Shame and Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma

First posted in August 2012 Shame And Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma has more of a wallop five years later than four years earlier. We as a race must get something out of persecuting the disenfranchised and marginalized friends, family’s, lovers, idols, and heroes. Maybe we ought to look inside ourselves and find that kernel of fear. Then erase it. And then get back to being compassionate brothers and sisters.

 

boygerman

Why are we ashamed by what we do?  We do what we choose to do because we stand to gain something.  Yes, some people are forced, say at gun point, to compromise; some are coerced through drugs and alcohol; and yes, some actions are purely altruistic (ashamed of philanthropy?).  It’s my opinion that consciously withholding or denying or lying about our actions is caused by fear.  Not a generic fear, but a two-tier fear.  The first tier-fear: judgement by others is beyond your control; but the second tier-fear: consequence sits squarely in your lap, and which, by the way, you’d already equated as a potential cost of your unprecedented action.  We all know this simple truth: We have absolutely no control over the actions of others.  That said, we can remove the first tier-fear: judgement by others; we now find ourselves staring down the steely barrel of culpability: we encountered a situation, measured consequence against benefit, and toed the line or stepped across it.  So shame and regret were considered well before we pandered to our hunger, thirst, or warm body (emphasis on warm).

The best possible precursor to a mental illness diagnosis was, until 1973 its own mental illness: homosexuality.  Coming out as a gay man taught me the valuable lesson that there will be people who can’t distinguish between my sexual orientation (which places me in a specific group) and who I am (in general terms) as a fellow human being.  Having learned that lesson years ago I was well prepared to face similar discrimination based upon my mental orientation, i.e. mental illness, e.g. bipolar disorder.  And yet, what is there to be ashamed and regretful about?  Don’t carry the burden of Shame or wear the shackles of Regret; never apologize to anyone irritated by what you have, especially if what you have is a medically recognized disease.

Recently I conducted a thoroughly non-scientific giddy-up poll which asked: What diseases do you think you’d be ashamed to admit having?

Answers?  Anal warts, vaginal herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea. . .what?  Anal warts? Venereal diseases? According to our non-scientific poll of middle-aged men and women, they said that carrying a sexually transmitted disease is the only other human affliction besides mental illness that they would be ashamed of having and which also carries with it a damning social stigma.  STD’s are the result of risky and unsafe sexual activities engaged in by choice. Does mental illness really belong in their company? Really?

Shame and Regret are burdens that those who choose to remain ignorant and judgmental should shoulder.

Not me.  Not you.  And certainly not the neighbor, best friend, Richard Dreyfuss rdreyfuss2
parishioner, bowling buddy, Ryan Phillippe, phillippeprom date, recipient of the first kiss, Girl Scout, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, really), Girl Scout Leader, Sinéad O’Conner, full back,  Metta World Peace ,
mettapeace offensive line coach, movie star, Burgess Meredith, Opera Star, Ronald Braunstein, famous orchestra conductor, infamous commuter train conductor or any one of the other 25% of our world’s population. How about the other 75% of the world’s population loosen the reins of their prejudice.

Has Been’s, Could’ve Been’s, Once Was’s, and Children

Note: Like a sliver that’s penetrated the thick skin, it needs to be removed by a sterilized needle and constant squeezing. It will continue to ache until its presence causes you far more anguish than it’s extraction. The parallels are one reason why this post means so much to me.
Me (right) and my brother (left)

My brother got my dad’s physique; I got his mental illness.

Once I assumed the role of cook a couple of years ago, I planned my menu so that every other day I’d prepare a new meal.  The only cookbook I owned was a 1960’s copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook.  This cookbook was my mother’s, and if you saw it, you’d think Betty Crocker herself passed it along to my mother.  It was a solid first-step for me, my hesitation quieted by my mother’s obvious use of the cookbook, evidenced by the incredible number of batter-splattered pages; missing pages; half-pages; and an index at the rear which resembled the color palette of Crayola’s 64-Color box of crayons.  There were highlighted recipes; notations at the margins; and just a few, but oddly significant in an extreme way, an ad infinitum decree by way of thick, heavy lines, one or two eliminated altogether by a formidable, dense marker, applied as determined and repeated coats, forbidding any chance that these recipes might appear on our kitchen table.

My father was already a train wreck when my brain began recording his presence.  Failing at life (mainly due to his undiagnosed mental illness, bipolar), his appearance was infrequent: his social mask was one of humor: albeit acidic sarcasm and shearing, pointed wit composed in the key of tease and enacted before an unending column of untried yet promising second-shift ladies.  His role as a bullying, boorish big shot, whose sole domestic purpose was to reprise the 1963 verbal variety of water boarding. His peacocking drove us  closer and closer to suffocation, as though with each matinée he pressed another thick pillow of despair onto our faces and then, just when our desperation went quiet and we felt that first, foamy wave of disappearance, back we’d go into his second act and the shrill, ingenuous cackle of his subordinate’s callow laughter warned us that he was gaining adoration.  And the louder the laughter, the more lewd, raunchy, and viscous his anecdotes became, and our mention increased proportionally until, by the end, the three of us, his family, descended well past indecency, a good way beyond degenerate, and somewhere between contemptible and worthless.

And as the ladies stood and he, broadcasting his manners, helped them with their coats, those ladies whose saturating attention fueled my father’s mania sending him further and further afield, looked at the three of us, fodder of my father’s insanity, and delicately lifted the corners of their mouths in an effort to produce a symbol of empathy that my father couldn’t decode.

But what those lips produced was that sneer tossed at has been’s, could’ve beens, once was’s, and children who repeatedly witness their father falling apart.

Conventional Wisdom is an Oxymoron!

The Truth of your Action often turns to shame which eventually turns to secret(s) which requires evasion and misrepresentations which causes perjury and self incrimination and arrest.

aaa-Conventional ArrestThe penance in 1928 for this path of omission would be swift, impudent, and ruinous to his sixteen year old daughter’s moral character according to Mr. Williams, the father to Miss Williams (confirmed to be with child). The father, H. Didrickson, eighteen, from Green Bay whose moral turpitude shamelessly corrupted his daughter’s moral character, and who would experience the wrath and fury of a politic and au fait Superintendent of a timber railway in Northern Wisconsin after Mr. Williams follows the advice of Conventional Wisdom to relocate his daughter to one of the neighboring counties and corruptly gains assurance of his family’s anonymity due to the handwritten misspelling of the birth father’s surname by the County Clerk. Conventional Wisdom was the modus operandi first employed in 1838 by the ruling class, and which were widely accepted as true explanations or actions by the proletariat even though they were unexamined and unproven. Simply put, Conventional Wisdom was high society’s “rule of thumb” when dealing with the ignorant, common rabble.

aaa-wisdom1It would appear that Conventional Wisdom adamantly insisted that: 1) any scandalous; 2) censurable; or 3) malevolent activity and its vicarious, foreseeable, or misbegotten side-effect i.e. bastard, crime, or hardship be: 1) blueprints; 2) engineered; and 3) dispatched clandestinely as to: 1) disquiet suspicion; 2) stave off defamation; and 3) avoid malice.  Conventional Wisdom’s golden era must’ve been a time when the world loomed large. An age when Europe would never be a destination. A time when the thoughtlessness of Conventional Wisdom empowered mandates set forth by the secretive, dodging, and manipulating rich, powerful, and self-appointed Grand Standers for irrational, ill-mannered, and bizarre vitriol; when men and women became lifetime politicians whose focus is their career not their conscience; and obscenely privately funded think tanks that thumb their noses at Liberty and bring our country to a dead stop simply by pouting and voting “No!”

A time of waywardness, of lost directions, of greed. An environment when citizens witness abject corruption which no longer scurries like insects or vermin, but are embolden and brazen, self-absorbed, and defying, criminals that remain free but those on whom they fed, those suffering their gluttony now face thirty penniless years of old age. A time when the dream to be President of the United States was ripped from the minds of the majority and entertained by those few able to conjure at least $1 billion. These are the times of Conventional Wisdom. Times of turning inward. Times of isolation. Times of blindness, and deafness, and silence. Times of cowardice, of intelligent ignorance: That is, being smart enough to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a silenced voice. Times of surrender. Times of apathy. Times of villainous denigration caused by rubbernecks, scandalmongers, and nosey parker’s. The time when Conventional Wisdom rose from arcane and obscure backwoods’ breeding to become the basis and keystone of our culture’s moral compass.

aaa-wisdom

 

Dusk Darkens Days; Night Neglects Nary One

aaadeath3I stopped living My Miracle of Life seven months ago when
incantations permitted a glimpse beneath a crust delicate
as early winter’s creeping ice across a pond; peering
deep and deeper still to the depth’s of the mind‘s
deep sea trenches only to chance upon a ghostly image, curdled,
it confirmed a tiny grid lock whose ID hid 48 hours;
the mind’s fluid sidesteps this log jam and a storm
surge barged into priceless brain tissue causing
a breaker to trip in this prevailing mild
and coherent character. The surge retiredaaadeath4
dragging its bounty of fifty-eight years, a lifetime
of pleasure, reticence, failure, and small, immortalized
moments of glory into an abyss oft named forgotten. I stopped

dreaming stopped
imagining, stopped
unreasonable and half-wit ideas,
to jump start thinking which held me tight
like a kite caught in a gale and drew me in
lest I be lost to my mind’s struggle of fantasy
against a world of Conventional Wisdom; Wisdom
burdened 
by pragmatism, a reality of dead-ends, of
darkness, of emptiness, 
of fear, of inescapability, of
aaadeath1an absent place holding no bearing but a place 
nonetheless,
void of dreams, man’s anathema,
death.

If imagination is my Miracle of Life,
I must first domesticate my culture’s greatest
fear: an early death forfeiting decades of dreams
and desires.

Dark

aaadeath2

 

 

 
Dark
an accusation of guilt due
to my deliberate and
captured words, drawing emotion
in any direction; or,
it’s been identified by those
looking to capture a comet
like summer’s fireflies:
they point with the comfort
of warm blankets, that now is a period
without an ending; it’s a nod or a wink
or deflection enduring propriety; mostly
it’s the haunting of those alive for the
dead’s forgotten.

A Recent Visit With An Old Journal (July-September, 2008)

astormI do know how it happened, this convergence of the perfect storm, but the why I set it in motion is still a mystery to me. My feelings of absolute worthlessness have been building for years; starting much like the birth of a tsunami deep in some crevice in the ocean, a shifting of my inner tectonic plates, natural I suppose in the grind of life, but this shift caused great, unpredictable movement of the seas of my life which, by all accounts rose higher, and deeper, and soon engulfed the tiny town of my life, built, I suppose foolishly too close to the shore.

And then it came, this huge wave and friends and lovers fled. I on the other hand, all too well aware stood steadfast in its path. It washed over awaveme, this wave, crushing me against the only world I knew now, that which was beneath my feet. Gripping the sand I held firm, never certain that as it receded, that it would not pull me far, far out to sea.

Gradually it did retreat and once again the sun broke the surface and I lay gasping, choking on air which days before had given life and now condemns me to deal with this devastation.

I had a deep sense that not all was okay with me. I often complained of a dark gnawing I had felt, or heard in my mind. I always thought that it was my creative self scratching to get out in the form of writing. But now I wonder if indeed it was my inner self pleading for help. I could never articulate it sufficiently to those around me, nor did I ever think it was truly a cry for help. Until this week when, what I thought was my tidy little world fell absolutely apart. It was this week when I was diagnosed with major depression.

aquietzone2And from what I now understand it is taking a very predictable course complete with dark patches, rough zones, drifting away from reality, but the one part which I cannot fathom is my inability to be stimulated by more than one thing at a time. For instance, I cannot tolerate music playing and talking; I cannot tolerate stress; I cannot tolerate anger or anything except calm. If I sense more than one thing at a time I shut down and go to a quiet place.

I suspect it all fell apart when it all came together; a perfect storm as I have said; a convergence of three wholly separate, yet tumultuous events which I set in motion.

I had been in a loving 23 year relationship. We had all the trappings of a solid relationship: jobs, cars, cat, home, garden, money, retirement. But something was sorely lacking. Me. I wasn’t in it any longer. I couldn’t be in it. Being in it was too painful for me. The hurt which started as aloverskissingsuspicion around my drinking and drug abuse quickly cascaded into a kind of secret identity which I couldn’t share with him for fear of reprisal. I needed the drugs and alcohol to buffer the deepening sadness of my life. I didn’t want to face, didn’t know how to face this gnawing, this scratching which would never quiet on its own. The only way to silence it was through sleep, inebriation or a Vicodin high.

I also had a very romantic side which died when my partner no longer accepted my tokens of affection. It’s not that he didn’t want them, but they grew silly or unneeded or immaterial or expensive or, even I suppose worthless. Aren’t these tokens of affection best saved for times of seduction or apology or bereavement? And so into the roll-top desk of my life I placed this need to “show” my affection in the drawer called “get to later” right next to my sexual desires, overwhelming need for affection and self-worth. I simply closed the drawer and drew down the lid patting those things adieu. I knew they’d be withdrawn at some later date, when the amour would willingly accept my advances.

Should I have simply ignored his requests to cease and continued my gifts? Perhaps. But our finances had become so entwined that he would have known how much I had spent of these trinkets and he would’ve been cross. Could I have paid cash? Of course, I suppose, but when tokens of affection aren’t valued, the value plummets, the surprise ebbs, the feeling I get wanes. I learned to simply file it away.

I knew that our relationship had weathered many storms; it was built strong; based on honesty and open communication. But shouldn’t every abiggameman have a secret or two? A trinket of conquest placed deeply into a suit pocket? An amulet to ward off demons? A trophy? Hung handsomely on the wall? Hadn’t all my friends had trophies? Yes! Oh, yes, they had! Not one friend that I know has ever been in a relationship as long as ours without the occasional dalliance; but mine was different. Mine was a manic affair, built on a foundation of bogs and swampland and prone to sink.  A manic affair is a very dangerous liaison often resulting in collateral damage and repairable of which I did not fully anticipate it’s consequence.

 

 

Simple Square Box and Coasters

image I’m pleased to share my latest woodworking project, aptly named Simple Square Box and Coasters.  The commission originally asked for a simple slap-together wooden box in which he could place a necklace he purchased for his niece as a Christmas present.  So the slap-together wooden box would be tossed into the same heap of recently bloomed ribbons of nylon and a pile-up of ripped and twisted wrapping paper resembling a fog-induced tangle of abstract alloy.  Really, who remembers the wrapping paper of a long-forgotten gift they received at an indiscriminate holiday, the exception being gifts which modify destiny such as an engagement ring, new car, or divorce papers.  But I couldn’t imageshake the thought; an insignificant wooden coffer hand-crafted to exact dimensions whose sole purpose rose no higher than the oft ignored cardboard box, one of millions prefabricated generic boxes produced by manufacturers. Yet this box really should´ve been seen as the first part of her gift, but instead was just another obstacle to obliterate in a doggedly pursuit of the delightful bauble inside.  And after a few perfunctory refined and delightful “thank you’s,” the delicate bauble was distractedly deposited into her motherCoasters on Display´s cupped hands.  Her mother  placed the bauble (whose importance continued to nose-dive like the stock exchange in 1929) among other gifts.  And the slap-together box had been exiled to the paper mountain, and eventually would be crushed by the insensitive jaws of an indiscriminate refuse collector. Had I blithely reached into my pile of left-over lumber and found a throw-away board I suppose the box would experience a fate very similar to the one above.  However, a particular piece of Poplar caught my eye because of its deliciously creamy base color and like a dried riverbed, a thick, malted-milk brown ran the length of the board which was absent of blemishes, gouges, chips, and knots, a cappuccino’s foam decorated by a creative barista; or, the faintly dusting of heat transforming the peaks of whipped meringue from snow-covered to densely charred remnants of a serial forestimage fire.  I held the six-foot board respectfully in my hands, looked for cupping or warping at its ends like a sharpshooter whose focus remained on his target.  I found the board to be true then placed it on the workbench to calculate the cuts. That’s when it began. I can’t find words to describe it, but it was like balance on a bicycle: no one handed you a ball of balance, you simply had balance.  My experience with that board couldn’t be taught or handed down.  It wasn’t an indicator of mania.  It was simply, to respect the trees life in the differing colors of its rings.  Those rings identified that tree like fingerprints identify people.  And yet it was more:  I felt a growing sensitivity and responsibility to work with the lumber to create an object of beauty.  The longer I listened to the sensitivity of the wood, the greater my awareness of the woods signature became.  It was then that I worked with the wood, and so did the wood with me.