The first in a series of five essays about Mental Health to celebrate the dog days of August.
I’d been writing words and sentences since the first grade. As a person of engineering temperament, I expressed myself with logic and clarity (my specifications for concrete were top-notch). But I can pinpoint the specific date when I first tried to express the vagaries of my heart and soul. Summer 1996. Sitting at a picnic table under a tree outside a weathered guest house in Provincetown. Scribbling phrases on notecards to make sense out of the lightening chaos with which this stable married family man became a single gay dad.
My therapist at the time—I can’t remember which one, there’ve been so many—counseled me to journal. Really? No thanks. I saw little to be gained in documenting my screwed-up present. Instead, I selected points of experience as the premise for a barely-concealed autobiographical novel. It took me three years to complete Sing Out Loud. When I began, I had no idea how the book—or my life—would resolve. The manuscript sits in a box on a shelf, which is where my amateur effort belongs. But creating the book became a case of life imitating fiction: I literally wrote myself to a happy ending. The process brought me immeasurable value, and established writing as my preferred form of therapy.
Next up? My troubled childhood. Weekends in Holy Land. Three brothers confront the illusion of youthful potential against their adult reality. It’s a much better novel. Someday, I might actually dust it off and put it out there. Still, it’s most useful examination is how straightjacket Irish Catholicism sunk its claws into a pudgy little—maybe—faggot.
After two attempts I realized, I’m no novelist. I am, however, pretty fair at personal essays.
Over a decade ago, riding high during my Bikram yoga addiction, I’d never felt so energized, so limber, and so compelled to share my euphoria. My peak yoga enthusiasm corresponded with peak blog craze, thus I went public with www.theawkwardpose.com.
About a thousand folks subscribe to The Awkward Pose. I have no idea why. The blog has little theme beyond a particular author. The focus has evolved from yoga, to Haiti, to bicycling, to tomorrow, to… Over time, my blog has become more political, in keeping with my personal evolution. But most often, essay topics are simply what’s on my mind. A place of personal catharsis in an unnecessarily unjust world.
Yet…even with writing
as my principal mode of psychic balance,
I’ve never written about mental health.
I’ve ceased any illusion to become a well-known blogger. I write what I want and post it to the world. I do no promotion. If someone finds my essays and likes then, all good. If I influence someone’s ideas about our world, even better. If not…oh, well.
The blog’s byline is: seeking balance in a world of tension. There’s truth in that statement, but it’s also misleading. Because there are elements of my life—important elements—that I’ve never written about, honestly. The primary one being: my mental health.
Like all true progressives I parrot the notion that mental health is an equal aspect of our overall well-being. No need to hide or disguise it. Yet, for decades, even with writing as my principal mode of psychic balance, I’ve never written about mental health.
During the pandemic, I faced renewed mental struggles: I am not alone there. After years away from therapists, groups, and medications, I once again had to navigate our inept health care system in search of guidance. At a primary level I failed: I could not find a single therapist to take me on. And in that failure likely lies my growth, for I tackled my demons, through reading, and workbooks, and writing; with more disciplined focus than ever.
I’ve made enough progress that I’ve decided to share, through a series of essays, my personal struggles. Not because I want sympathy: I know how fortunate I am in life. Because, if I am struggling with all of this sh*t, pretty much everyone else is too.
The only way out is through. And it will be easier to get through, if we are all in it together. Read on.