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Oct 31 13

I’ve Been There

by Nicholas Barnard

Recently, I got into a mud throwing and catching competition online. One of the participants there wrote that I have “…written publicly about [my] depression, job loss, and difficulty forming lasting relationships, factors that often make people hostile towards other people. … It’s a pity [I don’t] realize that hostility and resentment drive away prospective employers, partners, and friends. Employers are savvy enough to look at what candidates post online.” While I was discussing this with a fellow handbell musician, she suggested that I remove some of the blog entries. My response was an immediate no. Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve had a personal rule that I don’t remove any entries and I don’t edit entries after they’ve been up a few days.

Once I’ve put something out into the world, I leave it out there. I’m not worried about the Streisand effect or something similar. I just don’t want to go back and worry about what should and shouldn’t be public.

I also don’t worry about employers looking at this blog or my website. Any employer with a borderline competent employee relations department would realize that my the content of blog does not likely relate to any bona fide occupational qualifications, therefore by considering it in their hiring process it opens the company up to lawsuits. Of course, winning a lawsuit where this is the case is difficult. However, I don’t want to work for an employer who made the (illegal) decision to read my blog and due to what I wrote made the decision not to interview or hire me.

Yesterday, I watched John Green’s video Perspective. He shares his story from twelve years ago when his life wasn’t going well. His girlfriend had just broken up with him, he wasn’t eating well, and I’m sure thats just the tip of the iceberg in his situation. He calls his parents, decides to go home, tries to quit his job, spends two weeks in daily therapy, has his psychiatric medication changed, watches Harvey, and then goes back to Chicago. Things slowly get better and he finishes a seed of what became his published first novel.

When I watched John, describe his struggles of twelve years ago, it struck a nerve because I’ve been in the same neighborhood as John.

Now John Green is an author with books on the New York Times best seller list, a vlogger, a husband, a father, a performer, and most importantly a really nice guy. He currently is living what many would consider a successful life.

I leave the blog entries about the shitty, sucky parts of my life online precisely because I’ve been there, and I know others currently are in the same neighborhood. I wouldn’t describe my entire life at this moment as successful, but there are parts of it which are amazingly wonderful, and I’m working on the rest.

It is important to share the less glamorous parts of life because we are taught that life is like the top panel in this comic from thedoghousediaries:

In the top image titled plans a person riding a bicycle over a level path is shown. In the bottom image, titled The Universe's Plans for You, an obstacle course is pictured.

However life is most like the bottom panel.

If we only share the wonderful sides of our lives, we risk making our successes seem too easy. In turn, when others compare themselves to us, they it makes their falls and failures seem insurmountable.

I find comfort and some solace in knowing that John Green has had struggles with depression and clearly has gotten better, that Wil Wheaton has had struggles with depression and got better.

I also find it valuable knowing that even folks find themselves on paths that don’t work, like my friend Christine who left graduate school or our minister, Matthew, who jumped from being a case worker to a minister.

I leave my blog intact in the hope that others will find comfort and solace in knowing that I have been where they are now, and that life does get better.

Sep 30 13

Getting Bitch Slapped in Public

by Nicholas Barnard

I just got bitch slapped by Nancy Kirkner, a handbell soloist in Seattle, on her blog.

Some of her descriptions don’t quite make sense to me. I’m described as someone who has bullied her for months, when I can only think of one discussion thread within the past year that we disagreed strongly. I admit I very strongly advocate my ideas and positions. I do my best not to attack other people, but only to attack their ideas. I admit to engaging in parallelism, directly mirroring her comments in my responses, but this was only intended as rhetorical flourish, nothing more. I’ve written in another blog entry that hasn’t yet been published that “I ended up making an ass of myself over there there. Part of the reason that happened is that my main discussion adversary in that discussion often fell back on ad hominem attacks and baiting me in the discussion. (Sadly, I was stupid and angry enough to fall for the times she baited me.)” But, I’ll leave the reader to decide. The discussion in question is archived on the Handbell-L Google group under the There’s an app for that! and Copyright Litigation.

What really frustrates me is her back handed ad-hominem attack: “Perhaps this bully just feels really bad about himself, and hopes to feel better by making others feel bad about themselves too. He’s written publicly about his depression, job loss, and difficulty forming lasting relationships, factors that often make people hostile towards other people, especially those they envy.”

Let me be clear: I don’t envy Nancy. She has what she has. I have what I have. I am happy in many parts of my life, especially what I have musically. It is one of the great joys in my life that I get to make music with my handbell quartet. I wouldn’t trade it for any other musical endeavor.

Given what Nancy has described, I have to assume that Nancy has read much if not all of my blog. With this in mind, I am saddened that by her statements in light of the arguments I have made for compassion toward others, in my blog entry You can’t Get In my Head, There isn’t Enough Space. It incenses me that she presumes to guess what is in my head. She has never asked me about this part of myself, and besides there isn’t enough space for her or anyone else to get in my head and truly understand what is in there.

I’ll admit to stepping on Nancy’s toes at least once before, and when I did I apologized in public via email, in private via email, and in private via postal mail. None of these apologies were acknowledged, let alone accepted.

I only have so many cheeks to offer.

Jul 30 13

How to Kill Actors

by Nicholas Barnard

You might not realize it from all the geekiness that I display, but I was once a theatre major. I did all sorts of things in the theatre in middle, high school, and college including:

  • Acting
  • Singing
  • Playwriting
  • Directing
  • Technical Direction – (including un-counterbalanced flying of cubes and whatnot, those who know what this is should shutter a bit.)
  • Direction
  • Stage Management
  • I was good at some of this, and I sucked at other parts of it. I never got and still don’t get acting, even though I did a fair amount of it. In theory its simple: folks get up there and pretend to be someone else. Thats like saying all there is to programming is figuring out all the ifs and thens that you have to write out, and failing to mention all the stuff about data management, memory management, debugging, and optimization. (I once suggested to the professor of my acting for non-acting majors class that I should audition for the local professional theatre, she looked at me like I had 17 heads, needless to say I got the message and didn’t audition.)

    Directing a play is even trickier, many actors become directors, because they understand actors and how to coax what they’d like from the actors and artists around them. I on the other hand more likely treated actors and designers as puppets of sorts: Please give me X, Y, and Z. Thank you. I’d like a white dress for the actress in this scene, it should be beautiful and simple.

    Treating actors like puppets is the surest way to kill them. (Not literally of course, or maybe literally, I don’t know really, actors are interesting people, treating them like puppets might kill them.)

    A theatre professor and director that I worked with for a while told me of a time that she needed a character to be in a white dress for a scene. She wrote a whole paragraph on that white dress for the costume designer. I don’t remember every bit of what she shared with me but over ten years later I still recall that it included describing the dress as if it was an vanilla ice cream cone on a sweltering hot summer day. Not only did she get exactly what she wanted from the costume designer, but the description empowered and drove the costume designer to embrace the director’s vision.

    You kill an actor or designer by asking for exactly what you want. You empower and drive them by sharing your vision and challenging them.

Jul 15 13

Being in the Moment of Loss

by Nicholas Barnard

Today one of my dear friends, Chris, is leaving Seattle. Today is the day the truck gets packed and she leaves to fly out at 8 pm or so.

Her husband has asked for assistance in loading the truck today. I am free today, however I want to skip helping out. I have a perfectly valid excuse: my ankle is still unhappy from its recent escapade on the side of the street. But that is just an excuse. I want to skip saying goodbye. As if not saying goodbye will prevent them from leaving, or will prevent me from having to experience or accept the loss of my friend.

I’m drawing parallels in my head to my friend Jenni. I never said goodbye to Jenni when I moved to Seatle. My selfishness of not wanting to wait, not wanting to be tied down, not wanting to acknowledge the connections I had to where I lived robbed me of saying goodbye. I’ve seen Jenni since, and I’ve said goodbye when we’ve parted. But it isn’t the same.

This summer has had a remarkable number of friends from UUC who have or will be leaving. I haven’t said goodbye to all of them who have left. The reasons are complicated and pedantic, inconsequential and with consequences.

I want to avoid the moment where we actually say goodbye, as if skipping saying goodbye will prevent her and everyone leaving from actually leaving. All skipping saying goodbye does is save me from being in the moment.

I love being in the moment when its fun, exhilarating, peaceful, meditative, or musical. Not allowing myself to be in the moment of final loss cheapens and degrades those other moments. I know I cannot live fully without accepting both.

Jul 6 13

Involuntary commitment: Caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

by Nicholas Barnard

I was saddened to hear of the death of Joel Reuter.

I never knew him. I think I first learned about his death through the tweet of a former coworker of his whom I follow. That and the fact that I’ve dated a guy who lived in the same building as him is the only clear connections I have to him.

It saddens me that he wasn’t able to get help. No, let me be more specific: It saddens me that help was not forced upon him. If you have a physical head injury in this country you are not allowed to refuse treatment.

Seven weeks ago Joel tweeted:

The new owner of my body and identity, Lucifer, has created the following identity for you to keep in touch: @jacobsHelix – @joeliolio at 12:14 AM – 2013 May 13

I do not claim to be a mental health professional or a lawyer, but someone who believes they have been possessed by Lucifer clearly has a mental illness that requires help.

In my life, I have had to call the authorities on three people who were suicidal. In each instance the person whom I called the authorities on was deeply angry with me at the time, however I still speak to all of them, and most of them have thanked me for doing what I did.

Having someone committed for mental health reasons is exceptionally difficult in the State of Washington: they must display an intent to physically harm themselves or others. There are those with mentally ill relatives who live in fear that their relatives will become the next Ian Stawicki, Adam Lanza, or Joel Reuter.

I struggle making it easier to involuntary commit someone because of their mental health is something that I struggle with. Our country has a long history of committing people under mental health statues for reasons other than mental health, the current state of our involuntary commitment laws is a direct reaction to these abuses.

In one way stronger involuntary commitment laws could be considered against my Unitarian Universalist principles. On the face depriving someone of their freedom and forcing them to be subjected to treatment does not honor their inherent worth and dignity. However, one of the most compassionate things we can do for one another is care for each other’s health.

I don’t claim to know what our involuntary commitment laws should be. However, I know a law that cannot force Ian Stawicki, Adam Lanza, or Joel Reuter to be helped is broken. Strengthened involuntary commitment laws may catch people who should not be committed, but this is an acceptable price to pay for helping the Ian Stawickis, Adam Lanzas, Joel Reuters, and the countless others who stuffer in silence.

Jun 29 13

Gratitude on the side of the road.

by Nicholas Barnard

We’re every age at once and tucked inside ourselves like Russian nesting dolls
My mother is an 8 year old girl
My grandson is a 74 year old retiree whose kidneys just failed
And that’s the glue between me and you
That’s the screws and nails
We live in a house made of each other
And if that sounds strange that’s because it is
Tiny Glowing Screens, Part 2, by George Watsky

Today, I was walking to catch a bus to go play handbells at a wedding. I was walking down a hill that I’ve walked down for as long as I’ve lived in my current abode. I wasn’t running, but I was going at a good jaunt. I mislanded my left foot and rolled it on its side a bit and twisted my ankle with it. I’ve done this a number of times. Usually, I correct for it, and just continue on.

However today was different, my recollection is a bit blurry, however, as soon as I mislanded my foot, I knew that I’d fouled things up worse than usual, but I managed to continue down to the bottom of the hill where I steadied myself on the fire hydrant. I stood like that for a bit, and became light headed and nauseous. I then, sat down on the sidewalk, and passed out for what was probably a few seconds, and I managed to get back up and steady myself on the fire hydrant. Then a woman and a man in a van stopped, and the woman got out and asked if I needed help. Confused I said no, then yes. She got out of the car and helped collect my things, and walked me across the street to the fire department, and got the paramedics to come to my assistance. (Yeah, this occurred across the street from the Headquarters of the Seattle Fire Department.) While we were waiting she introduced herself as did I. Sadly in the confusion of everything I’ve forgotten her name.

I am thankful for her time, gratitude, and generosity. Her simple and generous actions took what was a confusing difficult situation and transformed it into a bearable situation. I deeply appreciate caring actions in taking care of our shared house.

I am fine now, my ankle isn’t fully healed, but it should be fine. And hey, I get to tell people that someone found me passed out on the side of a road.

Jan 19 13

Losing Control

by Nicholas Barnard

I’m a big believer that you always have a choice. The phrase “I had no choice” is categorically false bullshit. There are always choices, sometimes the choices that are available suck and you are forced to choose the least bad choice, but you still have made that choice.

There are some choices that I always try to make: Be Polite. Be Kind. Be Respectful of Others. Give others the benefit of the doubt.

I lost control tonight during a short interaction with an employee at a coffee shop where they know my name and I know their names. I lost control and made choices that were not polite, kind, or respectful.

I can point at the actions that precipitated to my loss of control, were not kind, polite nor respectful, and they did not give me the benefit of the doubt, however that does not make my actions correct or appropriate.

Jan 14 13

Deeds matter, words don’t

by Nicholas Barnard

“In all our days, may we turn more to act than to word to declare our religion” – Rev. Peter Raible

I want to be funny right now. I want to make a joke about dual allegiances, but now isn’t the time for humor.

In an average week, I’ve spend more time at another church other than the UU church where I am a member. I’ve become part of the community at the non-UU church. It was slow, not something where I consciously declared “I want to become a member of this community.” Instead, it just happened.

It started for selfish reasons, I and some others wanted to use and occasionally borrow one of their musical instruments. I was and am grateful for the use of the instrument. I treated it better than I would treat my own. I put effort into keeping their instrument in tip top shape. I played music twice a year at the church’s events. I made sure that the toilet wasn’t running before I left the mens room.

Relationships end. Life ends. Churches end. Countries end. It is one of the few things that you can be sure of, whatever begins will eventually end.

There is no right or wrong in the decision to end a relationship. There is right or wrong in how you choose to end the relationship.

Saturday, I was told that my relationship with the non-UU church would end. However, instead of being told that I and my fellow musicians were no longer a welcome member of the community, we were provided with an untenable situation: we could use the instrument, but not remove it from the church.

Musician and instrument learn each other. A musician can play another instrument, and an instrument can be played by another musician, but they do best when they spend time together, learning about each other and adapting and accommodating each other’s idiosyncrasies.

So when I was told that I could not remove the instrument from the church, I was being told that my contributions to the community didn’t matter.

It was not a matter of liability or scheduling or providence. The compassionate just and (dare my agnostic fingertips type this) Christian thing to do would have been to discuss and address the concerns. Liability can be insured against, scheduling can be communicated, and providence was already established through deeds.

In the end, actions of the lay, professional, and religious leadership of the church did not match the words they have said.

I admire anyone who has the conviction, passion, and intelligence to consistently align their beliefs and actions, it is much easier said than done. However, I expected better of the leadership at the non-UU church. I as a community member deserved better. It is not worth it to try to claw my way back into their community when I have been told I am not wanted.

I will however continue to strive to turn to act than to word to declare my religion.

Dec 14 12

You can’t Get In my Head, There isn’t Enough Space

by Nicholas Barnard

Today in the United States –

  • Adam Lanza shot twenty children.
  • I swallowed 150 milligrams of Venafaxine Extended Release, an anti-depressant.
  • I walked by too many people asking for money on the street.
  • Over 91 people ended their lives by their own hand.
  • I spent many hours in front of a sun lamp.

Beside these all happening today what do they have to do with each other? They’re all directly attributable to mental health.

I approach my mental health like I approach most things in my personal life, I’ll bring it up if asked or if it is relevant to the topic being discussed.

I can’t imagine what was going through Mr. Lanza’s head, but I know he was hurt. No, that does not excuse walking into an elementary school and shooting children, but we should address the root causes of this tragedy, one of which was the lack of treatment for Mr. Lanza’s mental health. I don’t know what Mr. Lanza’s mental health was, but looking back on the tragedy in Seattle, we know that Ian Stawicki struggled with mental illness for quite some time.

I’ve struggled with mental illness. It has taken me some time and maturity to recognize that the mental state that I spent much of my teens and twenties in isn’t normal. Given that I now have ten years of perspective, I can almost tease out what behaviors were a result of my poor mental health and what behaviors were just a result of my choices.

I’m quite sure I’ve confused and annoyed many people with behavior that was a result of my mental illness. Most of those people attributed the behavior to me, not my mental illness. If I had a major disease, like cancer which that just sapped my energy people would be much more forgiving, however because my illness manifests itself in behaviors instead of explicitly physical symptoms that illness is automatically assumed to be a part of explicit behaviors and choices.

Depressives like myself have a different automatic set of assumptions and standards which we use when we interpret the actions around ourselves. Our brains automatically search out the worst possible interpretation of every situation and internalize that interpretation. Often those worst interpretations focus on ways that we are wrong or we’ve screwed up. If I share these interpretations with others who know about my illness and who are supportive they don’t agree with my interpretation or think they’re overly harsh.

You can experience being deaf, blind, or confined to a wheelchair by blocking out that sense or using a wheelchair for a day, however there there isn’t a pair of glasses you can put on to experience the world how a person with depression experiences it.

You can’t get in my head and experience what I’ve experienced, there simply isn’t enough space or time for you to fully understand my experiences. You could get closer to how a depressive experiences the world by using the finding the worst possible interpretation of any situation and finding a way to put yourself at fault. You could also have someone follow you to distract you as much as possible and interrupt your train of thought, but at the end of the day just like a sighted person putting on a mask over their eyes you still have your non-depressive thought patterns and will be able to go about the next day with your non-depressed thought patterns. You cannot get inside my disability or get inside my head any more than I can experience being a blind person.

When I see a homeless person on the street begging, I know that it is very likely their mental health has been neglected and resulted in a series of behaviors that resulted in them being unable to obtain housing for themselves. I recognize that I cannot get inside their head, there isn’t enough space.

When I hear of an Adam Lanza, Jacob Tyler Roberts, or an Ian Stawicki killing people randomly, I am angry at them, but I also have empathy for them. Going out and killing people isn’t something that a happy, healthy person does. Their lives were significantly broken and their mental health neglected to the point that inside their head killing others seemed to be a perfectly appropriate action. I can’t get inside their head, just like the inside of mine there isn’t enough space.

Where do we go from here?

Those twenty children and seven adults are dead in Connecticut today, 92 people killed themselves today, and many people were forced into living on the street because mental health is neglected in our society.

I don’t have all the answers, but We Americans need to become more supportive of those with mental illness, We Americans need to feel more empowered to encourage others to get mental health help, and it needs to be easier to have people involuntarily committed in our country.

What can you do right now?

  • If you have or have had a mental illness and you feel that you are able, share your experiences with those around you.
  • If you know someone with a mental illness, give them a hug and listen to them.
  • If you don’t know anyone with a mental illness, take some time to learn more about a mental illness.

I know you can’t get inside my head, because there isn’t enough space, but if you could take a moment to try to peek into my or the head of someone who has had similar struggles, we would take a first step toward improving our country, and preventing the next massacre of innocent people, but more importantly we would improve the lives of our brothers and sisters who struggle day in and day out with their mental health.

Nov 23 12

The Urge to Create

by Nicholas Barnard

I’ve had a great thanksgiving with my aunt, uncle, and friends. Continuing a tradition that is over half a decade old.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are among other things, days of consumption: Eat lots of turkey and sides then go to the stores and buy lots of things.

Even though today and tomorrow are about consumption, it is today that I’ve finally carved out the time for a little bit of time, in which I want to discuss creation.

No, I’m not talking about biblical creation, I’m talking about the innate need many, including myself, have to produce and share with the world at large, or perhaps just our communities.

I owe a small debt to Charlie McDonnell’s thoughts on being scared of his audience, and Hank Green’s response to Charlie, which pointed me to Mickeleh’s response to Charlie, and I also got to reading The Oatmeal’s indirect response to Charlie. In all of those responses, I saw myself and the past two years reflected back at me.

The urge to create is a fickle one. At times there are blog entries that demand at what time and place that they will be written, then there are those that I have to force out of my head into the keyboard.

I don’t think I talked about it here, but I spent a reasonable part of the past year trying to create a company that I believe would have changed the music world in a small, but significant way. I jumped into starting that company after a long time where my creation of content had fallen to one of its lowest levels. One could say that trying to create something a big as I wanted to, was a reaction to not having created as much as I would’ve liked to.

But Charlie, Hank, Mickeleh, and The Oatmeal note that creating is scary. The company I was working on scared and scares the shit out of me. An unpublished blog entry that has been sitting on my computer for two years scares me that it won’t be quite right. Every time, I get up and play bells there is part of me that is completely terrified that I will accidentally launch a handbell into the air that will go flying and strike someone on the head and simultaneously give them a concussion and a huge gash. (Okay, maybe I’m just scared that’ll I’ll screw up when playing bells and look at the audience like a deer staring into headlights.) Often when I sit down to create something on my own I often have to fight the urge procrastinate, which I often do by consuming content created by others.

This is why I excel at creating when I have an interdependent responsibility to others:

  • Putting on a solo monologue? I suck at that.

  • Being part of a theatrical endeavor where I have one, two, or forty people who are depending on me? I’m good at that.

  • Sitting down and practicing piano? Eh. Not a strength of mine.

  • Putting lots of hours into rehearsing handbells with others? Great at that.

Creating makes me feel good. There is the satisfaction of having brought something into the world, perhaps of beauty, perhaps of utility, perhaps something that evokes a response, or just perhaps something that needs to exist outside of the forever milling cycle of my thoughts.

Creating is part of who I am, and one of the ways in which I know I am alive.