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Saturday, June 25, 2016

This News Terrified Me, and I Don't Even Own an AR-15

Photo by Rick Gravrok Photo © Rick Gravrok

I had a dream about guns yesterday. I was being visited by a fifty-something married couple and they asked me if I had a gun. I told them, “Yes, I have a rifle in the back room,” which is odd because I don’t actually own a gun or rifle in real life. At any rate, the wife was shocked since my youngest daughter lived with me and suddenly, as is the way with dreams, my living room was filled with social workers, religious leaders, and school administrators! All of them began trying to convince me that the rifle was a bad idea and reflected poorly on my parenting. One of the officious people demanded to know why I felt justified to own a gun. I then related warm memories from Boy Scouts when I attended a turkey shoot. It’s OK. We shot targets, not turkeys.

I found myself defending my gun ownership by having to recount how much I trained myself, how often I practiced, and by sharing details about the gun handling lessons I took. Again, this is all strange to me because I haven’t fired a weapon since the 80s. Paint guns don’t count.

Not everybody in the room was anti-gun, but the anti-gun officials ruled the conversation. I eventually started chatting on my couch with a pro-gun woman, but then the dream ended uneventfully. Nobody took my dreamworld rifle. Nobody took my dreamworld child. In fact, nothing was decided except that one group felt my rifle was evil while the other group respected my desire to own one.

Here in real life, I don’t own a gun, but wish I did. I fancy owning a Walther PPK. You may recall them from old James Bond movies. I like the sleek design of them as opposed to the blocky functionality of typical pistols, but there are various reasons why I never got around to buying one. Safety for my youngest child is my main concern. I’d like a rifle, too, because I really did attend a Boy Scout turkey shoot when I was in high school and, if I recall correctly, my brother, Phil, and I scored so well that we won a coupon to a local gun range which my mother refused to let us use. (So mean…)

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Scott Adams’ blog on gun control soon after waking up. Not only is his article delightfully satirical, but it also concisely explains why gun control isn’t going to happen anytime soon. I don’t generally give dreams much weight, but if I needed an interpretation, Adams’ article is the best I’ll likely find.

I liked the article so much that I read it to a friend later that day. It’s good to have a friend I can call at obscenely late hours and laugh with about politics and pop culture. Socializing is one of the tools I use to manage my depression. However, while talking I noticed a news article that took our conversation in a new direction. Hawaii not only added all their gun owners to a FBI database, but also put into effect a law that “requires firearm owners to surrender their weapons if diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder.” It was like my dream had never ended. One of the hot debating points in my dream was whether I was mentally stable enough to own a gun. Their concerns weren’t based on any adverse behavior I had exhibited, but on my diagnosis: Clinical Depression.

I don’t know enough about Hawaii’s law to comment on it intelligently, but I can comment on my concerns with such a law if it ever made its way to Utah. “Mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder” is a very sweeping description. That’s how the article describes it. I’d have to look up the actual legislation to know the true wording, but legislation disallowing people with depression or ADHD has been proposed in congress before. Legislation like this raises questions, and likely will spawn lawsuits. Who decides for the state how impaired a person is? How do they quantify the disorder? Is general depression, or clinical depression actionable? Do women who experience postpartum depression have to surrender their firearms? Do people who experience depression after the loss of a loved one have to surrender their firearms? Does the government compensate these people for their weapons? Do people who recover from depression ever get their firearms back? Do they get their rights back? Maybe their rights will languish in limbo on an eyes-only list somewhere for the rest of their lives.

I am uncomfortable with the idea that these laws make me guilty by reason of depression before ever committing a crime. I am uncomfortable about the rights of the mentally ill being taken away unilaterally through legislation. However, what I worry about more is how this legislation raises a new barrier for people struggling with depression. If there was stigma before, think of how reluctant people will be to seek psychiatric help now because doing so will cost them their guns and put them on a list. The very people the politicians hope to control will avoid detection at all costs now! They’ll purchase their firearms used, or worse, on the sly. While politicians enact feel-good policies that appease their voter base, they erode the rights of others based purely on fear. What other rights can they take away because depression can be stigmatized via legislation?

I don’t know why I had that dream about the rifle except that AR–15 rifles have been in the news lately. I thought it was a silly thing when I first woke up, but after reading the news today, I realize that it was a nightmare.

If you like debating about gun control, then you’ll love my book on fighting suicidal tendencies. It’s weaponized with words.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Amazing MHA Conference and a Few Things I Took Home with Me

If you’ve been following along lately, then you’ll know that I spoke at Mental Health America's conference on June 8th. I knew that MHA was a well established organization, but I had no idea that the MHA has been a mental health advocacy organization since 1909. It wasn’t the only bit of new information I learned. I was there for a blip, but I gained so much from the experience. This entry will be long, but I wanted to share with you how I dealt with anxiety. Although I mastered my panic anxiety disorder decades ago, I still have performance anxieties that flare up.

What a shame I was only at the conference for a few hours. Because of the way my flight worked out, and because I couldn’t afford to stay for the whole conference, I flew in Tuesday night, slept the sleep of the jet lagged, then awoke, got ready, packed for my return flight, checked out of the hotel, then rushed off to the conference.

One aspect of anxiety I still deal with is a fear of reaching out to strangers. It’s more comfortable staying home, but it’s also much more boring. This one is an easy one for me to overcome, but I do still need to give myself a push. Once I was registered, I made it a point to meet the people who had helped make it possible for me to be there: America Paredes and Erin Wallace. They were so patient with me as we worked out the travel and panel details over the past few months. My daughter with epilepsy has been having a difficult time these past six months. You have no idea how disruptive her behavior and episodes have been to my schedule, but America and Erin do (Thank you, ladies). Then I sought out my fellow panel members and introduced myself to people. One of the first attendees I met was Amy Oestreicher. She is a TedX speaker, and her enthusiasm for life was refreshing.

Kim & Amy
I soon found Kim Zapata, a fellow panelist , and we struck up a great conversation. I am mostly apartment bound and my social life is one of a stay-at-home school dad. Nobody I know blogs about mental health, or, frankly, cares about the subject, so it was a delightful pleasure to trade blogging stories with a fellow mental health writer. Kim already knew me, which surprised me. When she first began her blogging journey, mine was one of the first blogs on depression that she found. She even found what I wrote helpful. That was very humbling for me. I don’t often get the opportunity to meet face to face with people who read my work. Kim was doing what I wanted to be doing more of, which was freelancing successfully, so I eagerly took mental notes. In fact, I’ve just started reading How to Be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger by Carol Tice on my flight from Utah, so it was perfect timing to have that conversation.

We couldn’t find Natasha Tracy, the other panelist, so we found a table for the keynote and continued talking. We also struck up a nice conversation with a couple that was already at the table. I couldn’t believe how well I was doing socially. Now, it’s possible that they all have a completely different take on our conversations, but people don’t generally smile warmly while being tortured.

Then Amy popped by. The couple I was chatting with turned out to be Amy’s parents. If I thought Amy was amazing, her parents were more so. When you raise children with disabilities, handicaps, or difficulties, you grow tired of people who don’t share that experience telling you how to parent better. I found kindred spirits in Amy’s parents. We talked about the balance between caring for these children, raising them to adulthood, and letting them take chances with life—letting them live. I was so glad to have met them.

As I sat listening to the passionate keynote speech by Paul Gionfriddo about the history of the MHA and the need for better attitudes towards mental health in this century, I was struck by the presence of all those bright minds in the same room with me, all dedicated towards normalizing mental health, removing stigma, and promoting wellness. I don’t mean to gush. I was more than a little intimidated and in awe by the whole experience. I knew the MHA was big, but this conference showed me exactly how big they were.

Soon, it drew closer to my panel’s time, and I became suddenly nervous. Would I tic? Would I completely forget what I was supposed to say? These were my main concerns, so I stepped outside and let the sun beat down on me, let the breeze blow across my face, leaned on my cane, and just breathed. Controlling anxiety begins with controlling your breathing. It didn't take long before I was ready.

I finally got a chance to chat with Natasha. We’ve known each other for years and have chatted often over Twitter, so meeting her in person was fun. She began blogging about mental health two years before I did. We didn’t have a lot of time to chat, but our shared journey helped her feel like an old friend to me. Then it was time for the panel.

The theme was “Managing Mental Health: Let’s Blog About It”. Kim gave her presentation first. She was strong and inspirational. Then it was suddenly my turn. My shtick is humor, so I was glad that the audience laughed where I expected them to. I plan on writing my presentation up as a blog post, but I probably won’t be able to recreate it. Years ago, I discovered that I give terribly dull talks when I memorize them, so I memorize the outline instead. That way I can stay on point, but still interact dynamically with the audience. I even rolled my unfortunate unzipped fly moment earlier that day into the presentation. It made sense at the time, but for the life of me, I cannot remember how it tied in. If MHA never invites me back, we can point to that moment as the likely culprit.

I remembered everything except sharing my final slide with contact info. I also forgot to mention that my book was on sale…for the conference. If I felt bad about my amateur self-promotion efforts, when Natasha go up, I wanted to crawl underneath my seat. She was so powerful and organized. She didn’t miss a beat self-promoting herself. She also spoke passionately as an advocate for bipolar disorder.

Then the audience had questions, fielded by our very capable moderator, Mike Thornsbury. He did a great job moving the conversations along. We also had a fantastic audience. It really was a memorable experience for me. When people came up to me after the panel and thanked me, or asked me for advice, I was quite humbled. Sometimes I just see myself as a clown, but I forget that others see me in an entirely different light.

Since this entry is already massively long, I’ll spare you the fiascos of my flight home and just summarize with two points. Besides, the real drama was getting strip searched by the TSA on my way to the conference. They claimed my leg brace triggered some type of chemical alarm. The flight back home was a lark in comparison.
  1. The Price. I was so thankful that I had no ticking during my presentation. I didn’t even need my cane, which was ready by my chair. However, as the day wore on, I leaned on that cane more and more. My knee injury was the first thing to pay the price for my jet set jaunt, but the following day, I began a five day ticking episode. I couldn’t even walk. It was tough. But I’d do it all over again. I loved every minute of my trip, especially my short time at the conference. Ticking and insomnia are small prices to pay for such an opportunity.

  2. The Critique. There are so many things I’d like to see done differently. Next time, I’ll practice with a power point presentation so I have muscle memory to aide me in getting that self-promotion slide in. I’ll also have business cards. Although I am glad I wore a shirt & tie to the conference, thus not sticking out like a bum in a sea of Dapper Dans in suits & ties, not having business cards was an amateur move. I’ll also opt for a redeye flight next time so that I can enjoy more of the conference. I’m going to be wiped out by the trip anyway. I might as well get the most out of it before I crash.

    Another thing that I learned is that I am funny. The audience enjoyed my humor. My blog readers used to enjoy it, too, but since my divorce it has been very rare around here. I plan on changing that. In addition, I am one of a few people with ADHD who can write about it coherently, so I should build upon that skill.

    I need to lose 30 lbs. I'm just too uncomfortable in my frame. If I want to do more conferences like this, I need to improve my health and my stamina.

    Lastly, meeting the girls was a highlight in my blogging adventure. Kim left the conference to head over to Blog U, something I've thought of attending before, so maybe I should make plans for that conference, too, or one like it on this side of the continent. Over all, meeting Natasha & Kimberly has inspired me to do more—to step up my game. MHA was a great experience. I would love to be invited back again. I can’t thank all of you enough for supporting me in this journey.

If you thought this article was much too long, you’ll be relieved to learn that my book is a perfect length.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Suicide Watch: Can You Walk Away from Cyberbullying?

Tovonna Holton selfie

The other day a young girl from Florida named Tovonna committed suicide after friends posted nude photos & video of her onto Snapchat—a popular mobile app for sharing media with friends. According to reports, her mother didn’t understand what Tovonna was upset about. It’s possible she was hysterical and not clear, because it turns out she had been filmed while showering. Three hours after talking to her mother, she shot herself with her mother’s pistol.

Tovonna’s death has been overshadowed this weekend by the horrific gay bar mass-shooting in Orlando, but while some people might want to focus on gun control, and others might want to blame her family, I want to focus on cyberbullying.

According to Drapeau & McIntosh, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of individuals aged 15–24. Homicide places third. Every few years, cyberbullying plays a part in these tragedies, leading many to cry, “Something must be done!”, which usually amounts to curtailing free speech in one way or other, or taking away gun rights. Then nothing gets done about it.

In the cultural libertarian crowd I follow on Twitter, it is popular to mock anti-cyberbully advocate demands because they usually demand policing the net, abolishing anonymity, etc. They want to fix one problem by curtailing civil liberties. The typical response is “LOL Cyberbullying can’t hurt you. Just turn your phone off.”.

Can you just walk away from cyberbullying?

Yes, you can walk away and put it out of your mind, but some people are better prepared to handle cyberbullying than others. Let’s explore why that is.

As an adult who regularly blogs about suicide, I have received threats, I have been told that nobody cares about me , and I’ve been told to kill myself. Angry trolls post their hateful comments, and I roll my eyes at them. I can do that because I don’t give their words power over me. I usually reply with something snarky and move on.

I have a grown up perspective. I see that some idiot on the internet wants me to kill myself because they disagree with me, and I laugh. Who are they to me? I have daughters, friends, and family that love me. I have readers who appreciate my writing. The trolls are often impotent gnats raging against a world they have no significance in. I just swat them away. If things get too heated on Twitter or Facebook, I know I can just throw my hands up in the air and say, “Enough! Time for a break!”, then walk away from the heat. I can choose to combat it again later, or just ignore it, as is usually the case. I don’t have to let their poison take up residence in my mind.

I can LOL and turn my phone off.

Unfortunately, teenagers in general lack the maturity to do all of the above. Adults know how to let hurtful comments pass over them like a hot blast of air during a heat wave. We know the toxic comments aren’t credible, but for teenagers, social networks are everything. In fact, as any parent of teenagers can attest, their friends are more real and commanding of their attention than school, family life, or anything else that might be happening around them. When a teenager’s privacy is violated and photos of them are leaked online, that overwhelming feeling of impotency coupled with humiliation is crushing to their developing self-esteem. Cyberbullying is very real to them. It’s a hot blast of air all around them as they stand in a furnace of unwanted attention.

For Tovonna, who was all of fifteen years old, finding out that friends had filmed her showering, put it up online, then mocked her was too much for her to bear. Betrayal, shame, humiliation, and a crushing sense of powerlessness is likely what she was feeling when she decided to end her pain.

What can be done about cyberbullying?

I suggest that we start at home. Don’t wait for intrusive feel good laws to get passed. Take charge of the situation now. Here are six tips that I have found to be very helpful when I learned cyberbullying was happening to my children:

  1. Keep calm. You can’t help your child if you freak out. They need to be able to rely on your strength.
  2. Cyberbullying may not cause physical harm, but it does cause emotional harm. Help your kid deal with their feelings. Teach them how to be strong. They’re going to be overwhelmed without your help.
  3. Your child needs your help believing that they can get through whatever difficult situation they find themselves in. When they are besieged online, their world feels like it has ended. You may need to lend a little bit of your faith that the sun will rise.
  4. Teach your children that hurtful comments can be ignored. Start early! You won’t do your child any favors by waiting for a crisis to tell them not to let the words sting. You may not care about your child’s schoolmates’ opinions, but your child certainly does.
  5. Keep your relationship healthy so that your child can feel comfortable confiding in you. This is not an easy task. You aren’t the only parent frustrated that your child confides in peers over you. Keep cultivating that relationship!
  6. Teach your child how to reach out for help if images of them have been leaked online. This is something that should involve the police and school officials immediately. There is time for safety lectures later. Act quickly! If the images are nude and have crossed state lines, it becomes a matter of child pornography. The FBI could become involved, too.

When we prepare ourselves mentally, we can LOL and walk away from cyberbullying. We decide whether the words and actions of others have power over us or not. This is a good skill to teach your children so that they don’t despair if they ever find themselves on the receiving end of cyberbullying. Sic the authorities on the culprits, follow my tips, and put all your efforts into comforting those developing minds.


I don't discuss cyberbullying much in my book, but you'll find many chapters on helping suicidal loved ones in it.

Friday, June 03, 2016

My TV Cure for Depression

I'm not a doctor, but I see one on TV

I imagine you're wondering how television can cure anybody of anything. The news is depressing. Insipid sitcoms are depressing. The endless sea of reality TV is depressing. Doesn't it just give people headaches? How can I use television to treat my depression‽

For those reasons and more, TV is not my coping strategy of choice. I try to limit my TV time, and expressly avoid vegging out in front of it. TV is an ADHD sink hole. However, I can't deny that it helped me out one day. Let's explore why it worked.

The First Step Is to Be Aware

Last week, I felt particularly down in the middle of a project. I recognized that I was moving into a deeper depression, but what was I going to do about it? I couldn't go out for a walk because I was ticking.[1] I couldn't exercise for the same reason. Besides, I was in the middle of a big project and couldn't afford to waste any time. Exactly at the moment I was resigning myself to grinning and bearing it, I realized that I was useless to the project as I was at the moment, I'd been working on it for an entire day without a break, and that I needed to stop pushing and just let my mind spin for a bit. I needed a TV break.

I sat down and watched one show, then analyzed how I was feeling. I decided I needed more time. This wasn't a situation where I was hooked on a show and needed to watch more. I could tell not enough time had passed yet. My depression was slowly abating, but hadn't lifted entirely. I watched one more show, felt much better, and then quickly got back to work with renewed vigor. I chuckled to myself that I had just used TV as therapy, because I usually avoid TV when I'm depressed.

The secret to why this worked for me that day lies within a combination of strategies that my TV break employed. Because I manage my depression and am skilled at self-analysis, I intuitively knew what I needed. That day, the solution was TV. Another day it could have been a long walk, a good book, or a phone call to a friend. I've got a long mental list of activities that I pull from.

This particular solution puts points 5, 6 & 7 of my Fighting Off Depression coping strategies together. Let's discuss them briefly so that you can think out of the box and come up with tailored solutions for yourself.

No. 5: Ignore It

Can you really ignore depression? You can if the depression is mild. I think of it as the difference between a headache and a migraine. The former is painful, but you can power through it. The later is debilitating and can't be put out of your mind. When you get better at analyzing yourself, you'll start to recognize which level of depression you are experiencing. I knew that my depression was mild, so ignoring it could work.

What does ignoring depression do? Depression is a chemical imbalance of the mind. Sometimes you just need time to let your mind regulate itself, but I have known people to despair when depression begins to settle in. Ignoring depression is something that they have to work at. We're all different.

However, if your depression is too deep, ignoring it is tantamount to putting off coping, so be prepared to shift gears to use another coping strategy if ignoring isn't effective.

No. 6: Do Something Fun

If your brain can't regulate itself on its own, then it'll need some help. I have found that doing something fun boosts endorphins and can swing the pendulum away from depression. Deciding to watch a favorite program fits into this strategy. Television can excite our emotions. I was careful to pick a show that was filled with adventure and thrills, not tragedy. Since depression colors our thoughts so bleakly, it's important to come up with a list of upbeat activities ahead of time. Make your list diverse. For example, maybe TV worked for me this time, but next time I might want to bake sweets, or hang out with a friend.

No. 7: Engage your Mind

I chose to watch some anime with subtitles. In this case, doing something fun and engaging my mind were combined in the same activity. Usually, they are separate coping strategies. All that reading fired up my neurons and prevented me from drifting off into a TV stupor. The world is filled with things that can engage your mind, so make a list of your favorites to pull from when you are down.

Perhaps because of my ADHD, I often utilize distraction as a coping strategy for my depression, especially when the depression is mild. Sometimes, I have to go through a lot of activities before I can beat depression back. The deeper the depression, the more effort I have to put in to lift my spirits. This is the way I manage depression without medication.

While I entertained myself with some anime, I engaged my mind, and gave my brain some time to relax and regulate. I guess TV isn't so bad, after all.



If you liked this article, you'll probably like my book. It's better than reruns.

  1. Wary of Psych Meds? Here is My Personal Experience With Them.  ↩



Monday, May 30, 2016

#22pushups a Day for #22KILL – Memorial Day Edition

Day Twenty-two

I completed the "#22Kill Challenge" a few weeks ago. I thought today would be a perfect day to put the rest of my videos up. Each post has a message—some deeper than others. I just wanted you to know that I saw the project through to the end and didn’t miss a day.

My thoughts are heavy today because Memorial Day is the day to remember our fallen soldiers, and for me to remember my brother. He was a Marine just out of boot camp when a drunk driver plowed into the shuttle carrying him & ten other marines on liberty. So many of them were injured and never had their chance to serve. My brother was hurt the worst. He was planning on serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was just two weeks away from his 19th birthday.

I visited his grave today, something I don’t often do. My brother, the cheeky imp I loved and cherished, isn’t there. Interred is his earthly tabernacle, but his spirit lives on, as we all do because our spirits are eternal. That's what Mormons believe, and that belief gives me comfort. Most of all, however, it is hard to stare down at his grave and not well up with tears. I like to focus on the memories I have of him, not the aching hole his absence leaves in my life.

I said a prayer with my daughter, the Brownie, then played “Amazing Grace” on my tin whistle. It was hard to pull off because my finger was bandaged from an injury a few weeks ago, but I made a valiant effort, squeaks and all. This was how we paid our respects.

I imagine somewhere there are families paying their respects to veterans today who didn’t fall in battle, but who took their own lives. I hope that if you find any of these videos of mine helpful, please share them with a veteran who is struggling with suicidal ideation. Maybe he or she just needs to know that people still care. I am not so vain as to believe that my push-ups prevent suicide, but I do believe in getting the message out there. People care. I care. Please hang in there.

Veterans Crisis Support 1–800–273–8255

Day Eight

Day Nine

Day Ten

Day Eleven

Day Twelve

Day Thirteen

Day Fourteen

Day Fifteen

Day Sixteen

Day Seventeen

Day Eighteen

Day Nineteen

Day Twenty

Day Twenty-one

If you thought this was long, you should read my book, Saying “No!” to Suicide.

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