Ugh.

I sent the below to the shrink I’ve started seeing. I had planning on holding off on talking to her until after I’ve been assessed by the psychiatrist.

I’m experiencing a depressive episode today. I’ve been working well through my day, not having any problems, slept well last night, ate a good lunch, drinking plenty of water. But about 30 minutes ago, my mind got foggy, I started experiencing a purely non-physical pain, and now it feels like the left half of my brain is a lump of lead.

I know various coping mechanisms and I’m fully aware this will pass, probably before I go to bed tonight, and certainly by tomorrow morning. Years of behavioral health coaching have prepared me for this, but it still sucks to feel like this. I always wonder why the emphasis is always on behavior and coping, but not on getting rid of this unreasonable pain. Why does my insurance cover “behavioral” health, not “mental” health?

I’ll be meeting with the psychiatrist on June 23. Do you think a therapy session before then would be beneficial, or am I already handling this as best I can?

Therapy Resumé

A common bit of professional wisdom is to keep one’s resumé updated, even when not job hunting. This discipline gives multiple benefits, not the least of which are a chance to self-examine one’s career path, but also so you don’t have to do it when you are job hunting: one less item in a stressful process.

I’m starting therapy again. I’ve got a virtual appointment tomorrow and another on Friday with a different therapist, so I can have options to get the help I need (and because as bad as the American healthcare system is, the mental healthcare system is exponentially worse; just what I need when I’m having a mental health crisis: shitty bureaucracy and half-assed automated phone systems).

I like therapy. I’ve had great success with therapy. I hate starting therapy. Because even though we’ve navigated the insurance company and researched the therapists available and figured out scheduling, now I’ve gotta read in someone new on the wilderness of shit in my past/genetics/current mental patterns/personal lexicon. It’s like trying to explain the intersection of existentialism and quantum mechanics while drunk to a sober bartender (again, sorry about that, Brian; I tipped extra, but I know that doesn’t help).

Maybe I can develop a psychological resumé. Then I can send it to therapists ahead of scheduling and, like job hunting, they can accept or reject me as a patient without the hassle of vocalization.

I Emailed a Neuropsychologist

Dr. [name redacted],

I am writing to inquire if you are in need of research subjects. I’ve reviewed abstracts of some of your research and I was especially captured by the neurofeedback experiments using fMRI and pattern analysis.

I would be willing to submit to any testing, surveys, or scans, if you are looking for a brain to study.

Sincerly,

Tom Adams

My health insurance (for any readers outside the United States, that’s a private company who takes 11% of my paycheck so I can beg them to pay for this country’s ridiculously over-inflated medical costs if I promise to pay a portion of it on top of the money I already give them on a regular basis) covers psychologists for therapy and inpatient rehab after I pay a portion, and neurologists after I pay a huge portion, they don’t seem to have any approved neuropsychologists in my area, even though I live in the 4th largest metropolitan area of Texas, home to one of the most advanced universities that has a thriving neuropsych department. The closest neuropsychologist my insurance covers is on the other side of Texas (288 miles away).

Am I a Good Ol’ Boy?

I started a new position at work last year that has required a huge amount of focus, mostly because I’m working with data, people, and processes I’d never even heard of prior to this position. It’s been a lot, but in a good way. I’ve stretched my horizons, worked with some great people, and made a huge impact, so much so that when a higher paying job opportunity with the corporate office came along, I turned it down so I could continue in a known, positive work environment.

I’ve been over a year in this position and I was just given a new workload, in addition to my current work. It’s apparently not too strenuous, and I’m basically just going to take a portion of co-worker’s workload so she’s not overstrained. That’s great! I get to help a friend balance her work life, and also I’ve been pushing to get pushed to a higher job grade, so this will help make my case for the promotion.

But something was said during our meeting to discuss passing this to me that snagged on my brain. This transition of work is due to a restructuring among my “customers” (see also, corporate-speak “dotted line”), specifically the Sr. VP over my main contact. The company has been consolidating various lines of business under Mr. VP in the past year, sort of the miscellaneous portfolios, so when this one landed with him, he said he wants a single point of contact with my team and asked for me.

That’s awesome, right? He’s so impressed with my work so far that he’s requested me for this next part. That’s the takeaway, that’s the “safe” assumption, but it was kinda left open, so my brain started going over our interactions. I mostly work with one of his reports, but I’ve had several positive contacts with him, including when I first joined the team when I went to his office to introduce myself in-person (pre-pandemic). It’s mostly just good business-sense to introduce oneself in person to new “clients,” but that’s also part of the chauvinistic “good ol’ boy” culture. “When ya meet a man, look ’em dead in the eye and give ’em a firm handshake and quick nod. That’s how men greet each other.” So is it really good business-sense, or is it just a holdover? Or is that actually part of American culture and I’m overthinking this?

In fact, this might all be overthinking, but considering how little thought has been given by most people like me (cisgender, heterosexual, white males) into the dynamics of gender in business, maybe this is the right amount of thinking in a desert of consideration. Mr. VP is an old, white dude, my manager is a young, white dude, and the co-worker who’s workload I’m lightening is a younger, female person-of-color. Is the disparity there what’s triggering me thinking about this? My contact with Mr. VP is a middle-aged female person-of-color, as well as most of her subordinates, so I haven’t had to worry if the praise she’s given me has been “good ol’ boy” tainted. Have I just been overlooking it? Have I benefited from my white, male privilege without noticing (I mean, definitely yes, all my life, but specifically in this circumstance)?

In the end, I’ve got sufficient data to show that I’ve earned this trust, I have no evidence that the old white dude who requested me is a chauvinist, and most of all, I know that my co-worker is over-taxed with her workload, so having one less thing really will be a help to her. If the only thing that comes of thinking this over is that I shed more of the cultural bias baked in my brain, that’s a net positive for the world.

Email Storm

The “reply all” email chain is one of my favorite corporate oddities. If you’ve never experienced one, you’ll need to understand the setup. Companies that use email groups will frequently have an “all-employee” group. Companies that have even a modicum of decent email security will lock that shit down so that only a couple of people at the very top have send access to that group. I’ve never worked for a company that locked it down, and I know of many companies that don’t.

This becomes an issue when one well-meaning dolt accidentally sends an email to the all-employee group. Most right-minded individuals will see that the email does not pertain to them, notice the all-employee group, and ignore it, but humans being what we are, a percentage of the corporate population will, inevitably, hit reply all. Also, me being what I am, I grab the popcorn because I know this is gonna be fun.

The first few reply all emails are basic: “I think this was sent in error;” “Why did I receive this?” Dull, both in the sense of boring and in the sense of, yeah, everyone knows it was sent in error, you’ve helped no one by sending that, Karen.

The next ones are where you really start to learn something about the people in your company: “Please remove me from this distro.” Distro is short for distribution list and the person asking to be removed from it has no idea that they’ve just asked to be removed from the all-employees group. It’s never clear if this was a simple oversight or proof that the person should have been removed as an employee already. At this point, the original sender will have sent out a hurried “Sorry for sending to that distro” as a reply all, but the damage has been done.

Then comes the anger, the wrath, the base hatred of people stressed to the gills and begging for someone to give them a reason to snap: “STOP REPLYING ALL!!!!!” with 5 exclamation marks, not intended to show exclamation, but so they are easily identifiable as needing a padded cell; “If you STOP hitting reply all, this MADNESS will STOP!” because this is madness, you see, pure and utter chaos. There are many things in this world that need to stop, but right now, this is the most maddening, or at least the one that our sender believes will be resolved by what would to the untrained eye seem like hypocrisy.

Lastly, and here I suspect my readers will be most familiar, come the trolls. As soon as you see a meme hit the chain, you’ve reached the nadir of corporate email. By now, the original sender has already tried to correct their error, but to no avail. They’ve received an email from their direct manager, director, and senior director asking what the hell they were thinking. Their teammates have thrown them dirty glances (and maybe harder objects), but to the trolls, this person is a hero. It takes no time at all for a screenshot of the original email to become a meme in its own right.

If the corporation’s IT is engaged, they can find the system’s “kill switch” for such things, but I certainly won’t be the one to share that information. Several people within the company will have already setup an email rule to filter out anything with that email subject before it reaches the MADNESS level, but that’s nothing for the truly vicious trolls. “Re:re:re:re Subject Line” becomes “Re:re:re:re Subject Line  “ with the two spaces at the end, and like the mythical hydra, the chain doubles. The last reply all email chain I experienced in the wild had four different subject-line streams squirming through the system.

It gets worse. What I’ve just described is for a company in one country. Imagine the chaos in an international corporation. The sun rises on the east coast of a continent and on workers who open their email to find hundreds of emails: “STOP THE INSANITY!!!” [Spongebob Meme]. Over time, while the original sender lays in bed, dreams haunted by TPS reports, the reply all meme grows, sweeps across the globe like a wave of wasted workhours. There’s even a term for it: Email Storm.

The Scars We Leave

I’m going to leave this thought here while I mull it over, but I suspect I’ll write something more thorough later on.

St. Thomas asked to feel the scars on Jesus’s resurrected body so he could believe. There isn’t a great deal we can say with certainty about the resurrection, but St. Thomas’s scrutiny at least tells us that it did not remove the scars of the crucifixion.

The thought I will be mulling: If the resurrected body of Christ remembered the spear’s head in its scar, how did the body of the soldier remember the spear’s haft? By correlation, what scars do I leave on the world that will last beyond the unimaginable?

Poem 334 – I forget the name

In my mind, I fell down in slow motion,
 a giant crown throwing out a dust cloud.
Came behind shortly was an emotion,
 in a mode where I've found I can't be proud.

One thousand yards is not that far to stare
 if the view, beyond fair, grants elation.
Why, how, and what are not thoughts I can bear;
 only you, now we're there, adoration.

As I drift into dark shadows of mind,
 I'll cling on to the thoughts of my life past.
Holding to my best grasp of what's behind,
 you will be, by love's pow'r, what makes me last. 

So for now, I'll fill up all of my days
 with your love, like the flow'r to the sun's rays. 

The Asking Song and how to sing it

Oh, Forest! Oh, Trees!
Oh, Forest, what’cha got for me?
Oh, Forest!
1 2  3     4
Oh, Trees!
1 2  3 rest
Oh, Forest, 
1 2  3     4
what'cha got for me?
1        &     2&  a   3 4

Beginning

Growing up in the middle of nowhere has advantages I doubt I’ll ever fully appreciate. The ever present sense of magic in a wild forest imposes a stillness on the soul like no church can muster. Walking from country road through managed woodlands, we could chatter and carry on, but as soon as we crossed into wild forest, everything calmed down. Even the air calms down in the forest. 

We stayed quiet in the woods, only saying what needed saying. None of that prattling on we did in the schoolyard. A teacher’s dirty look and threatening ruler could stall us, but nothing stills like the forest. There’s a practicalness to it, sure; need to keep your wits honed and your ears clear out there. But it happened without our say so. Never had to shush no one, never saw the line coming. There’s no boundary lines around the forest except what that silence brings. 

The old man said that was just part of the forest, the nature of the thing. Said our hearts know where the forest starts like our feet know down. I asked him once if it was magic; he said, “Don’t know about no magic, just what is and what ain’t.” He never did speak much, but he laughed mightily if it was funny and wept bitterly when it was sad.

Every time I walked out with him, I’d steal a glance at the old man when we crossed into the forest. His being-ness shifted, ever so slightly. Little changes, all over him: a knowing grin would almost touch the corners of his eyes and mouth; an older strength almost picked up his old bones; I could almost feel him spread out. We’d go on a ways before he’d start humming, not a tune, just one low tone that moved all through the nooks and crannies of the world, like he was tuning himself to the forest. Then, he’d sing.

Oh, Forest! Oh, Trees!
Oh, Forest, what’cha got for me?

Just the once through, but that’s all it took. His voice came bellowing from his chest and got caught up in the trees where it swelled in among the trunks and leaves. It was a song that filled the soul, made the world come together. The first time I heard it, I could swear I smelled a cooking fire and saw all manner of folk gathered around it.

Once the song stopped echoing around us, we’d set to work. Gathering, mostly, but sometimes just moving, clearing. Some days, I thought I could see the pattern the old man followed, but most days I just did as he said. Nothing we did ever seemed to change the forest, but then I don’t guess that was the point. Most days, we’d come out of the forest with a bundle of gatherings: wood, brush, mushrooms, the occasional berries. Some days, we left empty-handed, but somehow fuller than those others.

Doing for What’s Needed

Sometimes, the forest can sneak up on a body. Walking through the woods, if you don’t keep your feet on a path or your eyes on the world, you might feel that stillness steal over you. Then you know, you’re in the forest. Might be tempting to look back, try and find that line. Go ahead; heaven knows I tried it the first time I stumbled into the forest. Couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and nearly got lost because of it. Fortunately, I was walking the woods with the old man, and he set me straight.

“You always got a choice on where your next foot lands,” he told me, and that was it. He said that, and nothing more, just turned and kept walking into the forest. I followed him, but that day it felt like he was walking in a forest I couldn’t see. Like I was just playing at forest and he was really there. Don’t know any better way to tell it than that. So look, if you want, but don’t expect to find what you’re after.

His Last Song

On the morning before he died, the old man asked me a question as we walked through the woods, right before we got to the forest. “How far can you walk into the forest?”

I’d heard this one before, more a joke than a riddle. “Halfway,” I answered, just a touch smugly.

He grunted in reply and said, “We’ll see.” Nothing else, and just kept on walking. I faltered a step, but caught him up. I’d learned by then not to bother asking what he meant; he’d’ve just grunted.

Him asking a question and not really answering it wasn’t that odd. Nothing about that walk was odd, not until we crossed into the forest. He shifted like always, but then he stopped walking. Just for a beat, maybe a couple steps’ worth, then kept on as though nothing had happened. Right then, I knew the day was gonna be different, but he started his hum, so I didn’t say anything.

Then, he sang a new song:

When I die
1 & 2 3 4
Up on the hill
1 & 2 3 4
Build for me
1 & 2 3 4
An oaken bier
1 & 2 3 4
Let me lie
1 & 2 3 4
On burning oak
1 & 2 3 4
Let me fly
1 & 2 3 4
Away with smoke
1 & 2 3 4
Let my a  -  - shes
1 & 2 3 4 &
Like the breeze
1 & 2 3 4
Go and live
1 & 2 3 4
Among the trees
1 & 2 3 4

The song was slow and deep, with long words and mellow tones. One might inclined to call it sad, mournful, but that just don’t capture the feel of it. There was a relaxed joy in the old man’s song, like settling into a cozy armchair at the end of a hard day’s work. Like that feeling when the night falls around your campfire, the blazing flame keeping you warm from the world around.

We mostly just walked in the forest that day. Didn’t gather, didn’t clear. Just walked, stopping by this old oak or that old cedar. Never a word was uttered, but the silence told all. We listened to the forest and met with the trees. And then, we left. I don’t know how far we walked into the forest that day.