
With all of the stress and pressure, remember that you (can) choose how you would like to feel, think and act.
Knowing that, please accept this letter from us to you - our Holiday 'Wish List' as it were:
Wishing you all more zen, and less frenzy this holiday season
Much love, peace and warmth
Sally & Tanya xoxo
July of 2013 was the last time I was hospitalized for a bipolar 1 mania flare up. Coincidentally, it was Independence Day. I had gone back on Amphetamines because the depression and pain caused by my anti-psychotics was just too much. It once again got to a point where I had not slept for a little over a month and I lost my mind. I could not get any kind of grasp on reality. I thought my emails were hacked. I thought there was some master plan for my friends and family to put me away for life unless I abided by their rules. I would sit and talk to the newscasters on TV. It was bad. It was not the worst I had been, but it was really bad.
I remember trying to lie my way through it in the ER; although I am sure everyone could read how fast my mind was going from my face. I could not make eye contact with anyone. I was stuttering, sweating, and I was scared to death of everything. After a couple hours of trying to keep my psychosis under wraps and lying to my Doctor she said, “Please Joe, you need medication just like Robin Williams needs medication. You remind me exactly of Robin Williams. You know, you are a little anxious, and a little erratic.”
I was more than a little confused by the comment. I thought I was being very serious but I guess my words were coming out as if I were joking or being overly sarcastic. It was about a year later that I finally understood her completely. Robin Williams commit suicide in August of 2014 and the moment I found out I knew I had to make some serious changes in the way I was approaching the topic of mental illness, depression, suicide, mania, or whatever physical illness caused Robin to end his own life. No illness is funny. And by joking about illness we take away people’s hope and that is not fair. Sometimes hope is all someone has. The truth is it does not really matter what the precursor was because no matter what the illness you would have to be suffering from immense stress. Stress can be emotional or physical and the symptoms can get mixed up. There are many times in my life that I have been very depressed or manic and I would feel physical pain. There are also many times that I have been physically injured and have become extremely depressed.
I remember a lot of my family and friends told me how sad they were that Robin commit suicide and I had the same response to everyone, I would say “, I know, this one really hit me hard because I understand him right down to the last second and for some strange reason or some little light in the distance I decided not to go through with it.”
Either way, my state, or anyone’s mental state was not something that can be joked about. I thought it was okay for me to joke about my own life, but once I saw a man take his life it finally felt real to me. This "funny" man was screaming and pleading for help. And no one had a clue. People take words literally for the most part and no one is trained to read through mania to the deep, deep depression behind it. I needed to explain to everyone exactly how I felt the whole time I was sick, without dancing around it or laughing about the things that I said. Nothing was funny to me. Everything was extremely sad and as much as it may hurt at first, everyone needed to know the truth. My bipolar was the most serious thing in my life and that was the only way I would be able to get through to or relate with anyone.
I just want to note that I am not blaming Robin’s friends or family. I am sure they knew and felt his pain. We are all a conglomerate of everyone we know and reach out to in our lives. Yes, maybe his family and friends were there for him, but in his sad and stressed eyes there were millions of people that did not understand the real Robin at all. I don’t know anything about fame but being bipolar I do know percentages and proportions. Everyone in the social media and electronic generation does because whether we have 10 followers or 100,000 followers it is usually never enough. Thankfully I have learned that substance in small numbers is much more gratifying than a million people that are in love with a figment or false representation of me. I just think that as a society we need to stop labeling people for life over a 2 hour movie that we know them from, or a 4 minute song we heard on the radio. We all have feelings. We all have good days and bad days. Every woman is someone’s mother or daughter. Every man is somebody’s brother or son. Believe it or not, deep down inside we really are all the same.
Joseph S. Fusaro
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