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Response to Your Responses RE: Revisiting the Depressies

So this post has been getting some good feedback.

In addition, I had a late night Twitter rant that served as the genesis of this post. Read that first, if you can stomach the foolish rambling and spelling mistakes.

More than a few of you have reached out to me, expressing feelings of solidarity and understanding. Encouraging words have been spoken. Attempts at understanding have been given.

There’s a two-fold issue here for me:

  1. It’s absolutely encouraging to hear that other people understand and have felt similar things. I’m not alone, and as much as I tell people to know that they are not alone, I easily forget to give myself the same reassurance.
  2. It’s absolutely heart-breaking to hear that other people understand and have felt similar things. They are not alone, yet they feel that they are, no matter how many people like me in their lives attempt to reassure them otherwise.

It’s #2 that reassures me I still know how to feel like a human. That I’m still capable of empathy and sympathy. That I’m actually able—for no matter how fleeting of a moment it might even be—to think outside of myself and consider another person. If that sounds like I’m tooting my own horn, you’re damn right. This is a victory for me, and for any of you who have struggled with depression, you know well how good it is to feel something that isn’t centered on yourself for once.

To be sure, understand that if anything I’ve said here has been encouraging to you, know I’ve only shared it because I’ve had to first scream it at myself in order to believe it. While I wish I could be altruistic and say I write so openly about these struggles solely for the fact that others like me might read them, the truth is there is another component that is just as satisfying. It helps me greatly to write them down. It gives me focus and a moment to center myself. To express what I otherwise have no other means of expressing. Those closest to me who are privy to (read: unfortunately touched by) these moments ask me what I’m feeling, and often I have no words I can share.

Here is where I seem to find those words. Here is where I gain the clarity and ability to look more clearly, even if I still don’t understand it. Here is where I attempt to help you understand while I attempt to understand myself, even if it results in you giving me a Side-eye Chloe.

Find your outlet. Seek your peace. Discover your zen. Do whatever it takes, but don’t let the darkness take over. And while it might be referencing a different circumstance, read some Dylan Thomas and rage.

If any of this sounds like hyperbole to you, then you don’t understand and I encourage you to seek understanding. Seek empathy.

Hell, forget seeking empathy; require it of yourself!

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Revisiting The Depressies

It’s been nearly four years since depression had its strongest grip on me, and almost three since I wrote this.

The multitude of things that have changed for me in that span of time is seemingly incomprehensible, at least from my own perspective. The improvements that have been made, as well as the destruction of personal potential and potential relationships; they’re all right in front of me. There’s an ebb and flow to all of life, and sometimes that results in a net gain and net loss.

I’m happy with where I am—a rare thing for anyone to be able to say, even if I’m sort of faking it (but only sort of). I’ve avoided writing on my personal site for so long now because the majority of my posts were melancholic and getting a bit redundant in their depressive nature and tone. I’ve had to resist the urge to virtually light everything on fire and watch it burn while marshmallows rested at the end of a pointy stick. However, it’s still a release, especially in those moments when a case of the “depressies” can rear its ugly head.

We all have our shit, and all of our shit can seem insurmountable in the faintest of moments, however long or short. I’ve been having my moments more frequently lately, and I can pin them on a number of things. Here is where depression can hurt as much, if not more: shit is hard even when shit is good, or at least when that shit should at least be considered good.

There are moments of doubt, whether about yourself or everything else. There are things you fear that keep a tight grip on you, even if they’re rather inconsequential. There are people you will distrust, no matter how many opportunities they prove worthy of your trust.

Struggling through depression is certainly not unlike being a drug addict. The drug of choice in this instance is more a cocktail of emotional narcotics—sorrow, pain, worry, anguish, insecurity, loneliness, etc. A nice, long hit of any of these brings a physical release like an alcoholic’s sip. We get addicted to them, and like the addict, we typically know just how terrible they are for us. In spite of that we refuse help, or feel that no help is given when wanted. Our loved ones suffer through it, wondering what they could be doing better, or if they even have the power to continue suffering alongside us.

We will always be considered depressed, even if we aren’t relapsing or falling off the wagon. We will carry this weight with us the entirety of our lives, managing it and fighting it until our last breath. And so will our loved ones.

If you’re reading this and you relate, whether personally or by proxy, then understand you aren’t alone. Seek help as often as you can. Pull yourself as far as you can go, and then ask someone to pull you the rest of the way.

You are not alone. 

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Screams

I’m going to be 30…

In less than a month I will leave my twenties and enter my thirties.

I’m not really one to get upset over the advancement of my age, as it’s inevitable, leaving me with no recourse to alter the outcome. I’m going to get older, and one day in the (hopefully) distant future, I’m going to die. I’ll leave behind everything I’ve ever known, including the ones who have loved me most, and whom I have (hopefully) loved adequately in return. Everything I have acquired in this life, every possession, every dollar and cent, will be dispersed amongst those who knew me best, and hopefully some who never knew me before, but would benefit from something I had to give. I’ll be buried in a box large enough to fit my body, and there will perhaps be some weird doily clothe adorning the inners of my coffin, along with makeup to keep my (hopefully) oldened face from giving any indication that my soul has already left my body, and therefore allow my loved ones to say their goodbyes to a corpse that makes them minimally uncomfortable. I may decide instead to go the route of cremation, saving my family the expenses of a coffin and burial arrangement. Perhaps everyone will be gathered around my ashes housed in an ornate vase (I hope they pronounce it “vahz”, because I’d like my friends to either be pretentious or British). They’ll come to the shores of the ocean or cliff top to scatter my ashes; not because that’s how I wished it to be, but because that’s the most dramatic way to scatter ashes. There will hopefully be a slight gust of wind as the ashes of my once proud and athletic body pour forth, carrying them out into the horizon as a paper lantern floats off into the sunset sky and bagpipes plays in the background, even though I’m not Japanese or Scottish. My loved ones will continue to mourn me for a few weeks, intermittently gathering for recollection and memory sharing. They’ll laugh about the silly and stupid things I’ve done, and perhaps remind themselves of the powerful words I once spoke into their lives at just the right moments. They’ll avoid all the unfortunate things I’ve done and said to them, ignoring the pain I’ve once caused, because who wants to hold on to that? There will be a hearty collective laugh, with a subtle dying out at the end that turns into a breathy sigh, and possibly someone saying, “I’m going to miss him.” Then they’ll go back to work and their everyday lives, and occasionally on the anniversary of my death, remember me for a moment with a social media shoutout. I will one day be relegated to a Facebook status or Twitter mention, and then everyone else will die themselves.

In conclusion, I’m excited to turn 30.

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Screams, Uncategorized

I’m ready to do ministry again…

The other day I announced—to great fanfare—that I’m considering a return to ministry. And by “great fanfare”, I mean that at least three people took notice of it, while the rest of the world gave a sort of meh-ish shrug.

I’ve been working at Yelp for the past six months, and I don’t plan to leave that position. I love this job. That being said, I’ve felt the subtle tug on my heart to return to the pastorate grow into a full blown yank, and it’s time for me to accept the inevitable: the Church, while not an entity I’ve always agreed with on a number of social issues, is a vital part of who I am. I’ve taken nearly three years off from most things church, with a few visits thrown in since moving to Phoenix, but nothing really consistent. This hasn’t been an indication of the depth of my faith, or lack thereof, rather it’s more so been out of self-preservation. Lately, my interactions with Western Christianity™ can be summed up as:

It’s a funny thing when you’ve spent so much of your adult life working in ministry and suddenly aren’t. Since leaving and then moving away to a new land filled with new people, I’ve kept my previous vocation under wraps in a sort of subconscious way. I don’t care that people know about my past, but I avoid bringing it up because I don’t really thing it’s all that interesting. When the subject is broached, I typically get a reaction along the lines of, “Really?! YOU were a pastor?!”

This makes me feel good and bad at the same time. A sense of pride rushes over me that people would see it as surprising to find out about me. As in, I’m not so different from them, which tends to be the opposite of how a lot of Christians posture themselves. On the other side of that token is the feeling of guilt. Is my outward living so abhorrently off-kilter that they could never see me as a “man of the cloth”, a position that requires upright character and moral fortitude?

It’s no sure thing that I’ll even find a place to serve again, let alone full-time. Would I like to make it my sole vocational focus once more? Honestly, yes. I was at my best when involved with a community of people working out their faith and understanding of the world around us. I was at my best while having discussions with teenagers about the nitty gritty of growing up and starting to understand just a snippet who they were as people. I was at my best when working with other people in ministry that I didn’t actually agree with on a whole lot of issues, but still found common ground for love and acceptance to be the glue that holds the community together.

I know that I’ll probably disagree on a number of things with most churches, theologically and socially. However, I know that this is something the Church as a whole needs: diversity in thought. No, I don’t see myself as any sort of certain catalyst for change; that wishful thinking disappeared with my youth. In fact, I would say this diversity in thought is also something I need as much as anyone else. I don’t want to insulate myself with just my liberal-minded peeps. I don’t want to agree with everyone, and I don’t want everyone agreeing with me (although, duh, they’d be better off). I don’t want to only hear the same rhetoric that has me nodding in agreement every time. I need the accountability of my brothers and sisters who disagree with me in order to grow.

The next steps are going to be difficult, and the task of finding the right church will perhaps be arduous. I doubt there are many churches that would be open to someone like me who has taken so much time off ministry, let alone has the type of opinions I do. Perhaps that’s arrogant of me to think. Perhaps I’m not giving them enough credit.

I hope that’s the case.

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Screams

Why you should be a regular…

If you know me, you know that I spend an inordinate amount of my time in coffee shops. You know that the internet and coffee are two things I must have in my day, akin to water and oxygen. I’ve spoken to doctors about it, and I apparently have a physiological need for the two, so there’s just no getting around it; I might as well embrace it.

My favorite place to get my fix of these two necessities of life is at The Coffee Shop, which is perhaps the most literal and appropriate name one could name their business. I’ve been coming here since moving to the Valley two and a half years ago, and while I don’t get to come as often as I used to, I make an effort to stop by a few times a week, even if just to say hello and grab a quick cup on the go. It’s where most my creative juices tend to flow best and the bulk of my writing has taken place.

It’s a good thing—in my opinion—to be involved in the community of which you surround yourself. One of the most important ways we can do this is by frequenting local establishments on a consistent basis, not only to support them, but to also build relationships with the business and its patrons. Becoming a regular is a rewarding thing—for the business, and for yourself. However, there’s a bit of an art to becoming a regular; it’s something that takes time and effort to hone in on and build.

How to become a regular:

  1. Be consistent. Show up. Don’t make it once a month; make it once a week, at least. It doesn’t mean you have to splurge every time you’re there. Maybe you just want a soft drink or coffee. That’s fine.
  2. Get to know the staff. Know their names. Ask them how they’re doing. If the place isn’t busy, have a conversation with them. I guarantee you this will pay dividends in the future, which is something I’ll get into more here in a bit.
  3. Know the other regulars. You’ll soon see it’s not just you who goes there on a consistent basis. Shared experiences, even with strangers, tend to lead to an understanding, and can even lead to a new relationship. You don’t have to approach everyone in the place, but give a knowing nod, or a quick “hello” here and there. You’ll probably see each other at random places elsewhere, and that’s when the awkward “we recognize each other but we haven’t really spoken before so I’m not sure how to navigate this scenario” moment happens. It’s a good ice breaker. In fact, this is partially how my current roommate and I came to be friends, as we were both regulars here, and had mutual friends who were also regulars that introduced us. The world is more connected than you realize. Take advantage of it.
  4. Tip well. If they offer the chance to leave a tip, leave a tip. And leave a darn good tip. None of that paltry 10% junk. Heck, sticking to 20% is still being a bit of a stickler. Don’t break out a calculator so you can get the exact percentage. Figure out the estimate in your head as to whatever 20% might be, and then give a little more. A dollar extra goes a long way, and regardless of how the service was, you’ll see it brighten someone’s day.

The benefits of being a regular:

  1. Perks. Do you even know the perks of being a regular, bro? I get free refills, sometimes entirely free drinks, and occasionally they’ll throw in a cupcake or two.
  2. Easy ordering and less waiting. I’m a creature of habit at times, so my baristas almost always know what I want. In fact, it’s a shock to their system when I get something else to drink, and like a white girl, they can’t even. Because they know what I want I sometimes don’t have to worry about waiting in the insanely long lines The Coffee Shop can have, which is a testament to how amazing this place is. I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve been standing at the back of the line and someone will bring out my drink. They know I’m good for it, and when the line dies down I’ll return and pay. Which brings me to my next point…
  3. Trust. I’ve forgotten my wallet a couple times, and it’s always a little embarrassing when I get up there and order, only to find out I don’t have my debit card. No worries, because the baristas will either give it to me for free (never something I expect or plan on), or let me pay it back later. Thankfully, I live just across the street from this place, so I’ll quickly return in a moment to pay them back. And add an extra large tip.
  4. The people watching. This is one of my favorite things to do, because I’m sort of creepy like that. I pick a spot in the back corner, do my work, and observe the world around me. It’s a fascinating look into humanity and life, and I get to be privy to a certain number of situations that will honestly teach me a lot about people, as well as myself. I’ve been able to see the beginning, progression, and ending to a number of relationships, all without so much as even knowing the names of some of those people. This allows me to create elaborate backstories for all kinds of things, developing a live action soap opera just for me. Again, it might sound a little creepy, but who are you to judge, buddy? Get off my back.

Find that place you like so much that you keep going back, and make an effort to go there. If you’re not convinced by now to become a regular somewhere, there’s nothing else I can do for you. You’re a lost cause. A disappointment to your mother and me.

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A Father’s Day for Sonny…

When I was 12 years old, I lost my father to cancer. It was one of the most devastating moments in my life, even if I had fair warning it was going to happen. Death, no matter the amount of warning, is always a sucker punch to the gut.

But this isn’t about Keith Murray. This is about James Ledbetter, my step-father.

My mom and dad divorced when I was four, and she remarried a few years after. Sonny—the name everyone knows him by—came into my life as a father figure when I still had a father. He never tried to replace my dad in any way, but nary a young child would ever feel their real father who is still a part of their life isn’t being usurped by an interloper. Needless to say, I had issues with Sonny.

I never really gave him a fair shake. Actually, I was quite petulant towards him, which is something I’m sure a lot of people would understand a kid in my position to be. When my father died, things didn’t quite change for the better with Sonny. In fact, I became more headstrong, unwilling to flinch on my insistence that I already had a father, even though he was currently buried within the Earth.

The thing you need to know about Sonny is that even though he has one of the greatest senses of humor you’ll encounter, he’s still very much the strong, silent type. The man worked with rock for the majority of his life, digging it out and blowing it to smithereens in order to make roadways and concrete. He was, by all accounts, the quintessential blue collar man, living by the mantra of doing one’s job and doing it right. I mistook his quiet resolve as inaction and an inability to communicate and empathize (these are things every 12 year old thinks about, right?), thereby widening the rift between the two of us currently occupied by the ghost of my father.

Over the years as I grew more independent and less willing to take advice, I avoided having much of a relationship with him. We didn’t talk. We never got together outside family events, unless I needed money/help. He’s the type of man that will admit fault as equally in all this as I do, but if I’m being completely honest with myself and you, I was a twerp. A little twerp who feigned not knowing any better, but actually knew quite well what he was doing. I still held so much resentment toward him for a number of things, the biggest of which was completely beyond his control: he wasn’t Keith Murray.

My family moved to Arizona close to a decade ago, and in 2011 I did something that would have been unthinkable to a 21 year old me: I followed them.

I was dealing with my own demons (still am), and knew that the support system I always wanted was only going to be available to me if I allowed it to be. In the two and a half years since moving, I’ve come to understand Sonny in ways I never thought possible. A light on my past has been shed that puts things into far better perspective.

He was a man who showed up.

Through all the basketball games, all the Taekwondo tournaments (more than we can count), all the car troubles, all the financial difficulties. He was there, cheering me on or picking me up off the ground. The more I learn about myself, the more I see his indelible fingerprint of his on who I am. My sense of humor. My newfound willingness to quiet my mouth and listen, sometimes not even saying anything at all.

No, we didn’t go out in the backyard and toss the pigskin around; although I think he tried doing that with me one time, but I brushed him off with some remark about him not being my dad. Yes, I was that cliche.

Nobody would mistake us for activity partners. Nobody would look at us—him standing 5’7″ with the build of a manual laborer, me standing 6’2″ with the build of a tall pencil —and mistake us for father and son. Yet, that’s exactly what we are. He’s been a part of my life longer than he hasn’t.

Keith Murray is my father, the man who gave me life, my name, and countless other things. A man I will forever love, miss, and hope to one day have the honor of passing on his name to my children.

But James “Sonny” Ledbetter is my dad. He always has been, and always will be.

Happy Father’s Day, Sonny. I love you.

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Screams

Eleven o’clock on a Saturday night…

It’s eleven o’clock on a Saturday night and I’m sitting here at a community table in the middle of a crowded coffee shop that’s bordering on 90s club scene as Metallica plays loud in the background. I have headphones in my ears while I listen to a remix of some song I’ve never heard of, wondering if the original is as fulfilling as this one. I’m drinking an agave wheat beer because the simple nut brown ale I wanted was all out, even though it’s on the menu. Everything is always out here, so the alternative choices are all I get, even if I’d hardly consider many of them alternatives to their preceding choices.

I work a job during the week that keeps my bank account active but my body and mind inert. When I get home from work, I have two choices to make, both polar opposites on the spectrum of activities. I can stay at home and lounge on the couch with my dog, or go to the gym that my work subsidizes a membership for, play a game or two of basketball, run on a treadmill for a mile so I can feel like I did something productive. And then go home and lounge on the couch with my dog. If I go to the gym, I’ll have to deal with the social awkwardness of pretending I don’t notice everyone around me, and that I don’t care that they can see me. I’ll have to accept the fact that many of them are more dedicated than I’ll ever be to any one thing, potential future spouse and children more than likely included. I’ll either still be at home or finally get there after the gym and look at myself in the mirror, unhappy with the reflection before me. I’ll stare for awhile, trying to convince myself that I’m somehow getting in shape, whatever the hell that even means.

Is that a vein that wasn’t there before? Well, it looks like it, so I guess I can handle a bag of Doritos here this one time. Oh, great. It’s getting closer to ten o’clock, which is my self-imposed bedtime that allows me an arbitrarily healthy amount of sleep before I have to wake up and repeat everything all over again the next day. Didn’t I used to get excited about no bedtimes in adulthood? Wasn’t that supposed to be part of the allure of adulthood? Wasn’t that a thing?

I hardly know what things are things anymore, and what things I experience were things I hoped to experience in the past. Like the weekdays, it’s all a bit blurred together as I trek on closer to my far off weekends of respite and true fulfillment; those days when I’ll finally be able to come alive and enjoy myself, trying new and exciting things, meeting new and exciting people. Except…it’s eleven o’clock on a Saturday night and I’m sitting here at a community table in the middle of a crowded coffee shop that’s bordering on 90s club scene as Metallica plays loud in the background.

Well shit.

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