(11) P.A.I.N. Through Anxiety

Week eleven of the school year had us back teaching remotely. This pivot in the educational model was in response to a spike in virus cases in our district. We weren’t happy, but this was the year of the pandemic and we had to adapt:  

“When does an obsession to worrying turn into an anxiety disorder?” I wondered to myself, while looking at the screen in front of me. 

I was supposed to be teaching this class but found myself lost in thought thinking about everything that had been happening over the past two weeks. In front of me, Pras was the only student attending my virtual class on this day. 

Our school had gone back to the remote learning model in response to a spike in cases, but also in preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday; what they were calling a potential ‘Super Spreader.’ School districts all over the country were making this same decision, it was not just ours. No one I knew of had come down with this virus. I had heard a lot of people were. But no one I knew of personally; “Yet…” I worried to myself, adding it to the list of things to think about…

“—But, is she going to be okay?” Pras asked me; for what seemed like the hundredth time.

It was now Friday and while I was sympathetic, I felt inwardly frustrated with having to answer this again, “We will know soon Pras. We have to be patient. You know I can’t talk about it…you know as much as I do at this point anyway.”

All week Pras and I had been working on “Reverse Engineering Goals.” However, this was designed for our entire class to take part in. Pras cranked through the work I had assigned in no time, and the two of us now found ourselves staring at one another just trying to get through this last day of the week. 

Over Pras’s shoulder, I could see the television that was on in the background. It was perched on top the bureau in his bedroom. The television was on mute, but the beautiful face I could now see was distracting me. It was on this entire class period, but just then I found myself unable to look away. 

Eventually, this plastic-infused face began to irritate me; “Was this intelligent boy really watching that?” I thought to myself.

Deciding to ask, I did, “Pras, are you watching The Kardashians?”

Glancing over his shoulder for a quick second, he looked back at me on his computer screen and responded unabashed, “Yes, Mr. J, do you have a problem with that?” 

 “I’m just surprised,” I smiled.

“Being fake is the only thing that’s real in this world, Mr. J.,” he said; sounding like the smart kid I had come to know. “When the history channel has only reality shows and conspiracy theory re-runs, you know things are messed up. Watching stuff like this keeps me sane. At least they know how fake they are.”

Realizing how insightful this was I decided to tell him, “I like that Pras. Can I use that line of yours in my book some day?” 

“Your book?” he asked.

***BREAKING KNEWS***

At the halfway house no one was allowed to go home on Thanksgiving: “Too many temptations,” they told us. We did our own little dinner with the guys in the house instead. 

The day after, Friday, it was approaching five o’clock and I was about to leave for the weekend. This would be my first weekend trip home: And I had made the decision that I was not coming back. 

John, my councilor, was in his office. I stuck my head in and told him my mother would soon be there to pick me up. Creeping in just a step or two, I halfway closed the door behind me and spoke, “I’m not coming back John.”

“Interesting,” he responded; not really surprised as I had told him I was leaning this way. My parents offered to let me stay in their in-law apartment above the garage. And I needed to begin putting my life back together. I had responsibilities, and I had been completely clean for over two months: It was time.

Upon hearing my decision, John spoke to me like it was just another day; and I was just another face, “Do me a favor, on Monday when you come get the rest of your stuff sign you’re A.M.A. release paperwork for me then. I’m just about to leave for the weekend and it makes no difference whether I have you sign it today or Monday: You’re a resident here till then.  You know what A.M.A. stands for right?”

“Yes,” I responded. 

This stood for “Against Medical Advice;” and I was familiar with it from a previous life of mine.  

Prior to this day, John explained that if I did leave the only way I would be allowed back is if I left “With Notice.” Signing this paperwork, I assumed, meant that this is what I was doing. Though I did not envision ever putting myself in the position to have to go back to that place, I was not against leaving on good terms. In some ways being in that house did help; though, honestly, I could not see it at the time. In truth, I could not get out of there fast enough. I’d do whatever John wanted me to do… on Monday.

“Jose—Your rides here!” 

Outside the office someone was letting me know that my mother had just pulled up in front of the house.

“Before you go there is one more thing I should probably tell you,” John began, “we are telling all the guys tonight but since you won’t be here, I’ll tell you now… Ethan overdosed Wednesday night.”

Ethan was the lovable character from that first night in the halfway house I told you about (The ‘Anvil Guy’). He had left two weeks prior to this day.

Unsure what to say, I simply asked, “Is he okay?”

“He died. Services will be next week sometime. I can try and get you the details on Monday when you come in. Don’t let it ruin your weekend, this stuff happens in recovery. Go and enjoy your boys.”

I turned to leave, but John spoke again, “Jose, you won the lottery by the way.” 

Turning back to see him smirking, I was confused, “What?” I asked.

“Sirena divorcing you is the best thing that has ever happened in your life,” he said, arrogantly; leaning back in his office chair.

He didn’t say this to make me feel better—He was challenging me: It got my blood boiling. 

I was so sick of this tough-love mentality that he simply pushed me out that door even further. It was at exactly that moment I knew for certain I was making the right decision. 

Heated, I said, “Screw you John,” and walked out the door.  

Yup, those were literally my last words leaving that day. Not my proudest moment. But hey—SCREW HIM!

***End Of Breaking Knews***

Mentioning to Pras that I had always dreamt of writing a book offered us a short reprieve in our conversation. We spent a few minutes sharing some of our aspirations with one another, successfully killing more class time. Pras was in the middle telling me what he planned on doing with his life once he graduated high school when my son snuck up behind me on screen.

 “Daddy…”

“Yes?” I turned and smiled at him; knowing that this word was always followed by an ‘Ask.’

“Can I play on my iPad during break please?” 

He was still doing classes remotely, so little interruptions like this happened a lot.

“That’s fine,” I said to him; exchanging a small smile before returning my attention back to Pras.

“Mr. J, is your son with you all the time?” He asked.

“His mom takes him every Thursday and every other Saturday.”

“Is she in recovery too?” 

Restraining from putting my own spin on this question, I kept my thoughts to myself and replied, “No Pras, she’s not.”

Not shy, he asked another question; I’ve noticed personal questions always seem to come in threes; weird.

“Why do you have him so much?” he asked; probably not realizing that he was now getting a bit too personal.

As I’ve said, I’m an open book, so I told him, “When I first got sober Pras I had to be away from him for a while, when I was doing better his mom wanted to let me spend as much time with him as possible just in case I fell backwards. Now this schedule is just what works best for everyone.”

Depleting himself of personal questions, Pras’s young bouncy-ball-mind jumped to the next thing that popped-up inside of it, “Hey, did you know that the Kardashian’s mother purposely leaked a sex video of her daughter and that’s what made them famous?” 

This question; slash statement, brought our conversation back to the television show that was on in the background. Pras must have thought this piece of trivia would interest me. 

Not believing him; or maybe not wanting to believe this, I said, “No I did not…I’ll do some research on that Pras. How about you do me a favor and change the channel though?”

Out of respect, he did what I asked. Behind him, CNN was now on. The caption on the bottom read: “Where is our stimulus?”  

Bored of me, Pras turned up the volume on the television so that we could hear what was being said. Annoyed already, this decision of Pras’s did not help my mental state…

I was reminded of the Hunger Games movies. Though the movies were dystopian in nature I always believed they painted a rather interesting picture of how shallow society behaved today and where it might be headed in the future. The one thing about the movie I always found laughable however was the image of that one guy sharing the news. In this dystopian present-day existence of ours, we have The Big Two (and then multiple other options for anyone that wants to be unique, different, or special). Regardless of where we get our news, we are all misled into thinking someone is in control, when in reality no one really is. It’s all simply allowed to exist in order to encourage conflict: So that the select few are left alone to eat their yummy strawberries dipped in flowing chocolate and wipe their asses with freshly picked roses from their beautifully manicured gardens….

—Stop it Jose—Think happy thoughts…

While this destructive monologue was playing in my head, the talking heads behind Pras continued to poison the minds of their viewers with more and more one-sided discussions. Pras joined them as he began educating me…again, “Republicans didn’t want to win this election Mr. J. That way they can blame us democrats for what happens next as a result of this virus. In four years, he’ll be back. Or maybe his daughter, I’m really not sure—someone in his tribe though…”

I let him go on this rant of his, but truly was not listening to any of the fortune telling that was spilling from his mouth. Instead, I was mentally debating asking him the question I had been thinking about asking for a while. Approaching my breaking point, I decided to just do it. Anything to shut him up.

“—Hey Pras…Would you and Nel be interested in coming to my house for Thanksgiving next week?” I interrupted him to ask.  

The three of us had become very close; and knowing that neither of them had much family to speak of I figured it might be nice to ask them given everything we were dealing with.

Not giving me a read on how he felt about this offer, he replied, “Let me talk to Nel and let you know, alright Mr. J?”

“Okay bud.”

Looking at him on the screen I thought about making a stronger plea to Pras, but instead kept silent; not telling him what I wanted to say so badly: “We need each other my friend.”

Week 11 (11.20.20):

“P.A.I.N. through Anxiety”

I once heard someone compare life to baseball. 

While the sport seems so simple to a beginner (hitting a ball), there are in fact many things that make the game very complicated. This can make the sport both wonderful and miserable to different types of people— Such is life…

Some of us strive on the complexity of life. The more going on the better. For others the increasing complexity overwhelms us. Those that struggle with life understand this analogy far too well.  

But even if you are someone that loves all the different pitches life can throw at you. Even if you think you’re the best hitter in the world—A fastball can still come and hit you square in the face; can’t it?

Will this only hurt for a little while, or can trauma like that affect you for a very long time?  

If that happens, will you ever be the same?

No matter who you are in this world, a wild pitch can always change the game. For some of us, that is when we anxiety hits. 

A quote from Thich Nhat Hahn, in “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching” reads:

Anxiety is the illness of our age.  

We worry about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, and the state of the world.  

If we allow worry to fill our hearts, sooner or later, we will get sick.  

Yes—there is tremendous suffering all over the world. 

But knowing this need not paralyze us. 

—BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT DOES?

On November 19th, 2013 one of my childhood best friends sat on a bed covered with pictures of his family. On that bed; on that day, he shot himself through the head….

Growing up there were multiple years in a row that I wanted a B.B. Gun for Christmas. Year after year I woke up disappointed. I was spoiled with gifts but never got the B.B. Gun I wanted. 

As I child I was never scared of gun: As an adult I now am.

I used to think that owning a gun was Patriotic: I now think I was wrong.  

In my life I have only seen guns hurt people I love. 

We guard ourselves with these weapons and we videotape everything. We do all this with intentions of keeping ourselves “Safe.” But honestly, what is the psychological damage we are causing by convincing ourselves that we are in such danger— Perhaps the real danger is not what we imagine?

Americans pride themselves on not submitting to terror. We claim to defend life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sadly, I have come to wonder if this fight we were trained to pursue could be the thing creating the terror we are so adamantly against.

I just know that nowadays with cellphones in our hands getting away with something is more difficult than ever; yet we are now more scared than ever: something just doesn’t add up to me.  

If this opinion of mine upsets you, I apologize. At this moment, that friend of mine that shot himself would have said to me, “Jose, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a gun!” 

This type of thinking is common, I know. But my experiences are my own and they are the reason why I believe “More Guns” is not the answer. In truth, it is my opinion that this type of thinking is what the people with all the real weapons in this world want us to believe.

But enough with this divisive rhetoric, let us move on…

When I first heard the news about my friend, I remember feeling sad. While saying I was sad may seem to some as putting it lightly, I do not find the need to dress the emotion up with any fancy words. Though the word is simple, the feeling is anything but. 

This friend had a wonderful wife, amazing parents, a nice house, a great job, a beautiful baby girl. Just a year prior I had completed a kitchen remodel for him. Everything seemed fine then—What could have gone wrong?

Prior to his death, my own life was not going as I had planned.  Without going into detail here, the fact is I was struggling mightily with depression and was ‘self-medicating’ with substances. Simply put, I was not in a good place. Even before losing him, I was very sad. I had convinced myself that I was no longer a good person and accepted never being one again. 

At the funeral, sitting by myself, I experienced an anxiety attack…

It had become clear after his death that my friend’s brain had begun playing tricks on him some time ago. Things got so complicated and convoluted in his mind that he decided that this world would be better off without him.  

If he only knew I fought with similar feelings myself.

While I did not suffer exactly like he had, I sat at his funeral with a million “What If’s” running through my mind.  

What if I told him of my struggles— What if we could have helped each other— What if I could have SAVED HIM???

As I sat alone, fully grasping the reality of that moment, my mind swelled to the edges of its skull. The pews in the church were filled with faces of people that knew me. Looking around, I began to sweat profusely. Attempting to breathe the air in that church made me feel like I was going to choke…or puke…or both. Holding it together the best I could, my body began to literally shake.  

And then, the tears came.

The walls of the church were closing in on me. All those faces had their eyes on me. Everyone there saw the guilt that was eating me alive….  

Dear Squad,

Earlier this school year, in one of these articles, you heard me say; “To survive this thing called life, it is important to ask questions.” Sharing this story of my friend’s funeral reminds me to tell you there are always exceptions to any rule; as asking questions during times like the one I’m now sharing with you will not help. 

“Why am I so anxious?” is not a question I suggest you spend much time thinking about. If you do, it is likely to only get worse.

—Breathe!

Take it easy on yourself; and be patient. Have faith that how you feel is only temporary. Just keep telling yourself that this world needs you— So Don’t Give Up!

Over time, I came to accept the fact I could not have saved my friend. Shortly after his passing I had a personal revelation: “This world needs a superhero to fix things.”

I did not know exactly what this meant at the time, but I promised myself that if I ever did that I would make sure my friend would forever be remembered.   

—I love you AJR…. You are missed. 

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

Who could you help today?

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“We’re all too busy on the run.”

The Kids Are Coming by Tones and I

(Click here to continue to next chapter)

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Read our story at: RecoveryHighSchool.com

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