Agent of Change

A Blog by Cory!! Strode, who really should write something interesting here.

Archive for the category “Personal”

Mental Health Awareness Day

Some days are easy.  You wake up refreshed and ready for the day.  Maybe you have a busy day at work where you do the things you enjoy about the job, and your co-workers are in good moods.  The day moves quickly, you are surprised by a little thing like having time to enjoy your lunch, a positive e-mail or someone wanting to meet you after work for something fun. 

Those days, being a positive influence, thinking the best of people, and enjoying where you are is effortless.  You have no problem holding the door for a stranger, leaving a big tip or helping out a coworker with a difficult task.  It’s almost effortless and you feel happy to be a part of the world around you.

Not every day is like that.

Some days you wake you feeling as if what you do has been a waste of time.  Your job is, at best, a treadmill where no matter what you do, you are not getting anywhere.  You’re overwhelmed, tired, lonely, and feel as if no matter what you do, things aren’t going to get any better.  There’s a reason the movie “Groundhog’s Day” is still popular, because we all get that feeling of going through the day and doing the same things over and over again.

There doesn’t have to be a reason for it.  Maybe it’s an anniversary of something crappy that happened to you, or one that used to be happy that now reminds you of when things were better.  Maybe it’s an e-mail from a boss or colleague first thing in the morning about something you messed up, or something you need to fix.  Maybe someone you wanted to hear from has blown you off and you feel like you did something wrong.  Maybe you have to deal with the unpleasant parts of your job, life isn’t going the way you wanted or…   

…you just woke up and don’t feel good about things. 

Those are the days it’s harder to feel like helping people or even putting up with them.  When I have those days, not only do I not want to help people, I don’t want people around.  It’s a terrible trick my brane plays on me:  I’m lonely, so to hell with people, I don’t want ANYONE to be around me.  Or, if my anxiety hits, it feels like everything is about to fall apart, and my fight or flight response goes into overdrive, making me feel as if everything in my life is a house of cards and will collapse with the slightest breeze.

That person who didn’t get back to you?  They really don’t like you and only put up with you to be polite, in fact most everyone just puts up with you because they HAVE to.  That job you have?  You’re going to be let go.  The car?  It will break down and make it so you can’t get to work AND cost more money than you have to fix. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum. 

I knew someone who had serious narcissism issues, and when they would be stressed, they would demand constant praise and attention.  The people in their life were not thought of as actual human beings with lives and emotions of their own, but props in their life to do what they were manipulated into doing.  As hard as it was for those people, it was just as hard for the narcissist, who had a deep hole in their soul they could never fill. And dude, the fact that I understood that helped for a very long time, and allowed me to put with a lot of behaviors that, looking back, were pretty damn rough.

Mental health is usually thought of in terms of the Big Things.  The addict.  The person unable to conform to society.  The person needing hospitalization.  But there are a lot of people who just struggle to make it day to day, and while they look like they are doing great, are just holding on by their fingertips. 

For my anxiety to hit last night it just took a single tweet that stated something like “It’s not that nice guys don’t get the girl, it’s that you aren’t a nice guy.” It wasn’t aimed at me, it was about the whole “nice guy whining about the friend zone” thing….  However, since it’s been a long time since my last relationship, it hit me differently.  I saw it as:  Well, that proves it.  I must be a screwed up abusive jerk who deserves to be alone.

Not exactly a normal, healthy response. I try pretty hard to keep the anxiety from taking over, but some days, man, some days I am Wile E. Coyote barely hanging on at the edge of the cliff and the Road Runner startles me.

That’s why we need to be aware of mental illness, and understand that it’s not something to hide or be ashamed of.

Or.

They are right and I deserve to be alone.

#MentalHealthAwarenessDay

 

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That’s How I Got To Memphis

If you love somebody enough you’ll follow wherever they go

That’s how I got to Memphis, that’s how I got to Memphis

If you love somebody enough you’ll go where your heart wants to go

That’s how I got to Memphis, that’s how I got to Memphis

-Tom T. Hall

 

In the TV series “The Newsroom”, the final episode uses this song as a storytelling device, with the lead character explaining that’s it’s not Memphis being talked about, but where ever you are. How did you get here.

I think a lot of about that in my life. How did I get to Minneapolis? How did I start working in social services? How did I start doing podcasts? How did I become a father? How did I become this person’s friend?

Life is a series of choices, some are presented dramatically, some just sort of happen because you go along with the flow. My move to Minnesota was one where I was with a woman and we were presented with the opportunity to move here. I visited a city I had never thought of going to in order meet someone I had started a relationship on-line for love. I have taken a few trips for love, and while I profoundly regret the first one, I feel the others were important choices.

I started work in social services because of the people I knew in high school who needed help and none was available to them. Eventually, I tapped out on working with teenagers, and now I work with developmentally disabled adults because I believe all we have is each other, and we need to take care of each other.

I got into podcasting because it was a new way to tell stories, and because my closest friend was working a travelling job, and it was a way for us to keep in touch and keep the friendship growing. The people I have on the show I do with Joe are people I feel close to and want to share that friendship with. Most of the time, it’s reciprocated. Most of the time.

Would I move for love? Sure. What I do, I can do anywhere with an internet connection and people who need help. Would I change my life for love? Of course. I’ve done it before. I have changed my future, given myself over to someone, opened my home to those I love, and helped people change their lives because I loved them. Even if they are gone, that’s a choice I made and it’s how I got here.

I suppose you could also say that everything we do makes us what we are.

How did YOU get to where you are now? Did you do it for love? Did you do it because it seemed right at the time? Did you just wander into it and have no reason to change? I hope that you did it because you wanted to get to Memphis. Metaphorically, of course, if we all lived there, I don’t think the sewer system could handle it. Life is fleeting and some doors are closed when you walk through them, but I hope that you get to where you wish to go, and that it’s far, far better than you had imagined.

Much love to friends old and new. Thank you for your precious time. Please forgive me if I start to cry. (Yeah, that’s in the song as well. Go listen to it, you’ll thank me.)

That’s how I got to Minneapolis. A single comics podcaster with two jobs, one biological child and one who showed up later, working in an office by day and with DD adults at night and weekends, and someone who followed where his heart wanted to go.

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What do we owe each other

I wrote a long essay on the current health care bill and how it’s being sold to us. I dug into why it’s a bad idea, how it will further drive Americans into the haves and have nots, and how it shoves more of the burden of the cost of being a civilized society onto the working and corporate serf class.  I edited it, filled it with clever asides and the personal experiences of people I know and love.

Then.

I deleted it.

No one who reads it will change their mind about anything involved. Every election cycle, we’re told by the polls that Americans want the health care system in America fixed, and anyone who tries anything to do so is ripped apart and may as well go into hiding.

I keep thinking about the phrase “What we owe each other.”

The minute I write that phrase, I hear people, mostly Americans (and mostly a specific privileged subset of Americans) say “Nothing.”

I don’t believe that. I just don’t.  Human beings are a species that is social.  The quickest way to break a person is to remove human contact.  The punishment that narcissists and abusers favor is to remove their victim’s social network (I know, I’ve had people attempt it before).  Our young are unable to care for themselves for years, meaning that we need to parent our young for years, unlike horses, turtles, fish, etc…  That means we have to have tribes, families, cultures and civilizations.

However, there is a growing strain of so-called “individualists” who feel that it’s OK to take without giving. That aggression is to be worshipped.  That ripping people off, exploiting them, and leaving them with nothing is just the way of the world.  They argue we need to remove protections for those who don’t have power because, well, everyone should be able to succeed on their own through rugged individualism.

What about those who are developmentally disabled? What about those whose talents aren’t suited for cutthroat capitalism?  What about those who don’t have the family and intergenerational supports that more successful people do?  What about those who do the necessary, but undervalued jobs that have to be done for our cities and societies to function?

Are they lesser beings? Are they to be left behind in the rat race?

“Those who do not work, do not eat” is tossed around by these folks, and for some reason, we don’t see this mindset as evil.

What DO we owe each other?

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What I am thinking about today:

  • I am learning that there is a danger sleeping in my own bed. I don’t want to get out of it.  This is not a problem when I sleep on the couch at my part-time job.
  • Trump wants to have a military parade like they have in North Korea and used to have in Soviet Russia. Which doesn’t surprise me at all.
  • I spent $40 at Aldi for groceries last night and now am set for the winter.
  • Anyone who says things can’t make you happy obviously hasn’t owned a really good book.
  • I still don’t know if I want to keep the beard.
  • If you take peanut butter filled pretzels and dip them in cheese, you can actually hear your arteries hardening.
  • Sal Buscema doesn’t get enough love from comics fans.
  • I like highlighting people who seem to be forgotten by comics fandom because most people will respond with “Oh yeah, I love their work!”
  • Remember, the comic I like the least, I STILL like better that the comic you like the most.
  • I read something recently that enlightenment is simply being happy with who you are, where you are and your situation at that moment.  You can read all of the philosophy and self-help books in the world, meditate for hours a day, join discussion groups and all the like, but in the end, it’s being happy with what exist in that moment.  Find a way to do that every day, and you’re streets ahead of most people.
  • Yes, streets ahead is a “Community” reference.  You’re welcome.
  • I usually undercut my deep, philosophical points with a joke because I worry people will think I’m pretentious.  I won’t do that here, but if you like, I know a 15 minute version of “The Aristocrats” I’d be more than happy to tell you.
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“Just Joking”

“Just joking” is something we now hear repeatedly from the White House. Trump tells cops to beat up suspects, and the explanation is “just joking”. Ed Butowsky pressures news outlets to run the fake story about Seth Rich saying “The President wants it run” and now says he was “just joking.”

“Just joking” is the excuse given by abusers who know there is no way to cover up what they did and shifting the blame to YOU for being upset. I mean, don’t you have a sense of humor? Don’t you understand a joke?  Are you that clueless that you take it seriously?

“Just joking” is a red flag that lets you know that the person you are dealing with is dangerous and WILL attempt to hurt you.

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Dreams

When I went to sleep last night, the group home was more active than usual.  One client was complaining about being uncomfortable when going to the bathroom, another was arguing with his roommate (accusing him of taking a watch the client didn’t come into the facility with and must have owned a long time ago) and the awake staff kept leaving the room to the laundry room open (it’s right next to the living room where I sleep, so thanks for the washing machine and dryer noise).

The first section of the dream was that I had missed my bus home.  I took the opportunity to go for a hike and walked around a series of barren hills.  I wasn’t wearing a watch, and didn’t think about what time the final bus would come until I realized I had been walking until dark.  I went back to the nearest road, caught the bus and instead of going home, I went to the retail job I had had at Shinder’s when I first moved to MN. 

I knew I had left the job a LONG time ago, but had agreed to come back for a shift here and there and I’d agreed to work Christmas Eve because it would be quiet.  I got there, and the place wasn’t open.  There were boxes of rare comics they wanted me to process to pass the time, and opened the store.  As it got close to closing time, told the few people there we’d be closing in 5 minutes, started closing things down and a line formed at the register.  Then, things went nuts.

The people in the store came up to the register, had things that weren’t priced, wanted to trade in things from other stores, asked me to buy baseball cards, attempted to grab money from the register and the line kept growing.  My co-worker went home when the store was supposed to close without letting me know, and more and more people kept coming in.

They weren’t waiting in a line, either, but just surrounding the area and butting in front of each other.  I get all weird even thinking about it…and it seemed to go on forever.  After what seemed like at least an hour, people from the home office showed up to yell at me.  They accused me of erasing the special hours off of the windows, of shutting own the registers and pocketing the cash and on and on, and the people kept coming.  Eventually, I was able to break away from the crowd, and I just kept thinking I would miss Christmas.

Oddly, in the dream I didn’t quit.  I did as soon as I woke up, though, actually muttering “screw that job.”  Upon waking up, I actually felt more tired than when I went to bed because of how crazy it all was.  What does it all mean?

“It doesn’t mean anything, Anna. It’s only a dream. Sometimes a banana is just a banana, Anna.” John Belushi as Sigmund Freud

Oh, and the overnight staff started complaining about the clients before I even put my glasses on in the morning….

 

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What kind of year it has been

One year ago, I accepted a full-time job after temping for almost three years. Before that I worked awake overnights at the group home for over two years.  The 2008 crash eliminated my job, and I had to work part-time jobs from then until when I decided to take overnights.

In the last year, I have:

  • Recorded over 150 hours of podcast audio
  • Started two new podcasts (Bad Advice and Series in Review)
  • Written a novel and edited three for turning into podcasts
  • Gotten a LOT of dental work. Benefits are keen
  • Built up a savings account that has 2 months of salary saved
  • Brought listenership of Kray Z Comics and Stories up a little over 40%
  • Interviewed some amazing people
  • Got a new nickname (The Cleaner, just like Kenny Omega!)
  • Started learning a foreign language
  • Got moved into a kind of supervisory position
  • Put on about 10 pounds (now working to take it and another 30 on top of that off)
  • Seen my foster daughter get engaged
  • Watched my son find a new place to live and enjoy his job
  • Retired from doing conventions due to it being too….people-y
  • Stepped down as the Best Dressed Man In Comics
  • Missed an overseas friend who is doing incredible things
  • Been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and gotten medication that helps with the cascading panic attacks that plagued me through August and September of last year
  • Read a lot of comics and novels
  • Not slept enough

What a difference a year makes!

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to like my statuses, react and engage in conversations, listened to the podcasts (krayzcomix.solitairerose.com Be there, aloha), dealt with me when I am a pain in the ass, Checked in when I ask “Are we good” or just clicked on “request friend” here on Facestab.

A LOT of stuff is coming in the next year from Solitaire Rose Productions, and while I always see myself as having a pretty boring life, when you stack it all up, it’s kind of cool.

Much love to friends old and new, and remember: “No matter where you go, there you are.” – B. Banzai

 

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More on emotional checkbooks

Long post warning, but it’s about anxiety in detail, so if you’re interested in my experiences….

I have written in the past about the Emotional Checkbook. I don’t know how standard an idea it is, but I like it.  We have an emotional bank account with the people in our lives, as well as one overall.  What that means is that we have a certain about of emotional cost we can take as well as emotional deposits we can accept.  Some people have built up a lot in that account, some not so much and there is a general overall account.

For example:  A new GF/BF doesn’t have a lot built up in the account.  There’s the initial deposit (attraction) and things they do that show you they care such as how they treat you, romantic gestures, how well they listen and interact, etc…  However, as the account hasn’t built up very much, it’s pretty easy for someone to make too many withdrawals.  A withdrawal is when you have to spend emotional capital such as when they do someone insensitive, when they lean on you for support, when they ask for favors, etc…  When someone is making more withdrawals than deposits, we begin to feel used, that the other person doesn’t care about us and eventually, if the account bounces too many checks, we’ll close it out by dumping that person.

I believe that we have these accounts for EVERY relationship in our lives.  Even with inanimate things:  I get terrible service at this store, and while they have lower prices, I just don’t feel it’s worth putting up with the bad things.  My job pays well, but they treat me poorly, what I do doesn’t matter and I am not connect to my co-workers.  Over time, every day is an emotional withdrawal and I only get “deposits” when I get paid or when they give free food.

Even in long term friendships, there’s that checking account.  I once has a long-term friendship where eventually, the other person never asked how I was doing and never offered any sort of emotional support.  It got to the point where I would time our conversations, and if she hadn’t asked anything about me after a half hour, I would end the conversation politely.  By that point, checks were bouncing and I closed out the account.  In another case, we had an issue that the other person refused to deal with maturely, and every conversation was either telling me how terrible I was or asking to borrow money.  I had to close that account as well.

Currently, I am dealing with a few issues, but I have thought about how I am feeling and why, even though I feel alone, I don’t want to deal with people and spend a lot of time convincing myself to maintain the close friendships I have.  Part of it is how anxiety works.  “If you people don’t like me, then screw you all!” is the irrational way the issue messes with your head.

However.

In both of my jobs, I am giving to other people.  My full-time job is about helping people understand and resolve issues with their benefits, and if you don’t think people get stressed out when there is an issue with their medical benefits, you’re kind of sheltered.  For the past three months, it’s been far busier than projections and we are asking people to verify their dependents, so if they don’t have proper documents, their spouses or children could lose medical coverage.  That takes a lot out of you, emotionally.

THEN, at the group home job, I’m there a lot, the clients are very dependent on you for things, they can do things that get you upset and you have to keep being patient and kind (even when they are being jerks) and even when it’s calm and you’re doing everyday interactions, it’s another withdrawal.

So, add that together and I now understand why I feel so tired, anxious, and stressed.  My emotional checkbook is bouncing checks all over the place, so the slightest thing can make me feel like things aren’t going to go well.  A slow response from someone makes me think I have done something to make them hate me (which has actually happened before) and I mentally write them off.  What might be good natured ball-busting comes off to me as anger toward me. I know people laugh at the whole “trigger” thing, but the one thing I have learned isn’t just to feel an emotion, but to understand what is causing it before I act on it.  Maybe that’s why people say I always seem calm.

Or, I’ve lived in Minnesota so long, I’ve learned never to outwardly show emotions. 

Much love to friends old and new, and I hope that people are making desposits in your emotional checkbook constantly!

 

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You know it don’t come easy

I have said over and over in my little essays that my goal is to “Love everybody and make ‘em feel good about themselves.” Michael Des Barres, who I knew little about until I started listening to him on his Underground Garage radio show, states that he is “Your Humbler Servant” which was something I adopted to put words to how I see my life.  I didn’t come to this easily, and for a portion of my life I was embittered, cynical, and felt that I had been given the fuzzy end of the lollypop.

 

I made the change in my thinking, and I am NOT one of those people who believes “the secret” or that positive thoughts bring you positive results. In fact, the world around me hasn’t changed.  I’ve still had to struggle, deal with financial and emotional upheaval, had people in my life who did me wrong and the like.  None of that changed, and the people who say “thinking positively will always make you rich!” are scam artists just as big as the Nigerian Prince who used to e-mail you about helping him get his money transferred to another bank.

The world didn’t change. I still have been laid off 4 times since 1999 when I made the mental change.  I have had a dear friendship dissolve in a painful way.  I have had five relationships with women I loved end.  I have suffered huge financial setbacks, increased anxiety, family tragedies and the like.  What changed was how I saw it.

With people, I assumed positive intent and gave forgiveness, knowing that they did what they thought was a good idea at the time. With employment, I made sure to keep myself learning and got away from thinking that my job is who I am, and instead see it as how I help others.  With family, I realize that things will be good at times and not good at others.  With my own mental health, I realize that I can do what I can to take care of myself and to get help when I need it, same as I would for an infection or a chronic condition.

I wake up every day knowing that my internal weather determines how I see the external circumstances. That everyone is a person with hopes, dreams, fears, desires and needs and while what they do may affect me, it’s all in how I react to that.

I have also seen people whose lives are defined by who and what they hate, and the more I se4e it, the more I realize it’s not my job to oppose them, but to avoid them and not let their anger change how you live your life. I fail at this, and tend to take criticism much more easily than praise, but I’m trying to do better.

I want to live in a world where everyone gets what they want. Even my enemies.  It ain’t easy, but since we’re all we’ve got, we have to help each other.

Much love to friends old and new and I hope that you learn to live a life defined by forgiveness and hope rather than anger and fear. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me.

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Perfect Moments

I am amazingly sentimental, and when it comes to anniversaries, I tend to obsess. I realized this week that 30 years ago I finished college, moved to Minnesota and started my jobs at a juvenile justice group home that doesn’t exist anymore and a comic shop that doesn’t exist anymore.

I am going to record a podcast about that shift soon (and it’s along the lines of the song “That’s how I got to Memphis” if The Newsroom gave you a deep, abiding love of that one). But one thing I remember was a day when I was all done with college, had finished up my college jobs (they were for students only) and was sharing a house with a woman I was in love with.

It was a cool early summer morning, the radio was playing, and we had had a light breakfast, and we just sitting around, reading and enjoying each other’s company. I stopped what I was doing and said, “We need to treasure this.  All is right in our lives, things are peaceful and relaxed.  This is a perfect moment.  Soon, we’ll have to worry about jobs and money and other things, but for now, everything is where it should be.”  I was right.  In the years since, those “perfect moments” have been few and far between, but they are to be treasured:

-Watching Batman Returns with my son at the drive in as a Thunderstorm slowly moved toward us

-A warm evening on the patio at Uncommon Ground where I was reading, a couple of people were working out a new song on a guitar, and people walked by on their way to their Friday night activities

-Reading the New York Times with Gene Colan before a comic convention stared for the day and talking movies

-Shooting pool with a woman I loved the day she moved in with me

–Nights on my deck, reading comics with a cold beverage as the sun went down

-Watching the X-Files cuddled together on a couch and talking about the future during the commercials.

-A road trip with music playing and singing along to the music.

-A long conversation with a future friend at a coffee house

-Having a conversation while wandering the streets of St Paul through twilight

-Sitting on the banks of the river in Stillwater after going through antique stores

-Driving a drunk woman home as she muttered on and on about how much she loved me

-Taking my son to his first showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show

-The glorious, amazing all night multi-theater horror movie fest on Halloween

Moments where all is right with the world are fleeting, special and should be treasured.

Much love to friends old and new, and what are some of YOUR perfect moments?

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