life, mental health

Bad days and worse days

From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney.

A chemical imbalance that manifests as depression and anxiety. They tag team on my thoughts. They sap the joy from my favorite things. They turn fun into fear. They sap my energy, snuff my humor and turn anger and hate inward. Depression wipes out all positive thought.

It feels like a weighted blanket on my chest, but instead of warmth and comfort it holds me down so heavily that I can barely breathe. Sometimes it almost feels safe under the blanket. I can’t feel anything. My emotions go blank. My concentration falters. My brain slows so much that it becomes hard to find basic words. All I want to do is sleep, because when you’re asleep at least you don’t feel the sadness and fear.

I overeat and spend money when I’m depressed. I work on the problems with my behavioral therapist, but over the years I’ve spent myself into bankruptcy and eaten myself into morbid obesity.

The depression and anxiety resurged earlier this month. There are lots of reasons, but I choose.

The anxiety condition means I suffer from panic attacks. When it acts up, I feel fear. Sometimes the fear is response to stimulus: a mistake made at work, a social faux pas or an overindulgence.

Sometimes there is no reason for the panic. It just settles in like a thunderstorm inside my skull. My doctor gives me little yellow pills. They usually work within about 15 or 30 minutes.

Once in a while, though, the panic gets past the pills. That happened earlier this month. The panic set in about 8:30 a.m. and just sat on my chest until around 3:30 p.m.

I tried to nap. The panic usually subsides when I sleep. It didn’t work. I dozed, but I could feel the tightness in my chest, the restlessness and uneasiness. It was still there when I woke up.

The worst panic attacks feel as if my skin is itching on the inside out. This was not one of those. This was a lesser variety, but still exhausting.

I struggled to concentrate on the TV show I had recorded. I tried to mindlessly watch sports highlights. But everything seemed irritating and unsettled.

I dimmed the lights and turned on the fans. I tried to imagine myself pitching a baseball. I thought about dragging my cleat along the rubber atop the mound. I thought about the feel of the baseball on my fingertips. I could almost smell the dirt on my hands.

I imagined the fan blowing the hair on my arms was actually a gentle breeze on a calm, cool day at the park. I could hear the gentle rustling of the crowd chatting.

I never got around to throwing the ball. I never do. It’s just a technique I use to try and calm myself down. It was only partially successful.

The worst part of panic attacks are the thoughts. Every thought is carried out to its most gruesome conclusion.

For example: I ate pasta for dinner. That’s bad for my blood sugar. I’m diabetic. I’m going to have to have my feet amputated. I will die broke and alone in a wheelchair at a county hospital.

Sometimes I think about killing myself. I think about jumping off a parking garage. This is all in my head, mind you. No actions are taken.

Usually, I am able to brush those thoughts off without much trouble. I want to feel relief, I remind myself. A dead man cannot feel relief.

If the thoughts get too noisy, I call my therapist. He’s an excellent therapist. He is a former U.S. Army Ranger. He is direct, thoughtful and quick. A few minutes with him on the phone are enough to get me back into acceptable condition.

I have a few friends I can call in this situation, but I make those contacts sparse. My friends, the closest of them, understand the reality of depression and anxiety. But even some I’ve known for years still believe these mood disorders can be adjusted like car stereo dials.

One of the worst parts of living with these disorders is fear that people don’t believe they’re real or that they’ll hit me with the old cliches. Think positive thoughts. Cheer up. Other people have things a lot worse than you do.

Society treats mental health differently from other health conditions. We probably wouldn’t advise someone having a heart attack to say, “Just think you’re not having a heart attack.” We likely would call 911 if we knew a diabetic was going into insulin shock. But with depression we ask them to pretend, because we don’t believe them.

Things have changed in recent years. More public discussion improved understanding and attitudes, but not so much that even people I am close to wonder if the medication I take is the problem and not the treatment for the problem.

Once I had a panic attack where I got a song stuck in my head. It was summer 1999. I kept hearing the song over and over again, each replay getting louder and shriller. I thought I was going to have to stick an ice pick in my brain just to end the torment.

That was a bad night. I didn’t know what panic attacks were then. I wouldn’t be diagnosed for another two years.

I write about this not to terrify my friends and family who might read it. Sometimes that happens. They get sad because I am not always happy. But most people are not always happy. They might pretend to be, but they’re not.

To them, I say that I am OK. I manage this problem. I’m not going to die from it. Nothing bad is going to happen. I take pretty good care of myself in this regard.

It’s no different than high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Mental health problems are just like other medical problems. They can all be fatal if not treated, but most days, for most people, they don’t amount to much more than taking your medication on time.

I don’t write about my mental health problems as a plea for sympathy, either. I am who I am. These problems are a part of me, but they are not all of me. Yes, I struggle. But most people do with some kind of problem or another.

But I write about this because most of the dialog about mental health is about very extreme cases: people who are severely disabled and unable to function or people who have committed crimes.

That’s understandable. The dire end of the spectrum needs our help the most. But most of us live in the great, wide middle. I am able to work most of the time, but sometimes I have sleepless nights like this one. Sometimes I’m edgy and rude. But, generally, I live a full life with family, friends and adventures that interest me.

I write about this because I know there are other people like me out there, who have bad days in their brain. I write this as a message to my fellow mental health travelers: It’s OK. You are not alone.

Daniel P. Finney is soft spring rain scented with improved oxidants.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Uncategorized

How’s it going, Dude? Not too good, man. Not too good.

Down, down, down, down, select … no, it’s just down.

I’m exhausted.

This year feels like a rolling fistfight and every day feels like I’m going to go down for the count for good.

I started the year by writing the obituaries for the best teacher I ever had, Drake University’s Bob Woodward, and the best writer anyone ever knew, Ken Fuson.

Then came pneumonia. COVID-19 arrived. The world shut down. The greedy corporate hustlers took away my job and ended my journalism career of 23 years.

That was all by May 1.

It all blends into a fetid soup after that. I continue to look for a job in the pandemic. I failed to find one.

I returned to graduate school at Drake with the idea of becoming a teacher. The classes gave me purpose early on, but the Zoom meetings drain personality out of everyone.

I am surrounded by bright, sharp minds, but the whatever sliver of the brain that craves face-to-face interaction is powerful.

I feel disconnected and estranged from people who are learning the same lessons as me at the same time because of the distance required by COVID.

And then there is the struggle to manage my longtime issues with mood disorders of depression and anxiety.

I take my meds. I meet with my therapist. And I lean, oh how I lean, on my friends.

I call some of them every day. I exhaust some of their patience with my incessant calling.

The impotent Congress, overrun by soulless grandstanders such as Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, let any effort for a stimulus fail and let people like me and 22 million other Americans twist in the wind.

“Get another job,” the occasional wiseass says to me.

I’d love to. I spent nearly a quarter century doing a thing that is on the verge of being extinct. Since 2001, half of all the journalist in the country have lost their jobs.

I have applied for jobs every week since I lost my job, sometimes multiple jobs a day. I got two callbacks and one interview.

All I do is worry. It eats up my days and keeps me up at night. Will the new Congress get off its fucking ass and pass a stimulus? Will I sell everything I own and end up living in YMCA housing? What if I get the COVID?

And I can’t fight the feeling that I failed.

They tell you it isn’t personal when they lay you off. It’s not about performance.

And I know this. I know it’s about money. I made too much. I worked for 23 years and made a decent living, but my experience would have been worth at least a third more 25 years ago. I was born at the wrong time.

It sure as hell feels personal when they take your job away.

I’m insecure, probably more than most.

I never felt good enough. I always felt like a second-stringer who got a cup of coffee with the big leaguers.

Sometimes I let myself think I was halfway worth a damn, but in the end, I was trashed like a used coffee filter.

And I feel like a failure because I’m still unemployed, living off unemployment.

I know how society looks at people like me. I’m sucking off the government teat. I’m a drain on society. I’m a loser.

And you know what? That’s how I feel, deep down inside. I’m feel like a loser. A broke, 45-year-old loser.

That’s harsh.

And maybe it’s more than a little whiny.

But I’m not a person who does well putting a cork in his feelings. Right now, I feel pretty bad.

I hurt. I’m sad. I’m scared. And I need to get it out. I just want to acknowledge it. This sucks.

Am I gonna be OK?

Sort of.

I’ll get up Monday and go to school. I’ll write my papers. I’ll apply for jobs. I’ll do the best I can to survive and hope one day I’ll be able to relax enough to live.

I’ll be back with the jokes tomorrow.

Daniel P. Finney once wore a kilt to a friend’s wedding. He’s not been the same since.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Pop Culture, sports

HOT SHEET: Cyclones’ brutal bummer, Democrats caught eating meat, Pizza Hutt woes and COVID playlist

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: Iowa State fans should thank their higher power of choice for unanswered prayers. Some 25,000 were to be admitted to Saturday’s debacle in Ames before officials came to their senses and remembered the pandemic. The Cyclones stunk up the joint with dropped passes on offense and a poor showing on special teams and defense. Running back Breece Hall provided the lone bright spot with 103 yards rushing including a touchdown. A reader recently suggested the Cyclones could contend for the Big 12 Championship Game. That’s true in the sense that there are only so many teams in the conference and since they are a member of the conference they are competing for the championship. But based on Saturday’s play, the typist considers that a technicality.

ITEM TWO: Polk County Democrats held their annual steak fry fundraiser in social distance fashion. The event drew no interest from Hot Sheet except for mild surprise there are any Democrats who still eat meat. The typist figured it would all be vegan couscous by now.

ITEM THREE: Hot Sheet admits we make fun of Democrats more often than Republicans. There’s one reason for this: Republicans have lots of guns.

ITEM FOUR: Pizza Hutt closed 15 of its 100 locations Iowa last week, reports KKWL-TV. Hot Sheet fondly recalls birthday parties and after-football gatherings at the Winterset Pizza Hutt as a boy. Corporate owners spared that restaurant, but the typist thinks the Grim Reaper stalks the Hutt. Domino’s nearly doubles the Hutt’s market share, per the consumer tech company Edison. Plus, the last time the ol’ Paragraph Stacker ordered from the local Hutt, he wished he’d just made a salad like a Democrat.

ITEM FIVE: A full 25% of Iowans now take medication to control anxiety, per a recent Iowa Department of Health report. Hot Sheet blames 2020 being leap year. The typist always believed it was unfair that years with a presidential election had an extra day. Throw in the pandemic and delete almost everything fun and suddenly everyone gnashes their teeth and chews their fingernails. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker recommends self care, sleep hygiene and writing to your state lawmakers to urge them to legalize weed.

ITEM SIX: This wretched pandemic finds ways to make even good turns bad. Example: Since losing his job and taking grad school classes online, the typist seldom drives more than once or twice a week. That’s a savings on gas. Alas, his Hy-Vee fuel saver rewards are expiring before he can use them. The COVID gives, the COVID takes. Mostly it takes.

ITEM LAST: Five songs to help you kick the COVID-19 funk:

  1. “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World,” Neil Young
  2. “Land of Confusion,” Genesis
  3. “All Along the Watchtower,” Jimi Hendrix
  4. “Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley
  5. “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga.

Well, I guess we can close the book on this one.

Remember to listen to our podcasts and contribute if you can through PayPal or you can find me on Venmo and through the mail listed here. The money goes to keep the site running and keep the lights on while the ol’ Paragraph Stacker studies are Drake.

Behave and be kind.

Daniel P. Finney has a cat on his hat and you don’t.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way poking fun at the passing parade.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

News, sports

Why a depressed football player and an anxious baseball player should give us all hope

Photo by Owen Lystrup via Unsplash

Two sports stories popped up Saturday that I thought were important beyond the ongoing and exasperating discussions of pandemic preparedness and social justice.

The University of Texas cornerback Kobe Boyce announced he was “taking a step away from football” to focus on mental health. Boyce cited depression.

Boyce is a junior who played in 19 games for Texas, including six starts.

I commend this young man for being so open about something that society still has a hard time talking about — mental health.

I know how hard it is to live with depression. I have lived with it most of my life. I control it with medication and talk therapy.

I have been open about this for years. I’ve talked about it. I’ve written about it. I’ve podcasted about it. I’ve tweeted about it. I will continue to do so.

I have my own kind of recognition from my time as a paid paragraph stacker for the local corporate news outlet store.

But I am not a player for the Texas Longhorns, one of the premier programs in college football.

Boyce openly said he was depressed. That is tough.

Sports comes with a culture that despises weakness or the perception of weakness.

Some of that, I suppose, is necessary. To compete at the top levels of amateur and pro sports, one must meet the highest physical and mental demands of the game.

If you cannot reach those levels, you cannot contribute in the way that your coach, your team and your sport demands.

Sports accepts injuries of the physical kind. Broken bones and ligament tears of all kinds are understood.

There was a time when this wasn’t true. I know older sports fans — and older retired players — who glorify playing with injuries that left players crippled after their careers.

Today, people expect top quality medical treatment for all sport-related injuries. Even an obese wobbler like me goes to a sports medicine doctor for pain in his knees and back.

What Boyce has done is say he is injured in another kind of way. He’s hurting in a way that you can’t see.

There’s no limp with depression. His body may look shredded, but his mind is not right.

I am sorry he is dealing with depression. It’s hard to describe the disorder to people who have not walked that path. It’s like looking directly into the sun and not being able to see light. It’s like taking a deep breath and feeling like a tank is parked on your chest.

And, if it goes on long enough, it’s a numbness. You can see joy. You can recognize fun. But all you feel is the dull desire to sleep and shut out all stimuli.

I don’t know Boyce, of course. I don’t know what he’s been through or how he came to recognize he was in pain.

But he has done the most important thing any of us with mental health issues can do: Admit that it’s a problem and take steps to take care of it.

I pray for Boyce. I hope his care is top-flight. And I hope he saw the other sports story that caught my interest Saturday.

That is the story of Daniel Bard, a right-handed pitcher. Bard made the roster for the Colorado Rockies after a seven-year absence from baseball.

Bard came up with the Boston Red Sox but developed control problems, a condition baseball fans colloquially refer to as “the yips” or “hiccups.”

The issue is a legitimate mental health problem. Something goes wrong and an athlete starts to overthink motions that were once routine. Pretty soon they can’t find the strike zone or can’t make a throw to first base.

Baseball people are sympathetic to it, but they also fear it. The idea that one day you suddenly can’t do what you’ve always done — and done at such a high level — is absolutely terrifying.

Bard developed anxiety disorder. He remade his life. He got treatment. He got back into baseball as a pitching coach.

The guys he played catch with told him he still had good stuff. He should try to make camp.

He did. And he made it — from out of the game to all the way back.

Now, sometime in this bizarre, 60-game season, he’ll toe the mound again as a Major League Baseball player and whip the ball to the catcher.

I hope Bard has a terrific year, but even if his ERA or win-loss record isn’t great, he’s already an MVP.

The weight of mental health issues is one of the most difficult burdens for humans to bear. That Bard was able to regroup after all those years and earn a second chance in an unforgiving sport that casts aside people for far less faulty performance is a testament to his mental toughness.

“Mental toughness” is to sports what “resilience” is to psychology. All it means is you refuse to let your troubles define you.

I hope Texas’ Boyce reads about Colorado’s Bard and sees a path forward.

And I hope soon both men are enjoying the sunlight again.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

mental health, obesity, People, sports, Unemployment

591: Obesity and the damage done

Photo by twinsfisch via Unspash

My friend invited me to a high school baseball game down in Winterset on Monday. The thought of it appealed to me: my favorite game played in the sun at my almost-alma mater by my buddy’s kid, whom I’ve watched grow up.

I agreed. Then I withdrew.

I sent a sappy text through tears in the early morning Monday. I wanted to go, but I was afraid.

I was afraid the walk from the car to the stands would be too much for me. I was afraid if I fell, there would be no one strong enough to help me up. I was afraid that I would bend or break the chair I sat on.

I worry about these things all of the time.

This is the curse of obesity.

And I am that: morbidly obese.

The word “morbidly” is not tacked on for flair. It’s a medical diagnosis that means being as obese as I am shortens my life expectancy.

So here it is, the big number that everyone wants to hear and recoils in horror when I reveal it.

I weigh 591 pounds.

That’s a cheeseburger and fries away from 600. That’s 91 pounds beyond a quarter ton.

Now come the judgements and the advice delivered as a sneer.

Eat less, move more.

Maybe put down the fork.

Exercise.

Show some will power.

And so on.

Longtime readers will note that I once, somewhat famously, went on a very public campaign to lose weight starting in March 2015. That campaign started when I was 39 and weighed 563 pounds.

I wrote about this effort to get healthier in a blog called “Making Weight” for my previous employer. The work was popular for a while and it helped me get healthier.

I used a combination of psychotherapy, diet, exercise and an unusual treatment for depression.

I lost 144 pounds between March 2015 to January 2017. I was 41 years old and weighed 424 pounds. I was still morbidly obese, but the weight training made me physically stronger than I ever had been in my life.

My goal was always to get back under 300 pounds.

But something went wrong in 2017.

My gym time waned. My eating habits declined.

I struggled through a bout of major depression.

Major depression is poorly named, but I don’t know what simple words can describe the mood disorder.

There are few easy, meaningful ways to say I went through a period where opening my eyes to face the day was almost physically painful, a time where I dreaded every single interaction with other human beings yet never needed my friends and loved ones more and a time I generally felt the gift of life was wasted on me.

Another painful experience befell me in November 2017. I choose not to reveal it in a public blog post at this time. Maybe someday I will talk about it, but not today.

The events nearly crippled me and sent me back to my psychiatrist for another round of transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.

That’s a treatment where clinicians beam magnetic pulses into the brain in an effort to stimulate the naturally occurring chemicals that regulate mood in the brain such as serotonin.

The effectiveness of TMS is debated, but I have found it exceptionally helpful each time I used it.

The mental health care gave me another excuse to take time off the gym and all through 2017 and 2018, my weight climbed.

I slipped and fell on icy sidewalks on a cold January night in early 2018. I fell again trying to get to my feet. I later learned that I pushed in a pair of my ribs near the bottom of my ribcage.

My pain sidelined me. I could barely walk. Aquatic physical therapy got me back on my feet. It took almost three months. I started back to the gym in the fall, but attendance was irregular.

Another personal event occurred in early 2019. Again, I choose not to be public about it, but I was unsettled and struggled with more anger and depression.

I started this year with some optimism. I messaged my trainer about getting back to the gym.

But I developed pneumonia in mid-February. It took almost two weeks from which to recover.

I started to feel better just as the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. I couldn’t go to the gym if I wanted to.

Now things are opening up, but my walk is slow and painful. The months of sedentary life coupled with the anxiety and depression left my body in terrible physical condition.

I ate poorly, heavy into carbs and sugars. I ate to feel good instead of for sustenance.

I lost my job in May. I try to get up each day between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. I hunker over the computer and apply for jobs.

The few responses I receive are rejections.

There aren’t many jobs posted anyway. The pandemic has wrecked employment and companies often want young talent that works cheaply rather than middle-aged workers who bring established skills but cost more.

I feel useless. I feel like I wasted 27 years of my life in a trade that’s burning down and am left with no marketable skills. I know that isn’t wholly true, but I struggle with how to communicate with employers that being able to write a story on practically any topic in a few hours is valuable.

The economy is strengthening, they say. And people have supported this blog, but it’s not enough to make the bills each month. I look at the calendar and I don’t know what I’m going to do after July. It all seems so damn hopeless.

My close friends encourage me to pray. Others encourage patience. I love them. Both ideas are good.

But I look at the calendar. Severance runs out soon and the extra payments to unemployment granted because of coronavirus ends in July.

There’s talk of a new stimulus package. There’s talk of extensions. But nothing seems to happen. Congress and the president are busy grandstanding in advance of the election, not helping people like me and others who have it worse.

But every news story seems to trumpet economic recovery. Unemployment claims are down, they say. America is reopening.

The doctors and scientists urge extreme caution, but many people are openly ignoring the pandemic.

They’re playing high school baseball and softball. The NBA is going to start soon.

Everything is wonderful.

Except in my house, where I have no job and I haven’t been able to get into aquatic therapy for months because of the pandemic.

Yesterday, the provider I use for aquatic therapy called. At last, they could take me as a patient now that restrictions had been lifted.

But I couldn’t go. I lost my job in May. The insurance I had at my previous employer covered aquatic therapy. The insurance I bought off the exchange does not pay for therapy, at least at the provider I’ve used in the past.

Damn.

I know that I am not alone. I know tens of millions of Americans are out of work. And more than that are obese.

I feel empty. I feel worthless. I feel disgusting. I feel unlovable.

Bless my friends, who remind me daily that my life has meaning.

It sure doesn’t feel that way, but I have good, smart people as my friends. It would be arrogant and disrespectful to assume they’re all wrong and I’m right.

Still, I’m down. I’m not all the way down. I’m not depressed. I’m right at the edge of depressed. I can look over the edge and see the hole I’m trying so hard not to fall into.

And I haven’t. I’ve got a great therapist. And the work we’ve done together over the years helps me monitor and control my tendency to dive deep into that abyss.

Still, there is a very outward side of my depression: 591.

I’m morbidly obese. Most people believe obesity is caused by excellent fork-to-mouth coordination. That’s partially true.

But all the research shows that obesity is related to a complex matrix of problems that included mental health and especially adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

I’ve had loads of ACEs and let me assure this is not a great poker hand. My mother was an addict with erratic behavior. I don’t want to detail a poor, dead woman’s sins in these paragraphs. I will say only this: Things weren’t always fun in my house when I was a boy and it deeply affected the way I think, act and move.

Mostly, I am afraid.

Holy higher power of choice, I am afraid. All the time. I am afraid I’m unlovable. I am afraid I’m unworthy of everything — friendship, kindness, love, dignity, respect or anything.

I don’t understand it when someone is kind to me. Don’t they know how rotten I truly am? I am a bad little boy. Well, I’m a bad big man.

Can’t they see how gross I am?

They can’t. Because they love me. And that confuses me. Because most of the time, all I’ve ever done is hate me.

I know this thinking is false.

I intellectually understand that I am a human being, a child of God, worthy of love, dignity and respect.

But emotionally, too much of the time, I feel like the dog dung on the bottom of somebody’s shoe.

Therein are the poles of my self-image. Most of my problems are trying to resolve the gap between intellectual understanding and emotional reaction.

This effort is ridiculously exhausting. It’s harder and heavier than 591.

So about 591. What’s to be done? Do I just wait for the stroke or heart attack?

Sometimes, I’ll be honest, the answer in my head is, yes. If Raygun were to make a t-shirt about me, I think it would read: “Too fat to live, too lazy to die.”

I fight that thought. I want to live. I want to sit in the sun and watch my buddy’s kids play ball. I want to hang out in old age with my friends and drink sangrias by the pool. I want to keep writing, because that’s the only thing I ever felt good about in my life, even when I keep getting laid off or fired from those jobs.

I know getting healthier will be a long, arduous journey. And I know it will be all the more difficult because I am six years older than when I started this stuff the first time.

But so what?

I choose to live.

They filled the pool at my apartment complex. It opens next Friday. I’ve got a sheet with pool exercises to do and tools to do them with.

Here’s to the first splash on a long swim to recovery.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, mental health, Uncategorized, Unemployment

America in the age of permanent unease

Photo by nikko macaspac via Unsplash.

Everything feels wrong. The pandemic. Quarantine. Economic collapse. Unemployment. Racism. Violence by police. Violence against police. Outside agitators. Vandalism. Destruction. Theft. Curfew.

Hell, even Lady Gaga’s album is only so-so.

I live with chronic depression and acute anxiety.

And, friends, I’m cracking.

This shit is getting to me.

I’ve sworn off the news. Me. A 27-year newsman. I once got beat up in a Des Moines park after hours while covering violence in the park after hours. I wasn’t trying to be ironic. It just worked out there.

That was me.

Today, in a mess of free-flowing tear gas and pepper spray?

Hard pass.

Admitting that to myself makes me feel … lesser.

I’ve no call to be there. I’m still doing my journalism, but I’m independent now.

If you’re going to get mixed up with cops, protesters and rioters, you better have a good brand name with access to lawyers.

I don’t.

So, I’m sidelined like an everyday citizen.

These distress the big chuck of me that fears missing out, that wants to be in the thick of it and wants to lead from the front.

Yet a sizable chunk of me feels relief that I’m out of the game.

Just typing that sentence forces me to choke down bile. It disgusts me that I’ve lost whatever it was that sent me running toward the fray with a police scanner on my belt and my Blackberry (yeah, I’m that old) Twitter feed open.

But now?

Now I’m just a morbidly obese unemployed guy desperately seeking jobs along with 10 million of my fellow Americans.

If I’m not a newsman, what I am?

The confusion of self-worth and employment is an ugly side effect of capitalism on personal psychology.

We all more than our jobs. Yet, we spent a lot of damn time on those jobs. What value do I have if I’m not producing anything?

If I’m not making money, then I must be a lowlife skimming off the bottom of society, getting by on government subsidies.

I want to contribute. But Wall Street told me to take a hike because after 22 years full-time, I made a salary just big enough to be too big for an industry burning to the ground before our eyes.

I struggle to sleep. More accurately, I struggle to get to sleep. Around 7 p.m., I start getting so edgy you could cut cheese on my raw nerves.

I know in a few hours the city will shut down. The quarantine gave way to the curfew.

There was a time I would be headed out to sling sentences and stack paragraphs. But I’m sidelined, probably permanently.

And that hurts.

I can’t go to the bar. It’s closed. Hell, I can’t even order a pizza.

I try to give my life some purpose. I make daily contact with my friends. I check in with my parents a couple times a week.

I’ve asked my friend Paul to call me when he leaves home for work in Memphis.

I’ll get up at the same time and start my day. I look for jobs, set up interviews for future columns and maybe write something that is less whiny than this.

Yes, I could set an alarm. But I will ignore that alarm. When my friend calls, I’ve made a commitment to another person to participate in the day despite my desperate desire just to check out.

Even with my buddy’s help, I just can’t seem to settle in. I feel like a house cat that sees some ghost on the spectral plain and then randomly sprints out of the room.

Except I don’t run and even if I did, I don’t know where I’d go.

I try escapism, my drug of choice. I put on some of the new Looney Tunes cartoons on the HBOMax streaming service last night.

They echoed the classics I watched as a kid, but they weren’t the same. They felt more frenetic and neutered at the same time.

Yosemite Sam doesn’t use guns anymore because of course not. Yet, poor Sylvester the cat was skinned and had his muscles peeled down to the bone in the kind of gross-out comedy I would expect from Ren and Stimpy.

But I will never be able to watch and enjoy new cartoons the way I did the ones I saw when I was a kid.

That’s because when I was a kid, my responsibility was to have pants and a shirt on, eat a bowl of cereal, generally be quiet in the early morning and not make a mess in the kitchen.

It was just me, my dad’s Navy cap from World War II and my Pink Panther doll, who was my very best friend.

To a 5-year-old, that’s all there is to the world: Saturday morning cartoons and peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches.

Growing up brings responsibility. Rent. Mortgages. Car payments. Insurance. Bills. Still, even with that responsibility, there’s a rhythm.

These days, everything is out of step and unpredictable.

Unpredictable, like spontaneity, is overrated. Give me consistency and calm. I am 45 and I long for slow news days.

Mostly I just worry. I worry I’m not going to make it. All these years into adulthood and I’ve never felt closer to failure.

People have been generous supporting this blog and every little bit helps.

I’ve picked up one or two freelance jobs, but not enough to make monthly expenses once my severance dries up.

Unemployment is increased at least through July. There may be more stimulus. There may be expanded unemployment.

The coronavirus may peak. The racial unrest may settle.

I remember the words of wise, old Randy Evans when I used the word “may” in a news story many years ago.

“Finney, do you know what the problem with the word ‘may’ is?” he said. “You could just as easily say ‘may not.’”

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, mental health, People, Unemployment

Dispatches from the dystopia, Vol. 1

Photo by Tamin Arafat via Upsplash

The time is 12:34 a.m. Memorial Day. A much too chipper song by David Bowie plays in my eardrums. A mugginess hangs in the apartment despite the air conditioner set at 62 degrees and me down to my skivvies hunched over this elegant laptop.

So, we’re opening up. It may not make good medicine, but it’s good business. And if our healthcare system teaches us anything, business and medicine mix a poor potion that may be profitable but hardly the tonic for wellness.

The doctors and scientists seem wary. The pandemic continues. They urge caution. The politicians and businesses say let’s get back to normal. People need to get back to work. The economy must restart or there will be more suffering than even the pandemic promises.

I see both sides of it. I really do. I don’t want anybody to get infected or die for the sake of profit. But I’m also unemployed. I need the economy to restart so people will start hiring again.

Otherwise, in a couple months I’ll be shaking a ceramic mug somewhere along an Interstate 235 offramp with a sign saying “Homeless journalist. Will tell stories for food.”

Grim? Yes. But consider unemployment in the pandemic feels like Wes Craven’s version of “Groundhog Day.” Instead of reliving the same day and becoming a slightly better person who woos Andie MacDowell, I relive the same day of sadness, anxiety, terror and boredom.

The sadness is grief from the loss of my job. The confusion of self-worth and employment is an ugly side-effect on psychology in capitalism. We are what we do.

We aren’t, of course. We’re much more than that. But it sure feels like if you’re not making money, you’re a bum gumming up the works for the pull-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps crowd.

I live with general anxiety disorder. That means I’m scared, sometimes terrified, even when there is no reason to be edgy. But, oh buddy, you give me a reason to be edgy — and unemployment is absolutely that — look out.

I turn negative self-talk in to an art form. Give me 5 minutes in front of a mirror and I slice myself to pieces with self-loathing. Those nagging whispers that tell me how rotten I am — You’re not good enough. You were never good enough. — become almost screams in the silence of a weekday when it feels like all your friends are at work in a Microsoft Teams meeting and you’re left refreshing Indeed.com every 2 seconds.

That’s when the terror grabs hold of my throat. What if I don’t find a job? What if I get evicted? What if I have to move all this shit? A comic book collection is wicked cool when you don’t have to haul scores of volumes out to a rented truck. My Funko Pops bring me all kinds of joy until I have to wrap them individually and haul them away to charity.

A friend asked me if I could move back into my parents’ house. This was three days into my unemployment. I nearly threw up. I’m almost 45 years old. There is no going home at 45. I’ve got to figure this out. I’ve got to make it work.

And the voice whispers: What if you don’t?

Finally, boredom. The intensity of unemployment is matched only by how much it tries my patience. I can only look for a job for so many hours a day. I can only call contacts so long. And, as mean as this sounds, I can only accept so many “you got this” aphorisms.

My poor friend Yvonne endures a Facetime call from me most days. When I rant about this abominable cluster of rage and anguish, she’s taken to just staring at me sadly and saying nothing. She’s not being cruel. She just realizes there’s nothing to be said.

This sucks. And the only thing you can do is endure and attempt to overcome.

Time both stops and sprints in the same moment. It stops as I plow through month-old job listings hoping to trip the automated human resources software with the right bullshit buzzwords to earn a chance to talk to a real human being about what I can do for them.

Early evening and night are the worst in the pandemic. The city starts to shut down around 7 p.m. The window for me to talk to friends with jobs closes quickly after 8 p.m. By 9 p.m., my skin crawls anxious to do something, but know there is nothing to do and no one to talk to.

As midnight approaches, I think about taking my medication and going to sleep, yet I hesitate, because when I open my eyes, it will be yet another goddamn day I am unemployed, cut off from the news business and no direction forward.

The clock sprints when day turns to night and no progress is made. The severance checks dwindle. The deadline for the CARES Act expanded unemployment approaches.

The House talks more stimulus. The Senate tells them it won’t fly. They smash into one another like drunken rams on a mountaintop while people’s lives — including mine — tumble down the mountainside like gravel.

I cut a deal with all my friends and family. I promised them I would tell them if I got a job — hell, if I got an interview — I would tell them if, in return, they would do me the kindness of not asking me how the job search is going. The answer remains the same: shitty.

I should temper my complaint. People have overwhelmed me with well wishes and good tidings. They’ve generously supported this fledgling website’s effort to continue my newspaper column in the virtual space paid for by donations. (Thanks to everyone and keep them coming. Desperation sinks in quickly.)

Anyway, we’re opening up.

I’ve tried it.

Last Wednesday, I went to the comic store for the first time since mid-March. They handed me a heavy stack of books. I walked the aisles. I started to sweat immediately. My back ached. I leaned on a glass counter and sweat. I flipped through my stack.

The pain came from two sources. First, I suffered through pneumonia in February and March, right before the pandemic. The treatment, particularly the steroids, left my legs weak. And, of course, I ate poorly during quarantine. Sometimes pasta, breads and sweets feel like the only thing in the world that can make me feel human.

Of course that leads to weight gain and makes puts my blood sugar on a rocket to Mars. And the immobility only adds to the anxiety and sadness. I’ve convinced myself I’m dying no less than 731 times in the last month.

People say, “Take walks.” I can barely walk 100 paces before my legs feel as if I’ve run a mile. The weight is a part of it, maybe the biggest part. The truth is I’m afraid to walk too far away from my apartment or car for fear I won’t be able to get back.

Pathetic? You bet. My opinion of myself hovers somewhere slightly above whale dung. This immobility is crushing what remains of my self-esteem like a cigarette in an ashtray.

I was supposed to go to aquatic therapy in March to help rehab my legs. I’ve done it once before and it was transformative. I got strong enough to go back to the gym. But then the pandemic came. The pool closed. And I endured.

The second reason for the sweats: I couldn’t afford the books in my stack. Oh, I could have bought them and I would have still made rent. But I’m unemployed. The idea that I spent any money on comic books is ridiculous.

I felt terrible. Comic stores are small businesses that operate on narrow margins. Being closed forced a lot of people I love out of work. And they remain out of work until the economy restarts.

I wanted to support my friends, but I had to think about my own survival. I damn near cried right there in the store. I wish I had, but I just don’t cry anymore. I get six to eight tears and then I just dry up. The well of sadness drills much deeper, but my physical ability to let it go is limited.

I profusely apologized to the owner. He understood. He assured me the customers had been loyal and generous. I wished I could join them, but now is not the time.

Even with my personal discomfort, the store was off somehow. The owners wore masks. Everyone stood 6 feet apart. It was open, but only just and it felt like looking through a cracked mirror.

The same was true at the barbeque joint I frequent in the neighborhood. I grabbed a seat at the bar, one of about six. My favorite spot — over to the right of the cash register by the takeout lane — isn’t a spot right now. Bar seats, and the tables, are spaced out 6 feet. Some servers wore masks. Some didn’t. Parties were limited to six people.

The food tasted the same — delicious. But instead of using a squeezable mustard dispenser, pandemic practice calls for individual servings. So I spent a part of my meal trying to tear open those miserable little packets of mustard to put on my ham sandwich.

I drank diet pop without a straw. I could request one, but to hell with it. It’s just another damn thing. I sipped too big a gulp and coughed. A woman who waited in line for take out snapped her head around to look at me.

Do I have it? Am I going to infect her? Is this the beginning of the zombie apocalypse?

I empathize. A guy talked the the bartender about his bill. He coughed a few times while he waited. I know him to be a smoker, but that niggling worry. Am I risking too much just for a taste of freedom?

It seems like the whole world is just an uncomfortable mess right now. I suppose it isn’t as apocalyptic as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet, nothing feels quite the way it’s supposed to.

It feels like an old transistor radio can’t get the local station despite even the gentlest of fingers on the tuner. There’s a rasp that throws off the treble of every tune. It’s better than no music, but only just.

Look, I don’t have any words of wisdom here. The only thing I know how to do is keep twisting that dial until something comes in tune. But I’m an impatient man who suffers from a severely disquieted soul.

I’d like to hear a good song any time now.

Daniel P. Finney, Independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live.

ParagraphStacker.com is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at paypal.me/paragraphstacker.