World On My Shoulders

On March 11th 2011, an earthquake struck Japan along with a massive tsunami, killing tens of thousands of people and causing a nuclear melt down at the Fukushima Diachi Nuclear Power Plant. I had a comfortable life, living with my brother in a beautiful house a few blocks from my favorite place in Seattle, Green Lake. I made great money as a the studio director of at Seattle Channel 21 and got to work with the most talented local artists Seattle was producing. Acts like Macklemore, David Bazan, Hey Marselles that have since gone on to do big things in the industry. But the same earthquake that shook Japan had a seismic effect on my life and plunged into a pit so deep I didn’t think I’d ever find my way out. I would emerge, stronger and more satisfied with life than I’ve ever been nearly a decade later and I’d like to write about it in hopes it might help others who find themselves in the bottomless pit.

There was only one thing that kept me from suicide, understanding the toll it would leave in its wake. I’ve always been introverted so I don’t have a lot of friends, but I’m very close to my family and understand the absolute devastation it is to lose a family member, something you never get over. My mom’s little brother drowned in the Columbia River and she still grieves. My little brother had a massive brain bleed at 13 and survived but we all still grieve. Imagine a close family member taking own life, it would literally destroy the lives the rest of the family. So I suffered, mostly in silence because I was aware of the effect the depression had on others. Part of the depression was a neurological reaction to mixing a medication with marijuana which I was told not to do. I hadn’t slept in month (literally) and was desperate for relief, so I tried a couple hits of weed while he was out buying a computer with my grandmother. This sent my sky high into mania, which the antipsychotic I was on at the time was supposed to prevent and suddenly I felt great and wanted to spread love (what my main mission was in my original breakdown). Five minutes into this high my best friend called and gave me the news that he had liver cancer/failure and only had a few months to live. I CRASHED. It was a physical feeling in my head, perhaps seizure like. It felt like my brain completely shut down and I no longer had functional awareness of a big picture. I was hospitalized a few weeks later in Seattle and stayed longer than any other patient there to basically no avail. I would go to bed every night hoping against all hope that somehow when I woke up the next morning my mind would be more normal. They took me off antipsychotics and put me on lithium and an antidepressant. Nothing helped. I was trapped. It physically hurt to exist every conscious second and I badly wanted to end it all but I knew I couldn’t do that to my brother who had dealt with more than his share of hardship in his life. This went on for years with no improvement. I was hopeless.

My brother and I moved up to Green Lake together in 2010 after he had his first status seizure. My mom just happened to be with him when it started and it took the ER in Auburn 4 hours to get it to stop. It very nearly killed. Since Brandon was going to grad school at the time and working on his thesis, he was by himself a lot and this became something that always weighed on me, the possibility that he’d have another seizure and he’d die in agony because no one was there to catch it. Brandon graduated and I decided to try to make life as glorious as possible for him because I didn’t know if the seizures meant he didn’t have long and I wanted to give him an awesome place to recover before he entered into the working world. I had a friend move in with us which limited the time Brandon was alone while I was at work at the TV station. Brandon had another status seizure which I just happened to catch one morning before I went to work. We think it was triggered by something in Dayquil. I called an ambulance and Harborview was much faster at getting the seizure to stop. So on March 11th 2011, my mindset was very much to protect my brother at all costs.

There was a massive nuclear explosion at Fukushima and a radioactive cloud was drifting across the Pacific towards Seattle. Seattlites made a run Iodine Pills and I began to worry about whether it would effect my brother’s health as he was already in a weakened condition. I studied maps that showed where the jet streamed flowed across the country since this was what was bringing the radiation across the ocean from Japan. It appeared to miss southern Florida completely. At the same time the journalist/activist in me kicked in and I started a Facebook group to disseminate the limited news coming out of Japan, and I researched everything I could about how to avoid and detoxify nuclear radiation and translated it into Japanese. Both the United States and Japan were downplaying the threat and severely censoring the news, so I thought it was important to get as much out there as I could. I would get a hold of press releases from Tepco and write about them on my page, which was something the American media stopped doing literally a week and a half after the tsunami. I had over a half a million views on my page in just a few weeks from all over the world including from the FBI (you can look up where hits are coming from) and the pressure started to build. The Wall Street Journal ran an article saying the plant had been stabilized (it’s still not stable almost a decade later) and I called them on it using my media credentials and they pulled it. I felt a great sense of importance and started to elevate. I don’t know where the line between elevated an manic is or if it even exists.

The day before the radioactive cloud was supposed to hit in Seattle I made a sudden decision to fly me and Brandon to Miami to try and avoid it. We rented a car and tried to get as far south as we could which was Key West. This is where I remember having my first “delusional” thought. There always has to be logic involved in my magical thinking but it can get pretty bizarre. This thought actually was somewhat reasonable considering I believed in a magic talking snake most of my life. Radiation apparently causes sterilization in men and if you look at a map, Florida looks like America’s dick and the Keys, well, what comes out. This made perfect sense to me if that’s the way reality was and having not fully recovered from religion yet. It told me we were on the right track. I pretty much dropped off on running my Fukushima page over the two weeks were in Key West and fell in love with the place. Florida is a great place to be in March, especially coming from the drab Pacific Northwest and we fell in love with it. Everything is so much slower there, no one is in a hurry. They even say people are ruined for living back in the rat race of home for visiting. We looked at some mobile homes and I talked to a few people about jobs and I made the decision that we were going to move there ASAP. My Dad was worried about us and said he’d for the flight if we came back and so we decided to take him up on it. On the drive out of Key West I thought to my self, “maybe we shouldn’t be leaving here at all”. I turned on the radio and at that very moment the delusion that the universe could speak directly to me took hold. The lyrics “turn around bright eyes” immediately followed my thought. I was dumbfounded but didn’t turn around.

I credit the turnaround in my depression to several different facets. The first is time. I don’t think this necessarily applies to the degree it did for me to other people since my depression was most certainly partly neurological. A psychiatrist told me they called the reaction I had “the rebound effect” and I need A LOT of time to heal. And of course I was depressed because I was suffering and never thought I’d feel ok again, which compounds it, not to mention not having my dream job anymore and that I was back living with family. Finding the right antidepressant was HUGE. Eventually I figured out that the field of psychiatry is an absolute joke. You have to be your own doctor. They don’t know how you feel and are just guessing, don’t let them push you around. And if they don’t do what you want, get a new psychiatrist. Towards the beginning of my ordeal, most of my psychiatrist read my file that I had been through a psychosis, made assumptions about me and treated me like garbage. They thought they knew what was best and I’d better just swallow whatever they threw at me. I felt subhuman and lost all self esteem. Part of that is how society conditions us to think about mental illness, but it’s also partly how people who know what you’ve be diagnosed with treat you. Some friends and extended family withdraw because it’s uncomfortable to deal with and this contributes even more to feelings of worthlessness and adds to the depression. Its actually kind of crazy how I found the right antidepressant. I went with my grandmother to a psychic fair and a psychic did a reading for me, called me a star child and said my ancestors told her I need Effexor. I figured why the fuck now, I was already 4 years into seemingly intractable depression so I asked my psychiatrist for it. She was great and gave it to me in a larger dose than they’d normally give somebody with my “diagnosis” along with a mood stabilizer to keep me from going to high as antidepressants can do that and miraculously I started to find my first sense of relief in years. The other main factor in my recovery was taking a course called The Landmark Forum. It’s up in Fremont, is word of mouth only, and companies like Apple, Lulumon and NASA have their employees go through it. Basically they have you sit in a room for 12 hours a day in a group and run through different exercises to clear all the crap that’s dogging you from your past. They say some people will call family and that person won’t even recognize their voice some people change so drastically. It actually happened to me while I was there. I called a good friend and he had no idea who I was. The crux of it is you make decisions about yourself from a very very early age and develop survival techniques that aren’t necessarily healthy. A parent might walk out of a room in a dispute that didn’t even involve you when you were 2 and that two year old may make a crucial decision about themselves and how to act that effects them the rest of their lives. So you start as early as you can remember and go up through the first time you were on your own. Must of us are creations of a 12 year old. They also want you to call important people you’ve left things unsettled with and apologize for your part or confront them or whatever you need to resolve the situation. The more you can resolve, the less weight you carry because its always up there in your subconscious.

There’s a few books I’ve read that have had a massive impact on my state of mind. They are The Alchemist, The Red Book by Carl Jung, and the two Eckart Tolle books. I also watch Eckart’s DVD’s a lot. He just helps put your perspective back into the moment rather than in the past or future. It’s a meditative practice I’ve worked on a lot. You are not your thoughts, you’re the awareness behind your thoughts. We have a tendency to become completely absorbed by our thoughts and identify with them instead of noticing that, hey, that thought just popped in my head on its own most likely from preconditioned patterns. My mom likes Byron Katie who’s mantra is “is that true?”. Question your thoughts.

We’re all unique beautiful creatures and we’re all ultimately the same. We are fields of awareness experiencing the fullness of life. The more you practice becoming aware of your awareness the more you’ll awaken to the innocence and infinite possibilities of the NOW.

To be continued..

Poem Time

We embark on a new Brandon’s Wisdom tradition: Poem Time. Each day hopefully, I will choose a random prompt of some kind and write a poem Please …

Poem Time

Leverage In The Time Of Corona

Winston doesn’t fuck around

Winston Churchill once quipped, “never waste a good crisis”, it wasn’t Dick Cheney which somehow I got in my head. There’s no American alive who has lived through a crisis on as big a scale as the Covid-19 pandemic and unfortunately for American citizens, our leadership on both sides of the partisan divide have been unable to rise to meet the challenges and opportunities of the moment. President Trump had the chance to prove he was a worthy leader, at least in terms of dealing with an unprecedented threat. Democrats had the chance to show a killer instinct by negotiating a deal that put the middle class and poor first at a time they needed it most. Both utterly failed.

Trump likes to say we are at war and in a lot of ways, it’s apt. Citizens are forced to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good, an enemy is trying to kill us, and there’s a lot of confusion. The fog of war is when there’s so much fear and chaos, no one can see the big picture clearly and poor decisions are made. This fog contributed to the Democratic leadership squandering an unprecedented amount of leverage in an unprecedented time of need.

If you’ve ever seen House of Cards, you know getting your agenda passed is all about leverage. Senator Underwood would send his goon, Doug, to dig up whatever dirt (or kompromat if you will) that was out there on a politician who needed a little extra motivation to do what Frank wanted. Who knows how much of this happens in the real world. Many think Vladimir Putin has dirt on Trump and Trump dirt on Lindsey Graham just by observing oddities in the way they act. The Democrats had Republicans by the short hairs in negotiations over the Covid Relief Bill and didn’t even realize it. Let me paint the picture.

Doug Stamper is a terrible person but he does get results

The sitting president, who days earlier said the pandemic was a hoax had just admitted in an address from the Oval Office that things were indeed very, very serious. In fact, things were so out of control that the states were falling like dominoes, closing all non essential businesses and ordering citizens to shelter in place. The stock market had its worst week since 1929, diving thousands of points each day, and it was crystal clear who was to blame. This was President Trump and ultimately the Republican’s mess. They had broken the country.

We had a rather large window of time to prepare for “the invisible enemy” as Trump weirdly tells everyone he calls it. The Chinese dealt with the staggeringly contagious virus in December as we watched with morbid curiosity from the other side of the world. Trump likes to brag he banned travel from China early on, but as the virus marched its way across Europe and brought Italy to it’s knees, Trump was on his re-election rally tour, ridiculing Democrats and the media for being alarmists. It hit my home state of Washington, killing what was thought at the time to be the first U.S. citizen. Several days later Trump would famously say there were only 15 cases in the United States and it would soon be zero. This as American’s watched in horror as Italian doctors were forced to choose who would get a respirator and who would inevitably die drowning in their own body fluids. Instead of heeding the giant neon warnings from around the world and using the month of February to order respirators, stock pile PPE and more importantly, develop an effective testing and tracing protocol which could have prevented the hell the country is now going through, Trump utterly failed the ultimate test of his presidency and actually called pandemic fears a hoax. He can brag all he wants about a travel ban but if the pilot puts the landing gear down and just expects to land without doing anything else, he’s the reason that plane crashed. And now, without immediate help from the federal government, Wall Street was in big trouble.

Donal Trump doing his best impression of a credible leader.

Like Luke Skywalker, firing on the Death Star, this was the moment for the Democrats to strike and demand the moon. It was a perfect storm. Wall Street needed help now with the DOW losing thousands of points a day. There was no way Republicans could have grandstanded against any reasonable or even perhaps greedy social relief with the economy rapidly burning to the ground and the can of gasoline in their hands. The negotiations were a game of chicken and all the Dems had to do was ask for what was moral and drive fast and straight.

Instead of an easy win, a two trillion dollar bill was quickly passed with bipartisan support in which huge companies took the lions share of the money, leaving nothing for many, many small businesses. People making under 75K a year got a whopping one time check of $1200 (with Donald Trump’s autograph on it). Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin later said he expects that $1200 to last 10 weeks, and there’s no word on any further relief for people out of work. There was no protection for the governments of the states most effected, and now Trump is threatening to withhold relief unless states turn all residents here illegally into I.C.E.. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested the federal government should just let the states go bankrupt.

The original Tiger King

At the very least, the Democrats should have gotten a monthly payment for the poor and middle class that lasted at least until the end of the pandemic. They should have demanded guarantees mandating which businesses were eligible to receive relief, and they should have gotten guarantees that struggling states would be bailed out. Once again they were bluffed by the ruthless party of big business not realizing they were holding a royal flush. We don’t need the party of the people to be a sparring partner, we need them to be Mike Tyson.