Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD Book Review

Jason Kander is many things: a politician, a veteran, a published author, and a family man. He was also living with PTSD after serving his country.

Kander’s new memoir, Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD, was published earlier this month. Back in 2017, Kander’s political future was bright. He was running for mayor in his hometown of Kansas City. All signs pointed to an easy victory. There were even whispers of him as a possible candidate in the 2020 Presidential election.

Then everything stopped. After being home from Afghanistan for more than a decade, he suddenly became depressed and suicidal. This deeply felt and dark memoir is the story of how the darkness nearly claimed him and the difficult task of recovery that he underwent to heal.

His story is personal, heartfelt, and a reminder that mental health is health. Just because the scars are not visible to the naked eye does not mean that the person is not suffering. What I was impressed by was how brutally honest Kander was about the experience. He also was very vocal about the fact that our veterans are not being given the medical care that is owed to them. They gave up almost everything for this country, the least we can do is ensure that they are as physically and mentally healthy as possible.

My favorite part of the book was the interjections by Kander’s wife, Diana. It shows that this disease does not only affect the person, it affects everyone they love. Mental illness requires a team effort to live with and/or overcome.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD is available wherever books are sold.

The Murder of Christina Lee Scares the Shit Out of Me

One of the rights that a woman should have is the ability to be outside after dark without fear of being attacked or killed. That right is still being fought for, even in 2022.

On Sunday, Christina Lee was heading home to her apartment in New York City‘s Chinatown. Unbeknownst to her, a man was following her. He is accused of killing her in her own home.

As of yesterday, the murder is not based on Ms. Lee’s Korean-American heritage. But that does not mean that the police will find evidence to prove otherwise.

What scares the shit out of me is that this is every woman’s worst nightmare. Ask any female and she will tell you the same story. Carry your keys in your hands, mace in your bag, be aware of your surroundings, walk-on brightly light streets with lots of other people, etc. We shouldn’t have to follow these rules, but they could mean the difference between life and death.

What is even scarier is that this is not the first time that the accused (who shall not be named here) has gone after a random stranger. Last September, he punched another man for no reason at all. According to reports, he has a history of mental illness and should not have been on the streets to begin with.

One of my concerns is that this one heinous act creates a perception of an entire community. Like millions of others around the world, I live with depression. The difference between this man and myself is that I have access to getting the help I need. I am lucky enough that I have health insurance via my job which allows me to see a therapist and take medication. Not everyone has the same opportunity. This creates a vacuum and opens the door for people like the accused to hurt and kill others.

My heart breaks for those who knew Ms. Lee. No one should know this type of grief. I can only hope that this unnecessary loss of life spurs those in power to do something (and not just throw someone in jail, which is another topic for another time).

May her memory be a blessing. Z”L.

My Octopus Teacher Review

Nature has a lot to teach us. But we must be willing to listen.

My Octopus Teacher premiered last year on Netflix. This nature documentary follows Craig Foster, a documentary filmmaker from South Africa as he spends a year bonding with an octopus. Recovering from a depressed state, he takes to the water, looking for a reason to feel good about himself. This comes in the form of his eight legged friend. In the year that they spend together, she teaches him about life, the importance of saving the natural world, and appreciating what he has.

This movie would not be my first choice to watch. It is certainly interesting and is educational without the viewer realizing it. I can see its value and why it won the Oscar for Best Documentary. But ultimately, it is meant for a niche audience who can truly appreciate what this film has to offer.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

My Octopus Teacher is available for streaming on Netflix.

I Stand With Naomi Osaka

Mental health is not a joke. Millions around the world suffer and live with it every day. The problem is that it does not get the same respect or treatment that physical health does.

In recent sports news, tennis player Naomi Osaka had to bow out of the French Open due to ongoing mental health issues. Instead of receiving the peace and the privacy that she needs to face her demons, she was attacked in the press and fined by the French Tennis Federation for not doing the expected interviews with the media. Among those who felt that they had the right to put their .2 in is Piers Morgan.

Does anyone notice that his response to Osaka’s decision was similar to the way he reacted to the interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry a few months ago? I think it says something about this man that he feels that he can publicly and verbally attack two women of color without getting any blowback.

I am grateful to those who have stood up for Osaka. If she has twisted her ankle and was laid up on the couch for a week, there would be crickets. But because she has chosen to step back and deal with her mental illness, everyone has an opinion. I have spoken frequently of my own mental health battles over the years on this blog. From my perspective, she made the right decision. As important as work is, we cannot function if we are unable to deal with what is holding us back.

I applaud her for being honest with herself and acknowledging the need for self care. My hope is that she will inspire others in a similar situation to do the same.

The Worst Part of Depression is Exhaustion

There is no part of depression that is cheerful or pleasant. It is debilitating, physically and mentally. Whatever joy or pleasure you take from life, it destroys, leaving emptiness and darkness in their places.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

The worst part is the complete and utter exhaustion.

I can do everything right and it never feels like I never get enough sleep. Eat right, limiting caffeine intake, try to keep a regular sleep schedule, work out regularly, etc. Nothing works. At this point, crashing into my couch and napping for 3ish hours on top of the sleep I get a night is normal. It used to be that if I took anything more than a catnap, getting a good night’s sleep would have been difficult. But not recently.

The worst part is the loss of precious writing time I lose almost daily. Writing is my release from the day and the sometimes difficult aspects of my job. Instead of turning on my computer and doing the thing I love to do, I lay down after work and before I know it, its dinner time. I may get some of my work done, but not as much as I would have, had I not felt like I had no energy.

So yeah, depression sucks.

Thoughts On Mental Health Day & the Lingering Effects of Covid-19

Living with mental illness of any kind is akin to living with a metaphorical and invisible weight on your shoulders.

I should know, depression has been my constant companion for many years. Adding Covid-19 to mix creates the perfect storm of a physical and mental health crisis.

Today is World Mental Health Day.

Like many of you, I have been home nearly 24/7 for the last seven months. Though I am grateful that my life has not been completely upended, it would be foolish to ignore the changes that the virus has brought on.

Before March, I had no problem with being busy. Going out and being social was the antidote to the daily battle with depression. Now it feels like the depression has won out. Other than taking care of my weekly errands, I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want to stay in and sleep.

If there any silver lining, it is that these last few months have finally forced us to examine how we treat mental illness and those who suffer. Perhaps when all is said and done, mental health will finally get the respect and treatment that it deserves.

Mental Illness is Not an Excuse for Sexual Abuse

Mental illness and it’s various forms affect countless people around the world. But unlike physical illness and it’s many variations, mental illness does not get the respect it deserves.

Back in 2008, Malka Leifer was accused of sexually abusing several students at the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, Australia, where she worked as a teacher. But before she could be brought into the courtroom to face her accusers, Ms. Leifer left Australia for Israel. Twelve years later, she faces extradition back to Australia. Her lawyers and supporters claim that she is mentally ill.

I have a huge problem with this claim. The problem is that her claim (if it is not true) is not only foolish, but it could also have life-shattering consequences. Millions of us wake up every day with mental illness. I wake every day with depression hanging around my neck. Does that mean I will commit such a heinous crime as sexual assault on a minor?

No.

It’s hard enough to admit that one is living with mental illness and needs help. The last thing those of us who live with this disease need is for someone to use it as an excuse for moral failings.

Mental illness is NOT an excuse for sexual assault and never will be.

Depression & Perfectionism: Failure is not an Option

Human beings make mistakes. It is a part of life, as much as we may hate it.

One of the harder aspects of depression (at least from my perspective) is perfectionism. In a nutshell, it is the ultimate desire to be perfect and the toll it takes to reach a goal that is forever unreachable. In my case (and I suspect in many others who suffer from mental illness), the unrealistic expectations create a negative emotional spiral, regardless of whether a mistake has actually happened.

It feels like failure is not an option and will never be an option. The only way to be is perfect, knowing full well that perfection is impossible. When a mistake is imagined, it could easily trigger an anxiety attack. When a mistake is real, it feels nothing short of life shattering. It’s as if we are unworthy of all the good things that life offers, unless we are perfect.

Perfect is one of the songs on Alanis Morissette’s ground breaking 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill. I can’t think of a better way to sum up the disease that is perfectionism.

What You Can Control: A Guide to Dealing With Mental Health in the Age of the Coronavirus

There is a lot in life that we can’t control. We can’t control the traffic on the way to work or school. We can’t control how long we will be waiting at our next doctors appointment.

But there are things that we can control.

In the age of the coronavirus, it feels like everything is out of control. Schools and work places are mostly closed and employees (if they are lucky) are able to work from home and still earn a paycheck. The number of sick, dead and dying rises every day. There is a spike in unemployment claims that has not been seen in decades, if not lifetimes.

But there are things that we can control . That is what I want to talk about today.

Over the past few weeks, I have found that knowing what I can and cannot control gives me peace of mind.

I cannot control the virus. But there are things that I can control.

I can control the fact that I still have a job (for which I thank G-d for every day) and I continue to work as hard as if I was in the office. I can control the number of hours that I am sleeping. I can control what I am eating. I can take advantage of the technology that allows me to keep in touch with family and friends. I can still write. I can still go out for fresh air, exercise and minimal errands. I can listen to the advice from the professionals and stay home.

Though I live with depression (as many of my regular readers know), it is ironic that it takes a pandemic to take a step in the right direction when it comes to my mental health.

To everyone out there, stay home, stay healthy (hopefully) and take it day by day. We will get through this.

Happy Sunday.

A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death Book Review

There are two things in life that are guaranteed: death and taxes. Everything else is up in the air.

While death itself is simply explained, everything else around is difficult. A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, by BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger, takes away that difficulty. The book is a step by step process of dealing with death. From the legal and financial paperwork to dealing with the healthcare system, preparing for the funeral and the grief that follows, the book is the complete guide for dealing with death.

I originally picked up this book because as someone who lives with depression, I wanted to get another perspective on illness and death. What I got instead was a book that is tremendously helpful. As my generation gets older and our parents reach the age in which their health comes into question, we will need to deal with issues we have not dealt with before.

While this book cannot completely help with the emotional aspects of this topic, it can help with the legal, medical and logistical aspects that make illness and death just a little easier to cope with.

I recommend it.

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