The Mental Health Journey #4: Salt of the Earth

I had a great talk with my friend Toby today. We’re both going through some garbage right now, and we share the problem of diving into creative work to run from ourselves. Today, I shipped out the first wave of my album, End of Side One: A Tragedy in Five Tracks (shameless plug, click to buy!), and it’s energizing me. I described myself to Toby as skinless and covered in salt, but out-of-body enough to see where it burns the most—where to start cleaning. I’m raw, and cognizant and I can see that the reason I’ve bought a new audio rig, planned out a recording schedule for a new season of Fat Dog, and the reason I’m balls deep into writing a new series called A Snack in Time (coming soon from Fat Dog & the FUDeration), is that I get terrified of this whole… thing I'm going through. Work is the only place where I’m happily enough distracted yet confronted with satisfactory challenges throughout the day that I’m still able to work things out—my job is a challenge, and an exercise in healing. A place to use my new tools, as it were. 

I was supposed to go to a group on Wednesday, “coping skills.” I woke up Wednesday morning, knowing full well that I had to work at 11:30, and got dressed for what I felt would be appropriate for group therapy. I drove to the Northern Addictions Centre, but when I arrived, I had some sort of panic attack. I never want to call them panic attacks, but I’m sure that’s what it was, because the end result was about an hour of crying in the parking lot.

The worst part of me not attending that group, though, wasn’t the episode in the parking lot. I lied to my support network about going. My wife, my boss—I ignored my sister when she texted me asking about it. I lied to the people that care about and support me the most and didn’t tell a soul until my session today. And then I told Toby, and then my Mom but, I still have to tell my wife. I feel like a failure about it, things were moved around to accommodate me, and I didn’t follow through with my end. I’m full of shame, but I’m trying not to beat myself up about it. “Group is not for everyone,” I’ve been told.

I feel like I’ve opened a can of worms. I’m always so raw—so close to the surface. There’s a woman at work that I talk This is Us with, and when I finally caught up to the end of the second season, we talked about the episode with Jack’s death. I was thrown off kilter by that conversation alone—hell, just that mental image of Mandy Moore biting into that Mars bar in pure confusion is enough to make me sob up. Those episodes are such an accurate portrayal of losing your Dad suddenly. I lived those episodes. Apparently, when it wasn’t before, it is now a very big trigger for me.

 My dad died of a heart attack on the way home from work one night—I was told in my aunt’s home. My sisters were there before me, and I was sent for. My aunts banged on the door and dragged me from my house and took me to where it was pure confusion; adults trying to keep it together while we freaked out. Friends appeared, more family appeared, and the world drifted into watercolour.

Everything fades into watercolour with loss. My eyes cloud over, wash out and drown in my own grief. The sudden rush of loneliness binds the tears to my eyelashes and the image washes out more with every blink. My palms do nothing but spread the water down my face where it catches in the invisible sand and travels slowly into my mouth, tasting like the sea. Tears, sweat, blood and the oceans on earth all contain the same level of salinity, linking us to our planet in ways untold. Oceans surround us, but a river, truly, runs through us.

They tell me I have some issues involving this, and I’d probably say that’s true on multiple levels. One of my biggest issues, that I can see, is that I can’t tell my own story properly. I’ve taken passes at it before and I’ve tried to tell the story well, but its never come out quite right. I think as I journey though the mud, I’ll finally be able to start piecing it together. It’s a hell of a story just to even get to my portion of it. Farms, prairies, alcohol, drugs, sudden death, suicides, love triangles, babies, burnt out garbage trucks—basic life stuff. But, the one thing I need to remember is to find me in all of this—not bury my real self in the creation of a story, as real as it is. Use it as a tool, not an escape.

Though, it’s hard to balance. This project, End of Side One: A Tragedy in Five Tracks (shameless plug, click to buy!), has really given me an intense feeling of satisfaction. The follow through has been one of the most rewarding parts of actually “finishing” a project. I wrote a book, dude. That’s weird to say. I have an album of music that tells a story, that I’ve actually shown to people. I’ve sold it to people. It’s all so invigorating, I can’t wait to do it again.

We’ll see if I can pull this balancing act off. Remember, if Will Smith were here, he’d say:

I call this part of my life The High Wire.