The Monsters

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Anytown USA

I’m home today having thrown my back out moving furniture. I would not say that I am bored but I’m pretty much couch-bound because I need to go back to work tomorrow as things were left hanging that require my attention.

Stuck in the living room on an unusually warm February day is not my idea of time off. It’s me and the laptop for the most part, and the news rolls by my screen as always does.

This morning, near where I grew up, a seventh-grader shot himself in a restroom. After the scene was secured, hundreds of frightened parents milled about outside the school waiting to get their kids, who were, for good measure, texting them from inside the school, some with last wishes, i.e. not to be cremated.

I am numb and don’t want to be. I told my shrink yesterday that I am sick of the emotional flatlining provided by medications that aren’t even indicated for my condition. It’s hard to work up rage, let alone joy. I go from numb to depression and occasionally, being moderately upset.

I can quite calmly talk about horrible things and this is not right. No human being should think of 17 dead children and a seventh grader starting his school day by attempting suicide without feeling some kind of grief or rage. And yet, here I am, trying to say something in the best way I can – in writing. Numb.

The police at the grade school have decided to let the parents in to get their children (children they are but will no longer remain). They will let them in 10 at a time. Can you imagine?

I feel something stir inside me. But it passes. I need to be updated on the situation. So I look.

Not much. Apparently the parents got their kids and the condition of the child who tried to kill himself is yet unknown. I run across other articles in my search, though. The headlines, all local to NE Ohio:

Two Willoughby high school students accused of posting social media threat that referenced shooting

Student arrested for Instagram threat against Green Middle School

There was a lot of hand-wringing in the 60s about American society coming apart at the seams – Vietnam, drugs, The Rolling Stones, etc. We’re still hating on each other even more now with a twist – our children are now self-destructing.

There’s not enough room here or desire from me to go into all the sociological pathologies (so I provide links, because I’m tiring easily today) that have led us to this point. The main point I’m trying to make is that I don’t really think, with all the distractions American society provides, that even the most aware among us understands how truly dangerous our situation is.

I’ve spent a lifetime playing Cassandra to my little world. My little world grew tired of my ranting and raving and now I can no longer rant and rave. I put words on websites and send them out like paper airplanes hoping they’ll be read by a person or two.

Caution: a very thin line separates a fractured society from total disintegration. We have moved right up to that line, in my estimation, when many of our children look at the world they will inherit and say ‘no thanks.’

Consider that hate is a fashion statement, violence is speech, money is God, empathy is weakness, cruelty is kindness and environmentalism is for losers. I’ve lived 55 years and I’ve never seen my people this angry.

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They are us

We’re finding out how easy it is to turn us against each other – the Russians hardly have to lift a finger to do it – we don’t even need a reason anymore to hate, but it’s better if someone provides one.

In reality, the Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans – they’re the enemies we’re being pointed towards, as we have always been pointed toward external enemies.

But while we spin like turret lathes at the latest thing that makes us seethe, our children are killing each other and themselves. And we talk about guns and drugs, and video games but it’s all the same – the enemy is the society we have created that encompass all of these things into one giant toxic stew of inhumanity.

The enemy that is destroying us is internal. It’s a rehash of our long-running prejudices, fears, envy, resentments and animal instincts. We have been taught very carefully to believe we have been cheated out of the good life by some ethnic group, dark cabal or political party. We look at our fellow Americans and too many of us see monsters.

The kids are not alright. Their parents are in even worse shape and no one knows what to do.

Of course, this self-destructive national paranoia reminds me of Rod Serling’s warnings contained in The Twilight Zone series – each episode a little homily addressed to us that went largely ignored. The episode that comes to mind here is ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.’

Here’s the more modern version.

You can watch it for yourself. I just re-watched it and feel even number. I want to be angry, I want to scream, cry and do something – anything – but I’ve done that for so long and seen so little progress I can’t even raise enough ire to save myself anymore.

I’ve been hearing sirens all morning. It’s like the soundtrack of American life.

So, while I melt into the couch of my cozy American living room, I leave you with Serling’s ending monologue to the ‘Monsters’ episode – even more pertinent today than it was in 1960:

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Posted in Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, existential dread, mental health, paranoia, passion, society, Twilight Zone, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hitting for the Cycle in BPD

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    Mike Trout hit for the cycle once. Look what they did to him. I would really HATE that. It’s like having an unexpected shower.

    In baseball, hitting for the cycle is the accomplishment of one batter hitting a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in the same game. Collecting the hits in that order is known as a “natural cycle” – Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

I have invented my own ‘Cycle.’ And here it is.

In one day when I:

  • Have a bout of anger/rage
  • Have an anxiety attack causing me to take Ativan
  • Experience tears for whatever reason or no reason
  • Have a period of disassociation

THAT, my friends is hitting for my personal cycle.

It has happened, thankfully about as frequently as it happens in baseball. And when it happens, at the end of the day, I’m non-functional. I know I will overeat. I know I won’t say very much to my wife. I know I won’t take a shower. And I know I will go to bed at or before 7 p.m. with the cocktail of Ativan and extra Z-Quil.

I also find that these days run at the end of stress cycles. I’m almost expecting one this week, due to the amount of running around and public events I will have to handle. Today, Monday, is the calm before the storm. I have a staff meeting (which is stressful enough) and a phone consultation (which should be less stressful) and then I leave early to see my analyst.

Note: I have tried not to use the word ‘shrink’ or even psychologist, preferring ‘analyst,’ since it sounds like someone overworked executives in New York would see.

Other people have shrinks and life coaches. I have an analyst.

Well, it makes me feel better about the whole thing anyway.

So at the end of this week, if I hit for the cycle it will come either Thursday or Friday. The only saving grace for me is that afterwards, I have a four-day weekend. I will need it.

Maybe my analyst can give me some guidance on merely hitting a few singles or one double rather the whole enchilada.

Posted in anxiety, ativan, baseball, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, counseling, mood swings, New York City, psychoanalysis, PTSD | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Send my regrets

This one is purely personal.

So this morning, home because of the weather, I watched last night’s This is Us.

candle__TM6FAAnd I found out my second cousin who I went to high school with had died. I hadn’t seen him in over 30 years.

And I thought that I couldn’t say much because he was one of my sister’s Facebook friends as is his sister.

And my sister and I haven’t said a word to each other in five years. And it’s probably going to stay that way until one of us dies. And we won’t go to each other’s funerals.

We’re not the Pearsons.

I don’t know what the Hell we are or were.

And I hate it that the only memory that keeps coming through about my cousin Matt was the time we were walking down the hall at Lake Catholic and he mentioned to a couple of girls in our class that we were cousins.

I think I know who those girls were but I’m not saying. Let’s just say they were very popular.

And one of them said “how did that happen?”

And they laughed.

And I felt, for a moment, some of the deepest shame I have ever felt in my life.

It wasn’t Matt’s fault. It just happened. And it seared its way into my memory for almost 40 years the ways memories do to those of us who are overly-sensitive.

And I think it’s a shame that I can’t approach the family.

Because of my sister.

Because they believe the things she has said about me. And they’re not the only ones.

I could say some things back about my sister, but I can’t go there. If I go back there, I’ll never get out.

To this day, I wonder why she hated and detested me. I honestly have wondered about that and only that.

Was it because I was born first? That’s the best reason I can come up with. I got in the way.

Was it because my mother, in an unforgivable moment, told her I was the favored child?

Oh yeah, had to be that too. Like I had anything to do with that. I have never forgiven my mother for doing that.

And was it also because there was something about me that embarrassed her? Yes, I think so. Just one thing I remember from one of the last times we were together with my mom before mom died. She had to ridicule me for being a fan of Roxy Music. To this day I have no idea why.

Why she hated me so much – with a visceral hate that I can’t even put into words. Why she behaved the way she did to my mom and dad and now puts on a show about how much she misses them both.

I’ll stop there.

I had a family once. It wasn’t perfect; no family is.

But we were together – the four of us, our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. . .

And it’s been gone for years. I have three cousins still alive who I haven’t spoken to in many years. A few of them because of my sister. My God, what they must think of me.

But in reality, they’re all gone, gone, gone. All I have is photographs and memories.

And I have a second cousin whose funeral I will be too afraid to go to.

And I wish I could say something, anything, that could ‘fix’ things but as long as either myself or my sister is alive, nothing can be fixed. In the end, I can’t change her. All I can do, for the sake of my own mental health,  is avoid her completely until one of us dies.

And I know how sad that is. Especially when I see Kevin and Randall and Kate Pearson and how they had to reconcile the issues between them after Jack died so they could form a bond that would never break.

But some things that are broken in real life can’t be fixed. I watch the show and all I can think about is how my family were the anti-Pearsons. And I wonder what cosmic sins our family could have committed to cast us in that role. My mother was big on generational sins. Maybe we paid for the sins of our dead relatives. It’s all so disgustingly sad.

And, as an aside, the fact that Jack bought tickets to his family for Bruce Springsteen (yes, the tickets had ‘The Benedum Center’ as the venue) a few days before he died wrecked me.

The last time I saw Springsteen last year I just sat and numbly watched. Something was missing. Something has been missing – for years. And there’s no way to get it back. I avoid Springsteen music in the car and all the music I used to love because of the memories they bring back and I can’t stand it.

Maybe I should listen to some Roxy Music.

I had another cousin, a first cousin named Phil. He was my mother’s sister’s son. He died in 2005 at the age of 46 of liver disease, which I have. We grew up together, went to each other’s weddings. I didn’t go to his funeral and I don’t remember why but I have felt tremendous guilt ever since. It’s probably why his sisters don’t speak to me. Their father, my Uncle George, died in 2013, a few months after my mother died. No one told me. I found out by accident googling him.

Isn’t that the way they say it goes. . .

Well let’s forget all that
And give me the number if you can find it
So I can call just to tell ’em I’m fine, and to show
I’ve overcome the blow
I’ve learned to take it well
I only wish my words
Could just convince myself
That it just wasn’t real
But that’s not the way it feels

— Jim Croce

Posted in Borderline Personality Disorder, Catholic school, children, class reunion, getting old, growing up, mental health, music, my father, parents, regret, Springsteen, When we were very young | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How I Finally Received My Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis After 40 Years

My latest story has appeared on The Mighty (below). They wanted stories of how we came to our BPD diagnosis. In my case, it took a long time.
 female psychiatrist with male patient as he looks off into distance

For decades, it was clear something wasn’t right.

My mother, a professional educator, knew there was something wrong with my behavior, so she sent me off to my first therapist at the tender age of 14. I can still remember him blowing smoke rings while I cried. My first therapy experience was not very productive.

Why was I even there? My mother knew I was acting out in school (a Catholic elementary where all of my teachers K-8 were nuns) and even to the point of being defiant. But they had no idea why and I wasn’t telling them.

After the disaster of that first try at therapy, I was pretty much on my own until late college when I started going again, on my own volition. For the most part, I had a deep desire to talk to someone — someone who would agree that my problems with keeping friends, getting along with co-workers and fits of rage, were because of wrongs done to me.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) was not that well understood when I was a young adult. The diagnosis didn’t appear in a diagnostic manual until the DSM III in 1980. Marsha Linehan introduced dialectal behavior therapy (DBT) as an effective treatment in 1993.

By 1993, at the age of 30, I had already seen more than 10 therapists. Most of them believed I was living with some form of depression. I got all kinds of pills — I was on the psycho-pharma merry-go-round.

In 1996, my first marriage ended and in 1997 a new one began with barely enough time to find myself, let alone a compatible partner. I had married the first women who would say yes; now, terrified of being alone, I married the second woman who said yes. I should have been a better husband in both cases and I truly regret that.

Through the 90s and into the 2000s, more therapists and more diagnosis came and went — dysthymiamajor depressive disorder (MDD), mood disorder not otherwise specified, anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and so on. Later, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder II were added, not without reason.

By 2010, I was married for a third time. I had lost a job in radio and in print journalism after absolutely pointless fit-throwing and immature ranting. As the decade wore on and the effects became worse, it gradually dawned on me that the only constant in all of these lost marriages, jobs and friendships was me.

By the summer of 2017, I had been on over 30 different medications and had over 30 different mental health professionals in my 54 years.

I started seeing my current psychiatrist in 2013. While seeing her, I went through four more therapists. I was seriously ready to give up on therapy.

During one check-in with my psychiatrist last summer, I ranted again about people who had, in some way, wronged me. I described a mass unfriending of Facebook friends as a “decapitation” that had been a long time in coming.

The doctor had a funny look on her face — one she’d had before during one of my “episodes.” A cautious woman, at this point, whatever I had been saying to her for the last four years reached critical mass.

She got up and got her copy of the DSM-V. She opened it to the nine criteria of which five must be present for a diagnosis of BPD. She put the book in my lap.

I’ll never forget the sinking feeling of looking at the criteria. Silently, I tallied them up in my head. “Seven of them unmistakably, two of them probable,” I told her. She nodded. After over 40 years, I finally had a proper diagnosis.

How did I (and everyone else) miss this?

Many of my symptoms mimicked bipolar disorder II and that diagnosis still sticks, although now as a secondary. But what about before that diagnosis? I had spent years talking the ears off my therapists to no avail — however, I had to admit that, up until now, I had not worked with a therapist for over one year and most for six months or less. They never got to really know me.

And with all the therapists I fired, I lashed out at those I felt were not taking me seriously or telling me what I want to hear. And then fearing life without therapy, I would quickly look for another therapist again. Two symptoms are present right there.

I could talk all day but I had to admit – many times I was putting on a show for the therapist. I’d manipulate (symptom) the conversation to score points and demonstrate not only my intelligence, but the fact my problems were the result of the way others treated me.

And BPD was something so off the charts for me that I never even considered it. It was in front of my face all the time. I could have been diagnosed much earlier if I had dared to be honest with myself and my therapist. And, finally, I spent enough time with one mental health professional for her to put the puzzle together.

If I had to offer any advice for those seeking a diagnosis that fits, no matter how much we hate it, my best tip is this: consider the problem may be in your own behavior, your own reactions to people and events and your own inability to rationally process your anger. If you can face these truths honestly, and be open enough about them in therapy, you may save yourself from years of frustration.

I should have been diagnosed no later than age 35. And it was mostly my fault. Therapy should not be treated as a game — realize that real work has to be done by you and that honesty is the most important facet of counseling. Sometimes, possibly in my case, these realizations only came with a long march toward emotional maturity.

I wish you well in your journey toward mental health and greater self-awareness.

 Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Posted in anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, depression, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, mental health, middle age, parents, PTSD, regret, stigma, The Mighty | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Zen in the City

Dylan-Thomas-at-White-Horse-Tavern-by-Bunny-Adler1-1917x1940When I got to New York City, I feel a little like Dylan Thomas in London: intoxicated, yet feeling every vibration of life within the city. I know no one, yet I feel on some level, I know everyone. I become fast friends with the Steeler fans in a tavern in Hell’s Kitchen: for a few hours, a20180114_125736 common experience.

Feeling the wind blow through me, standing on the bleachers in Times Square: the lights, the sounds, the feeling that I’m part of something that has a pulse and an energy that banishes all the depression and anger and soullessness in me – for a while.

20171219_163410The streets are alive like no other city I’ve been too. Strangely, I never feel alone. Even the hotel doorman is a kindred spirit.

My habit of going to my front door every hour or so to make sure the world outside my home is safe disappears here. Even in the dankest subway, I feel safe. It makes no sense whatsoever to me. I just feel what I feel.

Uptown, downtown, Central Park. I can find a place to relax and stare in wonder any time.

New York is better than Cymbalta. Not one person in three visits has made me ill at ease. People have places to go, things to do. I blend in.

The Strand Bookstore – an amazing place where I rub shoulders with people who really care about what to read. I picked up a few graphic novels – something I’ve always wanted to do and with the selection offered, I was almost paralyzed by the number of options.

Skipping along the tree lines streets of the Upper West Side humming a Simon and Garfunkel song (so many New York songs) and somehow I understood how the city has

upper_west_side_evolutionbeen America’s creative muse for over a century. There are a million stories here, waiting to be unlocked. The streets, the buildings, the museums, the subway – all resonate with enough history to fill countless museums.

And yet, I know this is a fantasy. I am a tourist, albeit a bewitched one. I cannot afford to live here, Hell, I almost can’t afford to visit as much as we have. I know there is crime, poverty, Fox News.

But from the time I enter the tunnel until the time I leave, I feel like I’ve been in a world where I belong; a place I don’t get panic attacks or sudden deep mood changes — Just sore feet on occasion.

I can’t wait to go back.

 

Posted in Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, depression, Distractions, Happiness, mental health, New York City | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Blessed

We received another one of those nice photographs of a family we used to know in another state out west.

I had to admit they are a fine-looking bunch – mom and dad, preternaturally young looking despite their middle age, the grandparents, beaming with joy, and the kids, all good looking with the daughter’s boyfriend/fiancé/I have no real idea in a striking cowboy hat. They certainly look like they all have their shit together.

At the bottom of the glossy photo collage is a word I see in so many of these photo collections, both in real life and on Facebook: ‘blessed.’

blessedHow nice.

I’m not ever sure how I’m supposed to react to these. No one sends out photo collages at the holidays of alcoholic parents, goth kids out of rehab and grandparents, mouths agape, in nursing homes.

How nice for them. They’re doing so well. No really, I have no animosity, I just wonder: how? How do you do it? Or, rather, is there some darkness hiding behind the perfect clothes, the perfect smiles in the perfectly staged photos?

We may never know. I see similar photos in Facebook of people I know, in extended families or couples, dressed to the nines, in fancy resorts, surrounded by holiday ivy and all bundled together next to adorned fireplaces. It’s a wonderful world. I wonder why I couldn’t have been a part of one.

It’s not like my family didn’t take photos – we did. Olan Mills made some money off us. I can remember one family portrait of the four of us, treated to make it look like it was painted. If you look at it carefully, or as an empath, it’s not hard to get the uneasy feeling that there was something amiss.

I burned that portrait last year on my back porch. I couldn’t stand to look at it any more.

Much of the family dysfunction I’ve covered in other posts. Suffice it to say an effort was made to make us presentable, respectable while I turned into a twisted intellectual, cynical.

There are times
When all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.

Won’t you please,
Please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
Please tell me who I am.

We went to church, got the sacraments, spent three hours in our bedrooms on Good Friday contemplating Jesus’ misery. I went to Catholic church for 12 years.

How does one become blessed in circumstances of abuse?

Blessed was a word that was not thrown around in my time. It has become the word du jour for people who, to the best of my discernment, believe themselves somehow to be in God’s graces. For that they have health, wealth and love.

There are two words here as well. One, is BLESSED – as in ‘we are blessed by the Priest who waves his hands and bestows God’s grace upon is.’ The other is BLESS-SED, as in ‘blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus.’ I guess they’re the same word with slightly different uses. Now it just seems to me the word means ‘God likes us – see?’

For those of us who knew the pain, as Janis Ian sang, of relations that died too young, of fathers raving in the living room while mother’s broke plates in the kitchen. Of a sister that hated me for what I’ll never know. Of a church that taught me how class works in America and how bullying builds character.

I never felt I fit in.  For the last 30 years, I’ve been trying to find a place to fit in – a faith group, a church, a belief system. I go through jobs, through friends, through wives, houses, cities and self-help books.

All in search of a perfect photo of a dead family with the word ‘blessed’ underneath.

What I would say to these people is, instead of feeling blessed, which denotes unearned favor, like ‘grace,’ for the love of your God get down on your knees and be GRATEFUL. You have no idea how easily your whole situation could have gone south. Be GRATEFUL, THANKFUL, and, please, try to be HUMBLE. I wish you joy and peace, really, I do, but it’s hard for me to do so outwardly for when I see these cards and photos I can’t help but look inward and wondered why I never made it past ‘ok’ to ‘doing just fine’ all the way to ‘blessed.’

My wife does send out cards, bless her heart. They include the happiest photos from her Facebook and usually a cute shot of the cat. She’s a master at putting these things together and a few days later a box from Shutterfly arrives and I marvel at her skill. She makes me look good.

But one holiday, I might send out a card, just on my own. I’ll pose with my psychologist in her office, smiling, holding up a copy of ‘Millie the Cat has Borderline Personality Disorder.’  

I’ll have a red and gold set piece with mistletoe and lay out all my drugs and pose behind them in a Santa cap with a big smile holding a bottle of Z-Quil. I could take a photo with our illuminated Santa on the steps of my front porch with a plate of cookies and milk for the next SWAT team that might show up.

And at the bottom, in joyful font, I’d write some appropriate song lyrics since I like to talk through music:

And the sign says, “Everybody’s welcome to come in and kneel and pray.”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all,
I didn’t have a penny to pay.

So I got me a pen and paper and I made up my own little sign.
I said
,

Thank Y0u

 

Posted in abuse, Amazon, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, Catholicism, childhood terror, Christianity, Christmas, holidays, meds, mental health, parents, peace, PTSD, shame, stigma | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Darkness

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Let’s get real a little bit here and consider The Darkness.

The Darkness is what I call the times when the emotions of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) meld together like the screams of several wild animals, followed by either disassociated behavior or a numb, emotional stupor.

Hopelessness sets in – will I ever escape this feeling? Dread comes creeping – will this get worse?

Alone or with others, being in The Darkness is our own personal Hell. Many of us self-isolate, medicate, blast our favorite medication of healing music through headphones and wait – wait for The Darkness to pass.

My primal fear in these times is summed up in the Nietzsche quote:  “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

We know the monster we fight is inside ourselves, jammed into our consciousness by trauma, nurtured by a wounded sense of self.

What happens when we gaze too long into the hurt and pain both done to us and done to others? I fear getting too deep into that hole to ever return.

There is no time for distraction here – by the time the Darkness settles in, there is only room for self-care.

I have a list of songs on You Tube that ‘take me down’ when I need them to – to confront The Darkness, and then songs that lead me back up; those that strike a chord of hope in me. Music, leading me by the hand, like a firm but loving friend, through the Hell and back again, is my salvation.

Years ago, Annie Lennox while with the Eurythmics, sang a song, No More I Love You’s,’ which could have been written for escaping The Darkness. I listen to it, and it drives me to the ground.

I used to have demons in my room at night
Desire, despair, desire
So many monsters

If you have BPD or any of a host of mental illnesses, you know about the monsters like you know about The Darkness. They take the place of people that have hurt us and the deep regret we have for people we have hurt; the missed opportunities, lost jobs, friendships, self-harm, so many regrets and recriminations.

Nobody will take The Darkness and the monsters from us; we must do this for ourselves.

And you know what mommy?
Everybody was being real crazy
The monsters are crazy
There are monsters outside

For me, this is not a song of despair, it’s a song of redemption, for Lennox’s soaring angelic vocals remind me that the language is leaving me in silence (the passing of the pain) and changes are shifting outside the world (we survive and grow more in knowledge of those things which haunt us).

It’s probably not exactly what Lennox intended, but it’s what I take from the song. At the end of song, I feel redemption.

In many BPD online support groups, there’s always a thread about the music we use to fight back against the The Darkness. It seems clear, at least to me, that music is our greatest weapon. Some of us have our favorite playlists always within reach, just in case.

Sometimes The Darkness is so bad we want to hurt ourselves (and do) or think of taking our own lives (some sadly do). But I always remember The Darkness is our greatest challenge and to give in, to give up, is to let those who inflicted the trauma, who wield the stigma against us – win.

The Darkness passes at some point. I fight it with my music. I let myself break down to feel the depths of its desperation. And then, somehow, some way, I rise again, wipe my eyes, look up at the sun, and begin again.

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