Fuck This Writer’s Block

writers-block

Writer’s block is perhaps the worst side-effect of my depression and quite possibly the best talisman for how bad my depression is at any given time. It has been proven that a common symptom of depression is losing interest in activities that bring joy and happiness to a person. This is what is happening to me.

I always try to surround myself with activities so I can keep myself occupied. I do this so I don’t become idle and let my depression and anxiety overcome me and take control. These activities can range from coloring in a coloring book to walking/hiking to reading to doing volunteer work. Writing is an activity that ebbs and flows with my mental state and I cannot count on it to be an activity to bring me joy or to occupy my time. I hate that it is such a fickle thing simply because I love to create and writing, more than any other type of art, allows me to bring imagined worlds and people to life. I love to draw but my talent for it is dwarfed by my talent to write thus writing proves to be the better of an activity, a better escape, than drawing ever could. But when writer’s block shows its contorted face, I panic and shrivel up into a withered ball and give in to it.

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Aside from the creative catharsis writing provides it is also a means of income for me. I am technically employed by the American Institute of Bisexuality to write for them. I have yet to publish an article. I sit down and try to write articles on great ideas I have in my head but as the words transcend my mind to the computer screen, the more unhappy I grow, then frustration takes over and it paralyzes me and then I’m done. I simply cannot go on. It is the most frustrating and mesmerizing thing. I have no idea how or why it happens. Furthermore, to make it even more confusing, I think about writing all the time. I have two novel-length stories I have been working on for a few years now and my input to them matters greatly on my mental state. I think about them every day, and that is not to be taken euphemistically, I really mean it when I say I think about those stories every day. I can see and hear and feel the characters and all of their emotions and their lives but I can’t get them from my brain to the computer screen. It’s such a damning feeling.

So what I am hoping for is to break this writer’s block by writing about it and giving it a middle finger and telling it to fuck off. Yes, the profanity is needed to justify how strongly I feel about it. Maybe this is the inspiration I need even though spitting out the words for this article was painful and difficult to achieve.


 

-Matthew A. Sandusky

10.4.2016

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Living With Suicide

Suicide Awareness Ribbon

The strangest thing about me is that I am suicidal at most times. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t contemplate suicide. It’s almost like a schizophrenic voice that whispers suicide. It sits in the back of my mind and reminds me of how the most mundane and banal actions could be fatal. Am I waiting for a subway train? Jump in front of the train when it comes into the station. Am I out for a walk? Walk towards a bridge and jump off of it. Am I having trouble getting to sleep? Drink a lot of alcohol and take a handful of my sleeping medications. Sometimes that voice hibernates and won’t bother me for hours or even days but most of the time, it’s there.

This is what living with suicide is like.

The ironic thing is that I’m afraid of dying. I have contemplated death in a myriad of ways, not just concerning death as a verb, but what it is, means, does, is like, what happens afterwards, and how it feels. It’s only the last contemplation, how it feels, which truly frightens me.

I’m not a superstitious person. In fact, I tend to disparage superstition and I would categorize blind faith as a superstition. I cannot not nor will not believe in Heaven and Hell. I cannot nor will not throw to the wayside all of the scientific advances made during human history, especially since the time of Galileo. But discrediting any belief in Heaven and Hell is not some sort of rationalization I am seeking in order to justify suicide. On the contrary, I know my body will decompose and return to the earth and in few billion years the elements and atoms which constituted my body will return to a star, our sun. The energy which is my soul, self, atman, etc. will go on as well. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed and that is scientific law. The Buddhist in me wants to believe (using general faith and not blind faith) that my soul will enter a new body once I die in this one but my opposition towards superstition stymies my complete embrace of transmigration; however, transmigration makes more sense to me than Heaven and Hell due to the conservation of energy, hence not a total disregard for the superstition of transmigration. These are the contemplations I ruminate on that have helped displace any fear of death and what happens afterwards.

The pain of death and dying is the contemplation I fear the most and is part of the reason I am still alive (it can go without saying family, friends, and different types of therapy and medications constitute other parts of my being alive). No matter what way I contemplate suicide, there is always a pain involved. This is my greatest blessing as well as my greatest curse. It is at this thought, the thought of feeling pain while dying, which has kept my suicide at bay but it also means I am almost always living on the precipice of suicide for a majority of my life.

I was formally diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 1993, when I was thirteen. My mother recently disclosed to me that doctors had seen signs of depression in me as young as the age of four. That would have been in 1984. It’s now 2016 and I’m 36 years old and I still suffer from it. I also suffer from issues with anxiety, paranoia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Dealing with all of those diagnoses is extremely tiring. It is when that exhaustion gets to an incredibly high level that my suicidal thoughts then become suicidal plans. But, again, it’s not because I want to die per se, it’s because my brain is broken and it’s exhausting fighting my own brain. I’ve often tried to convey this feeling like so: If there’s something in a person’s body that doesn’t work properly or is harming the body as a whole (think appendix, cancer, etc.) then doctors remove it; however, my problem, the thing that isn’t working correctly and is harming my body, is my brain and if it’s removed, I die. And that is what all of this boils down to.

When I was 13, I attempted suicide twice. When I was 14, I attempted it again. When I was 26, I was suicidal as well as when I was 34, 35, and 36. I go through severe depressive episodes and some of them are so terrible that suicide becomes a real option so I can alleviate the exhaustion of fighting my own brain every day. The last of these episodes occurred in late July of 2016 but it was different from previous depressive episodes. During that last episode, suicide became as real to me as it did when I was 13 and 14. The difference between this episode and those two older episodes was that I, at the urging of my sister, checked myself into the hospital.

I spent 18 days in the psychiatric unit of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and during my stay, I was given ample time to contemplate and reflect. I was on suicide watch (called one-to-one in the hospital) and all I did was look for ways to attempt my goal of suicide. But as time wore on and therapy commenced and medications were administered, my suicidal thoughts and plans came to the forefront and I became hyper-aware of their existence and how damaging they are and how they dictated my life. It was during my last week or so of being in the hospital that my constant suicidal voice ceased.

It is such a relief to no longer be subjected to the constant barrage of suicidal thoughts. It is a peace I’m not sure I have ever known but I feel it is a fragile peace. I am under no illusions thinking I am cured of my mental health issues. I think about succumbing to another depressive episode. I constantly tell people I am doing well, I am doing better, but I am still ill. I am still depressed. More importantly, I tell myself these same words. But even in illness there is life to live and that thought has been the most significant shift in my outlook. I know I am susceptible to depressive episodes and suicidal thoughts but I no longer want to go through the days surviving them. What I want is to live, even if I have to live with them. The shift in verb usage from surviving to living has made all the difference in my life.


 

If you or a loved one is suicidal, get help.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

or go to your nearest Emergency Room or call 911


 

-Matthew A. Sandusky

9.2.2016

June 23, 2014: The Day I Came Out

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The Bisexual Flag

It was on this date, June 23rd in 2014, when I came out to myself.

It was on this date in 2014 that I changed my life forever by proclaiming my own truth to myself.

It was on this date in 2014 when I sat in a chair in my therapist’s office and finally, at long last, I uttered the words “I am bisexual” out loud.

That was the first time I had ever heard myself say those words. It was truth. It was honesty. I was 34.

The strange thing was I didn’t feel like some giant and unbearable weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I had heard of coming out as being this great relief, at least that’s how I always imagined it feeling. I thought that I would feel the same. In fact, the opposite happened and I was completely caught off guard by it.

My therapist and I had worked out a contingency plan in case I ended up homeless after coming out to my girlfriend, who lived with me. One of the biggest reasons I was even in therapy was because I had an unprecedented fear of being abandoned. The type of abandonment that I dreaded wasn’t just people literally abandoning me, but the notion of feeling utterly alone and devoid of a person’s presence. Both of those types of abandonment had occurred to me before in my life.

My dad committed the proverbial act of going out for a pack of cigarettes and never really coming back. No, he really didn’t go out for cigarettes but it was pretty much the same thing. Yes, he did smoke but he was leaving us for his mistress (who later became my evil step-mother). That happened just days before my third birthday. Later in my life, when I was 19, he decided to take my mother to court so he could stop paying his $150 per month child-support. The worst thing about it was he called me a few weeks before my graduation to make sure I was going to graduate. Having been held back in 8th grade, that question wasn’t out of the ordinary for me. But, contrary to what I was thinking, he asked me so he could use that as a reason to stop child-support payments. He had to pay until I was 18 or finished school. I was planning on going to art school in Philadelphia but that was undermined when my mom got the subpoena and my dad won the case.

I was so angry that I called him and told him that he had pretty much robbed me of my chance to go to college since my mom was going to use that money to pay for my housing.

I was so angry that I told him not to come to my graduation ceremony.

I was so angry that I told him, “Dad, I love you but I don’t like you right now”. Those were the last words I ever said to him. He hasn’t spoken to me since and honestly, as a right-wing, conservative, Pentecostal, he would’ve disowned me anyways if I was still talking to him and if I came out to him. I still miss my dad and I still love him but honestly speaking, I know my life is easier to live without him in it.

My step-dad was more of a father to me than my biological father ever was. He wasn’t technically my step-dad, my mom and he never married, but it’s the easiest and most apt way of labeling my relationship with him. He dated my mom for 12 years and was always there for my mom, my sister, and me when my dad wasn’t and when my dad should have been. My step-dad attended nearly every soccer game of mine. My dad never came to one game (I played for 8 1/2 years). My step-dad was there for my sister when she was in and out of the hospital with kidney issues. My dad had to be yelled at by my mom to come see my sister in the hospital. My step-dad encouraged communication and reconciliation between my mom and my dad. My dad blamed my sister and my step-dad for all of his unhappiness in his life.

One day in 1997, my mom told me that my step-dad had a seizure the night before and was in the hospital. Turned out he had brain cancer and a huge tumor in his brain. The last time I saw him was on a sunny day out at Dulles Airport where he worked. As my mom, my sister, and I were about to leave, we all said goodbye. He gave me a long, tight hug. He told me he loved me. I told him I loved him too. That was the last time I saw him. Those were the last words we said to one another. That was the first and only time we ever told each other that we loved one another. He died later that year.

In 2014, just after I came out to myself, I was worried sick that something similar would happen to me. I was worried that my girlfriend of (then) 15 years would break up with me and kick me out of our apartment. This worry, combined with previous experiences of abandonment (the two examples above are just two of many times of abandonment I lived through) created a downward fall into the vortex of major depressive disorder and social anxiety disorder. At my worst, I would have un-triggered panic attacks, became suicidal, and had insomnia so badly that I was only sleeping for four hours maximum per day. This created the perfect storm for me to crash out of grad school and having to leave Columbia University due to the orders of my social worker, my therapist, and my psychiatrist. From June 23, 2014 until around Thanksgiving of that same year, only my therapist and I knew the truth about my sexuality.

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A selfie when I was in the thick of insomnia

Eventually, during a conversation while having dinner at a restaurant, my girlfriend figured out that I was hiding the truth about my sexuality and I came out to her right there in that restaurant. Feeling claustrophobic and anxious other diners would overhear my coming out conversation, the two of us left and sat on a bench in Washington Square Park. I told my girlfriend everything, including my fear she would leave me and kick me out. She assured me that would never happen. That was when I broke down and cried like I haven’t cried since my step-dad’s memorial service.

My girlfriend and I would end up going to Bi Request the following week. Bi Request is a twice-a-month social and discussion group focusing on the issues and challenges facing everyone in the Bi+ community. They became a part of my recovery and, more importantly, they became my chosen family. I’ve missed only four meetings of Bi Request since December of 2014 and marched in NYC Pride with them in 2015 (and am about to again for NYC Pride 2016).

I had come out to all of my family members, my girlfriend’s family, and my friends by June 25th of 2015. It was such a relief to march in Pride that year knowing I was truly being myself and there were about two million other people on 5th Avenue and Christopher Street cheering on the more open and honest me. I’ve shared my story with the #StillBisexual campaign, participated in the Bi Visibility Day 2015 performance at the LGBT Center in New York, met with national-level bisexual leadership, and now find myself sort of mentoring new members to Bi Request and committing acts of micro-advocacy for the bi+ community (think of the idea of micro-aggression but with advocacy (maybe that’s a topic for another entry)).

Things haven’t been smooth for me at all since I began the coming-out process two years ago. The baseline of my happiness has oscillated wildly and at times I am so exhausted by it, I seriously contemplate checking myself into the psychiatric ward of the hospital. But I have also learned tools and coping mechanisms from my therapist to be able to navigate the tidal waves of my mental ocean. More importantly, I have embedded myself into the bi+ community like a hungry tick. And just like a tick, I don’t want to ever leave. There are many things about me that I am still trying to figure out, learning about myself, and adopting into my new self but, for the first time in my life, my sexuality finally feels stable and I feel comfortable and secure with it. In fact, I love being bisexual. And I love all of the people who have helped me get to that place of loving my sexuality. I also want to thank them all (they know who they are), especially my girlfriend (now of 17 years), because without them, who knows what shape I would be in today. Hell, who knows if I would’ve even lived to this day. I love you all and I thank you all for helping me find my way through one of the biggest trials of my life.

I have found my tribe.

I have found my people.

I have found myself.

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Bi Pride


 

-Matthew A. Sandusky

6.23.2016

Three32am

Can’t sleep.

Been a rough couple of days.

Been a rough week.

Filled with shadows and doubts and rampant thoughts that are keeping me awake as I struggle typing on my phone’s undersized keyboard. The agonies of first world life.

Buddhism teaches about impermanence and what a bitch of a lesson that is yet so utterly valuable. Nothing is real and yet our minds convince us otherwise. If nothing is real then everything we hold close will perish the tighter we grasp it. Then we suffer from the loss of it. Sadness ensues.

Buddhism is pragmatic. So am I. And I am learning the lesson of impermanence.

It’s been a tough week.
It’s been difficult days.


-Matthew A. Sandusky

5.5.2016

What It Means To Be A NY Islanders Fan

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I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always been a fan of the NY Islanders. In fact, I wasn’t even a fan of hockey until the year the Islanders won their last playoff series in 1993.

I was 13 and in Catholic school and hockey was the sport de jour in my tiny school (there were only 25 students in the entire 8th grade, including me). Funny thing was, even though I grew up in Virginia and my school was no more than ten miles out of Washington, D.C., nobody rooted for the Washington Capitals because no one really cared about them because they really couldn’t be taken seriously. During that NHL season, I fell in love with Andy Moog, the goalie for the Boston Bruins, which then led me to fall in love with the rest of the team that included Cam Neeley, Adam Oates, Joe Juneau, and Ray Bourque. Even when Moog was traded to the Dallas Stars the following season and even though I would follow him there and root him on, the Bruins always were my hockey team, even when they lost the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 by letting in two goals in a matter of 17 seconds apart from one another. Oh, the agony.

That next NHL season found me living back in New York City in northern Manhattan. It was difficult following the Bruins since I was still living out-of-market but then I started watching the Islanders. I had always been curious of the Islanders mainly because, as a Bruins fan, I had nothing but contempt for the NY Rangers. What really got me hooked on the Islanders that season was during a regular season game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the teams went into a marathon shoot-out to determine the winner of the game with both goalies putting on a clinic. Sadly, the Islanders missed the playoffs that season but I knew I was hooked. And, to be honest, it was nice to actually root for a home team for once.

It was the following NHL season of 2014-2015 that I became a big time Islanders fan. This was the period of my life when I was at my worst with my depression and anxiety. This was when I was trying to be a grad student at an Ivy League School. This was when I was only sleeping between two to four hours a day. And it was because of that insomnia that I attached myself to the Islanders. The local New York sports channel would re-air the games of all three local hockey teams (Islanders, NJ Devils, and NY Rangers) and I couldn’t bring myself to watch the Rangers and there was no way I was ever going to root for a team from New Jersey; add to the fact I was already rooting for the Isles and I really began to follow them as a true fan. On  surface level this was fun but on a deeper level it helped me survive.

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During that winter, I would spend most nights in bed desperately trying to fall asleep but I never could. My anxiety would cause me to carefully rethink and analyze just about every detail and every action I had done that day. This is called ruminating. It was because of that ruminating that I couldn’t fall asleep and it continued to make my insomnia worse as time went on. To distract myself from my ruminations, I would go out to the living room, lie on the couch, and, without fail, most nights I could catch the re-airing of an Islanders game that would be on at those unholy hours of the night. Watching those games and getting into the team distracted me from my ruminations, which in turn lowered my anxiety just a bit, which in turn helped me to overcome my insomnia along with other tactics I used. It was also the last season the Islanders would be playing in their first and only home, Nassau Coliseum, and it was the season that the “YES, YES, YES” chant really took off and there was that no-loss streak in January and February. It was a fun time to be an Isles fan and it was at that point I knew there was no looking back. I was officially a fan of the New York Islanders.

Yes, I know, I wasn’t there when they were born in 1972 and were terrible. I wasn’t there when they were a dynasty in the early 1980s or for the record-setting 19 playoff series wins that still stands to this day. I wasn’t there when that dynasty collapsed or for the Easter Epic. I wasn’t a fan who had to endure the “fishsticks” fiasco or the embarrassment that was John Spano. john_spanoAlso, I wasn’t an Islanders fan who had to wait 23 years for the team to finally win a playoff series like they did last night (April 24, 2016) against the Florida Panthers. I’m not really looking to validate or to justify my membership into the fanbase of the Islanders because they are more than a team to me, they are a part of my mental health recovery and one of my many good things that came into my life just when I needed them to in order to help save my life. I do not write those words lightly.

I was so depressed, anxiety-ridden, and sleep deprived that I had become suicidal. The Islanders were one of the facets that helped me through that dark period of my life. I will never root for another hockey team as long as I live. I am so in debt to this team that I’m not sure I will ever be able to adequately employ the words in the English language to tell just how I feel. Not only am I happy for the team to finally get that monkey off their back and win a playoff series, but I am happy for the fanbase that has been through some of the worst things a fanbase of any team would have to endure. But most importantly, I can say that I am happy. And part of my happiness is being an Islanders fan.

Let’s go Islanders! Yes, Yes, Yes!

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Oh, and I made it into the NHL’s My Playoffs Moments video for the Islanders winning the series against the Panthers. That’s me at the end. Needless to say that I was pretty happy.

 


-Matthew A. Sandusky

4.25.2016