Somewhere between awareness of my symptoms and diagnosing them came knowledge and acceptance that things might get a lot worse before they ever or never get better. While a pretty hard pill to swallow, (No pun intended.) I feel lucky that I have such a fantastic support system in my wife, family, friends, and doctors. However, there is one thing in particular that has become harder and harder to accept as time goes by. That is, people always checking in on me and asking how I’m doing. Arguing with and fighting over her being too helpful or over-attentive. As time goes by, I feel myself becoming more resistant to help, while closing myself off to others. I also notice that it doesn’t take much to light my fuse or lose my temper. Whether it be snap reactions or just getting angry over things I can’t control, I’ve come to fear of becoming a cranky old son of a bitch than an optimistic one. As I move towards a new year and a new decade, I hope to move forward by taking somewhat of a step back to the practices I approached and learned from in the past. Simple things, such as meditation, breathing techniques, eating, and exercise, could all help while bringing improvements to my attitude, as well as my life. Hopefully, these little things can help in bringing me the peace of mind and mindfulness I so desperately seek.
When I went to my dad for advice on how to handle a bully and some of the kids in my first-grade class who had taken it upon themselves to make my time in the schoolyard as miserable as possible, I would have never guessed the lessons I would get or the path it put me on.
While one can imagine a parent taking their kid to school the next day to speak to the school principal or even confront the kids involved.,
My father took a completely different route by taking me down to the garage and introduced me to the heavy bag and boxing.
Within a few weeks, I had mastered the art of the jab, hook, uppercut, and the cross. Most importantly, I learned about balance and why striking my opponent when he was off-balance was so important. Now, this might seem like a lot for a kid who was still in the second grade, but I loved it absorbed everything I learned from my dad like a sponge. I loved working out with him and emulating his moves. When he bought me my first pair of black Everlast gloves, it felt as if I graduated to another level.
From there on, whenever someone messed with me, they got a face full of knuckles and rarely ever fucked with me again. By the end of the second grade, I got to know the principles office pretty well while learning that no matter who started the fight, the one with the bruises and bloody nose rarely ever got blamed.
About a year later, my dad gave me more lessons I’d never forgotten. They included pressure points such as the nose, throat, and chest. He would always tell me, “If they can’t breathe, they can’t fight.” and “Seeing their blood puts fear in their hearts.” “If you want to end a fight quickly, bloody up their nose.” All these lessons would help me face my bullies. At the same time, I gained a great love and respect for the sport of boxing while continuing my dream to compete and win the golden gloves and eventually become middleweight. I carefully followed fighters like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sean O’ Grady, Hector “Macho” Camacho and Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini, to name a few.
I think it’s worth noting that while I had a very short fuse and quick temper, I never started or went looking for a fight. With all the fistfights I had in that five or six-year period, I often teared up after leaving one victorious. Weeping and wondering why he decided to push me so far. I once sent a friend to the hospital for two days with broken nose vessels. I got into a lot of trouble with sister Mary Patrick for that one and a warning that another fight would get me expelled. Though the threat of being expelled had me wanting to change my ways, I was more preoccupied with the thought of apologizing to the kids’ mom and doing everything I could to regain that kid’s friendship. Not many people saw that side of me, but it was there. I’d also like to credit an older kid named Ronnie, who handed me my first ass-kicking while roughhousing in one of the nearby ball fields. It serves as a reminder that everyone takes a beating now and then. It was an event that stayed with me throughout my lifetime and plagued me until we reconciled decades later. During that exchange, he explained that he never meant to hurt me, but I was like a raging bull, coming at him like a locomotive. Thinking back, I probably deserved the pounding I got. It taught me a lot about raising my fists in anger and thinking before taking action. All these years later, I still remember and appreciate what my father taught me. I still work on the heavy bag, attempt to operate the speed bag and use the footwork to give me a sense of balance.
Though I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions, this year I decided to set some goals for myself. While I feel that some of these goals are quite ambitious, I think that they’re both realistic and attainable. One of those goals will be to focus more time on my writing, with a focus on non-fiction and, in particular, highlighting my early life and experiences. In recent weeks, I’ve focused much of my free time writing and trying to relearn the essential grammar skills I learned in school. Though my editor at Jersey Beat and my half-brother both teach at different levels and both volunteered to edit my work, I don’t feel it’s right to burden them with more work than they already have. Aside from my books and lessons I’ve learned, I’m considering hiring a writing coach, or at least utilizing some of the services available online.
In the end, it might be worth noting that my interest in creative writing preceded my passion for photography. For one who thrived on creativity, yet somehow suffered when not nourished by such. Writing and photography served as balance, allowing me to lean towards one while the other stagnated mentally. Short story long, I feel that some, if not many of my own stories need to be written and told while memory still serves.
I’ve quickly found myself becoming an angry old man. You know, the kid of one who shakes his fist at the clouds and yells at kids to get off his lawn. Considering I was an angry kid and an angry adult, this should come as no surprise to me or anyone who’s been lucky enough to know me for a while. Still, maybe for the first time in my life, I find myself attempting to relearn how to think and go about my life without judging others and perhaps be a tad less harder on myself.
Forgiveness and closure are powerful tools that have brought me more peace than I could have ever wished for. While I’m still learning and trying new ways to balance life. Having overall lower exceptions when it comes to myself and others has been a game changer. I still struggle to find that balance and overall acceptance that, no matter how much I wish it, we do not live in a perfect world.
In moving to Seattle, Washington from Jersey City, New Jersey. I had some fear that much of the toxicity that had become a part of my daily life for so long would follow me out west and cast a negative cloud on whatever changes I was hoping to undergo. Despite a rather grim diagnosis just months after arriving in the great northwest. I’ve manged to maintain a decidedly positive outlook. Now, by no means does change come easy. Everyone is different and their isn’t a one fix fits all remedy out there that I’ve seen or heard of.
Since being diagnosed with a chronic illness. I went through a number of emotions that included depression, anger and self blame.. Throughout, my one constant has been trying to define what truly makes me happy while sustaining a balance that can nourish and fulfill my soul. The more I’ve searched. The more I come to realize how much the little things play a major part. When listing my favorite things, music, photography and maintaining a level or creativity on a daily basis are the first things that come to mind. However, the more I search the more I’ve come to understand how much joy comes from sharing or preparing a meal with my wife, traveling and sending silly texts to my younger brother.
As we get older our priorities change as often do the things that attract our interest and show up on our shelves. The solitude and alone time I often seek and have learned to enjoy, only improve my ability to socialize. Training myself to limit the people I let into my life and not getting caught up with too much bullshit has helped tremendously in cutting down on stress, anxiety and many of the ingredients of my once toxic personality and lifestyle. While my posts do get there share of likes these days. I would love to see some of your strategies, techniques and practices for dealing with stressful situations and day to day anxiety.
As I was going through a couple of file boxes containing old tax returns and medical records. I came across a copy of the school newspaper that featured the article they asked me to write about my experiences and observations of my days, weeks and months as a terminal inpatient at an uptown Manhattan hospital.
Though I was unaware that the school even had a student based newspaper at the time. I agreed and proceeded to pour my heart out about the most trying and challenging experience I had been through in my somewhat short life. After penning and handing it off to visiting teacher. It was delivered to the forces that be and sent to the newspapers staff to be printed and distributed.
Imagine my shock when upon delivery when I realized that my words were not only edited, but rewritten to fit in with the dogma our schools faculty were forced to teach.
While I’m pretty sure my 7th grade English could benefit from a little grammarly love. But having what was being interpreted as my own words, twisted and fabricated to describe my recovery as a result of prayer, faith and God’s mercy. It would seem or be suggested that my becoming ill was part of God’s will to make me a stronger, better Christian. An act on their part was a fabrication and flat out lie. I had no idea the sisters, priests or clergy would go as far as committing libel to spread their message of fear, control and suppression of free speech or thought. While it wasn’t the first time the school or church committed one of the many sins they instructed us to abstain from and swiftly punished us for acting out. It found their avenue of doing so, rather tasteless.
Looking back, it’s hard to remember exactly why I didn’t take my case up with the schools principle, Sister Mary Patrick, or even threaten to take them to court. Maybe it had something to do with the fear of retribution on the schools part. Perhaps being just twelve years old trying to survive a terminal prognosis brought on by a non operable brain tumor. I don’t know why such a predictable action on the part of those put in charge of indoctrinating so many young minds to believe in half truths, fairy tales and flat out lies would warrant one’s anger, but it did.
John was good, very talented soul. A tall red-headed gentleman with a gifted voice that could carry you to the moon and quick sense of humor and that would send even the most cynical asshole into uncontrollable tears of laughter. Like many good souls. John had his demons. One’s he would keep to himself throughout his life. His way of dealing or not dealing with these unresolved issues was drinking. On the occasions where he did hit the bottle. He would often drink to excess and to the point of no return. In the end, it was his addiction and love for guns that would lead to his suicide.
While on many occasions John’s drinking and gun play would end with a few gunshots and random bullet holes in his family’s home. His wife always seemed to perfectly time her departures and calls to the local police. During what would turn out to be John’s last implosion. Instead of firing some shots into the home’s interior. He pointed the gun at his head. Threatening, “You don’t think I’ll do it.” “You don’t think I could.” Pleading for him to put the gun down while gripping their young, screaming child. She reached out to him as he pulled the trigger.
Hearing the news, even years later in a conversation about my Father’s history of drinking sent shock waves, though never intended on my Father’s part through me that would echo for years to come. Less than a year later, I would be hospitalized for panic attacks and anxiety related issues. John was more than a friend to my Father, Mother and myself. He was part of our extended family. I still have the pictures from me and my Dad’s first visit. The pictures of him and Stallone on the movie set. As well as visual memories of the Queens garden apartment he shared with his soon to be wife. Though recalling his suicide was painful. Thinking of him brought back memories, many good ones, I had either buried or forgotten. Little adventures and excursions to the local parks and fields with our dogs. His great big smile, barreling laugh and infectious sense of humor. My fondest memories of John will always go back to when I was a very young child and both he and my Dad had city jobs as bus drivers with Tri-Borough Coach. As a kid growing up in an imperfect world with it’s own problems and imperfections. He was somewhat of a super hero to me. Someone I loved and looked up to. He never revealed that dark side to me. Which, for better or worse. May have been a reason why I took the news of his suicide and underlying issues so hard. News that brought on some pretty intense panic and anxiety attacks. Looking back , I’ve learned from experience, to remember people for all the good they did and the many positive impressions they left on you. Focusing on one negative incident or action will never impact you in a positive way. Though it’s taken me years to fully realize that. I’m happy to recall so many of the good things John and many others added to my life. Acceptance and forgiveness go a long way when it comes to finding peace of mind and closure.