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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not So Long Ago, In This Galaxy Right Here

Bare with me, this one is two parts, but you need some backstory first, I'll give you bare bones.

Episode IV - They Gave Me Hope

My father had Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  You don't know what that is, don't worry the doctors barely did.  It was 1982, and I was 7.  I was in 3rd grade.  I had seen Star Wars, once.  One night in February my father collapsed unable to walk, within a few hours he was in the hospital and had lost all ability to move.  For all intensive purposes, me and my two sisters moved in with my aunt.  During that time, HBO ran Episode IV - A New Hope, well, alot, and given my state, my aunt let me watch it each time it was on.  During that time, I became friends, if not family, with some pretty cool people.  There was the rouge, Han Solo, the Wookie, Chewbacca, the whiner, Luke, and the beautiful, smart-aleck, witty, princess Leia.  They saved the galaxy and my sanity during that time.

That's a nice story, right?  That would be a great story, but it wasn't the end...I just didn't know it.  2016.  My world was in shambles.  It was December, and I had canceled Christmas in my head.  I love Christmas.  I love the meaning, the songs (I play them all year long).  The decorations, the feelings I get, and most of all, the love.  2016, there was no love.  I did not want to come out of bed.  I knew everyone hated me, thought I was a loser, thought I was a fraud, and mostly, thought I was worthless...and I knew they were right.

This is all nothing I haven't shared before, but what I'm about to tell you is true, and I've been ashamed, or something to tell it, because part of me feels it's my fault.  That's my anxiety talking I know that, but it still feels like it was my fault.  The first weekend in December, I found myself researching, and that's when I started to really wonder, did I have Aspergers?  Was it that simple?  The answer in my head was no.  I got the courage to make the phone call, and the doctor couldn't see me until after the New Year.  I told him I'd get back with him.  For the next week I went back and forth on what to do.

Some friends rented a private screening of Rogue One.  I had my tickets months before, and the day was here, and I didn't want to go.  That's when I knew something was terribly wrong.  I stood in line for over 19 hours for Episode One tickets.  I went and saw Episode One 7 times at the theater.  Do you get it?  I love Star Wars, and I didn't want to go.  Because there were people...that were judging least so I thought.  I sat there, nearly trembling because I was so upset to be in public, but this story began to unfold, and by the end, I was so drawn in.  At the end (Spoiler Alert) there is my princess again, Leia...and my mind started to think about Carrie Fisher, and all of her mental illness battles she has had over the years.  I still was on the fence.  A week later, I was on twitter, and why I don't know, but within minutes of her collapsing, I knew.  Over the next week I read, and read, and read.  I read about her struggles of her mental illness.  I read how this amazing, beautiful, tortured soul struggled her entire life.  Not only did she say she was ill, she wasn't ashamed.  "I am mentally ill.  I can say that.  I am not ashamed of it. I survived that, I'm still surviving it, but bring it on.  Better me than you."  That quote...that quote still brings me to tear, because she saved my life with that quote.  She passed on December 27th.  I know because that was the day I called and scheduled the appointments with my doctor.  Today part of me still feels guilty, and I know deep down that it's not my fault, but part of me, the part that won't shut up because of my mental illness, that I'm no longer ashamed of, keeps telling me if I had made that appointment she would still be alive.  This week in therapy, my therapist told me that when I feel anxiety to just accept it.  Admit it's there, acknowledge it and carry on through it.  She said we are just going to recognize it is a part of who you are.  So I did, but being the nerd I am, I found myself thinking, "I am one with the force, the force is one with me.  I am one with anxiety, anxiety is one with me."  It kinda worked.

So, Carrie Fisher saved my life, not directly, but it was her bravery, that gave me the moment of bravery I needed.  This struggle isn't easy, and I know I have it better than so many.  So let me do this.

Hello, my name is David Carner, and I have 2 mental illnesses, Asperger's (autism) and General Anxiety Disorder.  I am not ashamed, they are part of who I am, and if I can help one person, than that means the world to me.  If you've made it this far, and wonder is there something easy you can try, the following link is ABC Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  It has done wonders with me.  You may see me in a situation shut my eye and mutter something to myself, that's me working my process.  Also if you ever need someone to listen, then hit me up on twitter @davidcarner If you don't want to talk publicly, you can message me.  Thanks for reading, and thank you Carrie for saving my life.  You been a Princess, a General, and a Godsend.  RIP.

Till next time, whenever that is


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong

(Note, this is a piece I submitted to The Mighty)

Most people would have looked at me in July of 2016, and thought, “He has got life figured out.”  They would have seen a person who had just defended his dissertation and earned his Ed.D in Educational Leadership, who was a few months from publishing his seventh novel, and a person who had a wonderful wife and an amazing daughter.  What they wouldn’t know is underneath that exterior was someone who thought, “I’m not good enough.  I have no friends.  There’s something wrong with me.  I’m worthless.”

In the fall of 2016, I was sitting in a departmental meeting at the college I work for and was listening to a presentation of Student Disabilities.  I would like to tell you that I can tell you what he talked about, but I had so many thoughts running through my head that I couldn’t concentrate on what he was say.  Also, there were nearly 100 people in the room, so I had to sit in the back corner and pray no one saw me, lest they would start talking about me.  What I do remember him saying was the majority of the disabilities his office dealt with were ones on the inside that most people would never notice.  What I really remember him saying is these disabilities are real.  All I could think is, “Those poor souls.  Someone out there has these thoughts of being worthless, or can’t even be in a room with a group of people because it bothers them so much.”  (I mean let’s be honest, at this point it had never occurred to me what was wrong, but that was the moment I started to wonder.)

In December, after the program I worked for, hired a new director, even though I had been co-running the program for over a year, the thoughts of worthlessness flooded me like a constant tidal wave.  Most mornings it was a struggle to get out of bed, much less face my students I try to prepare for college.  As I stood in front of a group of seniors talking about scholarships and making sure their FAFSA was complete, all I could wonder is what I was doing.  I was a complete, worthless fraud.  They had to see it, they must have seen it.  I was passed over for the job I was already doing, so strangers even saw it.  That was the low point. 

That weekend, I was on twitter and saw a lady who was in her 30s, had a Ph.D., and had self-diagnosed herself with Asperger’s.  I read her blog and was in shock.  The things she talked about sounded like my life, but I couldn’t have Asperger’s.  I was 42, they would have caught that by now.  It wasn’t possible.  I mean sure, sometimes when no one was around, I would make noises to amuse myself, or when I was nervous I would pace until someone saw me and asked me what I was doing.  Or maybe I clicked a pen, or tapped my foot, or tapped my thumb on my forefinger to relieve stress.  Ok, maybe I would have these rage moments, in which I found myself wondering who let this irrational person in my body screaming these things that were nonsense, then break down in a sobbing mess, and then five minutes later I was fine, but that’s just my way of dealing with stress…right?  So the question began to burn into my brain, and like everything else in my life, I began to obsess over it.  It took a while to find someone, but testing began.  What was supposed to take three sessions took four, and then it took the Psychologist sometime to make sure of his findings, but on that piece of paper, on February 15, 2017, I learned what I already knew, I had Autism and General Anxiety Disorder (I did ask, and he said if it had been five or six years ago, it would have been Asperger’s.) 

I scheduled some therapy at the university, but it was a few weeks away, so I did what I do best.  I started researching it on my own (hey, make it work for you, right?)  I had such mixed emotions.  I finally knew what was wrong, but what was wrong was incurable.  In so many places I read, “It’s manageable.”  I don’t know about you, but that sounds horrible.  That sounds like making sure someone is comfortable before they die.  At that moment, in the heart of some of my biggest doubts of myself in my life, I promised myself that I wouldn’t just survive anymore, I was going to live.  I was through wrestling these disorders, and fighting for air.  I was going to find a way to grab its hand and walk through life, and live.  Of course the first week, I had a meltdown.  However, for the first time in my life I was able to see it coming, I couldn’t stop it, but I saw it coming.  I decided I could beat it, it wouldn’t happen.  It did.  It was one of the worst meltdowns I ever had.  It was in that moment I understood why some people use the word manageable.  For the first time in a long time, I did something I hadn’t done, I didn’t get down on myself, but used it as a learning experience.  I examined everything in my life that lead up to it, and realized a few small changes could stop it from happening.

The next week my wife feared the worst.  I had three school visits, my daughter had two performances, three practices, a competition on Saturday, and my wife’s family wanted to have dinner that Saturday night, in public.  To her, there was no way I wouldn’t melt down.  I finally began my self-care.  When I went grocery shopping I put my headphones in and listened to music so the voices and noises wouldn’t bother me.  When I was somewhere that I could feel those levels building I politely left for a few minutes, or just left.  I let my wife take care of some of my daughter’s practices.  I have this feeling because I work shorter hours than my wife and she is the breadwinner that “I should” do things so she doesn’t have to.  I’ve learned, “I should” leads to me losing it.  By Friday night, I felt great.  I was absolutely amazed, but Saturday, with over 100 10 yr olds, all day, was going to be a test.  For the first 6 hours, it went great, but by 4:30 Saturday afternoon, sitting on some bleachers, with dozens of kid’s voices behind me, kids bouncing on the bench I was on beside me, and the lady in front of me not understanding personal space and had touched my knee three, nope, make that four, times, I could feel the meltdown.  I turned to my wife and simply said, “I need a break.”  She pointed to an open space away from everyone where I could go, “pace to my heart’s content.”  I was never more thankful.   I walked the crap out of that little area, and I was fine.  I took my daughter and met her family at the restaurant for dinner.  As the restaurant filled, and more and more people’s voices assaulted me, I began to worry I wasn’t going to make it.  I had finished eating, and my wife looked at me and asked if I was done.  I told her I was, and she said, “go.”  God bless her.  By the time she and my daughter got home, I was fine. 

Last week was the first time I felt like a real human in a long time.  The self-doubt is a little quieter, the worry is a little less, but most importantly, the biggest fear I had didn’t come true.  I just knew many people would think I made this up, was doing it for attention (which is the last thing I want!), or worse, make fun of me, have been nothing but supportive.  This is the beginning of my new story.  My old story ended a few weeks ago, because now, I know, and I understand.  I know some days will be horrible and a fight just to get through, but now there can be, and will be good days.  Entire, whole days that I can enjoy.  That is living, and that is what I’m going to do.  Everything I thought I knew was wrong, but I’m learning new things, and I’m going to make my life right.