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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, 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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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 what child doesn’t think a new step-father isn’t some sort of paternal 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 was overlooked on the basis of my age. 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 empathize (these are things every 12 year old thinks about, right?), thereby widening the rift between the two of us 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 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 in 2006, and in 2011 I did something that would have been unthinkable to a younger me: I followed them.

I was dealing with my own demons, 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 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 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 human-sized 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 a ridiculous nose. 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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An admitedly douchebag of a post…

In case you hadn’t heard, I started a new job at Yelp on January 6 of this year EXACTLY 2014 years after the death of Christ. The position is so eloquently titled as Account Executive, but don’t be fooled: I’m not nearly as fancy as it makes me out to be.

 Unless you’re a total babe, in which case I’m a big deal with a desk and all. 

 This will be first 9-5 Monday-Friday job I’ve had, and it’s certainly an adjustment to make. As you can imagine, I’m not able to sit in at coffee shops very often—a favorite past time of mine—which means that I’m subsequently unable to write and post to Twitter and Facebook as often as before. 

 We now take a moment to pause while the world lets out a collective weep and gnashing of teeth borne out of disappointment and despair.

 It’s been an interesting experience consistently getting up at 4:30 in the morning (I still write for the tech website and do that before work) in order to be in the office by 6:15. Oh, I don’t have to be in there until 7, but in my never-ending need to always be early and prepared, I get there 45 minutes early to eat (free) breakfast and get some reading done so my brain is fully prepared for the onslaught that is my workday. The accounts I work with are located in the greater Chicago area, so I’m one hour behind them until the scourge that is Daylight Savings Time changes, and then I’ll be two hours behind. This is why I’m in the office by 7 (6:15), and why I get out by 4 (not really, as I’m typically not out until 4:30 or later, but don’t tell my bosses; or better yet, do tell my bosses). 

 My schedule hasn’t been this regimented since my college days, which isn’t to say much. I averaged no more than five hours of sleep a night, well over one hour of napping a day, and far more than 4 cups of coffee a day. I had a lot of “school work” to do, you see. But I had a “schedule”, and I’d like to think that somehow prepared me for my current job.

 Truthfully, this is one of the few times I’ve actually felt like an adult, and I love it. I never thought I’d be cut out for the office and corporate world, but so far it’s doing wonders for my sanity. Perhaps that has to do with the promise of a consistent paycheck and the potential for a comfortable earning. Oh, and I have health benefits—full medical, dental, and vision from day one at zero cost to me—as well free breakfast and lunches, and other fantastic perks (we have kegs in our offices; let that sink in). I’ll be the first to admit that this sort of “corporate life” is atypical, and perhaps very well-suited to my personality and goals in life (beer drinking, mostly), so it’s not as if I can really label it as “corporate life”, but lay off me; I’m trying to assimilate. 

 What’s the point of all this? Well, there really isn’t one. Not everything has to have a point, you metaphorical, pragmatic son of a gun. I’m just letting you all know I now have another kickass job on top of my writing gig, and I’m very excited about it. Am I bragging? Yes, but I have to endure all your posts on Twitter and Facebook about your silly babies and stuff, so you’ll humor me on this. Besides, what I’m bragging about at least puts money in my bank account, whereas yours takes it out. Babies are broke, and that is a fundamental flaw.

 Did I mention it’s the middle of the workday on a Monday and I’m getting paid right now to write about this, even though I’m not in the office? MLK Day, y’all. We get that ish off, along with 21 other paid holidays. 

 Toodles.

 

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Sports and Politics: Us vs Them

Fans of one specific sports team are always a little bit interesting to me. Now, I love team sports; especially basketball and soccer. However, I get the following question all the time when the discussion turns to a specific sport, “Who is your favorite team?”

There’s a very subtle and possibly insignificant choice of wording with that question, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.

“WHO is your favorite team?” (I’ll get back to this a little later.)

My answer is almost always the same: I don’t have one. If a basketball game is on TV, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m going to watch it, typically regardless of which teams are playing. I’m an obsessive NBA fan, but I don’t have a preferred team. There are certain players I prefer to watch if given the opportunity, each one vastly different from the other in how they approach the game, and those are reasons why I appreciate them. However, I don’t own any team or player gear. I play basketball four times a week, but any pair of basketball shoes I own is devoid of a specific player design. That’s not to say this should be the case for everyone, but it typifies the way in which I approach sports; and even other things in life.

People tend to identify with one team based off various factors, be they location, familial tradition, or player loyalty. If you follow the NFL at all, you know that yesterday provided a very intriguing litmus test for fandom as the Colts took on the Broncos, which featured Peyton Manning—the Colts’ former superstar quarterback—going up against his former team and their budding superstar quarterback, Andrew Luck, who for all intents and purposes replaced Manning last year. Being from Indiana, I know that loyalty to the Colts and Peyton Manning were for years mutually inclusive, but now individuals have had to reconcile the idea that the player they’ve so identified with has moved on to another team, while their favorite team has moved on to another quarterback. It was a compelling juxtaposition for me, honestly, and it’s played out in dramatic fashion over the last week leading up to the game.

Why do we identify so much with one player or team, of which neither has any point of identification with us beyond our fandom for them? People will shout and fight to defend their favorite player or team, and even scream or cry when the game doesn’t go in their favor. High school and college rivalries have caused fights and riots, in the past, but I can at least identify with this due to the fact that the students involved are actually a technical part of the school, but that’s still odd to me. On the professional level, it goes even more over board.

I don’t begrudge anyone for their fandom, by any means. In fact, I didn’t use to perceive things this way; as a sort of personified Switzerland, remaining neutral in most areas. I used to loath people who couldn’t pick a side of the fence, thinking that they were just afraid to commit to one idea, or even stand up for it. That’s changed for me over the years, and I’m thankful for that. I still have my passionate opinions on things, and there are certain topics that absolutely are black and white, but not as many as I once thought.

Let’s take politics, for instance. The politcal arena is not unlike the football arena, except for the fact that there are typically only two teams. Those teams are Us vs Them. Democrats vs Republicans. Liberals vs Conservatives. We identify with and pick a certain side, and then we tend to remain on that side, no matter how foolish it seems in certain moments and in the face of special circumstances. There’s very little overlap between the two ideaologies and how we perceive them. It’s gotten to the point that when I encounter someone who can articulate a stable and reasonable perspective while identifying with multiple points on either side without anger, I’m surprised. I’m so confused I nearly crap myself, as there’s no other way for me to process it.

We tend to humanize the ideals that we fight for, and dehumanize those who disagree with them.

This brings me back to the question at the beginning of this post I get asked all the time.

“WHO is your favorite team?”

It’s a subtle and more than likely subconscious choice of a word, but if we dig deeper, we can probably make a healthy assumption that there is a reason for it. That team we love is us. They represent our engagement with the sport, for better or worse. In politics, the political party we identify with is a representation of all the ideals we abide by, even if they really don’t. We fight against the opposing “team”, and nothing shall stand in our way to “victory”, whatever the hell that really means. The government shutdown we all experienced recently is a perfect example of this, though slightly more nuanced. Two sides of competing forces trying to give us an example of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object.

This is largely why I prefer not to pick a “team”. Personally, I prefer to just sit back and watch the game.

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Corporate greed and consumeristic integiry…

There’s a coffee shop somewhere that I recently read about. I don’t have any more details than that, other than the unique way this coffee shop goes about its business. Instead of having electrical outlets strewn throughout the building—as most coffee shops are wont to do—this particular shop has none. You would have zero way of charging your laptop, phone, or other electrical device whilst sipping on your fair trade cup of joe.

At first glance, this sort of business practice seems incredibly silly. Why would you want to alienate potential customers that are looking for a place to shack up and get some things done? But that’s just the genius behind this plan. Nobody is telling someone they can’t shack up and do their work. They’re just relegated to however long their device lasts. Once your computer dies out, you’re going to have to go somewhere else with your freeloading. We’ve all seen (or in my case, been) that guy who spends hours in a coffee shop, using the WiFi, but only buying one drink. Not possible with this place.

In spite of this odd business practice—or perhaps because of it—this shop has seen business grow at a steady pace, keeping itself in business and able to offer its customers a stellar product and experience.

All over the world, we are seeing businesses take to strange and extreme methodologies. Well, strange and extreme in the context of the lens we’ve been given to look at how a business should be operating. If you know anything about the recent history of our culture and the economy it has operated within, you know the following:

1) The 1980s were a time filled with corporate greed and self-aggrandized posturing. Status was huge, and it was a good thing to seek material wealth in a way like never before.

2) The 1990s were more or less the twilight years of consumerism and materialistic thinking. The internet was just taking off, and so was our economy. With little foresight to the eventual problems to come, we had set ourselves up rather nicely to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

3) Then the 2000s happened and it all went to shit. Our proverbial chickens had come home to roost, as a once seemingly healthy and robust economy was destroyed by the corporate greed that helped build it.

We are in the rebuilding process in a lot of ways. The world is smaller due to communications options never afforded to humanity before, and the goodness of people is starting to shine through a little brighter. Yes, there is still greed, as there always will be. But no, we’re not going to take it anymore.

A little less than a year ago, I began the process of starting up a business with a former coworker of mine. We wanted to build an urban farm in the heart of our community, and provide the residents with a healthy and sustainable option for their food, as well as foster an environment that encouraged interaction and ownership. While that farm eventually did not work out, the response we got from the community in the beginning stages was phenomenal. There is a massive desire from consumers to not just consume, but to take part in the process and story of what they’re consuming. There’s no getting around the fact that much of what we do is material, and that’s ok. However, we have a moral obligation to not only ourselves, but to the rest of humanity to operate in a smarter, more intelligent fashion. We have seen the negative long-term effects of choices made in the past, and we don’t wish to repeat them, lest we leave the coming generations with little to nothing.

Because of this—and back to my original point—businesses are beginning to employ tactics never before considered, because compared to what we know about business, they wouldn’t necessarily help the company’s bottom line. One of my favorite companies, Patagonia, offers up a perfect example of this. They provide ethically made outdoor clothing that is built to outlast and outlive the actual person using it. Because of this immense high quality, their products are rather expensive. In the run up to the Christmas shopping season, the company ran a brilliant—and savvy—campaign encouraging consumers to consider their purchases, and get only what they needed. (All I have is the mobile link for that, sorry.)

The tagline for the campaign?

“Don’t buy this jacket.”

The whole point was to foster this idea of smart consumerism and ethical business practices. Most of what we buy is built to fade and diminish over a short period of time, so as to force the purchaser to get the next product coming out of the pipeline. This is called “planned obsolescence”, and it’s at the very foundation of almost everything we consume; be it clothing, computers, etc.

We live in a culture that once would have responded to this with, “So what? That’s what capitalism is all about.”

I’m proud to say that our culture, for the most part, is beginning to remove such a short-sighted and selfish perspective from itself, and push for a more wholistic approach to providing an experience to its consumers that in turn makes them a community. It’s an exciting time; one filled with opportunity. Don’t let any politician or naysayer tell you otherwise. We have the tools and options at our disposal to disrupt so much more in this world than ever before. One of the greatest ways we can continue to fight against the unregulated corporate greed that pervades our society is to be smarter consumers, choosing more ethically and letting our purchasing habits reflect a greater trend in our culture; a trend that is moving toward community and sustainability. No greedy corporation can withstand a community of smart, savvy consumers.

To do your part, find those businesses in your community and within your lifestyle that reflect these values. Find the ones that do things so differently, that you almost tilt your head in wonder at how they’re still in business. And then give them your business.

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