Friday, August 22, 2014

Drums West

Here's a real treat: the Jim Henson Company has unearthed a 1961 papercut animation by Jim, set to music by jazz great Chico Hamilton. (Tantalizingly, it's described as "one of several" experimental shorts set to Hamilton's music.) Great stuff on Friday afternoon, and there's some silent footage at the end of young Jim working on the film.

Anxiety Dreams and Conversations

On Wednesday, I made a same-day doctor appointment with my medical doctor, mainly to stay current on my medications and keep in contact more often than I did when I was uninsured. I'm losing weight now, which is good. I've tied a lot of emotions into that and I'm actually managing to untie those emotions (both positive and negative) and focus on the process itself. I'm not always successful, but I'm active every day.

My blood pressure was up, because of course it was. She knows to expect that, and it was high but not dangerous. She knows that between agoraphobia and anxiety my blood pressure goes up and down, and that was a same-day appointment I was not expecting, and the suddenness of the occasion strikes me right in the nervousness. After the week and a half leading up to it, well...

But I'm doing better. I'm surprised how much getting caught up in the big Simpsons marathon on FXX helps me have something to do; I wasn't going to bother, but damn, I'm having fun.

I do have this problem where my left arm is sort of non-stop tingly, especially in my hand, which hurts on occasion. I know it sounds worrisome, but it's actually lingering effects from the constant anxiety attacks. It happens to me. I remember walking around for a month last year thinking I had become diabetic, but it was actually a prolonged anxiety attack. It just takes a while to go away.

Side note: it's interesting how many things that feel like dire physical maladies turn out to just be physical manifestations of anxiety or depression. It's turned out over the last year that I'm actually in much better shape than I've believed all these years; most of it is anxiety or depression. Make no mistake, I need to make a lot of health changes, most of them revolving around shedding the weight I put on during my Lexapro days, but I'm not anywhere near in as poor health as I thought. Good news.

Still, the anxiety will linger. After the doctor's visit, Becca and I went to the laundromat for a few hours. I don't dry my shirts because I don't want them to shrink. At some point, my tactile sensitivity went into overdrive on shirts, and now, except for a few shirts that I bought a few years ago that are made of a light cotton, I hate wearing the shirts I own. Those cheap 100% cotton Hanes or Fruit of the Loom shirts? Too heavy and uncomfortable on my skin. So I don't dry those shirts and I'm a little too guarded with them.

I had put them in the basket to take them home for hanging, and then sat down on the couch of the laundromat's TV area and sat watching the news. Suddenly, I snapped awake.

"How long was I asleep?" I asked Becca.

"About three to five minutes," she answered.

"Wow, I'm anxious," I said. "That was enough time for me to fall deeply asleep and still have a stress dream where I murdered somebody."

Murdering somebody in a dream is something that happens to me during times of extreme anxiety.

"Was it me?" she asked.

"No, it's never you. It's never anyone specific. It's just some person."

"What happened?"

I explained: "In the dream, this guy was walking around here drunk, and he spilled bleach all over my shirts as a joke. He was laughing about it and I was yelling, 'Why would you do that?? Those are my shirts! I'm poor, I can't buy new ones, I don't even know if they make these anymore!' And then I knocked him down, squatted over his chest, and was just squeezing his throat with my hands harder and harder and harder, and then I suddenly woke up. I guess I'm just worried about everything right now. It's this general feeling of the bottom dropping out."

Becca stared at me for a second, then said: "Maybe Clorox should use that for its next commercial."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Marvels: X-Men #3

"Beware of the Blob!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(January 1964)

One of Professor Xavier's missions is to to take in mutants and train them to use their powers for good, and here he interrupts the X-Men's training session to tell them he's detected a new mutant nearby. The mutant in question is the Blob, a carnival strongman. His powers seem to relate mainly to his mass: he cannot be moved by external force, he can use his mass to push heavy objects, and bullets cannot pierce his skin. As characters go, this one's a hell of a lot more interesting than the Vanisher.

The X-Men invite the Blob back to Xavier's mansion to test his powers. Impressed by his strength, the Professor offers Blob a place on the team, but the Blob turns it down. He's a real jerk and won't be bossed around. After a brief tussle, he escapes. Professor X (who previously erased the mind of the Vanisher) needs to remove all of the Blob's memories of the X-Men and their secret location, but can't do so from a long distance, so it's up to the X-Men to get him back.

Well, now that the Blob knows he's homo superior, he heads back to the carnival and roughs up the manager, taking over the place and turning all of the performers into his army. Man, the rules and hierarchy of carnival life are surprisingly complex. The Blob leads his army in an attack on Xavier's school. I won't get into a play-by-play, but the fight scene goes on for pages, and it's actually exciting and fun to read. I mean, the X-Men are literally fighting carnival performers out on the lawn. In the end, though, the Blob and his men get close enough to Professor X that he can use the electronic mass influencer he's whipped up to erase their memories of the school, and the Blob and everyone else just go back to work, bewildered.

Once again, a callous disregard for the mental integrity of others saves the day!

Stray notes:

:: This issue spends a little more time setting down the characters' identities. There's been some complaints in various letters pages that the X-Men are little more than a Fantastic Four re-tread, so I see Stan & Jack have given some more thought to what sets this team apart and what makes them individuals.

In short: Cyclops (called "Scott" here for the first time, rather than "Slim") is mopey and tortured by his powers; Warren/Angel is an arrogant hotshot; Bobby/Iceman is the excitable kid (he's the youngest); and Hank/Beast is a verbose intellectual.

(Is that the portrait of a certain sweaty-toothed madman on the wall? That's probably the only Dead Poets Society reference I will ever make in the course of this series.)

And Jean/Marvel Girl is... the girl. Sorry, I wish there was more, but this is Stan Lee we're talking about. Jean is the girl. And she can use her powers to float books around and such. As usual, the boys are dodging missiles and learning to use their powers defensively while Jean just floats stuff around.

Oh, and they're all in love with Jean. Even Charles.

Ew. Not cool, authority figure. I mean, I'm as much of a fan of Pretty Little Liars as the next teenage girl, but I know that teachers falling for their students is creepy, not romantic. In the stray observations I made of the first issue, I pointed out that--given the time frame of Professor X saying his parents worked on the atom bomb--it's a distinct possibility that he's around 21 years old. Again, that seems just this side of implausible. I mean, a professor at 21? Where did he get his accreditation? How does he run a school? We've seen that he's willing to manipulate the minds of others, so maybe he just used his telepathic powers to get his degrees. I'm just saying, she's about 17, I think, so 17 and 21 isn't that wrong-seeming, but only if you remove the fact that he's in a position of power over her. But, still... no, I don't like this at all, this just does me the wrong way.

Also, Jean's also a telepath, so maybe don't think about this while she's standing right next to you.

Oh, maybe if she finds out, he'll just make her forget about it with his powers.

Professor X is kind of a dick.

:: Oh, and the Blob is into Jean, too. He has exactly zero interest in going back to the school until he sees Jean, and then he just leers at her so openly and makes suggestive comments to the point where it pisses Scott off.

I really feel sorry for Jean. And she doesn't even do anything, she just shrugs it off and even excuses the Blob's behavior. Gross.

:: I do appreciate that, compared to the way future artists will often draw him, the Blob is recognizably human. However, having been the fat kid, it gets annoying the way the X-Men throw around slurs like "tubby" at him, and that's when they're still trying to be friendly to him! Somehow, "chubbins" hurts the worst. Not cool. Hate him because he's a lecherous asshole, not because he's fat, jerks.

:: There are two separate instances in this issue of someone falling victim to a mutant power and declaring "this place must be haunted!" I'm getting really, really tired of that. Citizens of New York, you live in a world of wonders. Stop being asses.

:: That fight scene is pretty great; it allows Kirby to show off the X-Men's powers in a visually interesting way, made more colorful by the fact that--and I cannot stress enough how great this is--they are fighting a battle with an entire carnival. The Beast gets to tangle with high wire walkers and a gorilla. The Angel evades aerialists and a lasso artist. Cyclops' concussive energy beam holds back an elephant. Acrobats, strongmen, even the barker almost bring the X-Men to defeat. It's pure comic book in the best way.

I'm still not that into this book, but this was a much better issue of X-Men than the previous one. Giving the characters real personalities goes a long way to making it involving (even though I still don't like Professor X), and the Blob is an interesting villain for the group. After a sophomore slump, the book seems to be back on the right track.

Next Marvels: Electro, no dubstep.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

F Is for a Fraggle

Okay, I'm cheating a little, but I just really wanted to get this character in here. The one on the left: Cantus the Minstrel.

When I was a little kid, I used to rush home after school so I could be home in time for Fraggle Rock on HBO. This was an international co-production, which was made in Canada but designed to be shown in many other countries. It's a surprisingly complex show, seeing it now as an adult; Jim Henson's original vision for the show was to depict a colorful world with a system of symbiotic relationships between different creatures, meant to be an allegory for not only the interconnectedness of humans to one another, but to the environment. Through music and humor, the show was also able to deal with real issues like prejudice, spirituality, identity, environmental responsibility, social conflict, death, and even systems of governance.

Jim Henson helped develop the show and was excited about it, but took a hands-off approach, leaving it mainly to producer Duncan Kenworthy and writer Jerry Juhl to run the show and involving himself in other projects like Labyrinth. Jim did, however, make occasional appearances as two characters: Convincing John and Cantus the Minstrel.

Cantus was one of my favorite things about the show. He only appeared once in each of the show's five seasons, but I was always excited when he did. He's a really good distillation of Jim's spiritual side, with a liberal bit of silliness thrown in. I'd actually say he represents the next stage--after the heavily spiritual philosophy of the world of Thra in The Dark Crystal--in the representation of Jim's gentle, mystical spirituality. It's a side of himself he seems to have gone out of his way not to express publicly, except through characters or performances or the cosmology of a fantasy film. (One of the more frustrating things about the recent, excellent Jim Henson: The Biography was just how little we really learned about him, but it really seems to be because he was just that private a person and always tried to keep things pleasant between himself and his colleagues, avoiding topics like religion.)

The first episode featuring Cantus aired in 1983, and he was introduced with this song, which is one of my all time favorites.


I love the character's half-lidded eyes and expressive hands, mixed with Jim's soft vocal affectations. Cantus is gentle, relaxed, enigmatic and mystical. In later episodes we see that he knows the music of the other races, the Doozers and the Gorgs, as well as the music of the Fraggles. He seems to be on a quest to understand the nature of the universe, open to experience as it happens, meeting it on its own terms, and that's a powerful image for me and my anxiety disorder. Seeing him at 6 years old really affected me, and it probably says something about how I'd like to engage with the world that of all five seasons of Fraggle Rock, this is the one episode I never, ever forgot. I've hummed this song all my life.

And I do love that Cantus' riddle-like speech patterns aren't played as inherently wise; that's a great moment at the end of that clip when Murray asks "Did he answer my question?" (Also neat: "Cantus" is Latin for "song.")

Jim Henson listed Cantus as one of his favorite characters to perform, and the character has never appeared again since Fraggle Rock. The other Minstrels were repurposed as background characters in crowd scenes in The Muppets Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, along with a number of Fraggle Rock characters, which is always kind of weird to notice. (Seeing Sprocket in a waistcoat is kind of trippy.)

"Everything seems to sing, everywhere I go..."

ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Health Report Update: What Do You Do When Your Therapist Cancels?

I'm just venting here because it's physically hurting me right now trying to keep this in.

This morning, my therapist's office called and told me my therapist would be out today, so my appointment is canceled. My appointment last week was canceled, too.

At least today I got a call first thing in the morning. Last week, the call came literally nine minutes before my appointment, when I was on my way to the office.

Next week, I have no appointment scheduled because her schedule was full.

Is this going to be an all the time thing? Three weeks without a therapy session is lot. I had to transition to this person because my second therapist moved, so it's not like I've been seeing her for very long. And I like her, but this is just driving me crazy. Well, crazier.

The thing is, I recently filed for disability because we're struggling and I can't work because of the way my mental disorders overwhelm me. It was embarrassing and I hated doing it, but it was the only thing I could do. I get so scared and overwhelmed that most days the thought of going out is crippling. Going out for a special occasion like seeing Guardians of the Galaxy is great, but I remember how much I loved the movie and not the pure terror of sitting there, waiting for the movie to start, because I can feel the crush of people all around me and I can't breathe. Without a distraction like a gigantic movie screen, I'd be crying on the floor.

I hate that I'm like this, but I'm trying to deal with it. I'm trying to process it and overcome this. I try every day, knowing that I can't do things like drive or work or sometimes even exercise or feed myself because it's just too much.

I don't know what else to do. This is not a "just get over it" situation.

So last week my claim was denied because the state feels that I can still work. I understand where they're coming from, but it's still hitting me in that place where I'm still the kid who is to sick to go to Sunday school only to have his mother say "Stop lying to get out of it." You know what happened that day? I puked in front of every single kid there. Turned out I had food poisoning something bad. I got sent to the office where I had to wait for church service to end because I couldn't remember what my parents were wearing. I had to go to the bathroom three more times in that hour, and, well, in addition to puking my guts out, let's just say they also had to give me a new pair of pants to wear while I waited.

I feel like that fucking kid again. What am I supposed to do now? Go work somewhere and then, when my frustration and anxiety turn into uncontrollable anger... what?

So in addition to that, my therapy was canceled (though not my group therapy), and then there was the Robin Williams suicide, which I wrote about a couple of times with my reaction to. That helped deepen a depression that was already setting in. Because I know what it's like to want to do it, and when I see someone nearly twice my age still wrestling with demons, and someone who was loved and admired and had everything he had, it makes you feel surprisingly hopeless.

I was caught in a depression for days that my wife said was the worst she'd seen me in years. Just listless when I wasn't angry about it. Eating would just make me deeply, profoundly sad. Looking back, I'm surprised I talked about it even the little I did, because I really don't think anyone cares. This is just for me to try and make sense of it for myself.

I managed to pull out of the spin late Friday and had a pretty good weekend. But now, therapy's canceled again, with no therapy next week. I'm in a group, but the final session is on Monday. Where do I go from there? How do I know I'm just not going to get canceled on again? I know I'm not supposed to personalize these things, but for fuck's sake, I had a goddamn knife in my hand last week. I'm trying to do my part in this, god damn it.

It's hard to pull out of this, because when you're in it, everything seems to reinforce it. Ferguson alone makes it seem like society is just unraveling and civilization is falling apart. I wrote my column on Hobo Trashcan about it this week, but I've been having a hard time talking about it elsewhere. I feel like there's only so much I can talk about here sometimes. It's kind of fucked that I don't always feel the freedom to say whatever I want on my own blog.

So now I'm back there again, back at the bottom, feeling like no one cares except me. I have no idea what's going on with my therapy, and I'm starting to feel like what's the point. My wife is going to be gone all weekend, which is always hard on me, because of these deep-rooted feelings of neglect that I still have from childhood. She's been out at work for 13 hours now. I hate feeling like I'm alone in this.

I know there are rationalizations for all of this. I have to try and focus on that, because when you're depressed like this, rationalizations are easy to dismiss. You're searching for confirmation in everything. For your deep self-hatred. For your despair. For your suicidal thoughts. I'm that kind of self-loathing, where sometimes I feel like everything is just that signal from the universe that, you know what, now is probably the time to just let go and say goodbye.

This morning I cried so hard that my rabbit came over and started licking my foot, like she was reassuring or calming me. That made me feel like things weren't so bad. It's just the way I'm seeing things right now.

I had to get all of this out instead of letting it tear me apart.

UPDATE 8/20: Thanks for the kind comments, email, advice and supportive notes, and thanks Jessica for checking up on me last night.

Most people felt I needed to pair myself with a different therapist. To that end, a case manager from the same treatment center actually contacted me and I went to see her late in the afternoon yesterday. I'm seeing her again next week, too. She seems nice and was easy to talk to. I told her that the biggest problem for me in this situation was the sense of not knowing what was going on. I'm sure my regular therapist had reasons for canceling--and they can't tell me what it is, so I didn't ask, but it was intimated that there was something big going on. Like I said, I keep trying to rationalize it. Maybe she's sick--she was coming down with something the last time I saw her--or maybe she has some personal emergency regarding her family, or for all I know one of her other patients hurt him or herself and needs more attention. It's just the uncertainty of my future that makes me feel like I've got no solid ground in this situation, and that's harder for me to rationalize because I'm not hearing anything at all from my therapist.

I didn't even want to go in yesterday, but I needed someone to hear my worries over this and at least validate my feelings, and I got that. And I wanted to go for Becca, because I want her to go to Wizard World this weekend and do her best rather than worry that I'm at home curled up in a mess on the floor. There's part of me that hates bothering people with my problems so much that I resent needing to go to therapy at times, but it really does help.

So that's where I am now. This case manager backup seems like it might be helpful to keep up with. When I do finally see my therapist again, in September, I'll talk to her about how this made me feel and address that, because trust needs to be the foundation of a relationship with a counselor, and feeling shut out like this is a barrier.

I'm still kind of depressed, but I'm not quite like yesterday. Not tangerine yet, but not charcoal, either.

Monday, August 18, 2014